Saturday, July 26, 2014

Do This, Don't Do That: A Running Newbie's List of Road Rules

Photo: flickr.com/photos/usnavy
The first 5K I ever ran was a St. Patty's Day race through downtown Portland, Oregon. A group of co-workers had talked me into running a 196 mile relay race with them, and because I had never voluntarily run before in my life, I was in uncharted territory. There are many little things I've learned as I've since become a 5K aficionado, that would have helped me on those first few runs. Here are the top ten:

1) Pack lightly- Most races that are under a half-marathon will not have a bag check, so you're going to have to carry everything with you on your run. Stick with the basics: safety pins for your bib (though these are usually provided at the registration tables), your car key (key, not keys), and maybe a pre-race energy booster. Most running pants and singlets will have a small pocket for your key. Other tricks include hiding it on top of a tire on your car (not recommended for urban areas), or using a key magnet. I also bring my iPhone and ear buds so I can listen to music. Some races don't allow you to wear ear buds. Check the race rules in advance.

2) Don't run in anything you haven't run in before- I once bought a cute running skirt with attached capris running pants, planning to wear it for an upcoming race. Fortunately, I couldn't resist wearing them for a quick run through my neighborhood, and discovered they were uncomfortable and had to constantly be adjusted. You would think I'd have learned my lesson. But it wasn't long after that, I bought a thing to cover my nose and mouth for running a 5K in sub-freezing temperatures. It kept falling down, and didn't wick the moisture from my breath, so it was doubly cold on my nose when it slipped down. I posted a horrible time from messing with that thing the whole race. One short run ought to be enough for you to learn whether a clothing or accessory item is going to work.

3) Three's a crowd- Especially when the course runs along a sidewalk or other narrow path. Running a race with friends and going out for coffee afterward is a fun way to spend a Saturday morning. But please run no more than 2 across, for the sake of those trying to get around you.

4) Move over- The first 8K I ran was this past winter in Greenville, South Carolina. There was a sweet, 14-year old girl running begrudgingly, with her family cheering her on. She would run and get ahead of me, then STOP. All of sudden. RIGHT in front of me. And start to walk. I about fell on top of the poor thing. After the third time, I finally chided her (and got a rude reply). Younger runners tend to be the worst offenders at suddenly stopping to walk or tie a shoe. The person running behind you will quickly become the person running you over, so it's in your best interest to check behind you, then move over to the right before stopping to walk, or bending over to tie your shoe.

5) Hydrate- the day before. If you wait until the morning of the race, it'll be too late. By the time you go to bed the night before a race, your urine should be almost clear. Make sure you're replenishing electrolytes, and don't drink more than 32 ounces of water an hour, less if you're one of those skinny people, to prevent water intoxication. (No, I didn't make that up. It can really happen, and it can be fatal.)

6) If you must spit, go to the right- I don't know if this is an official unofficial rule for running road races, but it should be. I don't enjoy dodging spit bombs in the middle of the road. At least be mindful of people around you so they don't run into your mid-air loogie.

7) Water Station Rules- Even a 5K will have at least one water station. They're usually going to be on your right, but not always. If you're going to get water, move over to the side and get some water. If you plan to stop and chat with the volunteers at the station and catch your breath, get out of the way of those runners who want to grab and go. Typically, a volunteer will had you a small cup that you grab while you keep running. Take a sip, and toss the cup on the ground. No, really. It's okay-- but only during a race. A couple of things to keep in mind: A) There are other runners behind you. They don't want to wear the water or sports drink that you're tossing; B) Be careful merging back into the course so you don' trip up the runners who aren't stopping.

8) Post-race food- Nearly every race provides a post-race snack for the runners. You'll never know what these are going to be until the day of the race, and there's no guarantee that there will be anything left by the time you get there if you're a slower runner. It's a good idea to have a recovery bar in your car just in case. Keep in mind that what your body needs most to recover from exercise is protein, and most post-race food would actually be better pre-race foods-- lots of carb-loaded bagels and bananas. Remember-- the food is only for the runners. You're cheering squad needs to bring their own snacks.

9) Pre-run the course- Especially if you're a new runner, it's a good idea to drive the course, and then run it so you know what to expect. I've only actually done this once, and only because I was going to be running a relay and the team captain insisted that I run it with her. I was glad that I did, because there was a hill that would have caused me some panic had I not been prepared. If you're just running for fun, it's really not a big deal. But if you're looking for a PR (personal record), you definitely want to do a practice run.

10) Be grateful- No race would happen if it wasn't for the people who volunteer to do set-up and clean-up, hand out water, and direct you along the course. There are usually police officers blocking traffic to keep the roads clear and safe for the runners. Give them a little shout-out as you pass by so they know that they're efforts are appreciated.

What are some things you've learned that a new runner might want to know before they head out to their first road race?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It's *that* time of year again. Once the wrapping paper is in the recycle bin, the Christmas carols are becoming redundant, and the holiday cookies are resting nicely on your hips... it's time to start thinking about those annoying New Year's Resolutions. You know, those pie-in-the-sky, practically fantasies that we verbalize but never materialize. This year could be different. Instead of pulling "resolutions" out of the thin air and watching them disintegrate as rapidly, why not take some time to etch out some goals, and then create a plan for achieving them. Today I'm over at ManagingYourBlessings.com with some ways to help you resolve to achieve some realistic fitness goals in 2014.


What are your goals for the next 12 months?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lemon: Nature's Gift to Healthy Weight Loss

Pucker Up!

It's common to ask for a little wedge of lemon when you order a glass of water at a restaurant. It looks so pretty in all of it's yellow yellowiness. But you may be like me, not realizing just how much good a little lemon-- or a lot-- can be for your body!

Lemons, and their cousin, lime, are some pretty darn amazing creations. Aside from being necessary ingredients in things like Lemon and Key Lime Pies, some of my favorite fat-free yogurt flavors...  (this is a health and nutrition site. You didn't think I was talking about actual pie, did you? Ahem.). As a Not-So-Fit-Girl trying to lose weight, I recently learned a few things about lemons that has made them one of my favorite foods!

Drink More. Lose More.
It makes sense. If you're not a fan of water, switching from sodas or sports drinks to flavor-free water can be a bit of a challenge. Flavored waters tend to have a lot of sugar. The sugar-free flavored waters are full of carcinogenic sweeteners. There just isn't a win to be had when you go down that road. But if you replace those sugary drinks with water and lemon juice, you're more likely to drink more water. Lemon is all natural, and calorie-free-- bonus! Look at it this way. Let's say you drink 8 ounces of a sports drink every day. That's 50 calories, just in a beverage. (And really-- who only drinks 8 oz.?) That's 18, 250 calories in a year. If you changed nothing else about your diet, you could potentially lose 5 pounds over the course of a year-- just from switching to water or lemon water. For us Not-So-Fit Girls, that may not seem like a lot. But try lifting a 5 lbs weight, and then tell me if that won't make an impact. Lemon also contains pectin, which is a soluble fiber. That means it helps you to feel fuller faster and longer, which is a good thing if you're trying to lose weight.

Clean Those Pipes
Because you're drinking more water, thanks to it's lemony goodness, your bowels are moving more frequently. The more your bowels move, the less time cruddy other stuff you might eat hangs out in your system. The less cruddy stuff hangs out in your system, the healthier your system, the less bacteria can fester and grow, which can mean fewer issues with colon-related diseases. The more fashionable word for this is "de-tox." It's all the rage these days, but really it's just a fancy way to say, "Bus driver-- move those bowels!" You can buy the expensive de-tox powders and pre-packaged beverages, or thumb through dozens of complicated de-tox recipes. But God pretty much gave you everything you need, wrapped in a pretty yellow package. If you're not a monotone kinda girl, you can toss some lime in there as well. Lime is even better at cleaning out the excretory system and easing constipation. Lemon and lime play very nicely together.

C? I Told You So
The juice from one lemon provides you with more than 50% of the vitamin C you need each day.Vitamin C does so many wonderful things for your body, including helping to fight bacterial infections, aiding in blood circulation, and it's a powerful antioxidant. Remember learning about the Civil War in school? And all the horror stories about the ailments folks endured in those days? One of those ailments is scurvy, which includes a long list of painful symptoms that are the direct result of a vitamin C deficiency. I haven't had breakfast yet, so I won't list all the symptoms. But trust me-- vitamin C is something your body really, really needs.

Keeping Things Level
With nearly 26 million Americans working to manage diabetes, you or someone you know might benefit from the nutrient-rich, low glycemic characteristics of citrus fruits including lemons and limes. The American Diabetes Association lists lemons, limes, and oranges among its Ten Superfoods to help maintain a diet that provides your body with the energy it needs, without spiking glucose levels. The pulp of the these fruits play an important role in their usefulness. It's that soluble fiber that helps stabilize your blood sugars, keeping them within a healthy range. The good things lemon and lime do for the average body, are exceptionally beneficial for the diabetic body.

Stone Cold Truth
If you've ever experienced kidney stones (we can swap labor stories later), lemon juice is a great way to both break apart stones, and prevent them from forming. If you have stones, it'll take more than a diluted half-of-a-lemon's worth to do the job. A straight shot of the sour stuff three times a day is what's recommended. That seems like a lot, but it sure beats the alternative!

Juicing Dealie-bob with the knobby thing.
I'm pretty sure that's the technical term for it.
Get Squeezin'
You only need the juice of about half a lemon a day to get the positive effects. That's how much I put into my 24 oz. water bottle every day. Sometimes I'll also add one packet of Truvia, just to take away a smidge of the pucker factor, if it's a particularly sour lemon. So, you're ready to toss some lemon into your ice water. What's the best form? Squeezing lemons every day seems time-consuming and messy, are there better options? Not really. You're going to get the biggest bang for your buck by squeezing fresh lemons yourself. The little lemon-shaped squeeze bottles or other bottled lemon juice are not going to have the same effect. The juice loses nutrients as it's processed and sitting on the shelf. Fresh-squeezed is best, but there are things you can do to make it easier.

  • Get a juicer. I'm not talking a hundreds-of-dollars automatic juicing machine. (Unless you're looking for a way to justify buying one. Solidarity, girlfriend. Two words: white out.) One of those little glass or plastic dealie-bobs work great. You can always just squash the fruit in your hand, too, but it's kinda messy. As an added bonus, the juicer will get more juice out of the fruit, along with more pulp (remember, fiber is our friend), and it separates the seeds from the juice.


  • Pour the juice from half a squeezed lemon into a section of an ice cube tray. Once you've filled all sections of the tray (1/2 a lemon in each section), stick it in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the lemon cubes into a zippered freezer bag. When you fill up your water bottle, you can just plop one o'those bad boys into your water bottle each time you re-fill it.
There is, and always will be, a place for medicine. But in my reasoning, it makes sense that the God who created our bodies, would also create the means for us to properly maintain our bodies, and that He would provide resources for us to cure what could go wrong with our bodies. Lemons are a perfect example of that. They're little. They're pretty. And they are so incredibly beneficial! So much so, that I'm sure I've missed some of the good things lemons (and limes) can do for us. That's where you come it! Add your remedies in the comments!


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Monday, June 17, 2013

In the Beginning, there has to be a Beginning

You're ready to get started on your fitness journey. Where do you start? Check out my guest post on Managing Your Blessings, as I give you some practical steps to take as you head down this rewarding path!

http://www.managingyourblessings.com/2013/06/13/how-to-begin-your-fitness-journey/

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Is Crossfit for the Not-Fit?


I love exercise. But that doesn't mean I'm good at it. Some friends have recently been converted into the religion of Crossfit, and I've been sadistically anticipating my chance to give it a go. Yesterday was that day. I'll preface this post with a disclaimer: My arms are sore. Please ignore the typing errors.

When I first walked into the Swamp Rabbit Crossfit in Greenville, South Carolina, it looked much like I expected. It's an old warehouse building right on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 30+ miles long railroad-track-turned-bike-and-walking path.There aren't a lot of bells and whistles in The Box (that's what they call a Crossfit gym), just barbells and pull-up bars. You won't find treadmills or Nautilus equipment. Here, your body is your exercise machine.

After checking in, the gal at the front desk said to hang out in the stretching area, where everyone was beginning to congregate. When folks started heading to the main gym, I followed. Trey, the trainer, started explaining the warm-up routine with a language I did not understand. There was not enough equipment for everyone in the class, and I had no idea what I was doing. I had told him this was my first class-- wasn't this supposed to be
an intro class? Everyone else seemed to know what to do, and I felt like an idiot. One of the gals in the class was trying to help me along, showing me how to do the warm-up exercises, but that meant she wasn't able to keep up with the class, either. Frustrated, I put away the barbell I had managed to scrounge up, and headed to the front desk to find out what was going on. THAT is when I noticed Brandon standing with a small group of people, explaining something about the Crossfit philosophy. Ah-ha! That's where I needed to be!

Now, I've been through a few workouts in my day. I've done squats and push-ups--these are basics. Not a biggie. Except that Brandon taught me more than I ever thought it was possible to know about the mechanics of a squat, the proper placement of the feet and how to pivot the feet for greater "torque", and how to push the knees out for the best rotation. It was like I was doing squats for the first time ever.

Once we had the push-up and squat down, it was time for pull-ups. Now, this girl has never done a pull-up in her life, and I couldn't help but laugh out loud when Brandon insisted that I would be able to do one. But,
Random photo I found on-line to show what a
band-assisted pull-up actually looks like.
This does NOT, however, accurately
depict the pain involved in a pull-up.
do one I did-- many, in fact! Brandon looped exercise bands around the pull-up bar. You stick your foot in the loop of the band, and it helps you get that chin OVER the bar. The key word there is "helps".You're still doing the majority of the work.

And that was it-- three exercises. And then we put them all together into a beginner WOD (Workout of the Day):

5 pull-ups
10 push-ups
15 squats
Repeat

Looking at that bare-bones list, you would think that should be a breeze. But let me assure you-- it wasn't. Part of the challenge is that quality of form is emphasized-- do it right or it doesn't count. Brandon gave us 10 minutes to complete as many rounds as possible. Anyone who completed 8 rounds, would get a free class. I completed 3. Barely. 

Because there was a regular class going on at the same time as the beginner class (that was the class I initially tried to join), I was able to see that a class typically includes several more exercises, and it looked like they were told how many rounds to do. The instructor then starts a timer, and the participants use poker chips to track how many rounds they've completed, then write down their time on a big dry-erase board (see the photo at the top of the page). 
Brandon (grey shirt) works on stretching exercises
with some of the newbies.

Crossfit is one of those things that you have to actually experience in order to really get it. The folks who do Crossfit love it. I have one friend my same age who has turned herself into an athlete through Crossfit. I can certainly see how that can happen. As I write this, my thighs and glutes are yelling at me, and I can't lift my arms above my waist. There's nothing worse than thinking you're killing yourself with a good workout, only to have none of that pain that's so often associated with a good workout. Pain is good.

I nearly walked out of the gym out of frustration when I found myself in a regular session. Most Boxes offer a beginner course, or "ramp-up." Regardless of how savvy you are with fitness, you really DO need to do the ramp-up. There is a lot of language that you have to learn, and you can't really learn it through osmosis, especially when speed is a factor in the workouts. While most folks are pretty decent about helping out a newbie, they're paying to get in a good workout, and a good workout includes an attempt at a PR, and they can't get there if they're having to pause to explain things to you.

There's a lot more I need to learn about Crossfit. As I did some googling, I learned that there's a workout called a MURPH. No idea what that is. And there's something about a Rx? I did buy a Groupon-type deal for Swamp Rabbit Crossfit, so I'll be going through Ramp-up there to learn more. But not until I can manage to sit without grimacing through the soreness.

Note: The author received no compensation for this review, and the facility had no prior knowledge that she would be writing and posting a review. This post does not contain affiliate links.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Simple Salad Basics

Few of us actually eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables, which makes a well-constructed salad the perfect disguise for getting our daily requirement of greens… and yellows… and perhaps even some reds and blues. And while salads can be packed with nutrition, they can also be really easy to toss together for a quick meal-on-the-go. Here are four simple steps to creating a satisfying salad you can be proud of.

Pick Your Salad Veggies

Most salads start with a lettuce base—get creative! Go beyond iceberg and try some different varieties. Romaine lettuce is a great alternative, or add a little color with red leaf Romaine, and don’t forget spinach, kale, and different chards, which are jam packed with immunity-boosting vitamin A. From there, the sky’s the limit—toss in chopped bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, fresh mushrooms, chopped broccoli, shredded carrots, cucumbers, avocado and sprouts. Try to fill your creation with all the colors of the rainbow.

Bagged, chopped, and pre-washed salad greens can save time, but not without its costs. While pre-packaged lettuce is labeled, "Ready-to-Eat," it's still smart to take a few minutes to wash and dry the lettuce to rid it of any bad bacteria that may have developed during processing. Or, save money by buying whole heads of lettuce, invest a few dollars in a salad spinner (I got mine at Wal-Mart for less than $5.oo) and get the kids involved. Once you've washed the greens, hand them over to your helpers for spinning and tearing. This keeps them busy while you prepare other ingredients for the salad, and gives them a vested interest in eating the veggies of their labor. You can also pre-wash lettuce to store in the fridge in ziplock bags for later use.

Pile on the Protein

Bring on the meat. This is YOUR salad—make it what you want. Yes, grilled chicken is the salad staple, but there’s nothing wrong with slicing up last night’s leftover grilled steak instead. Other protein pairings include diced ham, canned tuna, cooked bacon or shrimp and even garbanzo beans and boiled eggs. Make sure meats have cooled completely before adding them to a salad to keep lettuce from wilting. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and peanuts add some crunch and flavor, but also contribute a lot fat. 

Grab Some Garnish

You can stick with the staples—sunflower seeds, croutons, bacon bits, mozzarella cheese and nuts, or go for the gusto by adding chow mein noodles or fried onions. The crunchier the better! But stay away from the fried options if you're looking to cut calories.

Dress it Up

You’re expanding your salad repertoire, so what better time to break out of the dressing rut as well. Ranch is, by far, one of America’s greatest contributions to the condiment aisle, but don’t overlook the joys of trying out different varieties. Try to stay away from the creamy dressings, like Ranch, Thousand Island, and Blu Cheese.  If you’re interested in trying out a new salad dressing, buy the smallest bottle at first. If you don’t like it, pass it on to a buddy—chances are, he’s looking to break out of his usual salad routine as well! 

A few ideas to help you embark on your own salad adventures:

Savory Taco Salad
What you’ll need:
                1 pound of ground turkey
                1 packet of low sodium taco seasoning
                1 can whole kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
                1 bag baked tortilla chips
                1 bag of shredded lettuce (or 4 cups of chopped salad greens)

What you’ll do:
Brown the ground turkey over medium heat (toss in some chopped onions if you would like), then add taco seasoning and simmer according the package directions.  In a large bowl, combine the meat with kidney beans (drained and rinsed), crushed tortilla chips and lettuce. If you’d like, add and some shredded cheese and/or a dollop of fat free sour cream to each serving. Avocados are also a great addition to this salad meal.

Kid Conversion:  Skip the lettuce and pile some chips on a plate, top with the meat and bean mixture, and add a layer of shredded cheese for kid-friendly nachos.

Plan Ahead:  Combine the browned turkey, seasoning and kidney beans in an airtight container and refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble.


Sweet Tooty Fruity
What you’ll need:
                4 cups of chopped salad greens 
                    (Romaine is a good choice)
                ½ cup honey roasted peanuts
    2 cups fruit (clean, cut and drained, 
        such as fresh strawberries, 
        blueberries, grapes,    
        oranges, peaches, pears and/or 
        canned mandarin oranges).
                Fat Free Poppy seed dressing     


What you’ll do:
                Combine greens, nuts and fruit in a bowl. Just prior to serving, add dressing and toss.

Make it a Meal: Add diced, grilled chicken or cooked ham, or make it vegetarian with garbanzo beans.


Copy Cat “Garden” Salad
What you’ll need:
                4 cups of greens (an Italian mix, maybe?)
                ½ red onion, sliced into rings
                ¾ cup canned black olives, drained
                ¾ cup of unseasoned, fat free croutons
                ½ cup cherry tomatoes
                Grated Romano cheese (or Parmesan)
                Italian dressing

What you’ll do:
                Combine greens, onion and tomatoes. Just prior to serving, add olives, croutons and cheese, then toss with dressing.

Make it a Meal: Add sliced steak, chicken or crisped bacon



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Advice? Or Judgement?

Talking about health and nutrition is almost like talking politics and religion-- everyone has their own deep- seated beliefs on what's best, what's right, what's wrong. Maybe you've experienced it, too, that overbearing, but well-meaning friend who bombards you with unsolicited nutritional advice.

Because every college requires a certain number of health credits, and I have never particularly enjoyed athletics, I was content to take a nutrition class to satisfy my requirements. The class was fascinating - I learned about the difference in calories between fat and proteins, between good fats and bad fats, and between natural and supplemental nutrients.

This was all before the hyper-nutritional awareness of the modern era. You know-- back before Pinterest, Instagram, and blogging. We didn't learn about the benefits of a gluten-free diet, or the importance of eating
organic, or even the dangers of food dyes. Part of that is because our opinions and perspectives on food change so much over time. Whenever I hear a study about how this or that food or additive is good for you, I think back to a potato chip tin I once found in an antique shop in Leavenworth, Kansas. To this day I kick myself for not buying it. "The Latest Health Food" the can advertised. Remember, these were potato chips. "Scientifically enhanced Trans Fats for better energy!" it claimed. WHAT??

Back then, it was the new hip-n-happenin' thing. Early tests showed that it had good traits. It was only over time that we have learned that Trans fats are anything but good for our bodies. Still, I loved that visual reminder that today's must-eat health food could end up being tomorrow's dietary reject.

Great-Great Grandpa Bowers standing among
his tomatoes in Cooleemee, NC in the 1950s.
As a society, we've learned a lot about the food we eat. We've gone from a culture of producers, backyard farmers, growing most of what we eat or trading it for money or other goods, to becoming a society of consumers, loading up on pre-made, fully processed, packaged foods.

And then we got burned by claims like those on that tin can. We made food choices based on what science assured us was going to help us live the longest, healthiest life possible. Those ever-changing assurances threw us into the arms of doctors and dietitians who were happy to help us sort through it all-- just buy their new book and you'll learn everything you need to know.

Suddenly we had to select a food philosophy. There are the all carbs diets, the no carbs diets, the vegetarian, raw, only-smoothies, gluten-free, and back-to-the-Bible diets. And everything has to be organic. Every eating regime has its claims of being the only perfect, right, and healthy means of losing weight and improving your health. And this is where the trouble starts.

Any time I mention a health issue-- a hangnail, for instance-- I get e-mails and messages from people assuring me that if I would just take baked potatoes out of my diet, I will never get a hang-nail again, along with a lengthy explanation of how baked potatoes cause hangnails and why I should never so much as LOOK at a baked potato again ever in my life. My kid's behavior issues? Well, if I would just stop letting him eat such-and-such, the problem would be cured. Tired? Stop eating that. Coughing? Stop eating this.

The reality is that our bodies NEED food. God created these bodies, and He created foods for us. In a perfect world, we could all eat whatever we wanted and not get fat, not develop cancer or diabetes. But our bodies weren't designed to deal with all the artificial preservatives, colors, and other additives. I truly believe that eating foods the way God created them is our best bet at a healthy diet.

However, I'm also a single, working mom of three boys. There are days where a trip through the drive-thru is the best I can do. I would love to have the time to bake all natural, home-made graham crackers and dehydrate fruit I picked myself and maintain an herb garden. But it's just not where I am in life. I'm grateful for the drive-thru, such that it is. But I could do without the judgement. Maybe you could, too.