Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dead Last

As the saying goes, there's a first time for everything. And on Sunday, it was my turn to place dead last in a 5k race!

You're probably wondering - how did this happen?? Well, I'm so accident prone that I managed to strain my calf while walking down my apartment stairs. The initial pain was bad although initially I thought it might just be a cramp. The pain lessened after a few minutes and I managed to hobble down the rest of the stairs. But I knew something was off. 

As the day continued, I was able to walk but couldn't do a calf raise without discomfort. I went to bed hoping for a miracle and when I woke up Sunday morning and got ready for the race, I still thought there was a chance I could run. But doubt crept in as I drove to Mom's house and when I got there we talked it through. My main concern was making the injury worse by racing. Even though I wasn't planning to go all out, racing always takes a toll on the body - even when it's healthy.

I learned this lesson a few years ago when, similar to this situation, I had a mild calf strain the week of a race. But instead of skipping the race, I decided to line up and give it a try. I told myself I could always slow down if my calf started to bother me. And it did. But so suddenly that I had no time to remedy the issue. I can still remember the stabbing pain in my calf and how I could barely walk after, let alone run. Racing had made the injury worse and it took me out of training for a few weeks, effectively derailing any summer racing plans.

 No idea how I ran the rest of this race. I certainly paid the price after!

After listening to me go back and forth on whether or not I should try to race, Mom gently suggested it might be best to not run and that she would walk with me. As always, Mom knew best. I was having trouble letting go of the race, but once she suggested walking and offered to keep me company, it was an easy decision. 

Since there was no need to do a warmup or line up in just the right spot, Mom and I took a few selfies by the penguins (the race was at the local zoo) and went to stand at the very back of the pack. My heart still raced a bit when the race started but nothing like it would have if I had been running!

I heart penguins!

Even though Mom and I started at the back, I didn't think we'd actually finish last. But within the first mile it became apparent we were bringing up the rear. There were a few people in front of us that were run/walking but they were getting further and further ahead. Also, we couldn't walk very fast because of my calf. It didn't hurt during the race but was a bit stiff so I wasn't super mobile. At this event, there was a separate walk event - but only 3k distance - so Mom and I were two of only a handful of other walkers. And they were all moving faster than us!

About two miles into the race, Mom and I were all alone. We couldn't see anyone in front of us and didn't even know if we were going the right way. Finally we came across a volunteer and he looked shocked to see us. I guess we were way behind everyone else by that point and he assumed there weren't any people left on the course! He got my bib number and radioed ahead to volunteers on the course to let them know we were still making our way toward the finish. Ha! 

However, a lot of volunteers had already left the course and signs had been removed so Mom and I ended up taking a wrong turn. We had to do an extra loop of the course and by the time we got to the finish line, all the other 5k participants had finished and the timing mats were down. I guess when you finish dead last you don't get an official time! ;)

Although you might think finishing a race in last place would be a depressing experience, it was actually quite the opposite. Mom and I thought it was pretty funny to be so far behind everyone else and told ourselves someone has to be last in every race and it was our turn! It was also really nice to get to do the race alongside Mom and we shared a lot of laugh during the 1 hour and 15 minutes it took us to walk 4+ miles. 

My calf is still healing but I think I'll be able to get back to some easy pace running this week. I'll take it slow, knowing dead last is certainly not the worst that can happen :)

My questions for you:
  • Have you ever finished last in a race?
  • When injured, do you run, walk or call it a day and stay in bed?
  • What's a bit of wisdom you've recently received from your mom?

- ST

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

In Honor of Newbie Runners

This Sunday, I'm racing the Block Melanoma 5k at the Zoo. This event holds a special place in my heart as it was my first 5k race attempt when I was a new runner. Before that race, I had done only one other 5k - but it wasn't for time and was more of a run/walk to see if I could actually finish a 5k. Back then, I thought it was a really long distance!

Anyhow, in honor of the newbie runner I was four years ago, I'm using this post to poke fun at a few of my running and racing mishaps. These things happen to the best of us as we're learning!

I overdressed for a race - At that first 5k race, I dressed like I was going to run in sub-zero temps. It was around 60 degrees but seemed super cold to me. So I layered up in tights, a long-sleeve top, a fleece jacket, a headwarmer and gloves. Needless to say, less than a half mile in I was ready to rip off every layer. I overheated so bad but learned from the experience. Never again will I make the mistake of racing in too many layers!

I did too much, too soon - While training for my first marathon, I had it in my head that more miles was always better. As a result, my hamstring gave out two weeks before the marathon. Looking back, I can see exactly what happened. In the month leading up to the injury, I ran a hard half marathon, followed by two 60-mile weeks and then another half marathon when the injury occurred. As a result, I had to walk/jog my first marathon with a still injured hamstring. Definitely not the race I had been training for all summer. 

This medal serves as a reminder that more is not always better!

Training meant trying to run one mile as fast as possible - When I first started running, I knew nothing about training plans, weekly mileage, workouts, etc. All I knew was that I wanted to get faster. So to this newbie runner, that meant hopping on a gym treadmill and doing a tenth of a mile walk warmup followed by running one mile as fast as I could. I did this several times a week because I didn't know any better. Over time, I was able to run a mile faster - but I also ended up with an achy knee from all of my 'speedwork'. A blessing in disguise, the knee issues forced me to slow down and eventually I started training like a smarter runner.

I missed the start of a race - This happened at a race that had both half marathon and 5k races. I arrived one hour prior to the start to make sure I could get in a proper warmup and have time to use the restroom, etc. However, I somehow missed the fact that the half marathon and 5k races were starting together. So when runners lined up at the start, I thought it was just the half marathoners and I stood at the side and cheered them on. Only after almost all of the runners had gone through the start line did I realize it was also the 5k start. I had to scramble to the start line and begin the race in last place. 

I somehow salvaged the race and won an AG prize. Mom also won a trophy!

I fueled all wrong - Every runner is unique so correct fueling for a run or race is really dependent on what works for that individual person. For me, I quickly learned I was not going to get by on a diet of Special K 90-calorie cereal bars and gummy candies. I also learned to never, ever hit the Ethiopian lunch buffet before an afternoon long run. Unless you like to hiccup and burp throughout your run ;)

Even though I still feel like a newbie runner at times, I know I've learned a lot these past few years. It's been a fun journey and I can't wait to learn even more as the years go by!

My questions for you:
  • How long did/will you consider yourself a newbie runner?
  • What newbie runner mistakes did you make?
  • What running wisdom would you share with a newbie runner?

- ST

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lightened-Up Chili Mac

Last weekend, I had a monster craving for mac and cheese. I was also feeling a bit adventurous so decided to tinker a bit with my usual recipe. The result is Lightened-Up Chili Mac!

I took my super easy, foolproof mac and cheese recipe and added a few of my favorite chili ingredients and seasonings. The result was both delicious and healthy! I definitely recommend giving it a try - it really doesn't get any easier than this!

Lightened-Up Chili Mac
Serves 8

1/2 stick butter, melted
2 cups dry macaroni
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup corn
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies (do not drain)
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 cups reduced-fat shredded Mexican cheese
4 cups milk (I used 1 percent)
1/4 cup sliced black olives
Mexican hot sauce (optional, for serving)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the bottom of a 9x13 pan with the melted butter. Add uncooked macaroni noodles to the pan, followed by the black beans, corn and diced tomatoes. Combine the chili powder, cumin and garlic powder, then sprinkle on top of the noodle mixture. Top with the shredded cheese, then pour the milk on top. 

Bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before eating to allow the casserole to firm up. Top with sliced olives and chopped cilantro. Serve with Mexican hot sauce.

Tell me: What are your favorite mac and cheese add ins?

- ST

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Nicolet Bay 5k Race Recap

Isn't it funny how a plan can go completely off the rains - but you can still, more or less, end up with the outcome you wanted? That's exactly what happened during this year's Nicolet Bay 5k race. Although I ended up falling off my race plan pretty early - like within a few steps off the start line - I still achieved two out of my three race goals, which were:

A. Run a new PR
B. Run a 20:XX time
C. Not get passed by any women after the first mile 

Let's rewind to the beginning ...

Before the race
I woke up about three hours before race start, took a shower and ate breakfast - a banana and apple cinnamon pop tart without icing. Mom and I arrived at the race about an hour before the start and took a 20-minute walk to check out the start and finish lines. Then we visited the bathroom, checked our bags and headed back to the start line. I started my warm-up but ended up having to cut it short because there were too many people milling around the area I was trying to run. I was nervous about not getting in any strides but didn't really have a choice. 

A welcome distraction from the usual pre-race nerves was running into my coworkers Michelle and Lisa. Michelle snapped a quick selfie of the three of us before we wished each other luck and lined up. 

Selfie by Michelle!

While standing on the start line, I reminded myself - run your own race and do NOT go out to fast!

Mile 1
And ... of course I went out too fast. My plan was to run the first mile at 6:49-6:50 pace and, depending on how I felt, either hold onto that pace or drop the pace for miles 2 and 3. I also planned to divide the 5k distance into quarter mile segments to help stay on pace. 

However, I wanted to stay within range to potentially place in the top 3 women so when everyone else went out fast, I had to as well. I ran the first part of mile one at 5:40 pace. And soon after felt like dying. It was a depressing way to feel knowing that I still had the majority of the race in front of me. And I was only the 4th female about halfway through the mile. 

Luckily, I was able to tuck behind a few runners and regroup mentally. I decided to toss my quarter mile segment plan out the window and instead focus on effort throughout the rest of the race. As soon as I did this, I was able to make it past two women in front of me and into the 2nd female position. 

Already feeling the fast start to the race

Mile 2
I really paid the price for my poorly paced first mile. But, at least there were things to look forward to such as the turnaround point. And then I knew I would get to look for Mom, as well as Lisa and Michelle. Getting to see all the other runners as I made my way back after the turnaround was just the boost I needed to get through this rough patch. Getting cheered on by other runners and being told I was the 2nd female helped me stay motivated to keep on pushing.

Mile 3
This is the point that I really had to start reminding myself of all of the training I did leading up to this race as well as playing little games with myself, such as you only have to make it to that tree 20 feet ahead. I couldn't hear any footsteps behind me so knew I must have a decent lead on whoever was in 3rd and also couldn't see the woman in 1st so knew I probably couldn't catch her. 

As I ran past the place where we started the race, I knew there was only about 0.25 left in the race. I had trouble working up a decent kick as I neared the finish line so pretended I was running a fast lap in Y-Fuse. There were a few times in Fuse this spring that I practiced running so hard that my legs went numb by the end of the lap. So even though my legs felt like jelly during the end of the race, I knew I could push through to the finish line. 

My race results:

Time: 21:14 (new PR!)
Pace: 6:50 min/mile
Gender Place: 2*/403
AG Place: 1/58
Overall Place: 10/622

With my 2nd female plaque and AG medal!

Although I didn't run quite as fast as I hoped, I was pretty pleased with how I did. It actually made it extra satisfying to know I was able to push through the challenges after a fast start and still PR. The struggle was real - but well worth it!

As always, I ran back on the course to find Mom and run her in. She had a great race and finished strong!

Now a few days removed from the race, I have a few takeaways that I'll use when planning my upcoming races. The first is that I really don't race well when tied to a watch. I race my best when focusing on effort and using my natural competitive streak to fuel the miles. The second is that I need to learn how to avoid going out too fast so I don't burn up extra energy within the first mile. It would be much better to save the sprint for the finish! 

A gorgeous new medal to add to my collection!

My questions for you:
  • What do you think - race by watch splits or race by effort?
  • What are your recent race takeaways?
  • Random - but timely: How are you celebrating Cinco de Mayo?

- ST

*Based on gun time

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ready to Race!

Last week, I wrote about a recent bad training week. I'm happy to report that last week's training was like a complete 180. And just in time, considering this week is race week!!

Earlier this week, Coach Matt and I solidified my race plan for the Nicolet Bay 5k. This is a goal race for me and I'm planning to run it HARD. I know the course since I did the race last year and it is pretty ideal for running fast. A flat out and back - it doesn't get better than that!

After last year's race - I was the 4th female and 2nd in my AG.

This year, I have three goals:

A: Run a new 5k PR
B: Run a 20:XX time
C: Not get passed by a single female after mile 1

I'm feeling pretty confident about this race. I've done the work and now it's time to see what I can do when it counts. One thing that I think will make a difference is that I trained a lot of workouts using minutes intervals rather than distance intervals. For example, two 11-minute intervals or three 9-minute intervals. It's been a shift for me to do intervals this way - instead of thinking I only need to cover a half mile during this interval, it's changed my mindset to I have to run for X minutes - how much distance can I cover? I plan to use this practice during the race by breaking the distance up into minutes. How much distance can I cover during each X minute interval?

As always, I'm sure my favorite mantra, Pay the Price, will come into play during the race. I've been preparing myself for the inevitable 5k race pain since last week. Visualizing the moment it hits and then remembering all the moments during training that I pushed through to successfully finish a repeat or run. Knowing I did it during training gives me the confidence that I can do it during a race. 

Hugging my wrist all week as a reminder for what I need to do on Saturday!

I'm ready to race and truthfully, I can't wait for Saturday. Just a few more days ... :)

Tell me: How do you prepare the week of a goal race?

- ST

Monday, April 27, 2015

Fuel to Achieve Racing Weight

Recently, I rediscovered my Racing Weight Cookbook. In case you are not familiar with the book, it's filled with recipes that are specially formulated to help endurance athletes fuel their performances while also achieving or maintaining a healthy racing weight. The book is divided into sections based on the athlete's ability to cook.

When I first read the cookbook, I marked several recipes I wanted to try - but then never got around to making them. So I decided to pick a few and give them a try. 

Rosemary Garlic Chicken and Sour Cream & Onion Cauliflower Mash sounded like they would pair well and would be easy to prepare on a Sunday afternoon during meal prep for the week. Both were winners and I would definitely make them again! 

Rosemary Garlic Chicken
Modified from Racing Weight Cookbook
Serves 4

8 boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried rosemary
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place chicken tenders in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Top with garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper, then mix to coat each piece of chicken in the seasoning. Cover and bake for 25-30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.

Sour Cream and Onion Cauliflower Mash
Recipe from Racing Weight Cookbook
8 servings

1 head cauliflower, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 cup sour cream (I used plain non-fat Greek yogurt)
Black pepper

In a large pot, bring cauliflower and water to a boil and cook until cauliflower is very tender, then drain away the liquid. Pat the cauliflower dry with a paper towel.

Transfer cauliflower to a food processor and add salt, onion powder and sour cream. Pulse until smooth. Add black pepper to taste. 

Note: Cauliflower mash does not freeze well. I tried to freeze a portion and it ended up super watery. Best to eat this immediately or within a few days after initial preparation. 

Tell me: What is your favorite dinner to fuel your training?

- ST

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Try It: Pearls Olives to Go + Giveaway

For as long as I can remember, olives have been a favorite of mine. As a kid, I would sneak green olives out of my parents' Manhattans. And if olives of any kind were part of an appetizer tray during the holidays, I would pretty much devour them all.

As an adult, I still love to snack on olives. So when asked to review Pearls Olives to Go through a Fit Approach and Sweat Pink campaign, I immediately said yes. I love olives and I especially love olives that are easy and convenient to transport and eat on anytime, anywhere.

Pearls Olives sent me an adorable insulated lunch tote plus four types of olives: Green Pimento-Stuffed Olives, Black Olives, Sliced Black Olives and Kalamata Olives. I immediately began snacking. 

You know how some days you just want something salty? For me, this particular craving usually strikes mid-afternoon. Olives are the perfect fix. I brought my green olives to work and the little containers disappeared within just a few days. 

Beyond snacking, these small containers of olives are just right when you want to add flavor to a salad, stew, casserole, etc. For example, the Kalamata Olives were the perfect addition to my lunch salads. And when I made chicken burritos for dinner one night, the sliced black olives added a bit of extra deliciousness. 

In case you need even more reason to snack on olives, they are a great addition to a healthy diet. Five Kalamata Olives come in at just 45 calories. And you can have three Green Olives for just 25 calories. Although admittedly, I can never stick with only three ;)

So who wants to win their very own set of Pearls Olives to Go with lunch tote? 

a Rafflecopter giveaway  
Milwaukee readers should watch for a Pearls Olives coupon in The Journal Sentinel, The Wall Street Journal and many other Milwaukee-area newspapers on Sunday, May 3. Because life can always use a few extra olives! 

Tell me: What is your favorite type of olive? 

- ST