Saturday, February 28, 2015

For geeks only

As part of my job as a pediatric nurse practitioner in a busy teaching practice, I get the opportunity to attend weekly Grand Rounds. This is a one hour educational lecture, presented by a resident or attending, with a different topic every week. I love to learn and Grand Rounds is always really interesting. This past week, I attended a lecture by Philip Skiba, DO, PhD, MS, who is the director of our Sports Medicine department. The topic was Assessing Sports Performance. Dr Skiba has done a lot of research and lecturing on this topic. He's also coached many elite and olympic level athletes. So for today's blog post, I put on my science nerd hat and share some of the highlights of his talk--this was a topic near and dear to this runner's heart. Besides, it was fascinating.

Dr Skiba talked a lot of performance of runners. Since this was a medical lecture, the information was pretty scientific. He used a lot of graphs and mathematical formulas. I even heard the term Krebs cycle tossed around! That was a nightmare blast from my biochemistry days! Who knew that I would need to remember that again? But he also talked a lot about some important concepts behind why we train the way we do. I'm going to try to sum it up here without getting too technical, and to prepare this post, I had to do a lot of background reading. Hopefully, I'm able to simplify it enough that it will all make sense and you can apply some of the concepts to your training! I also thought that his lecture helped me understand why we runners train the way we do, and why the work Becky has me doing, in the form of heavy lifting and interval training, is really having a positive impact on my running.

Dr Skiba introduced the concepts of critical power and VO2max. Critical power is the rate at which you can maintain your pace without exhaustion. Some of us refer to this as endurance. If you are very aerobically fit, you will have a high level of critical power. Critical power is a number that can be determined in a lab. Elite athletes train using knowledge of their critical power. If you run beyond your critical power, you start to become fatigued and your performance starts to suffer.

VO2max, also known as aerobic capacity, is the ability of the body to utilize oxygen. Having high critical power and high VO2max means you you can perform at a high level without exhaustion, without going into an anaerobic state (produce lactic acid), or become fatigued. Athletes who have a high VO2 max can perform at a higher level because their bodies have the ability to produce more energy. This explains why a lot of endurance athletes use the banned substance, epo, because this substance helps increase red blood cells, which carry oxygen in the body. More oxygen means increased aerobic capacity. BTW, the maximum allowable hematocrit for professional cyclists is 49.5%. You and I are probably sitting around 36%.

Lactate threshold is another determinant of performance. Lactic acid is a byproduct of metabolism, and begins to build up when you're working hard. Lactate threshold is the level of exercise at which lactate begins to accumulate in the blood. The more fit you are, the longer you can perform at lactate threshold. Lactate threshold is usually about 80-85% VO2max for fit athletes. Lactate threshold is probably the best predictor of performance. And even though conventional wisdom says accumulating lactate is bad, that isn't true. The body can use lactate for fuel and it does during endurance activities. However, increasing lactic acid levels does lead to fatigue.

Economy also plays a role in performance. Running economy is defined as the volume of oxygen consumed at submaximal speeds. An athlete who has a very efficient stride will be able to outrun another athlete who has a higher VO2max, simply because he is using less energy. Body weight is another factor that affects performance. Increased body weight has a negative effect on your VO2max. Also, the heavier your legs are, the lower your running economy. You will run slower than you would with a lower body weight.

There is only so much a runner can do to improve VO2max and critical power. Most of that is genetically determined. But there is some room to improve both parameters. In fact, newer, less conditioned runners can show much more dramatic improvement in these areas that experienced runners. In addition, some of us have more slow twitch muscle fibers (good for endurance events) and some have more fast twitch muscle fibers (good for sprinters). But because no one has 100% of either type, there is some evidence that training can alter this as well. One thing you can really have an impact on is your lactate threshold, though, and that is the focus of a lot of training plans.

Slow vs fast
I need to mention here that just because a person tires out quickly when trying to run long distances doesn't mean they have mostly fast twitch muscles. Keep in mind the concepts of VO2max and critical power. If you run faster than your VO2max you will fatigue very quickly. This has more to do with conditioning than anything else. I had to put this in here because I've actually had non-runners tell me that they "can't run long distances" because they only have fast twitch muscles, that they are more of a sprinter. Girlfriend, please. Pace yourself.

What does all this scientific information mean for the recreational athlete? What if you don't have access to a lab to measure your critical power or your VO2max? How do you know what your lactate threshold is? Can't I just run with my heart rate monitor and be done with it?

There are a few things you can do to improve your VO2max/aerobic capacity. Think intensity, not training volume. That means that stop the madness with the high mileage training. Studies show that HIIT (high intensity interval training) is better at increasing VO2max than endurance training. Some examples are intervals and speed work. A way to increase your lactate threshold is to train at higher volumes of training with your efforts at higher than resting intensity. Think tempo runs. Strength training has also been shown to increase VO2 max, lactate threshold, and running economy. It doesn't have to be all about high mileage.

BTW, while heart rate training has a place in all of this, it is important to know that heart rate monitors do not predict aerobic capacity. All the heart rate monitor tells us is how hard we are working at that moment in time. But monitoring how fast your heart rate goes down after an activity is a predictor of aerobic fitness. A more fit person will recover more quickly.

I walked away from this lecture both awed and overwhelmed. I had no idea that there was so much science behind running and cycling performance. I reflected on this information a lot over the past couple of days. This is the kind of testing and training that is utilized with elite athletes. That's a lot of pressure. I can see why a lot of elites might be tempted to dabble in banned substances, just to see those numbers improve. We mere mortals focus on mile splits. Imagine having your runs broken down into all those numbers and graphs. Seems to me that it kind of takes the fun out of running, doesn't it?

For more information: (includes info on measuring VO2max at home) links to great articles

Friday, February 27, 2015

Runfessions February edition

It's the end of February and that means it's time for Runfessions! Marcia at Marcia's Healthy Slice hosts this monthly soul clearing...and let me tell you how good it feels!

Let's step into the confessional...allow me to unburden myself...unbury myself...after all, this is the polar vortex edition of Runfessions...

There's no problem too big you can't run away from....

I've wanted to run away more the past few weeks than I ever did as a child. There, I've said it. I've made no secret of the mama drama meter going into the red zone on a daily basis these past few weeks. I've cried more than I ever thought possible. Not being much of a crier normally, that alone makes me want to run away. Every morning, I wake up all puffy. When I go for a run, I've tried to keep running but I can't go forever. I'd like to keep going, but it's just too cold. This winter weather has been brutal and there seems to be no relief in sight. That also makes me want to run away. Living in the midwest is not for the faint of heart.

I'm channeling Jeff Foxworthy here: 
-You might live in Chicago when it is warmer at the North Pole than it is where you live.
-You might live in Chicago when you have more snow than they do in Anchorage. 
-You might live in Chicago when 20 degrees feels balmy. 
All true stories. 

Some math: Teenage angst + mother nature's revenge + perimenopause = I need an escape plan. Leaving on a jet plane for Florida in a couple of weeks. Don't know when I'll be back again...

Git 'er done...tomorrow

Got weeds?
And along these lines, something you all may find this hard to believe, but I'm a bit of a procrastinator. But winter seems to have frozen all my resolve to get much done. I've put all my energy into work, my runs, and my sons. Anything else is on the backburner. For example, bills that aren't on autopay have been sitting in a pile on my desk. I started getting collection notices, which served as a cattle prod for me, and so I paid those. My husband has been complaining about the state of my desk. I need to get up there and go through everything, organize the piles of papers that are taking over, much like weeds in a garden. I actually believe that bills multiply just like weeds. Of course, anyone who's seen my garden knows that I don't weed either. Maybe I can't blame winter for this one...

Rebel without a pose...

I've never been much of a rule follower. Well, let me clarify. I don't follow rules that don't make sense to me. I'm kind of a rebel like that. Remember last fall, when I went to do my long run for the Chicago Marathon and the bike path was closed? Yeah, right, it was "closed"...And in that spirit, I have to confess that when I'm doing a yoga video, I don't always do the poses the instructor tells us to. Sometimes it's a pose that I can't do, like Broken Toe pose. Yep, you sit on your feet with your toes curled under...ouch...
I've already had 2 broken toes, and I don't want more. Not that this pose will actually break your toes--I'm sure people with healthy feet find a lot of benefits in this pose. But I have issues with my feet and I'll do anything to avoid more time in the boot. So I'll do an alternative pose, like hero pose (kneeling) while the folks on the video are sitting on their toes. They're suffering stretching out their feet and I'm relaxing, opening up my hips. Ahhhh....
I actually really like this pose. 
Sometimes I don't feel like doing Revolved Triangle because my body doesn't like that pose and it makes me feel inflexible and inferior. Bad yogi. So instead, I'll do regular triangle. I don't know why, but changing it up makes me feel somewhat guilty. It's not like Christine Felstead or Rodney Yee are going to call me out on it.... from the TV screen no less:

"Hey Wendy, namaste and all but we're doing revolved trikonasana over here....what the hell are you doing? "

I wouldn't do this at a studio class. One time I was at a live yoga class and a woman in the front did her own thing the whole time. It was so distracting! And weird. I mean, if you don't want to be lead by the instructor, why show up? To me, that was so wrong, disrespectful, and inconsiderate. I'm sure the instructor wanted to say something, but it is yoga after all. Be where you're at. Ommmmm.....

Sign language...

This week on a particularly brutally cold run, I had a thought about my convertible mittens. You know the ones, that are gloves with a hood you can pull over to make a mitten? Let's just say I was out on a run and I saw one of the neighborhood ladies who snubbed me at a recent white elephant party. I could wave politely, right?

"Heeeyyyyy...good morning! Have a nice day!"

And all the while smiling and waving, if I were to happen to raise the business finger under the cover of my convertible mittens...who would know? Just me, right? I love things that are multi-purpose--here we have hand warmers and passive aggressive all in one handy dandy innocent looking mitten. It's all good. I think I just found a silver lining to living in a cold place. And come to think of it, there's that whole face mask thing...just think of the possibilities!

Too bad, you warm climate folks will miss out on this one.

And just so you know, I only thought about doing this. So tempting, but I kept all my fingers together. It was just too darned cold...
Or you could give someone the peace sign. Privately, under the hood...

Such bad thoughts. Time for my penance. Not sure what that might be. I do have to work today...I think that sounds like punishment enough.

What do you want to confess? 

And be sure to head over to Marcia's page and see what everyone else is sharing...

I'm also linking this with Jill Conyers' Friday Fitness link up! Because sharing is caring....

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Winter Warrior

In spite of being weary of winter, there's always beauty to appreciate. With the exception of my speedwork, which is difficult to do outside in wintery conditions, I've continued to take my runs outside. I've talked a lot about motivation...about cold weather running...and more cold weather running.

Determined not to let Mother Nature get the best of me, and as part of participation in the #TaketheLeap yoga challenge, this week, I decided to do the Warrior Series and take all 5 poses outdoors. I wanted to portray a sense of strength, invincibility, and beauty in these poses. Winter really saps strength and energy from a lot of us, and these poses help us to feel grounded to the earth and strong. The poses all have physical benefits for runners as well. Warrior 3 is the most challenging of the series, involving strength and balance.

With the snow and gray skies as my background, the bright colors I wear for my runs served as contrast. Have you ever seen a cardinal in the snow? The beautiful red colors stand out perfectly in contrast to the whitewash of winter. I really enjoyed this series, and I think doing them in the snow generated so much peace and pleasure for me. And as they say, be a warrior, not a worrier.

Warrior 1

Humble warrior

Warrior 2

Reverse Warrior

Warrior 3

Monday, February 23, 2015


When everything hits the proverbial fan, it takes every ounce of resolve I have to lace up my running shoes, head out the door and go for a run. I actually consider just going back to bed and pulling the covers up over my head. Have you ever felt like that? It's a slippery slope towards depression, and I don't want to go there. After all, that's one of the reasons I started running 20 plus years ago. And that in and of itself is my biggest motivator to get out the door.

What else do I do to motivate myself to run?

If you don't want to race or if you need more goals, you can stay accountable by signing up for a virtual race or group. In 2015, I signed up with Run This Year. While no longer in operation, the goal of Run This Year was accountability. I always have a loose goal of running 100 miles per month, and I set a goal to run 2015 km in 2015 (which translates to 1251 miles. The organizers,had Instagram contests to keep participants motivated. They also encouraged participants to print out bibs every 100 miles and post a picture to the website. At the end of the year, I met my goal. What a great feeling!

Reading about running can be motivating! Shameless plug: as you may or may not know, I'm hosting a running book club right here on the blog! This is a great chance to read books that you might never have considered picking up! You can read more about the book club here. And if you are one of those people who don't read books--I don't understand you but I know you're out there--you can read magazines about running. There's a ton of websites with articles about running. And I know a few awesome blogs about running. Obviously, you do too....

Connect with other runners via social media. I cannot say enough how much having my virtual running friends helped me train for a successful Chicago Marathon last fall. It takes a village to train a runner, apparently. Just ask Jenny Hadfield! If you are a social runner, find a running group in your community. Be with your people. They get you and if your mojo is flagging, they can help you find it. I get by with a little help from my friends.

Adopt a mantra. I continue to use my "I can and I will" mantra to not only get me through my training but also through my mama drama. It sounds corny, but it really works. Music gets me moving too, and I've written plenty about how listening to motivating lyrics can really push me through a tough run. Some of my friends listen to podcasts.

I feel like the Yeti these days!
While it might seem superficial to some, having cute (or if you're a guy, cool) running clothes really is a great pick me up. You don't have to spend a lot of money to get some fun things to wear. TJMaxx and Marshall's is a great source of inexpensive, name brand gear. Target's C9 brand is high quality and fashion forward. Old Navy is another great source for cute running clothes. There are plenty of other options, but as they say, you don't have to spend a lot to look good. Sometimes just buying a few new items is enough to perk up even the most depressed winter runner. Clearly, though, I've been following this advice a little too closely. But do you want to be that runner wearing inappropriate clothing? I didn't think so.

How do you find your mojo?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Coming back to the laughter

I do love to laugh. I laugh at really dumb things. I'm kind of immature like that. When life gets stressful, I really appreciate the little silly things that pop up here and there. Indulge me a bit, as I share a few things that have made me laugh this week. Just thinking about them puts a smile on my face.


The Student Driver

Earlier in the week, my youngest son, who recently got his driving permit, drove my older son and me home from an appointment. He drove on the expressway! Through road construction! Through the toll booth! On the exit ramps, which are shaped like cloverleafs. He did great, with a little coaching--"you're going too slow' (on the highway) or "you're going too fast" (on the ramps). We didn't end up in a ditch. We made it home safely. Or so I thought. He pulled up to the driveway, and I complimented him on his driving. But the turn into the driveway was tricky. There is snow piled up on either side, making it pretty narrow. To top it off, the recycling can was in the driveway. I warned him to watch out for it but it was too late--he tapped the can with the front bumper. Just a tap-- but it was enough to pop the lid and send recyclables shooting up in the air and all over the car. It looked like an explosion. Wine bottles, beer cans (sheesh, we look like lushes), milk cartons, name it. When he stopped, I saw the mailman, standing across the street, just staring at us. The boys and I started laughing so hard we were crying. I don't remember the last time the 3 of us laughed like that. All night we kept giggling about it. And that felt good....

Nurse NP Ratched

Yesterday at work, I had a full schedule of sickies, including 2 brothers, ages 4 and 5, with fevers. I've seen them before and they are funny and cute. I took one look at their throats and decided to swab them for strep. As soon as I swabbed the 5 year old, he vomited. His brother started to cry, and when I swabbed him, he vomited too. Their dad and I got them cleaned up, and as I walked out of the room to run the strep tests, I heard one of them say, "I don't like that doctor anymore".  I started laughing. When I came back, they were smiling again, but the older one stopped smiling as soon as he saw me and gave me the hairy eyeball. Even after I tried to bribe him with a prize. Little kids crack me up. And yes, they had strep.

As seen on the run

Today on the run, I saw a few things that amused me. I was out for a 12 mile run, so I had a lot of territory to cover. Since there is so much snow on the ground, I've gotten creative trying to get my miles in. I did a 6 mile out and back through 2 different parks. I have to run on the roads in between the parks, and on the side of the road, I came upon a condom box. I kicked the box while I ran, and it burst open, shooting condom packages out all over the road. I started laughing. Why would anyone throw a whole box of unused condoms out? I thought about picking them up, but I have no use for them anymore... At least they weren't used.  I do see those more often than I'd like. Ewww. As I kept running down the street, there was a radar/speed sign. The sign picked up a few cars going 25, 30 mph. I hoped to see my speed and was rewarded when it flashed an 8 at me. Oh yeah!!! That put a huge grin on my face. I gave myself an internal thumbs up. Once I got to the park, I looped around the lakes, stopped to take a yoga selfie (warrior 1 today) and headed back home. I saw this no swimming sign, which tickled my funny bone. I stopped again to snap this selfie.

I have to laugh. Laughter keeps me sane. It's so true that laughter is indeed the best medicine. It felt good to be reminded about that this week. As I continue to wrestle with my older son's issues, I'm finding less to laugh about. In yoga, we always come back to the breath. In life, we need to come back to the laughter.

Have you seen anything funny on the run? What makes you laugh out loud?

I'm linking this post with Tara at RunningNReading for her Weekend Update! Be sure to head over to her blog to see what everyone else is up to!

Book clubbers: how are you doing with the book? Shoot me questions, concerns...and if you want me to ask the author anything, let me know!

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Pretty much my plan!
I had some tough, fast, mind-clearing runs this week.

Earlier in the week, I ran on anger. When I finished that blisteringly fast (for me) run on Tuesday, I involuntarily did a double fist pump. I could have gone farther. I was not tired. I was not winded. I felt strong. I felt tough. I no longer felt like pummelling my son. Which is a positive thing, right?

As the week went on, my runs were still strong. My speedwork on Tuesday was cut short by fatigue, but as I look at my mile splits, I can see why. 7:50 mins/mi? I can't sustain that! I did for miles 2 and 3 though. Then I pooped out. I wasn't too sad about it, all things considered. I do need to do a better job pacing myself on my unreliable treadmill. Lesson learned. But I did take the day off from CrossFit. We're doing intervals right now and I didn't know if I had it in me to take the beating that those workouts bring. The day off was a welcome break from a tough training cycle and a chance to regroup and deal with the problems at home.

Yesterday's run was a 4 miler before work. The weather was the limiting factor. It was 25F when I started, but the winds were howling at 30 mph with gusts up to 45 mph. With the wind at my back, I flew. It actually felt like the wind was pushing me down the road. I considered running the entire distance like that and having my husband pick me up when I was done so I didn't have to turn around and run into the wind. No, that didn't happen. I forged ahead. Running into the wind was tough but I still finished with an average mile speed of 8:22. I'll take it! There was one point where the wind blew at me sideways and almost blew me over. Nope, you're not the boss of me, Mother Nature! It wasn't an endorphin producing run, really, it was more exhausting than anything. But I was glad to triumph over the conditions.

And then there was today's long run. It was so cold, my thermometer didn't register the temperature. As I contemplated today's run, I put on the news and the current temp was -2F, with 10 mph winds. Less windy is good, right? See, it's all relative. And the sun was out. Piece of cake, was my thinking. After all, I have the thermoball.

I had 10 miles to do and I sure didn't want to do them on the treadmill. Really, what's worse? Running outside in the cold with my thermoball to keep me warm or running on the treadmill for an hour and a half? You know what I chose.

I slipped on my Athleta wind pants and knee high Smartwool socks. Put on a long running bra top, my Chicago marathon long sleeve shirt for inspiration, and my jacket. Topped it off with a face mask and gloves. Oh, and to insure that my phone didn't freeze, I tucked my Spibelt in my pants and off I went. I headed to the bike path, which I knew would be clear. How far I could go on it, I didn't know. I was running at a nice comfortable pace, and once I hit the unplowed portion, I headed south on the sidewalk, which I was pleased to see was cleared. I decided to head to another park where there is a fitness path as well.

Me and my thermoball
I don't usually run at this park because in warmer weather, the path is really popular with walkers, who aren't very accommodating to us runners. I think they feel like this path is "their" path. But today, I had the entire path to myself. It was peaceful and beautiful. The 2 little lakes were both frozen, the golf course was covered with snow, the driving range was empty, and the playground equipment sat idle. I circled around and dreamed of summer. Thought about the triathlon that takes place here every year. As I headed back towards home, I looked at my Garmin and saw that I still had 2 miles to go. I think those last 2 miles were the hardest part of the run. Where to go, where to go, I thought? I circled around my neighborhood to make the last 2 miles.

When I finished today's run, I felt triumphant. I felt tough. I felt strong. I felt resilient. Ready to tackle the tough challenge that life is throwing at me right now. Compared to that, running is easy. Even in the bitter cold.

I look back at that Chicago marathon last fall. How I killed that tough training plan Becky gave me. Chased away my demons of self doubt and fear. How I crushed my PR. I was a different person after that race. Tougher. Stronger. Believe.

My mantra comes back into play. I can and I will. As on the road, as in life.

I'm linking this post up with Tara at RunningNReading! Be sure to go over to her blog and check out all the other posts.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book review: The Long Run by Mishka Shubaly

I picked up this ebook over a month ago as a Kindle Daily Deal. I thought a book about an alcoholic turned ultrarunner would be a great book for my monthly blog book review.

How ironic. When I picked this book, The Long Run, by Mishka Shubaly, I had no idea how close to home this would be. I actually considered finding another book to read. But the book had received fairly positive reviews, and I decided to forge ahead, figuring I could abandon the book if it became too painful for me to read.

Written as an autobiography, this book is the story of Shubaly's tremendous love for alcohol and drugs, and how his addictions almost destroyed his life. He worked as a bartender and bouncer, and as he said, his reward (and many other bartenders' rewards) was alcohol. On his shift, he tried to hold out as long as he could before he took that first drink. You might call the first half of the book the Triple D (no, not Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives)--drinking, drugs, and debauchery.

 Shubaly really goes, in the words of Guy Fieri, "full throttle!".
Shubaly details his escapades graphically. It's not pretty. He does a good job of deterring the non-substance abuser from his lifestyle. Shubaly decides to go for STI testing, and while at the clinic, was handed a questionnaire asking about substance abuse. A light bulb must have gone off because he decided to answer the questionnaire honestly, and was surprised when he was called back to an exam room ahead of everyone else in the clinic. Along with STI testing, he was offered alcohol/substance abuse treatment. In his words:
"We (the counselor and Shubaly) both knew I had a problem."
He realized he had been "found out". But he also realized he faced a great opportunity. So he signed up for the treatment program.
"Do or die, motherfucker, I thought, do or die."
In reflecting back on his life, he also realized one thing.
"I was, simply, a jerk. "
This book was painful to read. Alcoholics and addicts are so self destructive, but they also harm others. Addiction is a selfish disease. I grew up watching several family members harm themselves and others with alcohol and substance abuse. Shubaly says he only wanted to live to be 17. So many people predicted his demise that turning 30 proved all of them wrong. At 32, he reached a turning point. He had an epiphany that even his self-destruction was a failure. What was he going to do with his life? His anxiety escalated as he pondered the question. AA wasn't for him. You know what? I get that. It's not for everyone. There have to be other options for overcoming addiction.
So Shubaly started running. Throughout the second half of the book, he chronicles his transformation from addict to runner. He ran when he was angry or depressed or frustrated, which was most of the time. He was still drinking and smoking when he started running. But as he ran longer distances, he gave up the substances. because they affected his performance. And then he began to train for the Staten Island Half Marathon. He finished in 1:46:50, which he said wasn't great. Really? He does a lot of, as he calls it, "self-flagellation" throughout the book.
"Getting sober and running long distances has been deeply bizarre, weirder than any drug or combination of drugs I've tried. I do things now that my friends find crazier than doing drugs..." 
Like running? Aren't all runners crazy? Or are some of us crazier than others? Think about the crazy things you've done for a run.

After befriending an ultramarathoner, Shubaly begins running ultra distances. He said that marathons just weren't long enough. Maybe he was trying to outrun his demons. Of course, with the increase in mileage, he gets injured, and contemplates drinking again. He dreams about drugs, "vicodin the size of cheeseburgers". But he prevails, recovers, and begins to run again.
"...your old life doesn't just fall away from you like a snake shedding its skin. You carry it with you everywhere you go." 
For Shubaly, "the hardest part was learning how to care about his life again".

This was a book about trading one addiction for another. I recently wrote a blog post about this.  And there are a lot of stories of former addicts turning to running. Ultrarunning magazine recently published a guest post written by a 26 year old former food addict/anorexic turned ultrarunner. It's a really great essay that nicely sums up the running addiction.

I'm learning a lot about addiction lately. Addiction to substances, such as alcohol and opiates, has been linked with increased dopamine in the part of the brain that produces a feeling of reward. Cues that predict reward associated with substances cause those dopamine receptors to fire as they recall those pleasurable experiences. Running does this too. In 2011, researchers from Vanderbilt University studied heavy marijuana users, having them run on treadmills 30 minutes 10 times in 2 weeks. The researchers saw an astonishing drop in the participants cravings and use of marijuana.

Plenty of alcoholics and drug abusers have turned to running as a "healthy addiction". Some say it is trading one addiction for another. Yet another article in Runners' World dispels the myth that ultrarunners are "addicted" to running.  Shubaly sums it up as well, saying:
"...if I am addicted to exercise, it has been by far the dreariest, most painful, least thrilling addiction I have ever experienced."
While The Long Run is a quick read, Shubaly's story isn't easy to read. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. As I read the book, I felt the first half of the book was much easier for him to write than the second half, which was all about running. He does a great job sharing his drinking stories, but I would like to have seen a little more detail and passion about his running escapades. The book really was more about overcoming addiction than it was about running. But in the end, running saves him from himself. Shubaly doesn't experience relief from his depression, and he doesn't consider himself free from his demons. But he redeems himself, helping another runner get to the finish of a 100 miler under his goal time, and comes to the realization that this addiction, his addiction to running, isn't selfish like his addictions to substances. As he says upon completion of his 100 miler,
"We had taken a journey through the darkness, and emerged, whole but transformed, on the other side."
Such a hopeful sentiment. Maybe running should be part of every addiction treatment program.

***Hey everyone, due to overwhelming positive response, I'm starting a monthly running book club with a link up!***

I've selected a book for next month that sounds like a fun, light running-related read: 

Honey, Do you need a ride? Confessions of a fat runner by Jennifer Graham

- this is described as a humorous look at running, motherhood, life, and body image.
available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Check out her facebook page and website, too. 
The link up for this book will open on March 14 and will stay open for 2 weeks, so you have plenty of time to read and review. I am so excited about this! I can't wait to dig in!

And if you have a book review you want to add to this month's blog post, I've started a linkup below. I wanted to have a trial run this month before I kick off next month's official linkup!

Friday, February 13, 2015


This week's Friday Five link-up, hosted by the DC Trifecta, is all about love...and in this past week, I've really learned how much love I have in my life. I could go on and on about how grateful I am for all the people in my life. Everyone that I know has helped me navigate a very difficult time.

But because this is a running blog, I decided to write about some of fitness-related things I am loving lately. And because I really want to stay positive!

1. I am absolutely loving the Sweatpink #TaketheLeap and #bringingbackyoga challenges. It's no secret how much I love yoga. I have been doing yoga for 17 years--since my oldest son was born. But now I get to share that love with all my Facebook and Instagram friends. It's been fun doing the daily poses and even more fun photographing them. I've never seen myself doing yoga, and while some of the poses look pretty good, others make me cringe! Here's me in Hanumanasana aka front splits, a pose which I haven't posted yet, but wanted you to see just how tight those hamstrings really are: 

Rock on Hanuman!
Anyways this challenge has been fun and has put a smile on my face every day, even lately, when I haven't had a lot to smile about. Although I won't lie, deciphering some of the poses has been tricky. IMHO, the sequence of poses is a little odd.

2. Can I also say how much I love the longer days? The sun is peeking out when I wake up at 6 am, and it's setting slowly when I leave work after 5. And even though we have a lot of snow on the ground, it's disappearing thanks to the warmth of the February sun. Although, as I write this, it's 11 degrees out. Mother Nature still likes to mess with us, doesn't she? We get a few teaser days here and there, and it's those days when I take it outside that I really get to fly. And I do love to run fast!

3. After much discussion with my husband, I made the very difficult decision to pull out of the Sarasota Half Marathon. Going to Florida to run, while we are dealing with my son's issues is probably not the best idea. Today, I sent an email to the race director explaining my situation and asking if there was the opportunity to defer the race or run virtually. I received THE NICEST response I could ever imagine. Can I say how much I love this race director? They will allow me to defer if I want, and offered to mail me my race packet. And this quote: "Everything in life is a marathon and not a sprint." I won't lie and say that I'm happy about this, but the kindness of the race director sure softened the blow of having to DNS. I will definitely try to run this one in the future. As my friend Marcia says, "unfinished business". 

4. And I love that I found another race to run that weekend here at home. Since I have been training and am prepared to race, I was unhappy with the idea of a DNS. The Get Lucky half marathon is on March 14 and it is not sold out. They also have the option of mailing my race packet. Can you say win? Even better, I love that my friends Karen and Sara will be there. I call that a huge win. Making lemonade out of lemons. The glass is half full. Ok, so the race in is Chicago, and it will probably be about 45 degrees. But there's green beer at the finish line. Get lucky? I think I did. In some small way.

Well..there's that. But only if they fold too...
5. Finally and totally superficial, I went to Marshalls today to soothe myself with some retail therapy. I love Marshalls and TJMaxx for my running gear and I was rewarded with another really cute Mondetta fleece lined top and a super cute RBX tank. Both bargains. I'm modeling the tank in the yoga picture above. The price? $9.99. And that is definitely something to love!

Happy Valentines Day to all my virtual friends near and far!  

I'm also linking with Jill Conyers for Fitness Friday!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Running the emotions

Anger fueled my last run. Life circumstances-aka a rebellious teenage boy-- have sent my emotions into a tailspin. This kid is pushing my every button right now and it's all I can do to hold it together and get through the day. But it's not just that. Suddenly, there becomes a very real possibility that I may not travel to Florida in March and that I may have to DNS my Sarasota half. This is the race that I've wanted to run for the past 3 years. I'm stunned and shocked and angry by how my world has turned upside down.

So 2 days ago, I took my run outside. I had planned speedwork on the mill to do but that wasn't going to happen. The sun was shining and it was actually warmish--about 35--and I just needed to just run. I needed my blacktop therapy. There was no plan, no speed, no time goal. Just me and the road. And as luck would have it, my playlist spit my hardest, angriest music at me. It was just awesome. I picked up the pace and pounded the ground. I pictured my feet cracking the pavement. It felt like I was flying. I sang along with those adolescent refrains of rebellion. I smiled to myself about the irony of my musical selections. I had visions of myself pummeling my son and ran harder. At 6.22 miles I stopped. Catching my breath, I smiled to myself. That felt good. I felt strong. I felt tough. I felt like I was ready to tackle life, at least for the time being.

Of course, I don't like being angry, but anger sure has given me some good runs--not just that one but others in the past.

It's a lot easier to run angry than it is to run sad. Crying and running just don't mix. It's hard to breathe when you're crying. I've done it before and it's really difficult. On this last run, I was really grateful that my run wasn't interrupted by tears. They've been flowing a lot lately and at the most unexpected times.

I've had runs fueled by fear too. Remember last summer, when I found the cyclist in the road who had been hit by a car? I stayed with him until the paramedics took him away and then decided to try to salvage what I could of my planned run. My first two miles after that were fueled by adrenaline--that flight or fight mechanism--but once the adrenaline ran out, I couldn't go another step. I've had the same thing happen when I've crossed the start line of a big race. Go out too fast and boom! or bonk or hit the wall. Whatever you call it, it's all bad and I've had to learned to control my nerves when I start to run. Going out too fast burns up all that energy and the outcome isn't good.

The best emotion to run on is joy. But joy isn't predictable. The joyful run is the run that comes when you least expect it. I've had joyful runs when I've had a sleepless night. After a bad day at work. I've run with pure joy in the rain. I've experienced a sudden feeling of joy after a difficult first mile on a run where I was ready to call it quits. The thing about the joyful run is that suddenly it all comes together and the legs feel light. As if I could run forever. It feels like I'm flying. Some call it a runner's high. I might even say that my last run became joyful. I felt really good after that run. Talk about a mood swing...! But it was great to get rid of that anger and feel happy again. I love to run.

And that is the best feeling in the world.

How do your emotions fuel your runs? What emotion makes you run best?

I'm linking this post with Amanda Running with Spoons

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


On a more positive note, over the past weekend, I took my youngest son to be fitted for running shoes. He's not a runner per se, but he is a multisport athlete and participates in sports that involve a great deal of running. If you recall, last fall he tore his MCL playing football. He did rehab through physical therapy. One of the therapist's main concerns was his lack of hip strength. She said he needed different running shoes, more for stability, as he tends to roll inward (pronate) when he runs. Since he's conditioning for rugby and doing a lot of running again, I wanted to get him some new shoes. We headed over to Road Runner Sports to get him properly fitted for running shoes.

I've never been fitted for running shoes. I have a neutral gait, and have run in the same shoes, Asics Gel Nimbus, for years. So being fitted for running shoes was new to me. I was really impressed by the technology at the store. And found my new favorite running app, the Shoe Dog. There's an app on the website too, but obviously if you can go to the store, it is much more hands on.

Shoe Dog asks all kinds of questions, like your age, gender, terrain where you run, arch type, foot mechanics (pronator, neutral, supinator), injuries, and some specs like mileage and weight. At the store, my son ran on a treadmill and the person helping him was able to observe him running and comment on his foot position. He stood on a pad and had the sole of his foot analyzed to determine where he put the most weight. She also had fitted him for custom inserts to provide more support for his highly arched feet. Then she made recommendations for shoes. She selected the Nike Lunar Glide, Brooks Adrenaline, and Asics GT-2000.

He's a 15 year old boy. Can you guess which shoe he picked?

If you guessed the Nike, you were correct. Fashion and brand comes first, after all... He said the other shoes looked too much like running shoes. As if that were a bad thing...these are pretty cool looking, actually.

And the outcome? He wore his new shoes last night at rugby and said they felt great. No knee pain either. He'll be using these for football conditioning too. I'm glad we did this. It's all very high tech and very hands on. If you don't know what kind of shoes you should be in, this is a great way to find out.

Disclaimer: this post is not in any way endorsed by Road Runner Sports. This post is solely my opinion.

I'm linking this post up with Tuesdays on the Run! MCM mama runs, Run the Great Wide Somewhere,  and My No-Guilt Life! Head on over and see check out other bloggers' favorite fitness apps!