Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Power of Positivity

In news that might be surprising to... no one, actually, keeping a positive mind set can make your work outs easier and more effective. And while it's not always easy to keep positive thoughts on tap, there's one easy and fail-safe way to boost your own performance and help mitigate your fatigue levels.

Are you ready for it?

 Thanks, Buddy

No joke, smiling can reduce your effort while running, potentially by up to a whopping 2.8% when compared with frowning, or 2.2% when neutral (Study: The effects of facial expression and relaxation cues on movement economy, physiological, and perceptual responses during running). If you closely followed Nike's Breaking2 attempt, you might have gotten a few glimpses of Eliud Kipchoge smiling his way to an amazing marathon finish time of 2:00:25.
Another way to improve running efficiency (in this case up to approximately 1%) is to hear positivity from others. If you train in a group setting, try working with your training partners to give each other positive feedback (here's the kicker -- it doesn't even have to be true, it just needs to be positive) while running, and you should notice a decrease in effort for the same exertion as you had been running (Study: Enhanced expectancies improve movement efficiency in runners). 

Seen at the 2013 New York City Marathon (source)

The last (and my favorite) way to improve your own running efficiency is to harness the power of positive thoughts and self-affirmations. While it's easy to get bogged down in the negatives of a normal run or race, you always have the power to control your own thoughts. Next time you catch yourself saying "This is too hard. Why am I doing this?" reframe it in a way so that you are telling yourself, "Wow, this is tough. It's amazing that I'm capable of doing this!" Don't try to fool yourself into thinking something isn't as hard as it really is, take pride in the fact that you are the one out there pushing through it all!
I saw this on Friday morning's 13-mile long run, and I still haven't stopped smiling.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

How I (Try to) Make it All Work

With a relatively full work/school schedule, sometimes I even wonder how I'm able to fit in a comparatively full training schedule as well. The key to this is pretty easy: I hold myself accountable for my time. I found that if I'm not careful, I can easily waste two or three hours a day browsing Facebook or playing video games (not that there's anything wrong with either of these activities... in moderation). What I have found that I can do to make use of downtime without letting it take over my day is to set aside strict times for those activities (while stretching, or riding my bike on the trainer).

It takes a lot of mental toughness to do this, but I promise that the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Self-control is like a muscle -- the more you use it, the stronger it becomes!

Without sounding too preachy, I'd like to give you an idea of what a "day off" looks like for me. I am lucky (???) enough to work and do clinical in 12 or 13 hour shifts, and so I have more days off than the average 9-5 person. This presents its own sets of challenges. I'm not able to get anything done before or after my shifts (factor in a 45-minute to 1-hour commute each way for each location, and my days on the clock are shot), so my days "off" need to be pretty strictly scheduled. I find that caffeine and snacks help.

For my example of a day "off", I'm going to give you a peek into what yesterday looked like.

8:30: Wake up! Take care of the chickens, let Marvel out, and put the kettle on.

Kimi (buff) and Schumi (barred) enjoy their breakfast

9:00: Eat breakfast with Marvel. I use this time to browse Facebook or play video games if that's what I feel like doing. This is limited to 30 minutes, tops.

9:30: Get dressed, let Marvel out again (untangle him when he gets stuck), and get ready to head to the track for the first work-out of the day.

10:30: Arrive at the track! 800m warm-up, 12x400m intervals with a goal of 1:56, walk a 200m recovery interval between each set, and jog an 800m cool-down. I actually averaged 1:52 for my intervals, and it felt amazing. Gotta love the days when everything feels easy. I usually walk and stretch track-side and eat a snack before getting in my car to head to the grocery store.

Took a few tries to get this footage, but it was worth it to be able to see my improvement in form

12:00: Grocery shopping trip at my favorite local co-op, Fiddleheads. I get all of our produce, dairy, and most of our meat from here. They source things locally as much as they can, and almost everything there is organic. Plus, the people who work there are so friendly, and very knowledgeable (they helped me finally figure out how to buy avocados).

13:00: Back home. Unload groceries, shower, and then prepare lunch. While lunch is cooking, I wash the dishes and do the dishwasher. Multi-tasking is definitely a huge key to fitting everything in to my day.

13:30: School work. I started (and finished) my presentation slides for a differential diagnosis case presentation. Once that was completed, I checked my e-mail (I only check my e-mail once a day, otherwise it's potentially another huge time sink). Once I finished my presentation, I had a cup of tea and another snack.

Grilled cheese with avocado on 12-grain bread = yum

16:00: Change into a new set of workout clothes, and hit the bike trainer. I did a relatively short workout, where I covered 5 miles in a smaller gear, focusing on maintaining a cadence of 85 rpms. This sort of pedal turnover is optimal for triathlon competition, and is associated with better power output for perceived exertion. In any case, I'm learning a lot about bikes and how to actually ride (as in, not mash the pedals), so I used this time to watch educational videos on YouTube (Global Triathlon Network and Global Cycling Network are two of my favorite resources right now).

I am incapable of taking a picture of myself while riding, despite my best efforts

16:30: Cool out, more stretching, and now adding in strengthening exercises. I'm trying to work on my glutes and make sure that they're as strong as possible to help keep my kinetic chain stable while running. In short, I'm strengthening to help prevent injuries. I snuck in another snack while stretching.

Marvel is judging me from his throne

17:30: Change into pajamas, put laundry in the washing machine, and start thinking about dinner. Since it's just me and my husband, I like to cook larger meals that can fulfill multiple meals. Leftovers are king in this household. Thankfully, I made stuffed peppers the night before, so I don't have to cook anything else.

18:00: Time to study and hit the books. Pharmacology is the main focus of this semester, and it's definitely making itself the center of my study plans. At some point I switch the laundry over to the dryer.

20:00: My husband gets home, we warm up food, and eat dinner with Marvel (who has needed to go out multiple times and required significant snuggling through the day -- he would need his own schedule blog post to cover it all). This is time to catch up and be together, which is just as important as anything else I have scheduled for my day.

22:00: Bedtime! The most important part of the day. I've been finding my training performance has been suffering on days where I'm only getting 6 hours of sleep (unsurprisingly), so I'm trying to be more aware of getting enough sleep.

The caveat to all of this, of course, is that everyone has different schedules and responsibilities, and so it is dangerous to generalize. So the one tip I will leave you to work on is what I started off with -- hold yourself accountable for your time, and set hard limits on the time-wasters in your life*

*No, you cannot classify your boss, your children, or your partner as a time-waster. Sorry.

Monday, April 2, 2018


One truism I have found about running and training in general is that the harder you work, the harder you need to focus on recovery. This isn't just about putting your feet up and binging Netflix while eating tons of candy and drinking a beer after a long run (probably the worst combination of things you can do). Optimizing your recovery means paying attention to your nutrition, your hydration, and taking care of your hard-working muscles.

Working out for a sustained period of time places your body in a catabolic state; that is to say, your body is breaking down its own stores of fat and muscle to fuel itself. While the act of burning fat is ideal, breaking down your own muscle is less preferred. As well as being used for fuel, muscles also sustain "micro-tears" or microscopic damage to the muscle fibers. This action is necessary for improving fitness and building muscle mass, if addressed properly. There have been a number of studies done questioning whether post-workout protein is necessary. A few studies seem to find that as long as pre-workout protein intake is adequate (at least 20 grams), then post-workout protein doesn't do anything to improve the anabolic state (building and rebuilding damaged muscle). I have trouble eating before workouts, and so I definitely don't fit into that category. As such, I make sure that I consume at least 25 grams of protein within a half hour of finishing my workouts. The recommended range I have found suggests protein intake in the range of 20-40 grams, dependent on lean body mass of the athlete in question.
Carbohydrate intake for recovery is, I have found, a little more controversial. I have adapted a low-sugar diet (I am now at the point in which I do not consume anything with added sugar) and am feeling and performing far better than I ever did as a sugar-fueled athlete. Previous recommendations I had lived by were to consume a meal or beverage with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio post-workout. On further research, I have been finding that glycogen replenishment (your body's stored glucose, present in the liver and muscles) is not necessarily a big focus for post-workout recovery. In fact, what I have seen are data suggesting that glycogen stores can be replenished by consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet, with a sufficient amount of carbohydrates throughout the day.

My favorite recovery drink: use a blender to mix 1 ripe banana, 12 ounces whole milk, 4 tablespoons peanut protein powder, and 1 tablespoon unsweetened cacao powder. Delicious, and more than 25 grams of protein.

An old recommendation for judging water replacement was to weigh yourself (clothing-free) pre and post workout, and that for every pound of water lost a person would need to consume one liter of water to restore adequate hydration. As an RN, this isn't the best recommendation I have found. Ideally, a person should be drinking adequately throughout their period of exercise, so as to break even with their weight. For me, hydration starts even before I head out the door. I drink at least 16 ounces of fluid before starting my workout, and also monitor the color of my urine (it should be clear to pale yellow) -- I won't start a workout unless I know I am optimally hydrated before I even begin. I have found that using a no-sugar-added sports drink with added electrolytes (I use and swear by Nuun) and drinking when I feel thirsty during my workouts has kept me very well hydrated without making me need to stop for a bathroom break mid-run. After my workout, I again drink as I feel thirsty, and monitor urine color to determine my hydration status. Staying optimally hydrated ensures proper circulation, and will help your body to more quickly and efficiently flush lactic acid (a by-product of muscle breakdown) through. 

Muscle Care
Your legs have worked hard, so you probably think the best way to reward them is to let them rest for the rest of the day, right? Unfortunately, that's probably going to make you even more stiff and sore for the next day. What I've described above falls under the category of "passive recovery" while I prefer the school of thought promoting "active recovery". After a run, I will drop my pace from workout pace to a slow jog to a walk, the entire period of which lasts anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. This promotes circulation through the tired muscles while also allowing my heart rate to slowly return to normal. When I finish my walk, I'll do a short series of slow static stretches, with the emphasis on relaxing. If I need to fit in another run the next day, I will do a 10 minute ice bath. Though my legs always feel amazing after an ice bath, newer data have showed that ice baths can inhibit training gains, and should only really be used in situations in which prompt recovery is more important than long-term gain. As such, I will only use it in back-to-back workouts or after races. Once I've done all that, then I'll put on a pair of compression socks and put my feet up. This combination again promotes circulation through my lower legs and helps to prevent swelling. I try not to sit for too long, and make sure to move around frequently. If time allows, I'll hop on my bike trainer for a few miles at the end of the day to again promote increased circulation through my legs and allow them to stretch out without the stress of weight-bearing exercise.

Hello ice bath, my old friend 🎶
I've come to suffer here again 🎵

This past week, I ran a cumulative total of 23 miles, biked 20 miles, and swam 1750 yards (about 1 mile). For me, triathlon is really comprised of four stages -- swimming, biking, running, and recovering!

I have some exciting news -- I have secured this blog's first interview! Within the next week or two, I will be publishing an interview with a registered dietician and running coach. I talked a little bit about nutrition for recovery in this post, and hope to go into a lot more detail with that soon. If you have any burning nutrition questions, send them to me and I will feature your question in the upcoming interview.

Aragon, A., & Schoenfeld, B. (2013). Nutrient Timing Revisited. Functional Foods, 65-89. doi:10.1201/b16307-5

Peake, J. M., Roberts, L. A., Figueiredo, V. C., Egner, I., Krog, S., Aas, S. N., . . . Raastad, T. (2016). The effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on inflammation and cell stress responses in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. The Journal of Physiology,595(3), 695-711. doi:10.1113/jp272881

Shirreffs, S.M., Casa, D.J., & Carter, R. (2007). Fluid needs for training and competition in athletics. Journal of Sports Sciences,25:sup1, S83-S91, doi: 10.1080/02640410701607353

Race Recap: 2018 Cedar Lake Sprint Triathlon #4

After the general misery that was part of my first triathlon of this season, I knew I needed to take my training a little more seriously and...