When Life Gets in the Way of Training

The weather’s changing so I’m feeling a cold coming on. I’ve been training 5-6 days a week for 14 (or more) weeks. I’m planning a major move that will leave me and my boyfriend and the kitties (and all our stuff) temporarily without a home for a day/night. I’m exhausted.

But I’m still waking up every morning and doing SOMETHING.

In the beginning of this training plan, I mapped out my goals. The plan actually calls for 2 days of rest a week, but my goal was 1. I built that in with the caveat that if I’m having a rough week I can still take 2 days off. I needed that more than ever last week.

Last week’s training culminated in a 13 mile (recovery week) trail run because I was out at my boyfriend’s parents’ house getting some moving logistics taken care of. I don’t do a lot of trail runs…and I never wear my glasses when I run. Needless to say, 2 miles in I tripped over a really sneaky rock and fell. I finished the run but it wasn’t easy. Usually, the day after my long run I’ll take a nice easy 4-5 mile run. I elected to skip on Sunday, and let me tell you, it felt great. I NEEDED that day off.

As I sit here with my lentil soup, next to my Throat Comfort Yogi Tea and my honey, lemon, and ginger, planning out our move, I am anticipating an ugly week ahead. Moving in a week and a half and dealing with closing and money and moving out on day and moving in the next–on top of a possible cold–it’s all pretty stressful.

But I still wake up and run. And hopefully I will next week too. Maybe getting a cold now is a blessing because I’ll get it out of the way for the fall season before Nov. 1.

Life happens and you get sick and you get busy. It’s important to build in at least 1 optional rest day into your training. Mentally I see it like this–every week that I’m able to get 6 workouts in is a huge win because it’s more than what my plan calls for. Every week that I need to take an extra day feels great and I don’t feel guilty for skipping a day.

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Since you’re training for a marathon, are you losing a ton of weight?

When you run an average of 35-45+ miles a week, people probably expect that you’ll lose a TON of weight. If weight loss is your primary goal, training for a marathon probably isn’t the best method. That amount of exercise will destroy calories, absolutely. However, calories are energy and energy is what you need to complete a 10-20+ mile long run–so you need to eat, and you need to eat a LOT.

I’ve never exercised this much or this consistently in my life–even before my NYC Half PR a few years ago my longest run leading up to the event was 10 miles. Not only am I running 40-ish miles a week (I’m up to 17 miles for my long run), I’m spending at least one day a week cross training. With the amount of calories I’m zapping, my body is BEGGING me to replace them. After a long run, I’ll immediately replace calories with coconut water or a smoothie before I eat my first meal of the day. On a good day, I’m hungry every couple of hours–but I typically find myself hungry again an hour after I eat. I find myself eating constantly, and needing to consume larger meals, and snack frequently in between meals. I find myself seeking out the most filling foods (which also happen to be pretty calorically dense)–beans, hummus, carbs. My appetite is a result of my body needing to replace the calories I burn working out so I can keep going. Increased activity leads to increased calorie intake leads to a relatively stable weight.

In the beginning, I shed quite a few pounds pretty easily, but now I’m evening out. I’d say overall in the last 2 months I’ve lost maybe 10 pounds. That’s not so say I don’t LOOK a lot more fit. I’m gaining muscles I’ve never seen before and I’m losing fat. But I’m not losing a TON of weight. And I didn’t expect to. I would never deprive my body of the calories and nutrients it needs to perform its best leading up to the marathon. Lately I’ve been worried about whether or not I’ve consumer enough the night before a longer run to ensure my energy level is high enough to get me through the run.

If you want to run a marathon, prepare yourself to eat a lot during training. Don’t expect to lose a ton of weight. If you do, you’re going to deny yourself what you need to perform your best. Eat when you’re hungry and make sure you’re getting enough calories. You’ll still lose a little weight and you are going to look and feel fit. Just think about all you can eat without feeling guilty, and ENJOY it. You’re going out on 3-4+ hour long runs and working out almost every day. You’re experiencing aches and pains you never thought were physically possible. You are sacrificing hours upon hours of your free time. You’re going to sleep early on Friday nights (and waking up early on weekends). You’re missing out on countless happy hours and drinks with friends. You DESERVE to eat and enjoy things you’d normally feel a little guilty about. Pasta and bread, yes please and thank you!

What do you eat before/during your long runs?

This is probably the most consistently asked question I’ve been getting since I started training. I actually spent a really long time thinking about the perfect pre-run snack before I started off on my long training runs. Everyone is different, and different things work for different people. My blood sugar dips rather quickly compared to most people, so I’m pretty conscious of it when I run.

Back before I started training for my first marathon, trained mostly in the 3-10 mile range. A lot of times, I found myself low on energy, sometimes feeling on the verge of passing out. I typically just powered through. I knew this would obviously be an issue going into training. I did a lot of research before I started my 18 week plan–reading, podcast listening, etc. My biggest takeaway–in the past I was constantly training in my anaerobic zone and not giving myself the chance to build an aerobic base. When you train in your aerobic zone, your body relies on stored fat for its energy. When you train in your anaerobic zone, your body relies on sugar and carbs for all its energy. It made total sense to me–once I burned off all the sugar from my small pre-run snack, I was toast. I completely ran out of energy. When you train aerobically, you have an unlimited source of energy re: fat.

How do you know if you’re training aerobically? It’s all based on your heart rate. Everyone is different. The best thing to do is find out by getting a blood test. I don’t have time or patience for that, so I used Phil Maffetone’s formula to figure out my maximum aerobic heart rate for training.

It’s been a really hot and humid summer, so it’s been very, very challenging staying below this number, but I try my best. Not, when I go out on my training runs I eat a peach or a few dates beforehand. On my first 15 mile run last weekend, I brought dates in a snack bag and I ended up needing them about halfway through. That was the first time I needed any kind of sugar during any of my long training runs. I got up to 14 miles the week prior without needing any type of snack! I was shocked!

I still have a long way to go to figure out my perfect formula but typically before a long run:

  1. pasta the night before
  2. lots of water the day before
  3. in the morning, wake up and eat a peach or other sugary fruit or some dates
  4. bring dates in case I feel low on sugar during the run

Before a race:

  1. pasta the night before
  2. lots of water the day before
  3. in the morning, wake up and eat a peach or other sugary fruit or some dates
  4. on the way to the race, eat a Larabar (very few ingredients, usually just dates and some kind of nut and dried fruit)
  5. bring dates in case I feel low on sugar during the run

AFTER the run or race I make sure I get protein into me immediately, and usually try to have some kind of juice or coconut water to replenish my sugar and nutrients.

This seems to work really well for me, but everyone is different. In general, the key is to experiment with different routines and see what works best for you!

Why Food Revolution Day Matters

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I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes life gets in the way of eating healthy. For the past four years, I’ve been working full-time and taking classes for my MBA part-time, and two years ago I also found myself starting to write for and edit StartSomeGood’s blog part-time. Convenience became the name of the game and, while I was a physically healthy weight throughout this entire period of time, I doubt that I could call myself healthy from the inside, out. Lean cuisines, Skippy peanut butter, and Morningstar veggie-everything ruled my life. At the time, health to me was all about counting calories and limiting my cravings. And I was unhappy.

While I do acknowledge that I could’ve been in a worse situation—I was thin and at no risk for any diet or weight-related diseases—I didn’t feel great and I could see my relationship with real food slipping away. For goodness sake, I had only Ikea kitchen knives up until a couple of years ago! I attribute my healthy weight during that time period to my portion control abilities and the naturally constricting limitations of a vegetarian diet—I could eat that sodium-laced Lean Cuisine, but I couldn’t eat a package of over processed Tyson chicken nuggets so, I suppose I was a bit better off than some people (again, I suppose). But, again, I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t healthy on the inside. I was hungry and lacking energy and I wasn’t active.

Anyway, I digress. I can’t exactly pinpoint what changed and when, but REAL food came back into my life and has literally become my obsession. I find myself scrolling through recipes on Sprouted Kitchen and Oh She Glows for hours on end. Real food is beautiful and, when cooked right, brings out the most amazing natural flavors. Real food is FILLING and I can eat more of it because I know it’s helping to make me healthy. I’m no saint—I can’t say I don’t have a couple of bags of tortilla chips in my pantry at any given time or that I don’t have a few Trader Joe’s frozen meals as back-up for lazy days—but in general I find myself craving real food more and more. I even recently discovered a hidden love for brussels sprouts—go figure!

And the results are really noticeable! I may have actually gained a few pounds from my skinniest Lean Cuisine eating days, but I’m still the same size I was a few years ago. I’m just healthier. I have more energy. I’m super active. I attribute this mostly to all the long hours training to run half marathons and eating whole foods rich in healthy fats (i.e. avocados, coconut oil, cashews, etc.) that have allowed me to replace my fat with muscle. In fact, I’m positive my body fat percentage is lower now even though I don’t have the measurements to prove it. I couldn’t power through 13.1 miles on a frozen meal, but I can with a healthy helping of whole grains and a side of delicious green veggies (I must admit, I looooove carbo loading before a big race).

Now I eat a mostly vegan diet (when I cook, that is—meals out are another story…goat cheese and good burrata are my weaknesses). Vegetarianism and veganism, however are not the answer to health. I know plenty of “junk food” veg friends. The key is a diet rich in real, whole, fresh foods. I recently got the results back from a blood test that I had as part of my annual physical and I was pleased to find I am not deficient in any vitamins even though I choose a mostly plant-based diet. That and my cholesterol was lowered significantly from my last blood test two years ago. Guys—I’m telling you this works! I am happy because I no longer feel limited. And now when I do satisfy a craving for some takeout pizza every now and again, I literally don’t like the way it makes me feel after and I don’t crave it again for a long time.

All that AND my relationship with the kitchen grown drastically over the last few years. I find my cooking skills are evolving and I’m learning how to adapt recipes and make them my own. I am starting to love cooking. Discovering this passion has given me some serious direction in life and for that I am seriously grateful.

So, my point is, Food Revolution Day is May 17th. Check out foodrevolutionday.com to see what you can do to get involved. Go cook something! Host a dinner party. Cook a meal with your kids. Spread the news around your friends’ news feeds. Go ahead; annoy the crap out of them. They’ll appreciate it in the end. Help yourself and others discover a love for REAL FOOD!

What will I be doing? Loading up on some complex carbs to prep for my run in the NYRR Brooklyn Half Marathon the next morning! But don’t worry; I’ll cook up a nice side of kale too. 🙂

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my rooftop herb garden

Making Time For Our Health

Busy, busy, busy….everyone is just so busy! 

I genuinely believe in the benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet. But, lately, I’ve been seriously letting myself slip. On any given day, I have several projects to work on, errands, work, school, exercise, friends–the list seriously never ends. I’ll be the first to admit–when life gets in the way, it genuinely becomes difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. After all, eating healthy requires planning meals ahead of time, shopping every few days, prepping ingredients, cooking, cleaning up after yourself. These tasks start to become arduous when they get in the way of your productivity. When you are tired and hungry it becomes SO tempting to pop a processed meal into the oven or microwave and in five minutes, voila, dinner!

You are tired and still have 5 hours left of work to do before you can go to sleep, so you grab a soda or a latte or an energy drink to keep yourself awake. You’re up until 2 am so snacking starts to seem genuinely innocent. You don’t have anything in the fridge so all of a sudden you start letting yourself eat foods with ingredients like yellow #5, high fructose corn syrup, and maltodextrin. You don’t know what these are, but you know they aren’t found in nature and you don’t have the time or energy to care. You start to feel an overwhelming sense of exhaustion and your skin is dull and your nails are flaky and weak. You are too lethargic to exercise. Your weight slowly starts creeping up on you…so slowly that you don’t even realize it. All of a sudden, even your “fat” pants are starting to feel tight. Sound familiar?

Well, it sure does to me. I’ve been eating j-u-n-k lately and I’m not okay with it. Even that seemingly harmless can of lentil soup has 600 mg of sodium (per serving!!) in it. For someone who advocates health, for someone who aspires to bring healthy fresh foods to families living in food deserts, for someone who believes so strongly in the benefits of a plant-based diet, I’ve been seriously slacking.  

My first back on track meal comes courtesy of Kid Tested Firefighter Approved–cute name, amazing plant-based recipes! Tonight, I made Portobello Mushroom Pizzas and boy were they delicious. The only thing I changed was that I used artichokes instead of olives because olives have a lot of sodium and fat. Also, I didn’t have time to soak cashews overnight so I boiled water, turned off the heat, and let the cashews sit in the hot water for 45 minutes while I prepped the ingredients (when time is of the essence–get a little creative!) Also, the recipe is for 3 servings so I only used 1/3 of each ingredient. 

MmmMmmm good!

All in all, the meal took me about 1 1/2 hours to make. Yes, that’s a bit long on a normal day for me, but I think the important thing is to plan meals out ahead of time. Make use of that Google Calendar and start planning out your meals a week ahead of time. Then, when you have a less hectic day, you can prep a few things for the week! Since I had some time tonight, I made a delicious Chickpea Ratatouille that will be my lunch tomorrow and worked on a few blog related things while I let it bake. 

So let’s get back on track! Planning is key–set out your meal plan at least a few days ahead of time and soon you’ll find yourself able to better prioritize your health. Let’s give it a shot!

October Challenge: The Weekday Vegan

I’m sure some of you know the concept of being a weekday vegetarian–Mr. Hill’s TED Talk is a much more eloquent explanation than I could possibly give about its benefits, personally and environmentally. Anyway, I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 15 years now, and the concept of weekday vegetarianism is great for some, but at this point I’m well beyond meat cravings. We all have different reasons for not eating meat. For me, what started off as simply advocating for the rights of animals evolved into a desire to be healthy while fostering a healthy environment by my early twenties. And, let me tell you, when I was a 15-year-old vegetarian, I was nowhere near eating healthy. Pizza, fries, Ralph’s cream ices, and Cheez-its were all staples of my vegetarian diet. But, hey, I was 15 and played softball every single day of my life–who could blame me? Anyway, I digress.

Lately I’ve been feeling pretty extreme fatigue even though I get about 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night. Some of it may have to do with not getting into a deep enough sleep, but I try to fix that with melatonin when I know I’m sleeping enough hours to justify taking it. Anyway, the point is–I can’t afford for this to be happening. I’m a busy girl–a day job, a blogger, a runner, and a grad student, among other things–like, you know, being a friend and daughter and sister. I need to have energy and I need to be healthy. I place a great emphasis on health and am actually mostly vegan, but I have an unhealthy relationship with goat cheese that just won’t allow me to take the full plunge. So, what’s a girl to do?

I’ve been obsessing over Oh She Glows all weekend (please check that site out, it’s amazing…Ah-mah-zing) and it gave me an idea–for the month of October, I’m going to experiment with a weekday vegan and gluten free diet–basically a plant-based non-processed food diet. Why no dairy, eggs, or gluten? I’m trying to figure out if any of these are the culprits behind my fatigue. Also, I just think any little bit helps and if I’m plant-based 5 out of 7 days of the week, I’m doing a pretty darn good job of staying healthy and doing what I can to beat my fatigue. I’m not the most amazing cook in the world, but I’m also not the worst. My latest concoction (mother tested and approved btw–so you KNOW it’s good) was roasted butternut squash with caramelized onions and baby portobello mushrooms, all stir fried with tofu shirataki noodles (better-known as miracle noodles, they are low carb and gluten free)  So, starting this week, I’m giving it a shot. Let’s see how this goes–feel free to try along with me, or just be a weekday vegetarian, or just try Meatless Mondays 🙂

MMmMmm-Mother Approved