Loading up on Pre-race Carbs

I remember the first time I “hit the wall.” It happened in the 9th mile of a 10-mile training run for my first half marathon. At the time, I was a brand new runner, and that run was only my second 10-miler, ever. In glorious newbie fashion, I had been training with no understanding of the proper runner’s diet. I’d scaled way back in my caloric intake on a diet that focused on lean protein, and adopted the habit of drinking close to a gallon of water a day, all while increasing my mileage to 23+ miles per week.

That morning, I set out on my 10-mile course along hilly country roads. I felt strong and confident, until the last two miles. Sudden fatigue overtook me. My legs turned to cement; lifting them became a struggle with each stride. My pace ground to a pathetic limp-like gallop. I didn’t think I could finish. What was going on?

Now I know: Due to the high levels of proteins and near absence of carbohydrates in my diet, the glycogen stores in my muscles were low going into the run. Even when  topped off, a person only has an average of 90 minutes worth of glycogen-fueled energy. Once my glycogen stores had depleted, my body switched to burning fat for energy. Great, right, ladies?

Actually, no.

Your body burns energy when converting fat to fuel. When some of the energy your body was using to fuel your run is diverted for fat-converting duty, you experience immediate and miserable fatigue. That’s what happened to me. That’s called “hitting the wall.”

Having learned the lesson the hard way, I’m now wrapping up my months of preparation for Sunday’s AthHalf marathon with two days of carb loading. The goal is to saturate the glycogen stores in my muscles while resting my body, so that I have maximum, lasting energy for race day. (I’ve been training using Gu gel packs to replenish those stores as my body burns glycogen.)

So on Friday and Saturday, 85-95% of my caloric intake will come from complex and simple carbohydrates. It’s important to not increase the number of calories you take in during the carb-loading phase, rather to choose carb-intensive foods in place of others. Also, don’t indulge in heavy sauces or other high fat ingredients, as these may lead to digestive issues you do not want to deal with during a 13 mile race.

Here is a sample menu of a carb loading day, published in an article by Dimity McDowell for RunnersWorld.com. (Read the whole article HERE.)

Good Eats
A day of carbo-loading for a 150-pound runner

1 bagel with 2 tablespoons strawberry jam (71 g)
1 medium banana (27 g)
8 ounces fruit yogurt (41 g)
8 ounces orange juice (26 g)

2 Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey
Granola Bars (29 g)
8 ounces Gatorade (14 g)

1 large baked potato with 1/4 cup salsa (69 g)
1 sourdough roll (40 g)
8 ounces chocolate milk (26 g)
1 large oatmeal cookie (56 g)

1 Clif Bar (42 g)
8 ounces Gatorade (14 g)

1 chicken burrito with rice, corn salsa, and black beans (105 g)
1 2-ounce bag Swedish Fish (51 g)


Since I weigh in at 130 lbs, I will adjust the amounts in menus like this. The calculation generally used recommends eating about four grams of carbs for every pound of body weight. The article mentioned above suggests using the calculator at http://endurancecalculator.com/ for a more specific number of carbs to eat based on variables including age, resting heart rate, VO2 max, and predicted finishing time.

What’s your favorite carbohydrate-loading meal to eat pre-race? I’d love to try it out!


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Running Strategies: Hills

Racing up hills seemed to me a preposterous notion when I began training for my first half marathon in October 2011. In the past year, I’ve learned to embrace running on an incline and have even come to enjoy it. For me, the key to success when running hills lies in the strategies.

First and foremost when I approach a hill, I tell myself in an unapologetic tone that, I got this. I’ve been up steeper hills than this one, and I’m going to kick its ass. (This is a very important step, because running is a mental sport.)

As the grade increases, I alter my stride.

This concept was something that took me a while to understand. In the early weeks of my first training schedule, I charged up the hills in order to get to the top as quickly as possible. My lungs burned, my breathing became ragged, and I wasted precious energy.

Now at the bottom of the hill, I shorten my stride by as much as 50%, depending on the steepness of the hill. I drop my center of gravity, pushing my bootie slightly down and back, so that my feet strike the pavement more near the heel than my normal, mid-strike stride. Lastly, my entire body falls into a rhythmic pattern of movement, a compact ebb and flow dance of limbs and breath. This movement usually falls in synchronization with my music, which helps tremendously.

I don’t rush up the hill. My concentration is on my stride and on my breath. I notice that when I lose control of my breath, exhaustion from the effort overcomes me. So, it’s in through the nose, longer exhalation out the mouth, rhythmic, controlled.

Near the top of the hill, just before it crests, there is always a leveling off of the incline. Usually, the change in grade is imperceptible to the eye, perhaps because the focus is on the actual top of the hill. But this small change in grade affects my legs. My feet strike the pavement at a slightly different angle and there is a rush of lactic burn along the tops of my thighs. This is the moment my concentration must persevere. Maintaining the rhythm of body and breath is crucial.

Usually, a hill crests and then descends on the other side. I used to make the mistake of running fast down the hill, in order to make up the lost time when I couldn’t maintain pace up the incline. Again, this is a bad strategy that wastes energy that I’ll need later in the course.

I’ve found that keeping my stride short at the top of the descent works best. Rather than spending energy speeding down the hill, I expend little effort, letting the decreasing slope do the work. This is my recovery time, when my muscles and lungs get a break. By mid-hill, my stride naturally lengthens to its normal pace and I feel fresh and strong for the next hill, and for the rest of the course.

I also train using hill workouts and running stadium stairs. Both work wonders in increasing VO2 max and overall strength and endurance.

Have you developed strategies for conquering those hills? Please share in the comments; I’d love to hear them!

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October 21 Athens Half Marathon is just ten weeks away, and my training is well underway. Well, it’s underway. Though I ran regularly during the summer months and enjoyed an adventure vacation — a week full of scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking and swimming — right before training began, ramping up my exercise schedule to keep pace with the training program has its challenges. It generally takes two weeks for my mind and body to accept the reality of vigorous daily exercise. I’m eating right, staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep, but my hard-working muscles are tender and tired. It’s amazing how strength and endurance levels dip during the off-season.

Most difficult to master is my mind. When I’m good and warmed up, my mind says, Let’s go! I fall into my regular pace. And within 800 meters my cardiovascular and muscular systems have lost steam. It’s so important to build up speed and distance, to not attempt to go too fast or for too long before your body can handle the workload. That’s how injuries happen. And even though I know this, the knee-jerk reaction of my mind is to berate.

For me, mental training goes hand-in-hand with physical preparation. If you think you can achieve your goals, you will. But the other side of that coin is this: If you let negative thought patterns rule your mind, (I can’t make it up this hill; I have to walk, now!; I’ll never hit these split times; I’m too old to run this far; etc., etc.), you are already defeated.

Here’s what I do during a tough run: I concentrate on the gratitude I feel for these legs that hum with energy, that have carried me all these years and that still obey when I ask them to move with this much force. I celebrate my heart, pounding with ferocity within burning lungs, working together to send nourishing oxygen-rich blood throughout my body. And I feel thankful for the aches and the discomfort, without which I would have no gauge to measure the results of my training efforts, or to know I still have farther to go.

Last note: my IT Band has not been aggravated so far this training season. A mild burning ache started late in Monday’s track-repeats workout, so I reversed my direction. Running counter-clockwise on the track took the pain right away. During tempo and long runs, I try to run equal time on the left and right sides of the road. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking to run with traffic coming from behind me, but I’m super vigilant and I only run on the right side of flat stretches with excellent visibility. And of course, I continue to do strengthening exercises and stretches targeting my IT Band. Here are some of what I do:

And here is an excellent article from Runner’sWorld.com on the subject of IT Band injuries, called Strengthening Beats Stretching…

Okay, off to tackle this week’s long run. Thanks for reading! Wishing you a most happy weekend. Cheers!

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More Truth About Myself Than I’d Care to Disclose

I headed out for this morning’s run disappointed I wouldn’t be using the time thinking about the story I’m working on. But I’d read a few blogs at breakfast and saw, to my honest delight, that another writer friend has landed a book deal. Another friend. Now I had feelings to contemplate.

How is it that friends I admire, who consider me as talented as they are and, more importantly, whom I consider myself on par with, have finished manuscripts, landed agents, accepted book deals, or enrolled in MFA programs, while me? I continue to spin in the eddy of the same self-pity cesspool I’ve been treading water in for months. Why can’t I just write my damn manuscript? 

This question niggled my brain as I headed down the driveway at a quick, warming-up walking pace. I’ve got my reasons for having done little more than scratch the surface of my manuscript. They’re all lame and fall under the category of Fear, but they’re reasons none the less. By the time I reached the entrance to my subdivision, I was sufficiently warmed up, both my body and that annoying, self-loathing voice in my head.  I decided to table further discussion with it and concentrate on my workout. I started to run.

My plan had been to “pre-train” until vacation, so that when I return I’ll be ready to put my full-blown training program in action for the October half-marathon. Yeah, that didn’t go as planned. I leave on Friday, and I actually had to walk Monday’s 4.5 mile run because I: hadn’t run for a week; was dehydrated from too many Jack and Cokes the night before; felt bloated after sharing a bag of Rolos with my daughter over the weekend; and I had to pee during the entire course. Bleh.

So as I started to run this morning, I told myself to keep the pace slow, and to keep running. The second I consider walking, my body goes into shutdown mode until I walk. Today, I was determined to run; walking wouldn’t even be a possibility. Slow, steady, manageable jogging pace.

Roughly thirteen minutes later, a voice popped into my head. It said, Hey, Runner Girl. Do you realize you just passed your route’s one mile marker?

I thought, Oh yeah…you’re right. And, I’m still running! Yay me!

And the voice replied, Yeah, yeah, good for you and all that. Keep going. Now, I’m done with you. Get Writer Girl out here. I have something to say to her.

The rest of the conversation went something like this: Don’t you realize that with the same determination, you will achieve positive results with your writing as you do with your running? Stop thinking about the manuscript as a big huge project because that freaks you out. Like your daily workouts, you have to commit yourself to writing every single day, and every time you sit down to write, you need to tap into the determination you used today on this run. When you tire, when you reach the bottom of a hill, when you think you can’t keep going…don’t you stop! You can keep going. And you will progress. And in October you will run 13.1 miles in a race. And you will finish that manuscript.

I ended up running 4 miles today in thirty-eight minutes. I didn’t walk. And Runner Girl? She asked me to tell you she feels great.

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Life’s a Beach

It’d been five years since we’d vacationed on Cape San Blas, a narrow peninsula that points its finger away from the Florida panhandle and out into the Gulf of Mexico. Coming back to one of our favorite beaches was exciting, but for me, it held a special significance. The fall following our return from the Cape in 2007, I discovered Writing.com. And the first fictional story I posted there that was written for an audience, (unlike all the journal-format scribblings I’d done up to that point), was inspired by my real-life events that took place on Cape San Blas.

Last week while I walked on the beach, I thought a lot about that story and reflected on my writing journey from 2007 until now. My mind wanders when I beach comb; it is one of my favorite activities, a peaceful time when I marvel at the beauty of the sea and all the treasures she holds. The sound of the surf, the salty smell of the sea air, and the sun’s heat intoxicate and inspire the writer in me.

The first day of every vacation we spend at Cape San Blas, I decide on a certain and specific item I hope to find while combing the beach. One year, it was a whole, intact sand dollar. Another year, I searched for a perfect, unbroken spiral seashell. Walking the beach becomes a sort of Where’s Waldo scavenger hunt, with a prize hidden out in plain sight.

This year, I decided to find a shark’s tooth on the beach.

As my eyes drifted up and down the wet, hard-packed sand at the sea’s edge, I thought about how similar my beach combing quests were to the way I approach story writing. Ever since that first story back in 2007, I’ve started each new piece of fiction with a specific challenge in mind for myself. I try something new, something I’ve never attempted before. I wrote my first story in third-person, which is the natural, organic comfort zone for my muse. So in subsequent stories, I’ve tried first person, second person, and omniscient narrations. I throw myself into new genres, experiment with unreliable narrators. Once in a while, I write with pen and paper instead of typing on a computer. The idea isn’t to rigorously challenge myself, so much as to give fresh focus to each new project, to heighten each experience and invite the unexpected into the mix.

In past years, I’ve successfully found the beach object of my desire. And next to pristine sand dollars and perfectly curvaceous spirals, I have bowls of broken shells, each beautiful for a special, one-of-a-kind reason, collected along the way. This year, I didn’t find a shark’s tooth. But that’s okay; some challenges push you further, make you wait while you work harder for your results. This happens in my writing, too. Some stories fall short and don’t capture the magic I intend, the first time around. Sometimes, I have to carry that focus into the next project until I master that which I grasped, maybe held for brief moments, but let slip away by the end.

One thing’s for sure, while I hunted for that elusive shark’s tooth, the balmy breeze and sugary sands of Cape San Blas inspired the writer in me, just as it did five years ago.
What new writing technique have you challenged yourself with lately? How’d the story turn out?

[Written for and published today, 6/12/2012, in Writing.com’s Drama Newsletter]


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My Run Back From Injury

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It’s tough for an injured runner to take time off to rest and heal. We don’t want to lose our momentum, strength, and endurance. Healthy eating habits can fall to the wayside. And life’s obligations too easily crowd into those time slots diligently carved out for the day’s run.  But the hardest part of recovery can be getting back out there after taking time off.

I know this firsthand, just having come off an Iliotibial Band injury, which I experienced as pain deep in my right hip. On my first run, fears of re-injury resonated through my body with each foot strike. I tired easily. I won’t lie, I hated every moment of that run.

I needed a plan. But since I’m still a new runner (only one year and two half-marathons under my belt), I quickly realized I’d have to audition strategies each time I went out, monitoring my body and taking note of what worked for me.  It’s been two and a half months since I identified the IT Band injury. I’m 100% pain free today. Here’s how I ran back from my injury.

I began with two weeks off from running. In the gym, I got my cardio fix with the elliptical or stationary bike. Even then, I took it easy, elevating my heart rate to only 80% of target and stretching well afterwards. During this time, I began doing THIS IT Band strengthening exercise three times a week.

Week Three, I added two outdoor runs to my workouts. These runs were only two and three miles, respectively. I ran at about a 12-minute/mile pace. At each mile marker, I stopped and stretched to target the IT Bands of each leg. For up to two days following each of these runs, I felt a tightness in my right hip that was uncomfortable but not painful. I determined I had not re-injured the band.

During Week Four, I added another run. The longest of these three runs was four miles. I had learned from articles online that one possible cause of an IT Band injury is always running on the same side of the road. In her article “What Is Iliotibial Band Syndrome,” Elizabeth Quinn says, “IT band syndrome is common in runners who perform unbalanced, repetitive exercise such as running only on one side of a crowned road, or only running one way around a track. Most roads slope off to the sides and running along the edge causes to the outside foot to be lower than the inside foot. This in turn causes the pelvis to tilt to one side and stresses the IT band.” (Source) So, I began running with my back to oncoming traffic on straightaway stretches of my routes where there was excellent visibility. I removed my ear buds so I could hear the occasional car behind me, though I stuck to rural roads with little circulation.

Also, I’d read somewhere that running downhill can aggravate a sore IT Band because foot strikes are heavier against the pavement on a decline. So during Week Four, I ran straightaways and up hills, but I slowed to a walk when the course went downhill.

By this time, my hip was feeling much better. However, I still felt soreness in my right hip by about mile two of a run, and the discomfort usually lasted throughout that day.

I ran three times during Week Five, alternating sides of the road so that my hips were tilted for equal times. Instead of walking down the hills this week, I tried altering my foot strikes. Usually, my foot hits the pavement at its mid-point, at the arch. When I ran downhill, I deliberately hit the road with my heel first, rolling through the rest of my foot  until I pushed off with my toe for the next stride. I noticed a difference in the way this strategy forced my muscles to fire, and my legs absorbed the shock of running downhill differently, too. I did not feel soreness in my right hip on these runs.

For the next few weeks, I continued a three run/week schedule, employing my strategies and IT Band stretches. Sometime during this time, I stopped noticing any hip soreness during or after my runs.

This morning, I ran five miles. The IT Band in my right hip doesn’t give me trouble anymore. However, I understand now its fragility. Though I don’t alter my stride when the course goes downhill anymore, I do run on the opposite side of the road whenever it’s safe so my right foot isn’t always the outside one.  I continue the IT Band Strengthening Exercises three times a week. And should the Syndrome return one day, I now have a tried and true plan for recovery.

Have you ever suffered an (IT Band) injury? Please share your recovery strategies in the comments!

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Weekend in the Water

A great weekend is one when you chip away at your bucket list, coming one step closer to checking off a life goal. I had one of those weekends. And it was fab-U-lous.

With my husband, I participated in two training-intensive days of scuba classes. The course we’re taking is called Open Water Diver and is Scuba Schools International’s (SSI) basic certification curriculum. 

The classroom segment of each day covered what happens to your body as you descend and are subjected to the increasing atmospheric pressure of deep water. We learned in theory how to avoid disastrous underwater scenarios and how to deal with potential emergency situations. Each three-and-a half-hour-long classroom session was followed by three-and-a-half more hours in the pool, practicing the skills in which we must be proficient to become certified divers.

Photo Source

Skills I practiced included: controlling my descents and assents; equalizing the pressure in my ears; achieving neutral buoyancy; removing the regulator from my mouth and replacing it; recovering the regulator (in the event it should be knocked free and floating behind me, out of view); clearing water from my mask; sharing air, in the event I or my buddy runs out of air; and underwater hand signals. 

The skill that freaked me out the most, at first, was removing my mask underwater. To demonstrate the skill, I had to take the mask completely off, put it back on, and clear it of water. The trick is to stay calm and keep breathing through the regulator. It’s hard to trust that you won’t accidentally take water up your nose. (You don’t :D)

To complete our certification, hubs and I will do four open water dives in Florida this June. I have no apprehension whatsoever about exhibiting the skills I performed in the pool, on the floor of Gulf of Mexico. Actually, I’m super excited to get that gear on and get back in the water. I’m hooked on diving already!

What’s the next item on your bucket list you’ll go after? 



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iPod Nano Touch Changing My Workouts

When my sister in New York asked how my February half-marathon went in Atlanta, I told her how frustrated I’d been, running with my phone strapped to my arm so I could listen to Pandora. My phone is not a 4G hotspot, so as the race course wove through downtown Atlanta and surrounding neighborhoods, my phone repeatedly searched for WiFi access. This usually happened when my pace was in sync with the beat, when I relied on the music to get me up that hill or through that lactic burn. Suddenly, it would cut off. Then, minutes later when I’d turned my thoughts away from the aggravation and steered them instead to self-cheer leading mode, BAM! The music would come back on, full volume, and scare the ba-jeebers out of me. My poor heart! As if the stresses of the event weren’t enough….

So my sister, being the incredibly awesome person she is, marched down to the Apple store in Manhattan and bought me an iPod Nano with Multi-Touch Interface. It arrived last week.

This little device is changing my running workouts in the most surprising ways. First, having the ability to build playlists of the kind of music that lights my fire, that coaxes me into my happy pace without me even realizing it, is fantastic. But even more fab is the Fitness tab.

The icon is the Nike symbol and a plus sign. I touched it and a new screen with three options appeared: Walk, Run, and History. After playing around with all the options, I realized you can choose, for example, a running workout of ‘X’ number of miles, and choose the music you want to listen to, and the Nano records in its history what time you begin and finish, how far you went, what your average pace was, and how many calories you burned.

I tried the Fitness feature out today for the first time, on a five mile run. I ran a course I am familiar with, one I know where is each mile marker. Sure enough, at the first mile a lovely voice spoke over the music and told me I had completed one mile. She counted off each mile and told me when I’d reached my half-way point. Cool!

The only way this feature could be better is if it calculated my pace during each mile. But, I realize there are devices and apps on the market that will do so, should I ever want to invest in one.

I’ll leave you with one of the songs from my new “Tempo Run” playlist. Take Over Control by Afrojack, featuring Eva Simons Enjoy!

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Goal-Setting Starts Here

The best laid fitness plans are easily derailed when life gets busy. Excuses abound: The kids were home for spring break; the new mortgage company requested a mountain of paperwork for the refinancing that they needed, like, yesterday; a recurring and painful strain to of the IT Band flared again. Every day for a couple weeks I’ve let the thought, “Hm, I should work out today,” be the closest I’ve come to actually exercising.

And work on my manuscript? Yeah, ditto.

Getting back into the groove takes discipline, and a plan. If I jump back into running after a break like I’ve had, I’ll re-injure my hip or risk a new injury. And uncorking the muse doesn’t mean that bottled-up creativity will flow, on-demand. So this week, I have a strategy that will light the fires I need to restart my engines.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday are running days. Today, I completed my 5 mile route. I was unconcerned with pace or time. It was a gentle run, and I stopped a couple times to stretch my legs and hips. On Tuesday and Thursday, I’m going to practice yoga and stretch, incorporating this IT Band Strengthening Exercise.

Every day, I plan to shoot for 500 words minimum on my manuscript-in-progress. A daily writing practice is vital to any serious writer, because the more you write, the more you write. (Wait, what?) What I mean to say is this: a dedicated daily writing practice exponentially produces an ever more creative and inspired body of work.

It’s no secret how tightly linked performance is to diet. This is true whether we’re discussing running or writing, or any other activity that requires physical and mental strength. After the Easter Bunny left ridiculous amounts of chocolate goodies in my house, and a few weekends of gorgeous weather for outdoor barbecues and dining al fresco — where the drinks flowed freely — I must admit my uncomfortable condition of being simultaneously bloated and dehydrated. Not good.

This week’s nutrition goals include a clean diet of whole foods, low sodium, and no sugary snacks or desserts. I have a two-quart pitcher on the kitchen island that I filled this morning with filtered water. Throughout the day, I will refill my glass until the pitcher is empty. When I do this every day, I feel so much better across the board. I believe the single best change a person can make is drinking more water — staying hydrated is important to your bodily functions, your skin, your hair, your moods. Yes.

One week is usually all I need to get myself back on track, both out on the road and with my manuscript. Sticking to the schedule is never harder though, than during that first week. I don’t like to dangle reward-carrots in front of me; instead, I work best with looming deadlines. Fortunately, I have several coming up that I can use to my advantage. The first week of May, for example, my husband and I are getting our scuba diving certification. It will be an exercise-intensive couple days of pool work before the four open water dives we’ll complete in Florida. I want to feel fit and trim for that, so yeah. It’s on.

What goals have you challenged yourself with lately? Got any secrets to success you’d like to share?? 🙂

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IT Band Runner’s Injury Strengthening Exercise

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