Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!

I love chia seeds. I put them in smoothies, sprinkle them in hot cereal, toss them in coconut water, and put them in my yogurt. Chia seeds are another healthy way to get your omega-3s, and are also packed full of protein, fiber, antioxidants, and minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron. Unlike other seeds (like flax seeds, for example), they can be absorbed by the body for maximum health benefits. The coolest part? Their texture! They can absorb up to 12 times their own weight, so when added to a liquid they have gelling properties. Adding them to foods make meals more filling and satisfying without weighing you down.

I enjoy combining chia seeds with a liquid and letting it “set up” to make a “pudding”. It’s been especially helpful this winter/spring since I’ve had some early morning gym sessions as I prepare for Eagleman 70.3. By the time I get to work, I’m ready for breakfast but don’t have time to make anything – so I bring chia seed pudding. I made it last week and posted a picture and was asked for the recipe, but I didn’t really have one since I just kind of make it up!

20140325-042229.jpgChia Seed Pudding
Makes one large serving, or two small servings.

  • 1 cup of milk (I use So Delicious Vanilla Almond Plus 5x almond milk for extra protein, but any milk/dairy substitute would be fine)
  • 3 tablespoons of chia seeds (adjust for your own preferences)
  • 1 tablespoon of organic maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Toppings, such as berries, unsweetened coconut, raisins, walnuts…be creative!

Optional:

  • 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt for a creamier texture (Reduce the milk to 1/2 cup and add in 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt)

Directions:

For a tapioca-like consistency:

  1. Put all ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Mix well, and chill overnight.
  3. Add in your toppings, mix, and enjoy!

For a smoother consistency:

  1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
  2. Chill overnight.
  3. Add in your toppings, mix, and enjoy!

 

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Marathon on Deck: Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon

logoThe second weekend in March kicked off the spring marathon season and opened with a successful run in South Carolina. It also began the cycle I wrote about in the fall: race, recover, build, taper, repeat. Over the next few months, I’m excited to participate in some interesting events:

  • March 30: Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon
  • April 12: Garden Spot Half Marathon (Official pacer, 1:45 group)
  • April 21: The Boston Marathon
  • May 3: Deca Dash 5K
  • May 18: Sugarloaf Marathon
  • June 8: Ironman 70.3 Eagleman

Yup, a marathon. This weekend. Already. Eeeeeek.

There was only three short weeks between Columbia and Knoxville, so my primary concern after Columbia was recovery. I spent the week following the race running slow recovery miles, swimming, biking and resting. Nevermind triathlon training and double workouts at that point-  I needed to maintain endurance and recover quickly. When week two of recovery rolled around, my goal was to get in a short speed workout and a faster paced medium long run before my final taper week. I completed a short track workout with some speedy 800s to see how it felt to pick up the pace, and a speedy/hilly 15 miler on Saturday. I’m running mainly recovery miles all week to prepare for Sunday’s marathon, with the exception of my final key workout: a seven mile run with two miles at goal marathon pace.

I went to Columbia knowing I wanted to run aggressively to determine where my fitness was, particularly on a hilly course. Columbia had a total elevation gain of 1,002 feet, and Boston has a total gain of 783 feet. Columbia was a good test to see if I could throw down on some hills. I’d like to run Boston a little more aggressively, though Boston is a tricky race to target for a PR. I know the course well, but it’s easy to go out too fast and burn out your legs early in the race. There’s also the late start time. I won’t start running until 10:25 am that day, so if the weather is going to be hot I’ll be running during the peak of it (which ended up being 90+ degrees in 2012). I’m hoping to run harder in Boston and Sugarloaf and just see what happens. I have some goals in mind, but I also realize I’m running a bunch of races in a short time frame so my primary focus will be recovery.

As for the Knoxville Marathon looming in the very near future, I am certainly not racing it. I’ve run the past few races with time goals in mind. I spent much of the fall season injured so when I finally could race, I didn’t want to hold back. Once I recovered from my last fall marathon, I added several shorter distance races to my schedule with the intention of racing them as tune up races (the Fred Lebow Half Marathon, Super Bowl Sunday 10K, and Quakertown 10 miler). I really wanted to get some hilly miles under my belt running because I know the marathons I chose for the spring were much hillier than the races I completed in the fall.

So as for Knoxville, no racing. I realize I keep repeating myself, but it’s because I need to hear it! I’m going to be tempted to run aggressively since I’m going down with some speedy friends that will be running hard that day, so the challenge with this race is going to be holding back. If I feel good on Sunday, the plan is to negative split the course as preparation for Boston. In Knoxville, I’m hoping to run about an eight minute mile for the first half of the race – mainly to practice running that pace to prepare for my debut as a pacer at the Garden Spot Half Marathon. After the half-marathon point, I am planning to gradually pick up the pace and try to run a few miles at goal marathon pace after mile 20. Or maybe not. I’m honestly more concerned with going slower for this race as preparation for Boston and Sugarloaf. I have no goal time for Knoxville, and my only goal is to check Tennessee off of my list and complete a long run. As my friends say, a “catered training run”. I’m excited!

Race Review: Run Hard Columbia (South Carolina)

State  #21: South Carolina
Run Hard Columbia

3/8/2014

20140312-050423.jpgAs I prepared for my first 26.2 of the season, I began drafting a post last Tuesday with the intention of gathering my thoughts on the upcoming race. Including Columbia, I am signed up for four spring marathons. For Columbia, my goal was to run the pace I’ve been running on my recent long runs and just see what happens to determine what kind of shape I’m in. I never published the post.

The afternoon after I began writing it, my left hamstring/popliteal tendon (still not sure which it is) started acting really strange on my final workout before the race. I did a seven mile general aerobic run with two miles at marathon pace. I felt great; the marathon pace miles were a breeze. When I slowed down, something tightened up in the back of my left leg. It was almost to the point where I couldn’t even walk, and it felt like a cramp. I stopped, stretched, and it subsided enough that I could resume running and make it to my car, but I was pretty concerned. I skipped a few of my recovery runs after that to let it “heal” and prayed it was just my body throwing a taper tantrum. I’m still not sure it was. I never published my original post and I stopped talking about the marathon altogether because I was a kind of terrified. Ready or not, race day arrived, and it was a success!

Getting There

It’s a 10 hour car ride from Allentown, but count on at least 11 if you are hydrating for a marathon. We left the day before the race, which is risky to spend the day before a marathon cooped up in a car. In hopes of minimizing the damage, we took lots of breaks and made sure to hydrate well. It’s a relatively easy drive, with no big cities along the route to cause major traffic issues. Once you hit Columbia, the city isn’t too difficult to navigate and we found our way to the expo with ease.

The Expo and Course Preview

The expo was open the day before the race with convenient hours (12-9pm), especially for those coming in from out of town. They also had race day packet pick-up available, which is a relief in the event that a complete traveling disaster were to strike. We didn’t spend much time at the expo, just long enough to grab our bibs and packet but there were a decent number of vendors present. We decided to drive the course before checking into our hotel and finding some pasta.

The course is two loops, which I seem to prefer in a marathon. I’ve done three marathons with double loops (Long Branch, Marshall, and now Columbia) and I like knowing what to expect during the miles later in the race, whether it be good or bad.The map on the Run Hard Columbia site is easy to navigate, so we hopped in the car for a preview. I knew before getting to Columbia that the course would have some hills, but I was not prepared for what I saw on our drive. Lots of long climbs, both steep and gradual made frequent appearances throughout the entire course. As we were driving, I can’t remember the amount of times we would make a turn and would either go silent or say something like, “oh shit” when we saw yet another climb. Between the hamstring ordeal and the hills, I was feeling intimidated, defeated, and unprepared at this point.

The Race

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The race began and ended at the State House on Main Street. It was about 35 degrees and sunny as we lined up at the start, so I wore shorts and a tank top. Within an hour, temps would start rising. The high for day was predicted to be 70 degrees so I knew the chill in the air would be temporary. As the race began, I ran the first few miles with my two friends, Mark and Bill. We only really stayed together for the first mile or so, and we went out a little faster than I’d planned. I was tempted to really crank out some fast miles because I thought I would suffer on the hills either way, but I slowed down after the first mile to conserve my energy.

Within the first two miles, my hamstring let me know it was there and not feeling 100%. That scared me a little, and it made me a little cranky for the better part of the first loop. It never increased in pain, it just let me know it was still there so I kept my pace controlled and even. Other than my first mile, my Garmin registered a 7:27 pace for the first half marathon. However, my Garmin was off from the first mile by about a tenth of a mile for some reason or another, so I knew I was running closer to a 7:30-7:36 based on elapsed time.

When I began writing my unpublished post from last week, I stated my goal time of 3:18-3:20 for this race. I’ve been doing my long runs between a 7:30-7:40 pace and wanted to run somewhere in that neighborhood for this marathon. At the start, I told Bill and Mark that I was going to run a 3:18 if I felt good once I started. As I hit the half marathon mark, I wasn’t sure what to think. I was beginning to feel less cranky and kind of forgot about my hamstring by then, but I knew I had to run the exact same loop one more time. As I was thinking about my pace and how I felt, I realized how much I enjoyed the course during the first loop, nasty hills and all.

As we departed the half marathon point and went head to head with the hills for round two, I finally felt awake and warmed up. I zoned out and when my Garmin beeped to indicate I’d hit mile 14, I realized I was going a little too fast (7:01 for that mile) and slowed down. The hills waiting for me between miles 23-25 were no joke and I needed to save some energy if I wanted to meet my goal. Once I hit mile 17, I was cruising around a 7:30 pace and still felt strong. I kept waiting to crash and for the hills to eat me alive. Around mile 20, I was starting to just feel ready to be done running.

I began negotiating with myself, trying to keep the pace below 7:45 for as long as I possibly could. I was successful until the final incline. A little before mile 23, (which was mile 10 for the first loop) the course dumps you out onto Gervais Street, one of the main roads in Columbia. The entire stretch is a climb, and the descent is after the finish line so you don’t actually get to reap the benefit of the downhill when you run the second loop. It’s long and decently steep and you’re tired, with less than a 5K to go. Honestly, to have to run a hill like that at that point in a marathon is just downright mean. It looks so deceiving. As you approach it and begin ascending, you can see what you think is the entire hill.  Just before mile 24, you hit the top and realize that your legs get a break for a few quick steps before the climb continues for another significant stretch. When you finally reach the top, the course changes direction and loops to the right. The race finishes with a slight uphill grade followed by a false flat. Mile 24 was my slowest mile.  I was negotiating with myself the entire way up that I’d already run really well through that point and to just hold on to an 8 minute mile until the top. It ended up being close enough, registering as an 8:02.

Most of the course is run through residential neighborhoods. Very pretty, but a small field meant not a lot of company on the course. I felt a little like I went to South Carolina and ran a marathon all by myself, because once you hit the halfway point, everyone really spread out and I didn’t see many other runners. There were lots of volunteers at almost every turn to make ensure you knew where you were going, and there were frequent aid stations so when the heat hit, you could stay hydrated. There were cones marking the entire course, and the ground was marked with chalk in areas that could potentially be confusing so there was no question as to where you should be going.

As I started approaching the finish line, the course loops onto Main Street. For a smaller marathon, I couldn’t believe the size of the crowd as I came down the street. At this point, I didn’t care how tired I was: I knew I was going to break 3:20, but since my Garmin was off by .3 of a mile at this point (so much for running the tangents of the course!), I wasn’t sure how close to 3:18 I actually was. I didn’t even try to do the math since things get a little weird in your head around this point in a marathon (you can easily convince yourself that 2+2=5 without thinking twice) so I just ran.

There was also a marathon relay and a half marathon going on simultaneously, but we all wore different colored bibs. When people saw me coming and saw my bib, they got pretty excited and started cheering for me. At first, I thought it was just because they realized based on my bib color that I was a marathon finisher. As the crowd got a little crazier the closer I got, I started to wonder how many females finished ahead of me. I only remembered passing one other female at that point, and I never saw her again. I knew I was going to run a PR, so I was super excited – but there was no way it could be fast enough to win the race. The crowd’s reaction had me questioning how many females finished ahead of me at this point.

When the finish line was close enough that I could see the clock, I saw that it could be close to the 3:19 mark so I picked up the pace and happily crossed the finish line at 3:18:46. I’m still on cloud nine, and still can’t believe it all actually happened. I didn’t really feel great during the first loop, but by the half marathon point through the finish line I felt strong. Both Marshall and Rocket City were extremely flat courses, so I was nervous that I might completely blow up on a hilly marathon course. I train on hills often, but I don’t always opt for the hardest courses when I race. Columbia is where the Women’s Olympic Trials were held in 2000, so I always knew this course would be challenging. I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was.

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Post Race/Awards

It wasn’t just me running a PR that day. My friends also ran incredible races and both PR’d. Bill ran a 3:17:02 and placed 2nd overall in the master’s division, and Mark ran a 3:25:29 and placed 3rd in his age group. It was PR’s and awards all around, and it was 70 degrees and sunny. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in front of the State House in Columbia, basking in the sun. I’m proudly sporting a sunburn on my shoulders. After the intense winter we’ve had and the crazy weather we’ve endured up north, it was amazing to run in a tank top and shorts. I forgot what that felt like.

The funniest part about the race was the finish line. I crossed, and one of the officials approached me and said, “I am in no way trying to be offensive but I have to ask for the purpose of awards. You ran the full, correct?” Half delirious, I looked at him and said, “I really want to say some clever comment about having to run all of those hills twice, but I don’t have the energy to come up with anything. So yes. I did.” That’s when I knew I likely placed somewhere, whether it be overall or in my age group.

The post race celebration had the typical food spread: bananas, bagels, apples, oranges, chips, etc. The awards ceremony began at noon, and they started by presenting the half marathoners with their awards. At this point, I thought I was the 3rd overall female. When they started calling names for the top three females and my name wasn’t called for 3rd, I figured I’d miscounted and likely placed in my age group…until they called my name for second place! It was really exciting. The first place female won by a LOT (3:04!) but I was still excited. I was 2/72 females, and 12/208 marathon finishers. It was a small race, but a huge accomplishment for all of us.

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As for my hamstring, I guess we’ll see how that is when I try running this afternoon. It was present during the race but never increased in pain (although it’s more of just a little nagging sensation), and I completely forgot about it around mile 10. After the race, I stretched out for a long time and took an ice bath back at the hotel to speed up overall recovery. It just feels sore right now, like general muscle soreness. I’m hoping to chalk it up to phantom, pre-race pains but I have quite the track record with injuries so I’m proceeding with caution. I’m also using it as a good excuse to get a massage this afternoon.

Yes, there are hills and the weather could be hot since it’s down south. There’s also that 10 hour car ride. Yet despite all of that, I absolutely recommend this race. This race almost didn’t happen because the old race director canceled the original race back in October. So major shout out to the new race director, Jesse Harmon, for putting together a first-class event in just a few short months. What a great experience!

Race Review: Quakertown 10 Mile (Rotary Run for Youth)

I signed up for this race a few weeks ago on an impulse. A group of my friends had already registered, and it was easy to convince others to sign up. It was inexpensive (around $20 to register) and local. It happened to fall a week before my first marathon of the spring season, and I usually run 10-12 miles at marathon pace (or faster) the week before anyway. The stars all seemed to be aligned for this one so I barely thought twice about signing up.

Except that the week before the race I was chaperoning a school event in Hershey, PA. 1,800 total high school kids, and 170 of them came from our school. We stayed at the Hershey Lodge. I spent the three days before the race getting almost no sleep and eating horribly (it’s very likely that I ate my weight in chocolate). When I got home on Friday around 5:30pm, I went to bed in hopes that I could sleep it all off. The race offers a 4 mile and a 10 mile option, and I was seriously considering dropping down to the 4 miler if it were a possibility. Then I told myself to stop being a little girl and suck it up. At worst, it would be a good final long run before the spring marathon craziness begins.

It was seven degrees at the start of the race. Although it was colder than the day we ran the Fred Lebow Half Marathon, it felt warmer. Even with the cold weather and poor build up to the race, it ended up being a successful day! I ran a teeny PR for the 10 mile distance with a 1:10:52, about a 7:04 pace…my previous PR was 1:10:54. However, this race was extremely hilly – much hillier than the Oley Valley 10 miler, where I ran my previous 10 mile PR – so I’ll take it. I got first in my age group, and most of my friends placed in their respective age groups. Regardless of whether you ran a PR or not, running that course is quite an accomplishment. It was so freaking hilly, but an awesome training run for Boston. My Garmin registered 680 feet of climbing over the entire run. The marathon I’m running next weekend doesn’t have that kind of elevation gain over the entire 26.2 miles!

10mileelevation
Elevation Chart, 2014 Quakertown 10 Mile

 Around mile four I hit one of the many long, arduous climbs and just thought to myself, “Seriously? You have got to be f**cking kidding me. This is bullshit.” My internal dialogue was pretty much consistent with that for the rest of the race. However, I really did love the race and enjoyed the course, hills and all. Besides, I like hills so of course I can’t wait to do it again next year. It was very scenic and felt like you were running in the middle of nowhere. The roads weren’t closed to traffic, but there were minimal cars so traffic wasn’t an issue. Volunteers were at every turn to direct the runners, which was a necessity because the course went all over the place. If there wasn’t a volunteer directing you, there were clearly marked signs.

There were three water stops on the course (I think), but I only took water at two of them. I can’t believe the water wasn’t frozen. The start and finish of the race was at an elementary school, and the runners were permitted to use the bathrooms and the cafeteria. Speaking of the cafeteria, that’s where you got your bib and your shirt. We all know that I love the race swag, but these shirts are less than desirable and are way too big, which is the only negative I could come up with about this race. I brought my change of clothes into the building and left them in the cafeteria during the race. At the finish, it was easy to walk inside, change and warm up.

There were soft pretzels, chips, and fruit in the cafeteria for the runners after they finished. It felt like a luxury to have indoor bathrooms and a warm place to hang out. Any of the winter races I’ve run recently didn’t offer amenities like that. I don’t always love signing up for winter races (I show up at the start thinking, “WHY did I think this was a good idea?”), but I would sign up for this event again. I wouldn’t call it a PR course, but it is an excellent addition to a spring race schedule.