Review: Fran Costigan's Essential Vegan Desserts Course Through Rouxbe

I was so excited to learn that Rouxbe had partnered with Fran Costigan to create the Essential Vegan Desserts Course (EVD), an online course that is based on Fran’s Vegan Baking Boot Camp.  Last year, I graduated from Rouxbe’s Plant-Based Professional Course (PBP) and it has changed my life. I was an “okay” cook before the taking the course and by the end of it, I learned how to properly use a knife, how to properly sauté vegetables, how to make homemade pasta and a variety of cooking methods. My family greatly benefited from me taking the course—suddenly, I was able to proficiently prepare nutritious and delicious meals.

I love taking online courses because I learn best by reading. Rouxbe’s courses are designed so that you can work at your own pace. While the PBP was 9 months long, the EVD was 90 days in length. The course is divided into units that cover a specific topic. Within the unit, you are reading about technique, watching videos about technique, completing assigned tasks and submitting photos/description for grading and then taking a unit assessment at the end of each unit.

I always do the “book work” first. In this course, I spent the first month reading, watching videos and taking the assessments. The “book work” for this course was extremely challenging for me. Sure, I had baked cookies and cakes as a kid, but now I was learning the difference between baking powder (single acting AND double acting) and baking soda, the difference between Dutched and raw cocoa and how the heck you can achieve leavening without eggs. I was learning the difference between unsweetened, bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate, how to temper chocolate, and the different protein contents in various flours (and which ones to use for various recipes). Did you know about the variety of rustic fruit desserts? There are cobblers, crisps, crumbles, slumps and grunts. I learned that you should place a cake in the refrigerator or freezer before frosting and to put a first layer of frosting called a crumb coat. I learned where to place the oven rack for the optimal outcome. In the PBP course, I felt that since I had been cooking plant-based meals for quite some time, the course helped me refine my techniques. There is so much flexibility in cooking. In the EVD course, I was in uncharted territory, learning things that I didn’t know before. Baking is much less forgiving than cooking. You need to measure accurately and timing is everything.

Once I tackled the book work, it was time to move onto the tasks. There were quite a few graded tasks in this course and to complete it on time, you have to keep up the cadence. There are 21!!! tasks that need to be completed. Each task requires that you show proficiency in the technique that you learned. You submit photos of your mise en place (translates to everything in its place—ingredients measured out), the recipe in progress, the plated dessert and a thorough description.

Unit 1 was an intro to the course and the opportunity to make your go-to dessert. I made Coconut Macaroons. My husband loves these and the vegan options at the grocery store are quite expensive. This recipe has only five ingredients, is simple to make and delicious.

Unit 2 covers the vegan pastry kitchen. It covers the basics about ingredients, equipment that will be used and how to measure. I was feeling confident about my progress. The task in this module was a kitchen reset—I got the pantry organized.

Unit 3, which covered key ingredients and functionality, was a wake up call and my head was spinning because there was so much to learn. I learned about flours (including gluten free options), fats, sweeteners and sugars, acids, fruits, dairy alternatives, gels and thickeners, and egg replacers and leaveners. The assessment quiz was challenging and I found myself going over my notes to ensure that I had absorbed everything. This module had some basic tasks—roasting fruits and working with agar.

Unit 4 was all about chocolate, non-dairy creams, aquafaba and puddings/mousse. We explored drinking chocolate, ganache and meringue. My absolute favorite task in the unit was Baked Alaska. My family agrees that this was the best dessert that I produced in the class. I remember my mom made it when I was a child. Her version was a thin layer of yellow cake that was about the size of the rectangular carton of ice cream. You place the ice cream on the cake, cover with meringue and then place in the oven until the meringue starts to brown. I made my version in individual ramekins. The cake was Fran’s Chocolate Cake to Live For. I froze the cake and then torted it (cut in half lengthwise), and used cutters to cut a round to fit the ramekin. The next layer was homemade peanut butter banana “nice cream”, followed by chocolate ganache. Finally, I piped meringue made from aquafaba (bean water) on top, sprinkled on some sugar and torched it with a handheld torch. The smell of the sugar when it is torched is like toasting a marshmallow. As I said, this was a huge hit!!

Unit 5 covered quick breads, cookies and bars. This included muffins, scones/biscuits, rustic fruit desserts cookies and bars. I felt most comfortable with the work in this unit since I had done a lot of baking in my lifetime. I still learned a lot because there were activities that took me out of my comfort zone—like making tuiles. So many favorite tasks from this unit were lemon poppy seed muffins, drop biscuits, berry cobbler, lace cookies and homemade graham crackers (yummy!). (See below in the final showcase for some photos of this type of work.)

Unit 6 was all about cakes. This was a fun unit and I loved learning about piping frosting. It truly is an art! My technique still needs some work, but I feel confident in showing off in the future. My best work here was the black forest cake. My daughter and I celebrate our birthdays together and I made this for us. I made two layers of chocolate cake and torted them. Between each layer was a simple blackberry filling and buttercream frosting. Wowee was this sweet and we could only have a very thin slice! I froze some of the extra pieces to enjoy in the future.

I was (rightfully so) scared of Unit 7. This unit covered pies and tarts. I don’t think I have ever mastered making pie dough and even after this course, I feel that I still have a lot to learn. I will continue to practice technique.

Unit 8 was my opportunity to create a dessert showcase and invite my friends to enjoy and experience what I had learned. I spent quite a bit of time preparing for the showcase and was so pleased how it turned out. The feedback that I received was great and I consider the showcase a success! It is hard to pinpoint the favorite but high marks were given to the chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse, the strawberry biscuits with coconut whip and the blueberry crisp.

The choco tacos were made with lace cookies, chocolate ganache, coffee banana nice cream and chopped peanuts.

The chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse was made with Fran’s chocolate cake and a peanut butter mousse that included coconut cream, peanut butter and powdered sugar.

The strawberry shortcake with coconut whip was made with the drop biscuit recipe from the course. The whipped cream was so simple and having the ISI whipped cream dispenser is a nice touch that produces airy cream topping.  This was a huge hit and the folks that gave up sweets for Lent felt that they could enjoy this because it seemed more like a breakfast dish.

strawberry shortcake.jpg

As I mentioned the blueberry crisp was a favorite. Could it be because of the cute little cast iron pans? My dessert preference is for something fruity and this hit the spot.

Most of my guests has an 18 mile run that morning, so the calories were well deserved. There were hardly any leftovers. I produced this recipe book to share with all who attended, so that they could enjoy these desserts at home.

Just as the PBP course changed my life, so did the EVD course. Fran was so supportive throughout and she truly knows desserts. I feel confident in the skills that I learned that I am able to prepare a variety of desserts that are dairy and egg free. If you are ready to take your cooking or desserts skills to the next level and wow, your family and friends, I highly recommend Rouxbe. You can find Fran here and Rouxbe here. Enjoy!

Diet Review: The Starch Solution

Summary:

This diet was developed by Dr. John McDougall, an internist who founded the McDougall Program, a residential program where medical miracles occur through diet and lifestyle changes. The diet focuses on eating a plant-based diet high in starches with potatoes, roots, winter squash, beans, rice and whole grains being the main staples (70%). These are complimented with fruits (10%) and non-starchy vegetables (20%); you can eat as much as you wish. The focus of this diet is on high starch plant foods because green and yellow vegetables are high in fiber and too low in calories to fulfill your caloric needs. Carbohydrates are the body’s source of energy and are broken down slowly by your digestive system, providing a steady stream of fuel. If you are trying to lose weight, the breakdown of calories is starch (45%), fruit (10%) and non-starchy vegetables (45%). Foods that should be avoided entirely are meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, animal fats and vegetable oils. Following this diet can lead to weight loss and preventing and curing many common diseases such as type-2 diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. While following the diet, track your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose level, BUN and uric acid level.

My Opinion:

This book confirms what I have believed for a very long time, that starches are the best way to feel satiated and energized. My best endurance runs are the mornings after I have eaten a whole foods starchy dinner of a baked potato and roasted vegetables. White potatoes have gotten a bad rap for a long time when in fact, they are nutritional powerhouses. They are low in calories, high in fiber and offer protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Potatoes are a good source of vitamins/minerals and contain phytonutrients that are antioxidants. I have also switched to fueling my 4 hour runs with plain rice and it works perfectly along with an electrolyte drink. This diet makes for an easy transition to a vegan diet because it won’t leave you feeling hungry. Visit Dr. McDougall’s website for free resources at: https://www.drmcdougall.com/. Click this link to download my one sheet list of foods to eat while following the Starch Solution: http://www.christineakiyoshi.com/purchase-services-products/food-list-for-the-starch-solution

Sharpening Phase of a Distance Running Program

What is it and why is it important?

In the base building phase, we built a base of miles, our commitment and put structure in place. We added volume until we had 25-40 miles per week. In the strength building phase, we added tempo/threshold runs and hills to challenge our cardiovascular system by adding stress to improve our lung capacity and to strengthen our muscles, ligaments and connective tissue. Next we move on to the sharpening phase. During this phase, we focus on interval training at the track. These runs should be done at 90-100% effort (maximum heart rate) and breathing is heavy--you are at the peak of your oxygen consumption. These workouts are meant to help us learn how to manage physical stress, practice competition strategies and practice response to the mental aspects or performing. This phase should train your body to utilize oxygen better and remove waste buildup in the muscles.

What is happening to our bodies and minds during this phase and what are the benefits?

With interval workouts, we introduce running for a specific distance at a specific pace with a specific recovery.

Benefits of interval workouts:

  • VO2 Max increases--we are able to take in and utilize more oxygen
  • Train muscles to efficiently absorb, deliver and utilize oxygen while removing waste products: carbon dioxide and lactic acid
  • Improve fast twitch muscle ability--more force is generated with each step along with a higher contraction of muscles
  • Focus on improving running form on a flat surface
  • Practice patience during some moderate physical discomfort
  • Increase strength
  • Faster running drills so that running goal race pace will seem easier
  • Teaches pace and muscle memory
  • Long intervals with short recovery stresses the anaerobic system and pushes up the anaerobic threshold
  • Improve mental toughness
  • Improved neuromuscular coordination

As in the base building and strengthening phases, we are teaching the body and mind to adapt to a specific stress until it is no longer stressful and then moving onto a different stress in the next phase. (IIP: Introduce, improve, perfect)

What else should we focus on during sharpening?

If you are lifting weights, this is the time to cut back a bit because stress from the running workouts may make you more prone to injury. Yoga can be beneficial.

What about rest and recovery?

Rest and recovery continues to be an important aspect in the sharpening phase of our program. Your body needs time to recover from muscle fatigue. Your body also needs time to flush the lactic acid out. Be sure to incorporate a few rest days. Optimum nutrition should continue to be a focus so that you are performing your best.

Final thoughts

I hope that you are seeing your long runs getting easier and your body getting stronger. You have made a huge investment into your training and it is going to pay off at your goal race. At this point it is all mental, so keep repeating those mantras.

The Importance of Glycogen and Running – How to Avoid Hitting the Wall

I have heard so many stories of runners hitting the wall…and have experienced it myself. The way to avoid it is actually pretty simple when you know a little about the physiology of the body. Have you ever bonked or hit the wall? If so, it happened when your body ran out of glycogen too fast.

Glycogen Basics

Glycogen is a sugar that is stored in your liver and muscles and is the fuel that a distance runner’s body prefers to use. Your body chooses to use glycogen first because it is easy to burn and fat is used as the backup fuel. A finite amount of glycogen can be stored at any one time: 400 grams in the muscles and 100 grams in the liver. This is enough to get you through 20 miles. The calculation is as follows: 500 grams of carbohydrates (glycogen) at 4 calories per gram = 2,000 calories. The burn rate for calories on a run is around 100 calories per mile. So 2,000 calories would last 20 miles.

How Glycogen and Fat are Used for Energy

Glycogen is broken down into glucose for your body to use as energy. The harder you run, the more you burn. It is important that you don’t burn through it too quickly and that you replace lost glycogen throughout the run so the key is to consume calories before you feel tired. Why? Because it takes about 30 minutes for the glucose to reach your bloodstream after you consume it. You have also been training your body on the long runs to switch over to burning fat when you get into the later miles. But burning fat for fuel is less efficient and you will slow down, so it is best to keep the glucose levels steady.

What is Happening When You Bonk or Hit the Wall?

When liver glycogen depletes, is causes a drop in blood sugar. You might feel light headed, lack concentration and have heavy legs. Serotonin increases, which makes you tired and dopamine decreases—which is the feel good hormone. To get back on track slow your pace after taking some nutrition and wait to feel better. The way to avoid the wall altogether is to consume calories while running so that you don’t deplete the stores.

Carb Loading Before the Race

In the three days leading up to the marathon, you should increase your percentage intake of carbohydrates to 70%. Your caloric intake should remain the same so as you increase carbs, you will decrease your protein and fat calories. You also need to increase water consumption because water is needed to help store glycogen. For every gram of carbohydrate that you store, you also store three to five grams of water—so you may go up a bit in weight, but it is just water—so do not worry, you will burn it off at the race! The bonus is that you will be well hydrated. Cutting back on miles leading up the race helps your body reduce glycogen consumption—and your stores will be full by race day. In the hours leading up to the marathon, eat high glycemic index foods to increase blood sugar and glycogen stores. Some good options are: bananas, potatoes, white rice, oatmeal, popcorn, white bread and rice cakes. In the two hours leading up the race, do not eat anything.

Replacing Glucose During the Race

If you are using energy gels, energy blocks/chews or beans, start taking these an hour into the race. You will want to take 100-200 calories per hour. Follow this with a full 8 ounces of plain water. A good way to remind yourself to take in calories is that when you are coming up on a water stop, take your nutrition in advance of getting there and then grab a cup or two of plain water. If your digestive system is sensitive to eating on a run consider liquid nutrition like Tailwind or Skratch which includes both calories and electrolytes. If you combine this with other semi-solid and solid nutrition, be sure that you follow it with plain water.

Hopefully by now, you have experimented with this and are feeling good by mile 20 on the training run. Try to stay mindful throughout your long training runs and marathon—you will be so thankful that you did and will enjoy the experience so much more.

Running Clothing Basics

Most of us have been running for quite some time but when the weather starts to change, we all need a refresher course on what to wear. Plus, the manufacturers of clothing make improvements each year and so now is the time to upgrade your wardrobe—out with the old and in with the new. Today, I will cover some basics that you should consider when buying running clothing and choosing your outfit for the run. First and foremost, it is extremely important to purchase clothing that was designed for running. If you do, it will most likely encompass all of the basics. Let’s get into some of the details below.

Wicking material – Probably THE most important thing to consider is the material that the clothing is made from. You want to choose clothing that is made of wicking material and might also be called “technical” fabric. What does the material do? It keeps moisture away from your body so that you don’t get overheated in the heat or freezing in the cold. It also dries quicker than fabrics like cotton. Technical clothes are mostly lightweight and stretchy so that they will fit your body well.

Light reflection/bright and light colors – Most clothing that is designed for running will have reflectors placed in strategic areas so that you can be seen if you are running in the dark like we do! Also pay attention to color. Purchase bright or lightly colored fabrics. In the summer, you want to wear light-colored garments so that sunlight is reflected. Bright colors will help drivers see you while you run on the roads.

Compression – This is not a necessity but can greatly help you on your runs. Compression clothing is available in shorts, tights, shirts, socks and sleeves. Wearing compression clothing stimulates circulation and pushes blood back to your heart while adding warmth to the body. It helps with muscle containment and vibration and reduces swelling.

Hard shell/rain vests and jackets – For rainy and windy days when the weather has gotten colder, you will want to have one of these jackets in your running wardrobe. Considerations when purchasing one:

  • Breathability - When you run, you sweat and if the sweat has nowhere to go because of restricted airflow, you will be soaking wet. The body is an amazing machine that perspires in order to cool, but you need to have air hit the sweat in order for the body to regulate temperature and mesh panels let the heat out. Look for a jacket with mesh panels that work as a vent and vent flaps that overlap the mesh. The mesh panels can be in a number of places on the jacket—in the armpits, along the sides or horizontally along the back.
  • Water and Wind Resistance – Your jacket should have some water resistance—more if the fabric is tightly woven, but will not be entirely waterproof. If it is especially windy, you may opt for a jacket that has fewer mesh panels. Again, the more tightly woven the fabric, the more protection you will have from the water and wind.
  • Insulation - If the weather is especially cold, you may want to wear an insulated vest/jacket. Choose something where the insulation is breathable.

Important Minerals for Runners

It is important to eat a diet that is rich in the 16 essential minerals for a variety of health reasons but today I want to focus on how minerals keep your body in tip top shape for running. While it is best to get minerals from food sources because they are more readily absorbed by the body, runners will need to supplement with electrolyte replacements to account for mineral loss through bodily fluids. Below are some minerals that are especially important to runners.

Runners need healthy/strong bones and eating the rights foods should reduce your risk of stress fractures. Bone is alive and is constantly being broken down and replaced in your body. Good news is that running actually helps to strengthen your bones. The minerals that specifically help create healthy and strong bones are Calcium, Fluoride, Magnesium, Manganese and Phosphorus.

  • Calcium: dark leafy greens, rhubarb, legumes
  • Fluoride: grape juice, drinking water, tea
  • Magnesium: bananas, leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, chocolate, molasses
  • Manganese: bananas, leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, tea, molasses
  • Phosphorus: broccoli, potatoes, almonds, beer, soda pop

In our training program we work on our aerobic capacity by continuously adding time to our runs. We physically train the lungs to work more efficiently. Looking for a food boost that will help with aerobic capacity and aerobic endurance? Eat foods that contain Iron and Zinc.

  • Iron: dried fruits, dark leafy greens, enriched grains, legumes, cashews, chocolate
  • Zinc: green peas, legumes, nuts

Running is easier with a healthy heart. And while running, our heart works to pump blood to areas of the body where it is needed most. What is the best mineral for a healthy heart? Potassium is the go to.

  • Potassium: bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, legumes, almonds, coconut water

I am sure that you have noticed development of your muscles since you have been running. Big score for runners is that more muscle leads to higher fat burning. Looking to support muscle growth and function? Calcium, Chromium, Iodine, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium and Zinc fit the bill.

  • Calcium: dark leafy greens, rhubarb, legumes
  • Chromium: apples, broccoli, whole grains, nuts, beer, red wine
  • Iodine: strawberries, corn, baked potatoes, sea vegetables, lima beans, tea, iodized salt
  • Magnesium: bananas, leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, chocolate, molasses
  • Potassium: bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, legumes, almonds, coconut water
  • Sodium: bananas, leafy greens, table salt
  • Zinc: green peas, legumes, nuts

Finally, let’s look at energy and endurance--this is especially important for long distance runners. If you want to boost your energy and endurance, focus on foods rich in Magnesium.

  • Magnesium: bananas, leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, chocolate, molasses

If you are eating a well-rounded diet that is mostly whole foods including lots of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, you should be getting the appropriate minerals that you need day to day. To account for mineral loss through sweat and urine make sure that you are replacing them through electrolytes by supplementing with an electrolyte replacement that includes the minerals that maintain the body’s fluid balance: sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

Strenthening the Feet and Reducing Foot Discomfort for Runners

We have been racking up a lot of miles and I am sure that you are starting to feel some discomfort in your feet after the long run. Think about it…we are taking 180 steps per minute, so for each mile that we log at a 12:00 pace, we are taking 2,160 steps. That means that on the long run this weekend you will be taking almost 40,000 steps—all before 9:00 am. Pretty incredible considering that many people set goals to take 10,000 steps in a day—we are knocking it out of the park! So, what is going on with your feet and why do they feel so sore after the run? And most importantly, what can you do to combat the soreness and fatigue?

Some basics about foot anatomy

Each foot contains 26 bones, 33 muscles, 31 joints and over 100 ligaments. Considering that the human body only has 206 bones, the fact that the feet together have 52 of those is pretty remarkable. Did you know that there are more sweat glands per inch on your feet than anywhere in the body? There are 125,000 sweat glands in each foot that release nearly a cup of moisture every day, keeping those babies nice and moisturized.

Some of important components of the foot that relate to running:

  • The Achilles tendon makes it possible to rise up on your toes, run and jump.
  • The plantar fascia aids in support and stabilization of the foot during running. As you begin a step the heel lifts up and the plantar fascia tightens to form the curve of the arch and provides a strong push off with the toes.

What is causing the discomfort and what can I do?

The first thing to look at is your shoes. Do they allow for your feet to swell on the long run? If you are wearing shoes that have a lot of wear, your feet might be trying to accommodate and your biomechanics might be thrown off. Be sure to get fitted by a professional at RunOn and a rule of thumb is that your running shoes should be at least a size bigger than your regular shoes. You should have a thumb width distance from where your toe ends and the end of the shoe. They should fit snug around the ankle so that your foot doesn’t slip in and out.

I have to ask a personal question--are your toenails trimmed? I keep my toenails extremely short and you know why? I have lost toenails from running in the past. Your toenails can rub against the inside of the shoe or even cut the adjacent toes. I go to a nail salon for a pedicure but I cut my nails before I go because the nail technician won’t usually cut them as short as I like. Black toenail can happen from excessive rubbing or Morton’s Toe. This is the official name for the second toe being longer than the big toe (how many of you have it? I do!). Be sure that the toe box of your shoe is wide and long enough to accommodate this. With black toenail, the blood is pooling under the toenail. You can either wait until it falls of or see a podiatrist to get some help. You might also have a thickened toenail—which is caused by repeated trauma to the nail. I am particularly susceptible to this often have a black and thickened toenail all in one. This sucker will stick around for as long as you let it but if you want to get rid of it, you can file it down. Use an emery board to file the top of the nail and new growth should come in over time.

You might not have built up the strength in your feet that you need for the long runs. We are so used to wearing shoes that support our feet that we don’t build the muscles that are necessary. Your arches might have fallen or you might have weak feet. Try to walk in your bare feet as much as possible to build those muscles. While you are walking, focus on lifting the arch of your foot off the floor. Think of your foot having four corners—the big toe, the little toe, and the two sides of the heel. Make sure that your weight is evenly distributed on all four corners. I have some strengthening exercises later in this post. Wearing compression socks will be a huge help with this—they stabilize and increase the blood flow.

Blisters can form for a variety of reasons—from shoes not fitting properly to wearing the wrong type of sock. If the blister is not causing pain, leave it alone. But if you are like me, you won’t be able to leave it alone. I usually puncture it with a sterilized needle and then squeeze out the liquid. Keep it clean and dry as much as you can. You can try aloe to speed the healing if the skin has come off the top exposing the raw flesh underneath. There are also a lot of special products that you can buy to put over the blister—which can protect it on the run. Some people even swear by duct tape but I have never tried it. Be sure to wear socks that are specifically made for running in order to keep your feet dry and to support the foot.

What can you do?

Simple quick fixes:

  • Use a tennis ball to massage the bottom of your feet. Place it under the arch of your foot and roll it along the arch.
  • If your feet are swollen after the run, put them in an ice bath.
  • Feet aren’t swollen but just sore? Soak your feet in warm water with Epsom salt.
  • Skip the high heels and cowboy boots! (There are some crazy people out there who have run a marathon in high heels to raise money for charity. I am crazy but not THAT crazy.)
  • Wear compression socks to support the feet.

Exercises to stretch and strengthen your feet (start by doing each one 3 times a day and hold for 30 seconds each; increase time as you become more comfortable):

  • Lie on your back and bend your knee into your chest. Take a strap or belt and place it on the ball of the foot, holding the strap on each side of the foot with your hands. Start to extend the leg, bringing it fully straightened. Everyone’s flexibility will be different so you might not have your leg at a 90 degree angle with the body. Once the leg is straight, pull down on the strap so that your toes are coming closer to you and your heel becomes higher than the toes. Repeat on the other side.
  • On the floor, sit up tall with your knees bent, back flat. The bottoms of the feet are facing each other and knees are splayed out to the side. Lean forward and weave the fingers of one hand between each of the toes of your opposite foot. With a firm grip, stretch and massage the toes and the ball of the foot.
  • Place a towel on the ground and sit with your feet flat on the towel, knees bent at 90 degrees. Scrunch your toes try to grab the towel with your feet and pull it toward you
  • Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart. Try to lift just the big toe on both feet, keeping the other toes down. Then try to do the exact opposite: lift all the toes but the big toes. Lift the big toe and baby toe up as you press the three middle toes down. Lift the three middle toes up while pressing the big toe and baby toe down. This one is very difficult at first but with practice you can do it! Most people who pronate, or roll to the inner arch, have a hard time lifting the big toes and most people who supinate, or roll on to the outer edges of the foot, have a hard time lifting the other toes.
  • While sitting in a chair, slowly take the ankle in circles in both directions clockwise and counter-clockwise
  • Place some marbles or other small balls on the floor. Use your toes to pick them up
  • Stand on a slanted board with your feet fully planted and toes fully spread apart. Rise up onto your toes and hold, pressing down through every toe
  • Stand up straight and shift your weight to your left leg. Flex your right toes up toward the ceiling and then curl the toes to pull at the ground, scrunching your toes to move the right foot forward an inch at a time. Repeat on the other side
  • While standing up straight, press the heel, big toe joint and the pinky toe joint into the floor and lift the arch of your foot. Balance and hold for 10 seconds
  • Hero pose: come onto your knees with the knees separated hip width distance and the heels of the feet separated a little wider than the hips. The tops of the feet are flat on the floor. Gently sit the hips down in between the heels. If this feels okay, bring your elbows down to the floor behind you. If this feels okay, start to walk your elbows forward until your back is flat on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Toe pose sequence: begin on your hands and knees with a folded blanket under your knees. Your knees and feet should be slightly apart with the shins parallel with each other. Turn your toes under so balls of feet rest on floor. Sit back on heels with knees resting on the floor. Place hands on tops of thighs. Hold for 30 seconds. Next, lift your knees off the floor so that you are squatting and balancing on your toes. Hold for 30 seconds. Next, bring your heels to the floor and sit in a squat with feet flat to the floor. You may need to separate the feet apart wider to bring your heels all the way to the floor
  • Downward-facing dog: begin on your hands and knees with the wrists below the shoulders and the knees below the hips. Curl your toes under and press your hips up, bringing your body into a 90 degree angle with the floor. Lengthen through the arms and the legs. Next, come up on your toes, lifting the arches of your feet as high as possible and then extend the heels down toward the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.

How Running a Marathon is Like Having a Baby

One can make the comparison of having a baby with many different things, but none can quite compare to running a marathon. If you haven’t given birth, you are about to find out what it is like. And if you haven’t run a marathon….well, you are going to get a taste of that too.

6 months pre-birth/pre-race

Oh my gosh! I am having a baby/signing up for a marathon. Am I ready for this? What can I expect over the new 6 months? I am so excited to be embarking on this adventure and I can’t stop talking about it. I post on Facebook to share my good news. The congratulations are rolling in. I feel so special and this is an experience that will be truly unique. My husband and I are in this together—what could be a better shared experience?

3 months pre-birth/pre-race

Wow, on one hand these months have flown by with planning and preparation and on the other hand, there have been some challenges. After my initial excitement, reality set in. I was riding high and then realized that my life was about to change—big time. I have been caring for myself in a way that I never had before. I have been paying close attention to what I eat. Some things make me sick while others make me feel great and I feel FAMISHED all of the time! I am trying to balance proper nutrition while watching my weight—which is really hard to do. I am staying active so that I can prepare for the big day. I am sleeping all of the time but feeling more tired than usual. I have increased my water consumption and am spending a LOT of time in the bathroom. This is more planning than I thought I would need to do, but I am finally starting to get it. Emotionally, I am still very excited, but am also getting a little nervous. Will the day go as expected? Have I thought of everything that I needed to think of? Is my “team” ready to cheer me on? Oh—better work on my breathing exercises!

1 month pre-birth/pre-race

The big day is all I can talk about and I think my friends are getting sick of hearing about it. The day will be here before I know it—I have butterflies just thinking of it. As time has gone on, the physical demands have become greater. There are days that I feel on top of the world—beautiful, healthy and happy and there are others when I feel like total crap. What was I thinking? I…just…need…to…power...through. But from a physical perspective, I feel like my body is ready for this amazing thing to happen. I have been caring for myself in the way that I should. I just need to get to the big day.

1 week pre-birth/pre-race

I have my bag packed and I am ready to go. It’s almost show time! I have thought through every scenario. What if it takes longer than I expected? I am okay with that because I have worked hard to get to this place and the goal is to finish. What if I get sick or injured? I am sending positive energy out into the universe so that I will feel amazing when the day comes. Will I get through this without pain killers? Of course I will! I will celebrate with the ultimate pain killer at the end—champagne!

The big day

I am so incredibly nervous even though I know that I have done my best to prepare for this. The time is now and there is no turning back. I am more ready for this than anything in my whole life. My hubby will cheer me on from the sidelines—my biggest supporter in this adventure of a lifetime!

At the start of labor/race

Oh, I have butterflies. I feel like I am going to vomit I am so nervous. My team is here to cheer me on but I know that the only person who can do this is me. So many emotions are flooding through me—happiness, excitement, fear. I am tense because I just don’t know what to expect. My team is rubbing my shoulders, breathing with me to calm me down and pumping me up for the miracle—yes miracle—that is about to happen.

One hour/five miles in

Man, I feel GOOD! This is not going to be hard at all. Sure, there are small waves of physical discomfort but nothing that I can’t handle. Everyone around me is in good spirits and the energy is positive. I am focusing on my breath and making small adjustments with my body to make myself more comfortable. Time to sip some water and settle in for this amazing experience.

Two hours/ten miles in

All of those horror stories that you hear are so not true. People say this is painful? I feel GREAT! My body feels strong and I will easily make it to the finish line. This is smooth sailing baby! Wait...did my water just break or is that my (hydration vest) bladder leaking???

Three hours/fifteen miles in

Getting hungry….very hungry. And my body is starting to feel some moderate discomfort. Everyone around me seems to have the best intentions. They are cheering for me but I don’t think they know exactly how I am feeling. They are all smiles and laughter and I am trying my best to put on a happy face. Do they think this is easy? I am starting to wonder what I signed up for. I know that I am over half way there, but there is still a long way to go. How can I distract myself? Okay, I know…I will try to remember the words to the songs from the Sound of Music. “The hills are alive….” Oh no…..here comes another wave of discomfort. Breathe, breathe, breathe….okay where was I? “….with the sound of music….”

Four hours/twenty miles in

Oh good Lord. What have I gotten myself into? I look at my husband and say “How could you make me do this? I hate you!” Those breathing exercises that I learned? Well, they don’t seem to be working right now. The discomfort is increasing every moment and I can’t seem to take my mind off of it. I think that my team is getting a little impatient with me…I guess I shouldn’t have snapped at them. But they keep saying things like “almost there” and “you can do this”. What the heck do they know??? Am I almost there and can I do this? I feel like crying but know that if I do that I just might not be able to finish. I keep repeating my mantra “Mind over matter”.

Five hours/twenty five miles in

I can’t feel my body—which is actually a good thing--the body is an amazing machine that protects you from feeling extreme pain. More people are around—with smiling faces and encouraging words. I can hear my blood pumping in my ears. I am sweaty and gross and have removed most of my clothing and you know what? I don’t even care! Strangers all around are seeing me at my worst but I have one mission and that is to finish this thing. Here comes my second wind. Breathe….push through…I am truly almost there.

Finish line

Oh glory days! The end is truly near—I can see it. I can’t hear a thing and only see the smiling faces and lights all around, cheering me on. No more pain or discomfort. Everything that I have worked so hard for is coming to fruition in this final moment. I cross the finish line and am handed my baby/medal and I am overcome by the most amazing feeling of accomplishment and love that I have ever felt. I take a breath now that it is all over and collapse, a sweaty mess, in tears of euphoria. Just wow!

The aftermath

Hmmmm…a little sore and fatigued but that really wasn’t that bad and my feelings of happiness have replaced anything negative that was going on inside my head. This healthy body of mine got me through a physical experience like no other—I survived and thrived! I celebrate with a huge meal, some champagne and a bath. Then my hubby says “When do you want to do the next one?” Doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all…….

***Disclaimer: In doing my research for this, most women say that having a baby is MUCH more difficult than running a marathon. So, what are you afraid of? Just do it! (The marathon, that is.)

Running in the Heat and Humidity

It looks like this summer is going to be a hot and humid one and we are feeling the effects of the heat already. As the temperature rises, your body is working harder to cool you down. Your heart rate increases and breathing becomes more rapid. Add some humidity to the mix and it feels even hotter. What is going on and how do we adapt?

What is going on in the body?

When you run in the heat, your overall body temperature rises. The more body mass (insulation) you have, the more heat your body generates and as you age, you become less adaptable to the heat. When your temperature rises, the blood in your body starts to go to your skin to cool you off through sweating. Air circulation helps the sweat to evaporate and cool you down. But, high humidity prevents the sweat from evaporating from your skin so that your body can’t cool. There is no easy way to calculate the heat index, but here is a handy chart that I found.

When your blood is going to your skin that means that less blood is available to send oxygen to your muscles. This is going to slow you down. Every 5 degrees rise in temperature above 60 degrees can slow your pace by 20 to 30 seconds per mile.

Top that off with each of us loses a different amount of sweat and sodium so the amount of water and electrolytes that each of us needs is going to be different.

How do you best prepare for running in heat and humidity?

Take your time to ease into it. It takes a few weeks for your body to acclimate to the change. During the acclimation period, slow your pace down a bit while keeping the effort the same.

Picking the appropriate clothing is important as well. Wear lightly colored technical clothing and keep it as minimal as possible. If the temperature is above 70 degrees, wear shorts and a tank top. A visor will help to keep the sun out of your eyes while allowing the heat to evaporate through the top of your head and sunglasses will be important as our runs go later into the morning because your eyes can be damaged by the sun.

Our scheduled runs are at the coolest part of the day. Be sure that when you are running on your own, you plan your run for early in the day. Try to run on a route that has shade.

As we have mentioned so many times, hydration will be the most important thing that you can do to keep your body cool. Keep hydrated on all days, not just the ones where you run. Electrolytes become even more important for fluid absorption and retention as you are sweating and losing water, so pay special attention. Your urine should be the color of straw. Darker than that means you aren’t drinking enough and lighter means that you are drinking too much.

You can use a sauna to increase your hyperthermic conditioning. By spending time in the sauna, your body will go through some interesting adaptations including increased blood plasma volume and blood flow to the heart. More plasma means that your blood will flow easily and will take longer to get sticky and thick. Spending time in the sauna will also teach your body to have a lower core temperature and increase your sweat rate. Using a sauna should be done in moderation and be sure to wipe the sweat from your skin when you emerge from the sauna because you just released some toxins from the body.

How about after the run?

You are most likely going to feel a bit more fatigued that you normally do. Your body is still working hard to cool down long after you are done with the run. The blood is going to the skin instead of to the muscles and so recovery is going to be slower. Take your recovery days seriously.

Take an Epsom salt bath. The skin is the easiest way to get lost minerals back into the body. Add two cups to a warm bath, soak for 30 minutes and then rinse in a cool shower. The Epsom salts will also help with muscle fatigue.

Keep hydrating! Your body is about 70-75% water so keep your cells happy and healthy through hydration.

I hope these tips are helpful to you as you acclimate and remember that sweating is a good thing—it means that your body is doing what it should be doing!

Important Vitamins for Runners

It is important to eat a diet that is rich in the 13 essential vitamins for a variety of health reasons but today I want to focus on how vitamins keep your body in tip top shape for running. It is best to get vitamins from a food source rather than taking supplements because they are more readily absorbed by the body. There are some vitamins that are especially important to runners.

Runners need healthy/strong bones and eating the rights foods should reduce your risk of stress fractures. Bone is alive and is constantly being broken down and replaced in your body. Good news is that running actually helps to strengthen your bones. The vitamins that specifically help create healthy and strong bones are Vitamin A, Biotin (Vitamin H), Vitamin D and Vitamin K.

  • Vitamin A: yellow and orange fruits and vegetables and dark leafy greens
  • Biotin: avocados, beans, nuts and seeds
  • Vitamin D: mushrooms, fortified grains and sunlight (many people need to supplement Vitamin D)
  • Vitamin K: cabbage family, dark leafy greens, sprouts and oils

In our training program we work on our aerobic capacity by continuously adding time to our runs. We physically train the lungs to work more efficiently. Looking for a food boost that will help with aerobic capacity and aerobic endurance? Eat foods that contain Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

  • Thiamin: melons, acorn squash, beans, lentils and nuts/seeds
  • Riboflavin: dark leafy greens and almonds
  • Folic Acid: apricots, melons, dark leafy greens, red/orange vegetables, legumes, lentils and nuts/seeds
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, bell peppers and cabbage family
  • Vitamin E: dark leafy greens, nuts/seeds and oils

Running is easier with a healthy heart. And while running, our heart works to pump blood to areas of the body where it is needed most. What is the best vitamin for a healthy heart? Vitamin A is the go to.

  • Vitamin A: yellow and orange fruits and vegetables and dark leafy greens

I am sure that you have noticed development of your muscles since you have been running. Big score for runners is that more muscle leads to higher fat burning. Looking to support muscle growth? Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12 fit the bill.

  • Vitamin B6: non-citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, legumes and tofu
  • Vitamin B12: fortified cereal, soymilk and nutritional yeast

Finally, let’s look at energy and endurance--this is especially important for long distance runners. If you want to boost your energy and endurance, focus on foods rich in Niacin (Vitamin B3), Vitamin C and Choline (not a true vitamin but an essential nutrient). Note: Endurance athletes are at risk of being deficient in choline, so load up.

  • Niacin: asparagus, mushrooms, potatoes and nuts
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, bell peppers and cabbage family
  • Choline: cooked broccoli and Brussels sprouts and peanuts

If you are eating a well-rounded diet that is mostly whole foods including lots of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, you should be getting the appropriate vitamins. If there is an area above where you feel you haven’t reached your optimum level in running, take some time to focus in on the vitamins that will enhance how you feel.

Should I run or exercise when I am not feeling well?

Should I run or exercise when I am not feeling well?

As we get deeper into our training schedule, we hate to miss a run, fearing that we will lose some of the fitness that we have gained. But what if you start to feel a bit under the weather? The winter weather seems to bring a fresh crop of viruses with it and the spring weather brings all types of allergens in the air. Running and being physically active is a boost to the immune system and does wonders for your mental state of mind.

Most doctors agree that you should use the “neck rule” when deciding if you are well enough to run.

If you have symptoms below the neck (chest cold, bronchial infection, body aches, fever, fatigue), you should rest until you are feeling better. If you have a fever over 99 degrees, you should skip the run because your core body temperature can rise—which is not a good idea! Give your body a chance to rest and allow your immune system to help fight the illness.

If you have symptoms above the neck (runny nose, sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing), then by all means, get out there! But, if those symptoms feel like they are progressing to something more serious like a sinus infection with pressure in the nasal cavities, then you should take a rest for a few days. Sometimes even when a fever isn’t present, sinus infections can lead to pneumonia.

Below is a handy flow chart that you can use to determine if you are well enough to run.

   

Mental Toughness

We are starting to get into our longer runs and our bodies have gotten used to the physical stress. Now is the time to work on the mental aspect of running. Committing to a program and setting goals takes a lot of hard work and determination. We have made that promise to ourselves and are doing the work but sometimes our thinking can get in the way of our goals. We might decide to sleep in instead of getting up for the run—rationalizing that we will get it in later. (We always regret missing a run and never regret when we show up.) We choose to cut our long run short—rationalizing that we don’t have a goal race and so it doesn’t matter. (We miss out on that extra fat burn.) We don’t show up for the hills because they are hard—rationalizing that when we do run a race, it won’t have hills like the ones in Lakewood. (These “speed” workouts make us stronger so that our easy runs are easier.) We skip the track workout—rationalizing that we are fine with running our easy pace in the race. (We might grow to love something that we didn’t love before.) We don’t come out to run in the rain and cold---rationalizing that it will be unbearable. (Showing up for those runs helps us learn to run in any condition—and easily get through it.) I could go on….

We need to continue to build a high level of self-motivation. We have to wake up each morning, ready and willing to do the work, even when we are tired and stressed, when conditions aren’t ideal and when we don’t like the workout that is planned. What I love about running with a group is that we can support each other through it all.

You have the foundation to build upon:

  • Love of running – you have chosen this form of exercise to keep yourself fit and healthy. Remember when you first started? Think back to the reason that you signed up. You had a goal. For me, I had just turned 40 and wanted to be fit for the first time in my life. I also wanted to hike the Mont Blanc mountain range in Europe. Each day when I got up to run, I thought of those goals and soon enough, my love for running grew. What is your story?
  • Determination – you come out to run even when you are tired or aren’t feeling your best. You continually push yourself to run more miles, increase your pace and run the next race. You might have encountered obstacles along the way—an injury, tough work schedule, family commitments—but yet, you still coming back. The hard work has paid off. Reflect on how far you have come!
  • Discipline and consistency - you continue to practice, practice, practice until you have mastered it. The more you run, the easier it becomes. Your hard work pays off in more ways than one.
  • Faith in yourself – you came to this class knowing that you can tackle these workouts. You know that you can physically get through it. Keep that faith!

So, how do you get through those days when you don’t feel like showing up? How do you finish a run, when you feel like there is nothing left in the tank?

  • Think positively. Find your own personal mantra and repeat it to yourself. Be grateful for all kinds of weather. Look around and take in the beauty of nature. Be thankful for having a healthy body that allows you to be physically active. Think about the people that inspire you—whether they are fellow runners or elite athletes. Run the mile you are in and enjoy it.
  • Visualize the end result. On race day, see yourself crossing the finish line with a huge smile on your face and getting the medal you worked so hard for. Think of your family and friends cheering you on and the sense of pride they feel that you did it! On training days, think how great you are going to feel at the end when you finish strong. Keep replaying that vision in your mind when it starts to wander to negative thinking.
  • Focus and set your intention for the run. Take an aspect of your running and make that a focus for the day. Keep revisiting that aspect throughout the run. Some ideas are breathing, vertical oscillation and cadence.

Know that where the mind goes, the body follows. Building mental toughness is helpful in reaching your full potential of physical limits. Be the cheerleader for yourself that you are for others. Every single day, get out of bed and say “I can do this!”

Running Form and Efficiency

Most of us have been running for quite some time and I think it is helpful to check in on running form and efficiency on a regular basis. The goal is to stay pain- and injury-free and enjoy our time on the road. Have you ever been sidelined with pain or an injury? I sure have and every time I could tie it back to something in my running form. My stress fracture most certainly was due to running with my toes turned in, which in turn made me land on the outside of my feet instead of mid-foot. My fibula was taking a pounding and before long I had to take a break while I healed. Another time, I had a strain in my piriformis. That happened from running on the left hand side of the road. That strain led to one hip being higher than the other. I had to work with a chiropractor and a muscle activation therapist to get things straightened out. By focusing on form, we work to eliminate the chance of injury. As we start to increase our weekly mileage, we need to be especially cognizant of this because when you are tired, your form can fall apart.

Cadence refers to the number of times your feet touch the ground in one minute. The aim is 180 beats per minute and you can use a clip on metronome or use an app on your phone until it becomes natural. Working to keep at 180 steps per minute will increase efficiency and decrease fatigue. Think about your tissues being like rubber bands. When stretched and released they snap back forcefully. With a longer stride and slower cadence, the elastic recoil is less forceful, which will make you work harder. Cadence at 180 leads to efficiency because there will be no pause at the completion of the leg follow through. By keeping the cadence up, your stride will be shorter, preventing braking and will also give you less contact time with the ground.

Relaxation is key to getting through a long run. Many of us hold tension in our bodies and specifically in muscles when we run. We need listen to our body to troubleshoot—looking for tension and fatigue in a method called Body Sensing. You do a scan from the top of your head all the way to your toes finding those areas that are tired and giving them a rest while recruiting other areas to do the work.

Running softly will reduce the impact on your bones and joints. When you are running, the impact when you touch the ground is equivalent to 3 times your body weight. With a hard landing, the impact will vibrate up through your legs. Listen to your feet when you are running….what do you hear? Your feet should hardly be making any noise--your steps are light and quick with no shuffling or dragging of the feet.

Mid-foot strike allows you to get your foot under the hip to propel your body forward. If your foot lands out in front of you, you will strike on the heel, working against gravity and causing a braking motion. Landing on the toes will cause your calves to get tired very quickly. When you have the foot land under the hip, your center of mass will continue to move forward--using momentum to move you rather than energy. Think of the push-off as a clawing motion, pulling the ground back as you launch forward.

What does good posture look like? Imagine a straight line drawn from your shoulders to hips to heels. When you run, all of these parts should be in a straight line. Here is more:

  • Spine is elongated, you are running tall and core is strong. Your energy should be coming from this place. Alignment off? Breathing will be harder as the shoulders slump forward.
  • The belly is pulled in and the pelvis is at neutral. Alignment off? Your butt will stick out in the back and you will bend at the waist. You might experience lower back soreness because the back muscles are strained. This can also lead to the hip muscles having to work harder.
  • Your neck is in line with the spine—which means that you aren’t bending the neck to look down at the ground. Your eyes do the looking. Chin is level. Alignment off? Your head weighs 15 pounds. When the head drops, the shoulders hunch over and you will have less lung capacity.
  • Shoulders are relaxed down away from the ears and there is no tension in them. Alignment off? You might get cramping in your neck and generally have tension throughout the body. Shoulders drawn too far back will make you lean back instead of leaning forward, which will slow you down.
  • Elbows are bent at a 90 degree angle and close in toward the side of the body. The elbows are pulling straight backwards, which helps the legs move forward. Alignment off? You will have too much rotation through the torso, wasting a bunch of energy. This can also cause your hips and legs to rotate instead of moving straight ahead.
  • Hands are relaxed with thumbs on top. Alignment off? Tension will go up the arms and if thumbs are pointing inward, there might be more rotation through the torso…which leads to wasted energy.
  • Straight line from the hip to the knee to the ankle to the toes and knees are soft. When running you are moving forward on a sagittal plane. Everything pointing forward means that the body moves forward. Alignment off? A variety of things can occur. You could have IT band tightness, soreness in the knees, stress fractures…the list goes on and on here.
  • Why fight against gravity? Lean forward at the ankles in order to use gravity to help you move forward. The ankle lean also keeps your body in the correct alignment (see posture above).

Finally, RunOn! offers a great class called Good Form Running. Many people say that it is the best $50 they have ever spent.

Sprouting

Since the weather is starting to cool, it is time to start sprouting again! Sprouting in the summer doesn’t go very well here in Texas because the sprouts grow so fast and there is so much moisture in the air that the sprouts can spoil quickly. Even though the weather has cooled, my most recent sprouts grew pretty quickly and I got to enjoy them sooner than I would during the winter months.

Why sprout?

Where do I start? Sprouts are one of the most nutritious foods that you can eat. They are a living food and when you consume them, you are taking living energy into your body. How perfect is that? Sprouts are loaded with fiber, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids and protein. When you sprout a seed and eat it, the vitamin content increases up to 20 times. Did you know that cancer thrives in an acidic environment? Sprouts are alkalizing to the body and an alkaline body is a healthy body. Sprouts are also incredibly inexpensive to grow. If you paid $4.00 recently at the grocery store for a small container of sprouts, you will be shocked to learn that you can grow four times that for 50 cents. Yes, it is true. Lastly, growing your own food is so fulfilling. Sprouts grow right on the countertop in any season. Many people wrinkle their noses at sprouts, but when you grow your own with organic seeds, you will finally experience how absolutely delicious they are.

What is a good beginning sprout?

The easiest thing to sprout is alfalfa. It only takes a few days and the taste is mild. I could eat a whole bowl with my special recipe for spirulina dressing. I love broccoli sprouts. This is the all-star sprout and has 30 times the cancer resistant chemical sulforaphane. You only need to eat a small quantity to get the full benefit. (It is quite beautiful, too.) My other favorite is chive sprouts. These pack a ton of flavor and you can put a little nest of them on top of your salad instead of scallions. Other options are beans—garbanzo and mung beans are common beans to sprout. I have tried a bunch of other seeds—mustard, radish, turnip, cabbage. Keep in mind that the sprouts will have a much more intense flavor that the full grown vegetable. I am a hard core veggie lover but I would never be able to eat a whole bowl of radish sprouts—they are incredibly intense. So, if you sprout seeds that are pungent when full grown, use them as a garnish rather than a full nest or base for your salad.

What kind of fancy equipment do I need?

This is the best part. You most likely have everything you need in your kitchen. I use glass quart canning jars. You need a screen for the opening and can use cheese cloth or buy special metal screens. If using cheese cloth, you simply need a rubber band to hold it in place. With the metal screens, you will want plastic rings to hold the screens in place. The reason for plastic is that the metal rings that come with canning jars will rust with the metal screens. In the instructions below, I will assume that you will use what you have on hand, after all, you want to try it to see if you like it.

Where do I get the seeds/beans?

Dried beans can be bought at the grocery store. If you want to start there, pick up some garbanzo or mung. The garbanzo beans can be used to make hummus and mung beans can be used in a stir fry.

My all-time favorite source for other seeds is Sprout People. This is where I really learned how to sprout. They have a huge selection of organic seeds for purchase along with all of the equipment that you need if you want to get serious about this.

Always buy organic!!

How do I get started?

  1. Select the seed that you want to use. I will use alfalfa in this example.
  2. Place 2 tablespoons of alfalfa seeds in your quart jar. (Be sure to take in the beauty of the seeds—they are nature’s art. Every time I get a new bag of seeds, I am in awe!)
  3. Cut a piece of cheesecloth—enough that will fit over the mouth of the jar times 2. Fold the cheesecloth in half and secure it on the jar with a tight rubber band.
  4. Clean: Pour water through the cheesecloth into the jar, covering the seeds. Swish it around and then turn the jar on an angle and allow the water to pour out. Repeat a few times until you do not see any more residue rinsing off.
  5. Soak: Fill the jar about half way with water, completely covering the seeds and place out of direct sunlight on the counter. The seeds need to soak for 12 hours.
  6. Rinse/swish/drain: After 12 hours, pour the water off and then rinse, swish and drain a few times. After the soaking phase, we don’t leave any water in the jar and place the jar on an angle with the mouth facing down so that water can drain out through the cheesecloth and the seeds can get some air to grow. You can put them in your dish drainer or find another way to place them on an angle. (I bought a cleaning product caddy and put my jars at an angle in it).
  7. Rinse/swish/drain/repeat: Every 12 hours, you will repeat this process. You will start to see the seeds crack open and sprouts will start coming out. Each day, twice a day, rinse, swish and drain. As the sprouts grow, the jar will get crowded. When you add water to rinse, swish the sprouts around to break up the mass. If you need to, you can open the jar and use a knife to break it up.
  8. De-hull (optional): After about 4-5 days, your alfalfa sprouts will be ready (each seed is different—go to Sprout People for guidance). The outer coating of the seed is called a hull and some people choose to remove as much of it as they can. I skip this step because it is extra work and doesn’t make a difference in the taste. To de-hull, place the sprouts in a bowl and fully cover with water. The hull will float to the top of the water. Use a spoon to scoop the hulls out and dispose of them. The sprouts then go back into the jar and you can move to the next step.
  9. Drain for 24 hours: When the jar is nice and full of sprouts, I allow it to drain for a full 24 hours with no rinsing.
  10. Spread/dry for 12 hours: After 24 hours, I pull the sprouts out of the jar and spread them out in a bowl. They will be really compacted together—don’t be afraid to pull them apart—we need to get them as dry as possible before storing. I let them air dry for about 12 hours, out of direct sunlight.
  11. Store/enjoy: Transfer them to a storage container—this could be a zip lock bag or even back in the jar with the regular lid. They should be fully covered with a lid and stored in the refrigerator and consumed within a few days.

It really is a simple process and the reward is so great. It becomes a routine for me to rinse and drain at breakfast and again at dinner. If you forget to rinse and drain or have a conflict that keeps you away from home for one rinse/drain, it really isn’t a big deal. The sprouts still have water and air circulating and will be fine. Just pick back up where you left off. Please note that some seeds/beans need to sprout in a dark area, like the pantry. Mung beans are one of these because you don’t want the green plant to start to grow. As I mentioned earlier, Sprout People is a wonderful resource for all things sprouting.

Happy sprouting!

Strength Building Phase of a Distance Program

What is it and why is it important?

In the base building phase, we built a base of miles and our commitment and put structure in place. We added volume until we had 25-40 miles per week. Next is the strength building phase. During this phase, we add a few components: tempo/threshold runs and hills. These runs should be done at 83-92% effort (maximum heart rate) and breathing is fast but controlled. These workouts are meant to challenge your cardiovascular system by adding stress to improve your capacity and to strengthen your muscles, ligaments and connective tissue. This phase should help you feel stronger, breathing should get easier and over the course of the 7 weeks, the tempos and hills should become easier.

What is happening to our bodies during this phase and what are the benefits?

With tempo runs, we introduce faster-paced training that will get your body used to running at a comfortably hard pace for a set amount of time. We also introduce hill workouts which serve to strengthen your leg muscles and place the same demand on legs as weight training.

Benefits of hill running:

  • Leg muscles are recruited into working harder on the uphill because you are using your body weight as resistance
  • Calf muscles learn to contract more quickly
  • Through conditioning, you will get over the psychological hurdle of seeing an upcoming hill on the run or on race day
  • You will learn how to properly pace yourself by keeping your effort steady
  • You are forced to use your arms when running up the hills—this is the best place to learn to drive the elbows back because it really does help to move you forward
  • On repeats you are learning to build your tolerance to lactic acid—do you feel the burn?
  • You are challenging your cardiovascular system
  • Training on the hills is speedwork in disguise

Benefits of tempo/threshold runs:

  • Fast twitch muscle fibers gain more endurance
  • Your efficiency and stamina will improve with increased speeds
  • Your aerobic capacity will improve and your body will learn to use oxygen more efficiently
  • Your body will learn to flush the lactic acid buildup so that over time you can run harder and longer

The focus here is increasing aerobic capacity, efficiently flushing lactic acid and building strength in the legs. As in the base building phase, we are teaching the body and mind to adapt to a specific stress until it is no longer stressful and then moving onto a different stress in the next phase.

What else should we focus on during strength building?

Proper form on the hills is important. Below are my tips for good hill form:

  • Uphill: stay relaxed on the first 2/3 and then speed up on the last 1/3; use higher turnover, smaller steps, same amount of effort (so pace may slow); bring the knees up a little higher and put the foot to the ground with purpose; think of driving the legs backwards
  • Downhill: start out the downhill by lengthening your stride; lean into the downhill until your body is perpendicular to the hill; try to get the foot to land a little behind the hip which means that you are putting the foot down a little sooner than if you were on the flats

If you are lifting weights, focus on the upper body along with strengthening where you might have imbalances.

What about rest and recovery?

Rest and recovery continues to be an important aspect in the strength building phase of our program. Your body needs time to recover from muscle fatigue—something that you might not have been feeling much toward the end of the base building. Your body also needs time to flush the lactic acid out. Be sure to incorporate a few rest days. Optimum nutrition should continue to be a focus so that you are performing your best.

Final thoughts

I hope that you are seeing your hard work pay off through the time and miles that you have put into this training program. Bravo for sticking with it and working so hard!

Yoga at the Office

Sitting at your desk all day long without movement can cause compression in your back. By focusing on stretching and lengthening, your skeleton and muscles will get much needed movement so that you don't have cumulative trauma.

  • For all seated poses sit squarely in your chair, feet flat on the floor, shoes removed if possible.
  • In all standing poses, start with your feet firmly planted to the floor, spine long.
  • Keep your chest open, draw your shoulders down and back, shoulders away from the ears.
  • Hold each pose for anywhere between three and five breaths.

Neck stretches

Sit with your chest lifted and spine long. Hold onto the side of the chair seat with your right hand. Lean to the left, and drop your left ear towards your left shoulder, lengthening the neck on the right side. For a deeper stretch, use your left hand to apply pressure to the right side of the head. Repeat on the other side.

Sitting Reed Pose

Sit on the edge of your chair, interlace your fingers and stretch your arms up toward the ceiling, palms upward. All sides of your torso are long. Deeply inhale and feel your body stretch and open. On the exhale lean to your right, feeling the left side of your body stretch, creating a long line from the hips through the hands. Inhale coming back to center. Repeat on the other side.

Seated Cow Face Pose

Raise your right arm out to your right side with the palm facing up toward the ceiling. Bring the right arm up toward the ceiling and bending at the elbow, place your fingers at the nape of your neck. Raise your left arm out to the left side with the palm facing downward. Then lower your left arm toward the floor and bending at the elbow, bring your forearm behind your back and reach to clasp your hands. If you can't clasp, simply press the hands into your back. The right elbow should be pointing straight up toward the ceiling and the left elbow should be pointing down toward the floor. There should be no rounding in the back…keep the spine long. Repeat on the other side.

Seated Eagle with Forward Bend

Place your right ankle on your left knee, then bring your right arm under your left arm at the elbows and wrap the forearms around each other so that you can bring your palms together with your thumbs closest to your body. If you can't join your hands, grab opposite shoulders. Lift your arms upward and bring the forearms forward and the triceps parallel with the floor. Now bend forward from your hips keeping the spine long. Take a few deep breaths and then release. Repeat on the other side.

Seated Twist

Sit with your feet and knees together, sitting up straight with the spine long. On the inhale, lengthen through the spine and on the exhale, twist your body to the right, starting at the base of the spine and slowly twisting until you are looking over your right shoulder. Place your left hand on outer right thigh and right hand to your right on the chair seat. On each inhale, lengthen and on each exhale see if you can twist deeper. Try to use your core muscles for the twist rather than your arms as levers. Repeat on the other side.

Mountain Pose

Stand tall with the feet separated as wide as the hips, spine is long and the crown of the head is reaching up toward the ceiling. Arms down at the sides of the body and externally rotated so that the thumbs are on the outside—this should be natural and not forced. Relax your face. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and keep the hips soft. Breathe.

Tree Pose

Shift the weight to your left leg, grounding down through all four corners of the foot. Lift up your right foot and place it as high as possible against your inner left leg, avoiding the knee area (so it is either on the inside of the calf or the inside of the thigh). Take your hands together at the center of your chest. Stay here or on the inhale bring the arms up overhead from the side like you are holding a big beach ball over top of your head. Face, shoulders and hips are relaxed, spine is long and your body is relaxed. On the exhale, bring the palms together overhead and bring them back to the center of the chest. Gently release and repeat on the other side.

Half Moon

Stand with the legs together, knees and feet touching and legs strong. Bring your arms up overhead from the side and interlace your fingers while releasing your pointer fingers. Lengthen up through the arms and then push your hips to the left and reach over to the right side of the room. Keep the ribs lifted up and away from the waist and lengthen all along the left side of the body. Press it to the left heel and see if you can lengthen even more. Take five long breaths and then gently release to center. Repeat on the other side.

Standing Forward Bend

Place your hands on your desk and walk your feet away from your desk until your torso and arms are parallel to the floor (you are bent at the hips, not the waist). Keep the neck in line with the spine so that you are looking down toward the floor. Lengthen through your arms and your spine. If this stretch is too intense for the backs of your legs, bend your knees.

Senses Drawing In Pose

Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor. Remove eyeglasses if you wear them. Place your hands with your palms facing your face, the tips of your middle fingers touching. Close your eyes, place your middle fingers very gently along the length of your eyelids - the tips of your fingers will touch the inner corners of your eyes. Place the index fingers along the line of your eyebrows, rest your ring fingers on the corners of your nostrils, and rest your little fingers on your upper lips or at the corners of your mouth. Finally, close the flaps of your ears with your thumbs. Let your eyes, ears, nose, and tongue completely relax. Focus on your breath and let all other thoughts leave your mind. Stay here for at least five deep breaths. When you release your hands, sit with your eyes closed for a few more moments and enjoy the inner peace.

Namaste

Breathing Exercises for Better Health

The purpose of deep breathing is to get the respiratory system to function at its best. Respiration helps to purify the body. Deep breathing improves blood and body fluid circulation and disposal of carbon dioxide. Have you ever watched how a baby breathes? Babies breathe all the way down into their bellies—taking very deep breaths. As we age, our breath becomes shallow for a variety of reasons such as pollution in the air or wearing restricting clothing.

I want to share with you some exercises that will help you relearn how to breathe deep into the belly to the lowest part of the lungs where the blood is richest in oxygen. Deep breathing is important because the oxygen that you take into your lungs goes out to every part of your body. When you are breathing properly, it will bring good health and can be the best preventative treatment for conditions like high blood pressure and asthma.

The average person breathes 15 times per minute (that is 15 inhales and exhales). Slowing down the breath will slow down the heart rate, reduce stress and slow the aging process, leading to a longer life. The goal of these exercises is to bring attention to your breathing and work toward breathing 5 times per minute (5 inhales and 5 exhales). Keep practicing until it becomes natural.

Belly Breathing (abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing)

  • Place your right hand over the center of your chest, and your left hand over the center of your belly and take a slow deep breath in. If you notice that the hand on your belly rises higher than the hand on your chest, you have been successful in drawing the breath deeply into the depths of your lungs. If that isn’t what happened for you take a minute or two to experiment, be sure to empty your lungs fully on your out-breath to encourage the next breath in to deepen and cause your stomach to rise.
  • Exhale through your mouth, letting the breath out slowly and completely. When you feel that your lungs are nearly empty, pull your stomach in a little to squeeze the very last air from your lungs.
  • Repeat four times, until you have completed five cycles of deep refreshing abdominal breathing.

Once you are comfortable with this breathing technique you can stop using your hands, and you might like to add some words to the exercise to help you feel a sense of calmness.

Counting Breaths

Counting Breaths is a simple technique that occupies your mind by keeping it focused on counting every time you exhale. Placing your full attention on your outgoing breath, you may notice that things start to feel less rushed and more peaceful.

  • Take a few deep breaths and let tension drain away from your shoulders and concentrate on breathing steadily, slowly and quietly.
  • Count "one" to yourself as you exhale, and the next time you exhale, count "two", on the next exhalation count "three" and onwards until you reach the number five.
  • Begin a new cycle, starting again with "one" on your next exhalation. Watch your breath and try and breathe deeply and steadily until you have counted up to five and then begin again.
  • Repeat this cycle five times, or more if you feel comfortable.

The Calming Breath

The power in this particular technique lies in counting out an extended exhalation which feels very calming and also helps slow your heart rate if it's racing away due to stress or anxiety.

  • Part your lips slightly and curl your tongue up so it's resting on the roof of your mouth, behind your top teeth (the place you put your tongue to make the sound of the letter "L"). Take a deep breath in through the nose for the count of four, then hold your breath for the count of two, and release slowly through slightly pursed lips for the count of eight.

The calming breath is also useful if you feel angry or irritated, it can quickly calm and cool your mind and help you gain a sense of clarity and control.

Cooling Breath

This breathing exercise has a similar effect to the way dogs cool themselves down by panting, though you'll be glad to know it looks more discreet and you can do it without anyone noticing.

  • Part your lips slightly and curl your tongue up so it's resting on the roof of your mouth, behind your top teeth (the place you put your tongue to make the sound of the letter "l"). Now breathe in slowly through your slightly open mouth, and feel the cool sensation of the incoming air on the underside of your tongue. Hold the breath for a moment or two and then exhale slowly through your nose. You can repeat this until you feel cool, calm and collected.

What is the best thing about these exercises? You can do them anytime and anywhere! Below is a really cool website where you can go into a virtual breathing room. Check it out.

www.doasone.org

Happy breathing!

Yoga for Runners

Yoga is the perfect complement to running. Muscle tightness and structural variations in the body can lead to obstacles when exercising. Practicing yoga will help to address the muscle tightness and bring alignment to your body. How can yoga help? Read below.

Strength and balance

Many times an injury or chronic pain while running is caused by an imbalance in your body. One quad is stronger than the other. Legs are strong while core is weak. You have more flexibility in one ankle. Your knee hurts and so you start to shift your weight unevenly. Running has forward movement along one plane using mostly the muscles in the lower body while yoga moves in all directions involving muscles in many parts of the body. Yoga helps to bring your body into balance, alignment and symmetry. In yoga, you strengthen your muscles while creating stability.

Flexibility

Running tightens and shortens the muscles and is high impact. Yoga is all about elongating the muscles and softening the hard parts while being low impact. In yoga, you also continuously work toward increasing your range of motion.

Body, mind and breath

Both running and yoga require integration of body, mind and breath. The breathing pattern in running involves quick, shallow inhalations and exhalations. Yogic breathing focuses on slow, deep inhalations and long exhalations using all parts of the lungs. Practicing this type of breathing will lead to greater lung capacity. More oxygen to the lungs means more oxygen going out to the cells in your body and removal of carbon dioxide and toxins. Employ these same principles while running and you will find that your mind will be at ease which will in turn, help you relax, releasing tension, tightness and stress from your body.

Restoration

Practicing relaxing, restorative poses can help runners recover faster after long races and hard workouts. It will also help prevent the soreness caused by the buildup of lactic acid. Yoga is great for releasing toxins from the body.

So, what type of yoga should you do to complement running? For the amount of running that we do, I believe that we are getting a good amount of cardiovascular exercise and so yoga for runners should be more about stretching and restoring. I love Hatha and Restorative yoga for these reasons. Hatha is great because you are holding postures for a set amount of time. You are contracting muscles for a set period of time and it is strengthening the muscles along with connective tissue (tendons and ligaments). Restorative is my favorite! You can use props to stretch muscles out a little more than what your body weight would do and it is especially helpful in building strength and stability in your body.

Now, let’s get into some postures. Each posture below should be held for at least 5 full breaths. In yoga, we focus on a 6 second inhale and a 6 second exhale so 5 breaths should take one minute. Breathe in and out through the nose. Use active movements in these postures. What I mean by that is that you will use the muscle strength to move you deeper into the posture rather than using a hand to pull something closer/push something out. Also focus on using the muscles to move you rather than momentum. These are some of my favorites.

Butterfly

Sitting on your mat, bring the bottoms of your feet together. Place your hands around your feet and sit tall without the back rounding. Actively try to bring your knees closer to the floor. For deeper stretching, lean forward while keeping the spine long.

Cow Face

Come up onto your knees, crossing the right leg over the left—knees are tight together. With the ankles out wide, sit down between them making sure your sitting bones are on the floor. Interlace your fingers through the toes. Spine stays long. For a deeper stretch, flex your feet, squeeze your legs together and keeping the spine long, start to lean forward. Repeat on the other side.

Intense Leg Stretch

Sitting flat on the mat with the legs stretched out in front of you, bend your knees and then adjust so that the fleshy part of the glutes are out from under you. Sandwich your chest against your knees, grab the big toes with your peace fingers and with the spine long, start to lengthen the legs forward.

Hero Pose/Reclining Hero Pose

Come into a kneeling position with the knees at hip width. Bring the heels wider than the hips and start to lower your hips down between the heels. If this feels ok then bring your elbows down to the floor and start to walk your elbows forward until your shoulders reach the floor. Raise your arms over your head and grab opposite elbows. An advancement in this posture is to bring the knees closer together.

Pigeon

Come onto all fours, squaring the body off with the wrists below the shoulders and the knees directly below the hips. Bring the right knee forward to the right wrist and slide the right heel over in front of the left thigh. Slide the left leg back until the hip is over top of the heel. Bring the elbows down to the floor, lengthen your arms forward and then place your forehead on the floor. Repeat on the other side.

Child Pose

Come into a kneeling position with the knees and feet together. Lower the hips down to the knees. Fold at the hips and bring the forehead to the mat. Bring the hands back beside the hips and start to bring the shoulders closer to the floor, opening up the upper back.

Separate Leg Forehead to Floor

Step the feet apart wide. Feet are parallel to each other so heels out and toes slightly in. Bring the arms out wide parallel to the floor. Lengthen through the spine and fold forward at the hips. Bend your knees and grab the feet from the outside bringing all fingers underneath the feet. Pull the elbows in close to the shins, start to straighten the legs and lift the hips. Spine should be long and neck is in line with the spine. Bring the weight forward to the front of the feet for a deeper stretch. You can also engage the quads to allow the hamstrings to lengthen even more.

Ragdoll

Separate the feet hip width distance. Fold forward at the hips. Once you are down as far as you can go with straight legs, grasp each elbow with the opposite hands. Allow your head to hang.

Pyramid

Step the left foot back and place it at a 45 degree angle. Right foot points forward. Legs are straight. Reach your arms behind you and grab opposite elbows. Keeping the spine long and the legs straight, start to pivot forward at the hips. Stop pivoting if you feel the spine start to round. Neck is an extension of the spine. Repeat on the other side.

Corpse Pose

Lie down on your back with the heels together and the toes flaring out. Arms are at the sides of the body with the palms up. Chin is tucked slightly so that the neck is long. Close your eyes. The only part of your body that is moving is your belly rising and falling with your breath.

I challenge you to incorporate a little bit of yoga into each day. You can do it anywhere. Stuck on a phone call at work? Close your office door and break out your mat. Watching TV at the end of a long day? If you aren’t using your foam roller, do a few of these poses. Before you head out to lunch, take 15 minutes to complete the poses listed above. Here is a great website that you can use to get in tune with your breath while you practice: http://doasone.org/.

Enjoy and Namaste!

Nutrition for Distance Training

When it comes to nutrition, different approaches work for different people. In my studies over the past few years, I have read numerous books and articles and attended several seminars about nutrition for running. There are many different philosophies and unfortunately, nutrition is not an exact science. So the bottom line is that you have to try different approaches to find out what works for you. Great news is that we are only in the beginning stages of this training program and we have plenty of time to learn how to fuel our own unique bodies on training days which will ultimately help us prepare for race day.

Running puts a big demand upon your energy levels and means you must look carefully at the food you eat and when you eat it. Get in tune with your body. If you are struggling to even get out of bed in the mornings, or if you run out of energy during a run, then you are probably not getting enough energy. Food + rest = energy. We want to work toward optimizing our performance, endurance and recovery.

The Building Blocks of Your Diet

Complex carbohydrates provide slow and steady fuel—this is what you will burn on your run. Focus on whole foods with high nutrient content like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Whole foods take time to digest in your body—you won’t have blood sugar lows and highs and the energy will be released slowly. Include lots of carbs in your diet but stay away from processed foods, refined sugar and flour.

Protein is essential for repairing and building tendons and muscle. It also helps with regulating hormones. Your protein sources should be high quality, such as legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds.

Fats are important too. Your brain is fueled by fat so if you want a clear head while running, be sure to include fat in your diet. It also lubricates your joints and protects your organs. Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, flax seed oil, canola oil, and avocados are the healthiest fats to consume. Try to increase Omega 3 oils (flax seed oil, hemp oil) while reducing the amount of Omega 6 oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed).

Water consumption is especially important for runners because of the loss of fluid on the training runs. Beverages without caffeine like herbal teas, sports drinks, and fruit juices can be counted toward your daily fluid goal. Drink throughout the day to keep fluid levels up and your body evenly hydrated.

Vitamins and minerals will play an important factor in your running performance and endurance. You should get almost everything that you need from eating a healthy and well balanced diet of fresh and whole foods. Women should take care to get enough iron in their diets and supplement if your levels are low. Most people are deficient in Vitamin D these days, so I recommend taking 2,000 IU per day (more if you have had blood work that shows you are deficient). B12 gives you an energy boost and vegans and vegetarians must supplement. It is water soluble and your body will use what it needs and the remainder will be eliminated. And finally, I also take iodine. This helps with energy and regulating body temperature and many of us don’t get as much as we need.

Planning Your Meals

The timing of your meals will be crucial to the success of your running performance. Eat too little and you might run out of energy. Eat too much or the wrong thing and you will feel discomfort.

Since we run early in the morning, your meal the night before should be a meal rich in complex carbohydrates (think whole grain pasta, baked potato, rice, and quinoa). Try to avoid spicy foods which can interfere with sleep. Many people cannot tolerate too much fiber the night before (like a salad) but if you have very regular digestion, this should not be a problem. I would suggest that if you are having a salad, pair it with a potato or one of the grains mentioned above so that you will have energy remaining in the tank.

In the morning, try eating something small that is easily digestible like a banana, toast with peanut butter, a small serving of oatmeal or a rice cake. Avoid high acid fruits because you will get indigestion. Many people can go without eating before the morning run. I typically don’t eat anything if the run is less than 6 miles. Over 6 and I have a banana.

After the run have a juice within the first hour. It is good to have something that is easily digestible and also to replace some carbs. (Don’t forget about electrolyte replacement too!) Once an hour has passed, eat a meal of protein and carbohydrates—this will assist with muscle repair.

Try to find the approach that works for your own unique body. It might be helpful to keep a food diary or sign up for a free app to track what you are eating and how it makes you feel.

Base Building Phase of a Distance Program

What is it and why is it important?

At the beginning of a running training program, we need to work on building a base of miles. We are also building our commitment and putting structure in place. We focus on adding volume only; adding volume and speed at the same time increases the risk of injury. These runs should be done at 60-70% effort (maximum heart rate) and at a conversational pace. We increase our mileage slowly (by no more than 10% per week) so that our bodies have the chance to adjust to increased demand. This is especially important at our pace because we take more time to run the distance, which means more contact with the ground, more time in the heat and greater hydration needs.

What is happening to our bodies during this phase and what are the benefits?

We are slowly building intensity to boost our fitness level without getting burned out by increasing miles too fast. Our bodies are going to adapt in the following ways:

  • Left ventricle in the heart expands, the part of the heart that sends blood out to the body (stroke volume increase)
  • Resting heart rate will decrease
  • Red blood cells increase, which carry more oxygen to the rest of the body
  • Blood plasma volume increases, putting more liquid in the blood so that it can move more freely
  • More and larger mitochondria are built--this is the power plant of the cell and where the aerobic energy is liberated and builds endurance
  • More capillaries, which are the smallest arteries delivering oxygen from the blood to the muscle cell
  • Increased storage of fuel in the muscle cells (glycogen storage)
  • Insulin sensitivity goes up, the hormone that pushes glucose into the muscle cells
  • Muscle fiber alterations--slow twitch are better at handling aerobic performance; fast twitch gain more endurance
  • Neuromuscular system is more coordinated
  • Stiffening of the connective tissue so we are more springy and have better energy return
  • Improved running economy in how oxygen is used, increasing aerobic conditioning
  • Muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia get stronger
  • Change in perception of discomfort
  • Reprogramming of our conscious and subconscious mind
  • Stress response decreases
  • Increased energy as the weeks progress
  • Less accumulation of lactic acid and carbon dioxide
  • Lower body fat and less fat under the skin

The most important benefit here is increasing aerobic capacity and conditioning. As we increase distance, our body relies on aerobic energy vs. anaerobic energy. This takes time and discipline and that is why we spend six weeks focusing on the base. Developing our aerobic capacity is what is going to get us through the longer runs. We are also teaching the body and mind to adapt to a specific stress until it is no longer stressful and then moving onto a different stress in the next six weeks. Here is a nifty chart showing the splits of aerobic vs. anaerobic energy contribution for some popular distances.

 

What else should we focus on during base building?

One of the basics of good form running is cadence. Cadence is the number of times our feet hit the ground per minute—basically leg turnover. We are going to focus on a cadence of 175-185 steps per minute. Now, this may sound really fast, but this has nothing to do with pace. You can run a 6:00 mile and a 12:00 mile at 180—the only thing that changes is that your stride lengthens out the back the faster you go. Why is this important? Because the longer you are in the air, the harder you will hit the ground on landing and that causes landing shock to your arches, ankles, knees and hips. Sticking to a cadence of 180 results in quicker and lighter steps, which equals less injury and better efficiency.

We should also incorporate some cross training during this phase. It is an active rest for the running muscles but we are getting added cardiovascular benefits.

What should we expect on an easy run?

I actually like to think of this run as easy to moderate. Easy because we aren’t gasping for breath, but moderate because we are challenging ourselves to a certain extent. The easy run is a shorter run—our longest easy run will be 7 miles. In a few weeks, we will incorporate some drills into the run.

What should we expect on a long run?

The long run is a steady run at easy conversation pace. The long run should be no more than 1/3 of our total weekly mileage. It helps our bodies adapt to fluid loss, glycogen depletion and we will rely more on fat as fuel (yay!). We build up the long run slowly and the benefit is that it is moderately challenging and our bodies should adapt and recover quickly. We will also increase our emotional and psychological ability to handle discomfort on longer runs.

What about rest and recovery?

Rest is a very important component of base building and is built into the schedule. Our bodies need time to recover. Nutrition plays a huge role in recovery. Eating lots of vegetables will help speed up our recovery. Why is that? For one, blood is drawn to the stomach when we eat foods that are not easily digestible. We want the blood to go to the muscles so eating foods that pass easily through the body is ideal. We need to eat food that easily turns into energy that we can use and is nutrient dense. The best foods for this are raw, high alkaline (green veggies), whole foods and non-stimulating foods.

Final thoughts

We are early in our training program and you may be feeling some fatigue. Hang in there—it will get easier as the weeks progress. Remember that most of us are adding miles to what we had been running and we may experience a little fatigue. It will pass! Just put the time and the miles in and soon a 5 mile run will seem easy.