May is National Runners Month
Running is one of those things like guacamole people either love it or hate it. Since May is National Runners month, this month's post is dedicated to running and why I think can be one of the best ways to get on a fitness journey. I've spent the last 11 or years doing some form of running and let me tell ya what a long strange trip it’s been. It's amazing to think of how far my two feet have taken me on this journey, because becoming a runner can help you be fierce and overcome a lot of shit in this crazy world.
So let's rewind a little, growing up I was never into fitness. Surprising, huh! I hated running and when given the option to skip PE a couple of days a week, if I learned how to play an instrument that’s what I chose to do. Looking back, today if I was given that option even though I love music I know I’d pick PE class and I blame a running habit for making me the fitness enthusiast I am today. Although, in a perfect world kids should get a healthy dose of both music & the arts with lots of physical activity.
10 Reasons Running is Badass
1. It makes you feel truly free. You feel the breeze across your forehead, see the world move below your feet with each step and look out farther into an endless horizon. In a world with constant deadlines, notifications, and meetings running can be a nice liberating change of pace.
2. It can be enjoyed in solitude or among company, quiet or loud indoors or outdoors. It can be a sport for lots of different moods. Somedays I feel like cranking the tunes and zoning out or other days I like to head out with a friend. Nothing beats catching up and burning some calories at the same time. I'm also a deep thinker, so running gives me a place to do that without standing still.
Of course running outside is better, but if weather takes you indoors the treadmill doesn’t have to be the dreadmill with the right program! Hill climbs, intervals or sprints can be a recipe for a great treadmill workout that won’t leave you watching the clock.
3. Endorphins are involved in natural reward circuits, aid in pain management and possess morphine like effects. Scientists are still trying to find out exactly why the body produces them. What they have found is that they are produced in response to prolonged, continuous exercise. Let’s just be thankful the body does this, cause I’m sure this mechanism has helped all of us push through some pain and cross that finish line!
4. Endocannabinoids are what’s getting you that sweet runners high. Shown to be responsible for improvements in mood after moderate intensity aerobic exercise. In mice it has been shown that blocking the endocannabinoid receptors (but not endorphin receptors) inhibits the anti-pain and anti-anxiety/stress relief effect of running. Scientists also think that this is what signals endorphins to be released. That’s dope!
5. Cardiovascular benefits Keeps your heart healthy and strong. Also helps you keep fit so you can make it to the top of the stairs without getting winded or keep up with you kids that are running around with all this energy you wish you had. Start running and you’ll soon discover that energy boost I’m talking about!
6. Stronger Bones & Muscles We lose muscle mass and bone density as we age. Running can be a good way to counteract that. But it's not an excuse to completely ditch strength training!
7. Increase your longevity Running and exercise in general can be the fountain of youth at the cellular level by protecting telomere length. At the cellular level, telomeres are the part of cells related to aging. Our cells are constantly dividing to produce new cells that replace old worn ones. In this process, chromosomes carry all the information needed to generate new cells and telomeres protect that information. And as telomeres get too short to do their job, cells age and stop working right which is basically what aging is all about.
8. Helps you sleep How many times have you struggled to fall asleep? Running can help with that.
9. Race Swag/Post race parties Nothing is better than feeling great after a race, having some race swag to take home and a good excuse to enjoy a cold one before noon! Best Post-Race Bash: Bolderboulder
10. Finding common ground with many cause we’re in good company. In 2014 a whopping 18,750,000 runners crossed the finish line with 57% of that number being Women!
Ready to get started?
So there you have it, some reasons I love running! Ready to get started running? That’s great! But let’s do this safely because it’s kind of like the Sun it must be treated with respect and the last thing you want to happen is the terrible too’s: Too much, too soon usually leads to injury and then running won’t be so great and you may never want to do it again.
First, check your foot type and make sure you’ve got the right shoes for running! Here’s a link to a great guide to do that from Runner’s World
Now that you’ve handled that very important first step you may proceed. Please don’t skip this, trust me it will save you miles of misery in the long run.
Follow the guidelines below, aim to work on running every other day. You can still exercise in between those running days but stick to lower impact movements like biking, swimming or yoga.
You have to walk well before you can run
We have to get good at walking before we attempt to take it up a notch into running. So begin by working up to being able to walk briskly for 30 continuous minutes. Once you’ve established that base, you can begin adding bursts of jogging into your routine for the next couple of weeks or so. Start by adding 30 seconds of of running and walk briskly for the other 4 minutes and complete that up to 6 times.
Gradually increase running time and decrease walking time as your body adjusts. Aim for reaching a 1:1 ratio, so 1 minute running, 1 minute walking. From here, try adding to the running time. So the next step up would be 1 minute 30 seconds of running, then when that becomes easier move up to 2 minutes and so on. Try to keep your “resting” at one minute or below. Work towards eventually reaching 20 minutes of steady running/jogging. If you're struggling to maintain 20 minutes try a slower pace. Think being able to say a complete sentence during your run, if you're struggling to get words out you're hitting your lactate threshold and your body is going to say STOP before you reach your goal.
Try a 5K Race
Now you’re ready to complete your first 5K race. Warning: These can be addictive! You can enter another race, but give yourself enough time to recover. I can’t stress enough how you don’t want to overdo it. I know that you're all thinking I’m nuts! Like why on earth will you want to actually keep running if and when you’re completely exhausted or in pain. I can’t explain it other than it has to do with reasons 1, 3, 4 and possibly 9.
You’ll notice I didn’t give a timeframe to achieve these goal in and here’s my reasoning behind that. Everyone is different and will adjust to the impacts of running differently. The main point is to gradually build up the strength in your body to sustain this high impact activity. This may take one person four weeks, and another person 6-8 weeks and that’s ok!
Listen to your body
The one thing I can’t stress enough to do through this process is to listen to your body! At the end of the workouts you should feel tired but not completely spent, so you could do more if you wanted to. If you find yourself completely exhausted or a constant pain somewhere, back off and spend more time walking until you adapt.
If the pain doesn't get better in time, it may be a good idea to see a sports doc. Some people just have different mechanical structures and need to make a few adjustments before they can hit the road running. Once it's figured out nothing can stop them from becoming excellent runners! Sometimes it's as simple as doing a few extra exercises for muscle imbalances other times an shoe orthotic helps.
Learning to listen to your body and knowing when to stop is a very important for injury prevention in the long haul. Once you get into running and finish a race or two, you might catch the race bug, then be ready to add more and more distance which is great! But if you don’t know how to back off and keep pushing through, you run the risk of hurting yourself and having take some major time off from running. Something, that anyone who loves running (including myself) fears the most! To date, I’ve never sustained any form of major running injuries. I credit this to resistance training, good nutrition, the right shoes (and not wearing them too long), cross training from time to time and backing off as needed.
If you’ve thought about running I hope this helps you get started off on the right foot!
Sharma, Archana, and Deepali Verma. "ENDORPHINS: ENDOGENOUS OPIOID IN HUMAN CELLS." (2014).
Raichlen, David A., et al. "Exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling is modulated by intensity." European journal of applied physiology 113.4 (2013): 869-875.
Prabakaran, Sudhakaran. "Endocannabinoids mediate runner’s high." Sci. Signal. 8.401 (2015): ec322-ec322.
Heijnen, Saskia, et al. "Neuromodulation of Aerobic Exercise—A Review."Frontiers in psychology 6 (2015).
Ludlow, Andrew T., and Stephen M. Roth. "Physical activity and telomere biology: exploring the link with aging-related disease prevention." Journal of aging research 2011 (2011).
2015 State of the Sport-U.S. Race Trends http://www.runningusa.org/2015-state-of-sport-us-trends
Shammas, Masood A. "Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging." Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care 14.1 (2011): 28.
Fitness trackers have been out for a few years and it seems like almost everyone is sporting a gadget on their wrist. Ok, maybe not everyone but here’s a few facts about the humans sporting these little data collectors.
I finally joined the club, and have to admit I’m sporting one of these things for fitness optimization (now you can guess my age! haha) but the other very real reason was simply because I was in the market for a new watch. With my background, I’ve always been very skeptical about how accurate these sporty little wristbands could actually be. So, naturally I declined jumping on the Fitbit wagon like most of my friends have over the years. I couldn’t wrap my head around how this thing that pretty much flops around a person's wrist was going to get a heart rate, let alone an accurate one.
I think it’s great that people are wearing them to get on track with their health, but you have to be careful because they can only tell you so much at this point. Here’s the thing, I’m a data junkie in terms of HR documentation during training and in general. Maybe that’s what going to school for Exercise Science does to a person!? So I am excited about the things any tracker can help you keep track of like heart rate during training, sleep information, and the friendly vibration on your wrist reminding you that it’s time to move! when you’ve sat on your ass too long!
Which tracker did I choose? During my exercise physiology studies at the University of Nebraska Human Performance lab we always used Polar heart rate monitors and it’s no secret that Polar is reputable for accuracy in heart rate monitoring. So naturally, I was eyeing Polar products for the right tracker and it was worth the wait. I was looking for something that also would have a few features a smartwatch so ended up getting a Polar A360 and while it’s far from perfect, I’m pleased with my investment.
What about accuracy
First of all, what a fitness tracker won’t do is keep extremely accurate records. Yes, they will urge you to get up if you’ve been sitting on your bum too long but I did notice some discrepancy of about 10 beats per minute when sporting my chest rate heart rate monitor compared to the wrist based activity tracker. But hey, not bad for a watch! And the simple thing that will solve that so I have the accurate training records for my heart rate will be upgrading my chest strap to a model that can bluetooth into my activity tracker and the Polar flow app, which is great. But for now, I’ll just sport a couple of wrist devices like this.
The image on the left is my heart rate at rest within 3 beats. The image on the right was during exercise (running) but a second after when I stepped on the rails to snap the picture (sorry for the shaky picture). The difference is 11 beats.
The lack of accuracy is also going to affect calorie counts so if you’re counting calories in versus calories out, be careful. In fact, calories should be somewhat of a secondary thing you keep track of. Yes, if you’re trying to lose weight or maintain, you don’t want to take in more energy than you expend because that will create a weight gain but more importantly you should focus on macronutrients. Making sure you are getting enough protein, carbs and fat, but not too much. The ratios of those macros will change depending on your activity for the day. Nutrition gets complicated, so let’s just stop there for now.
For a better illustration of accuracy, check this article out from The New York Times, What Your Activity Tracker Sees and Doesn’t See.
And as if it's not enough to track ourselves, what about our furry friends. There's much technology out today, it's hard keeping up on all of it but some if is really fun. I do enjoy being able to keep tabs on my slobbery hound dog and it keeps him safe.
A tracker for your dog!?
Yes, you can even get an activity tracker for your dog! I can even keep track of how active Ben is and how much sleep he gets, which happens to be a lot at 14 hours! It's interesting to look at but the real reason he has a tracker are for when he decides to let loose and hit the streets on his own. The picture on the right is a greeting card I spotted that is probably how he thinks when he gets busted and is in trouble!
What can activity tracking do for our behaviour?
Well even the activity tracker Ben has doesn't stop him from running away, but it does help us find him when he does dart off. Just as a fitness tracker on your wrist will not make you fit, but it can help you identify positive and negative patterns that can be changed over time and lead to one or more positive behaviour changes.
Simply providing that extra motivation to keep moving can be very beneficial. I like how my device reminds me to get up after so long and alerts me when I have met my activity goal for the day. Hey, who doesn’t like reaching goals. No matter how small they are invigorating to reach. Usually after I reach a goal, I’m like hey if I was able to accomplish that, what about trying this? And then the next goal with an action plan is developed. It can be a good cycle!
Three things a fitness tracker, or any health tracking app (even if you have to access it via the good ‘ol desktop computer) can help with:
Fitness trackers are great, but might not be for everyone. First of all, a tracker can be a great thing if you’re curious about how active you are through the day, navigate technology easily and don’t sweat the small stuff. You have to be able to look at the bigger picture when it comes to lifestyle balance, like not counting every, single calorie and seeing the macronutrient side of nutrition and knowing the numbers your tracker gives you aren’t 100% accurate. If you can agree with most of that stuff and are in the market for a watch that can do more for you then it’s great. For example, I can get all my phone notifications on my wrist which has come in very handy at times. It’s not something I use very often, but can be a nice feature if you’re on the go. One thing I'm a little bummed about is not being able to skip songs from it during my workouts.
As for exercise training, I still have to sport my chest strap and watch to get my heart rate for now, but have no regrets about finally making the move and purchasing a fitness tracker. It’s nice to see some heart rate data and running stats side by side. The model I selected does exactly what I need it to, and with another investment (of around 50 bucks) in the bluetooth chest strap it will be keeping track of data from my workouts, which will allow me to measure running progress and adjust my training accordingly. It’s also nice to have everything in one place with data that can even be exported into an excel sheet. Yes, I know features I’m excited about might not even phase you, which is totally fine. I've always been different-lol
Do you sport an activity tracker?
I’d bet I'll probably still be sporting mine in 6 months, but I guess we’ll see. Feel free to check in with me to find out in October. It would be interesting to find out why people who get activity trackers ditch them. Have you had one and no longer wearing it? I’d like to know why, so drop a line in the comment box.
Ok, now we’ve both been sitting too long so I’ll leave you all with this: It’s time to move!
Where’s one place you can begin to really start to crush those fitness goals that isn’t a gym or fitness center? What if I told you that you could work out less in the gym if you clean and use your kitchen. Wait a minute? Don’t I love to exercise, and lots of it being an endurance athlete.
Of course, but in order to maximize my time spent on training it’s important to fuel up with high-quality foods. Does this have to be expensive? Absolutely not. In some ways, it can actually be more cost effective.
One example is the cost of eggs compared to meat for a protein source. Rice and beans are other examples that can be a super thrifty healthy combo, especially if you do a lot of running. The list goes on, so I’ll stop there for now.
A clean kitchen can help you eat healthier
Keeping your kitchen clean and displaying fruits and veggies so they look appetizing will help you eat them more often and stay on track. I also feel less inclined to grab takeout or place a call in for a pizza if I can open up the fridge, see a rainbow of foods that look alive because their chillin in my sparkling clean veggie drawer. Pair those up with a protein and maybe a complex carb and I’ve just done my body a favor. This is so much easier to do when your kitchen is sparkly.
You don't have to cook all the time but a little prep can go along way
Even if you don’t have time to make meals at home all of the time, this will at least help make healthy snacks more appetizing. One major complaint I’ve heard from clients I’ve worked with is that healthy food spoils quickly. Solution: Eat the food. And yes, you may also have to go to the grocery store at least 1-2 times per week to keep fresh stuff around.
Selecting frozen and canned options can also help. However, I prefer frozen because generally they have less stuff like salt and sugar added to it. But not always, review the packaging and check the labels to make sure.
By taking some time to prep ahead you can stay ahead of the healthy eating curve. This is not a pass to ditch the workouts and just eat clean. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Been there and done that! So not worth it. Don’t get me wrong, I love training for the 13.1 distance and yeah, sometimes going out for a good LSD (long slow distance) run might take a couple of hours but I do this for how it makes me feel not to punish myself for eating something “bad”.
Although, I will be the first to admit that a great perk from running is that you can have a few extra carbs and a cold one guilt free! But this is not to be confused with eating garbage and washing it down with a 6 pack.
You can't out exercise a poor diet
Besides that the even better part of finishing those long runs is the sense of Ahhh, you feel. It’s almost like you feel a euphoric state of freedom. A feeling that everything will be alright and that gravity is not tying you down, in a sense. A feeling that you’ve accomplished something worthwhile, so now you’re ready to tackle on whatever the world throws at you cause you feel on top of the world.
That’s what running, or really any exercise should be about. Not trying to torture yourself through something just to burn calories. It’s not that efficient when you do the math. For anyone interested in the calculation, you can find it here…
So it’s truly easier to eat good rather than try to out exercise any so called bad foods. Plus, you’ll even feel better from eating real, wholesome foods. Cause that age-old saying from Hippocrates “Let thy food be thy medicine” is point on. But of course, if you feel really ill for a long time, go see a doctor because cause ignoring symptoms do not make them go away.
Thanks for reading and here’s some tasty recipes to try out!
Yummy brunch or lunch items.
This one from Ellie Krieger that will keep hunger at bay on the fly.
Avocado Toast with Egg, Cucumber and Radish
Anytime Frittata with Spinach and Sweet Potatoes is an alternative form of comfort food from Darya Rose at summertomato.com
And for anyone interested in how my exercise routine changed this month you can find it here.
I can’t believe it’s mid February already! Time to glance back and check how those New Year’s Resolutions are going’, right? Now is not the time to panic about that if you’ve fallen off the wagon, because that’s not going to get cha anywhere. Instead, remember what did go well last month no matter how small or irrelevant it may seem. Take that, feel proud and add just one more small change for February. Do a little introspection...Were you able to stick to that fitness routine? Yes, Fantastic, keep doing what you're doing! But what if things didn’t go all that well? Don’t give up, instead try changing something. Not every exercise is enjoyable to all people. Yeah I might like running, but why the heck should you? While there’s a ton of reasons to like running and it's super healthy, but that does not mean you’ll like it. Maybe you’d rather lift a lot and train for a physique competition, swim competitively, walk, do yoga, dance...And the list goes on. So try something new and switch it up from time to time, it will help keep you psyched about your next workout.
You have to build muscle
Whatever exercise you decide on, just make sure you are doing some type of resistance or weight training also (unless, that’s what you are already doing primarily for all of your workouts). Especially if you decide that cardio is one of your favorites. There’s nothing wrong with cardio, and we all know there’s tons of health benefits to breaking a sweat. Just don’t fall into the trap of doing only one form of exercise and don’t believe that calorie burn or fat burning settings and numbers. Besides, when it's cold out why not spend more time in the weight room. I'd rather do more cardio outside when the weather is nice. Exercising outside can be very enjoyable as long as it's not too hot or cold.
The Fat Burning setting on the cardio machine has been lying to you
We burn more fat doing low intensity cardio exercise which is why cardio machine buttons have a fat burning setting and it's usually a low intensity workout, where high intensity workouts typically use more carbohydrate. Don’t get settled into a low intensity exercise routine, just because the button on the machine says you’re burning fat and it seems easy. I like to do this type of work about once a week and do higher intensity or weight training on other days. Check out my routine at the bottom of this post!
But don’t forget that cardio completely, you just have to mix and match. Kinda like piecing together a great outfit!
Strength training is where it's at
Even if it’s not your favorite thing to do, it’s a must if you are looking to tone up and see muscle definition. Trust me ladies, you aren’t going to turn into some macho looking bulky muscled beast. Which might be why you’re afraid to lift too heavy. I worked out with that mentality for years. I was a cardio addict, wait I actually still am but I also spend anywhere from two to four days a week pushing weights, depending on where I’m at on my periodization calendar. As I get closer to a race, I'll back off to two days of weight training and logging more miles. Just to give you an example, if you read my last blog, you’ll remember I’m training for a ½ in October. And since our weather here in Nebraska is usually rough in the winter, hey we just got 12 inches of snow dumped on us on Groundhog Day! Basically, running outside just kinda sucks this time of year, you take advantage of the good days when they come but can’t count on them being consistent. So, it’s a perfect reason to work on building muscle and by the time the weather gets nicer, I’ll be ready to trade some of those days out for more miles on the track.
Burn more calories after exercise
Stay Hydrated. When it’s chillier outside, you’re probably not as thirsty for water as you are when the mercury is rising. If ice water isn’t exactly your thing when the snowflakes are following, sip on hot teas and herbal infusions. Bonus: You’ll load up on antioxidants which can strengthen your immune system! One of my faves is Tazo Wild Sweet orange. I also like Yogi's Vanilla Spice when I need a pick me up on a blustery day.
Get the right nutrients
Pop a multivitamin, some garlic and get some vitamin D. You’re body will absorb what it need and you’ll just pee out the rest. I love adding minced garlic to almost anything especially green beans and potatoes. Don’t like the taste of garlic, no problem just pop a Kyolic capsule. One I take regularly is formula 104. Researchers have found that supplementing with aged garlic can help reduce cold and flu symptoms. When I remember to take my supplements and get my fair share of fruits, veggies and exercise is I’m able to power through cold and flu season like a boss!
Don't do so on an empty stomach and try alternating drinks with water. You’ll save calories and possibly a headache the next day!
If you’ve got an extra 25 minutes and are looking for a more advanced workout you can do anywhere, gotcha covered with this routine from ACSM. It's one of my favorite routines I can do anywhere!
Hopefully these tips help you have a bright, happy and healthy holiday season. Cheers!
Time flew by that morning as I had breakfast and got ready, I guess I forgot to look at the clock most of the morning because by the time we had left it was 7:40 am. and I was planning on leaving around 7am. I knew this was really late, but figured the it would be ok. Well it wasn’t, because when I arrived at the start line they were tearing it down! I was devastated! On one hand it wasn’t the end of the world because I debated running this one due to time and financial commitments and then they announced the headliner band, Matisyahu. That changed my mind and I decided to commit to running a faster 10K instead of training to just finish a half marathon.
I had a great training season, getting my mileage up to 8 miles on long runs, hill work, intervals and an intense taper. I was ready to race! A couple of thoughts crossed my mind as I stumbled around in disbelief, I could stick around and pout about it or grab my paper map and get my miles in. I went with the second option. I had way too much energy in me to just hang out and I needed my runners high!
So I headed out and did the best to stay kind of on course without getting completely lost, which definitely impacted my time. I was pretty much balling under my shades, how did I let this happen!? I also heard someone holler at me that I was taking a short cut. Whatever! I wasn’t stopping until I hit 6 miles! I had finally found the race and ran the opposite direction for a while before jumping in and crossing the finish line. I ended up running close to a personal best but know I would’ve done much better if I wasn’t reading a map and stopping for traffic. It was somewhat rewarding, but not near as great as it would’ve been had I actually started and ran with other runners. But as my fiance always says, “there’s no future in the past”. So this experience taught me a few things about running and life.
- Practice Gratitude- How many runners missed the start because of illness or injury. At least I was healthy and able to run my distance, I probably could've finished the half.
- Forget the small stuff-I wasted a lot of time that morning on small things that weren't necessary. Details can be good, but when when it starts to become clutter or noise simplify. Use checklists to stay organized and and focused on what you really need.
- Life is not perfect and that’s ok- When people decide they want to change their lifestyle to improve health, be more fit, feel and look better they often take an all or nothing approach. Put in the effort, but if you slip don’t beat yourself up over it, simply pick yourself up and get back on track by making the better choice next time.
- Attitude can make or break your day-Had I not been thankful for the many things that were awesome that day and focused only on what went wrong, my experience would’ve been miserable.
Pumpkin spice time is here and I’m excited, even if some decide to label me as a basic b*tch- haha!
When October hits, it's all about pumpkin spice. This doesn't mean I go to Starbucks every morning for a Pumpkin Spice Latte. In fact, going to Starbucks to get one makes it way too easy to go overboard and order the full flavor version with whip. Check out what a difference that makes on your calorie totals for the day here. But I totally picked up a pack of these Pumpkin Spice Latte single serve on the go packets for my splurge days. And I don’t even have to wait in line and I know I’ll only be getting 140 calories worth of sweet goodness.
You can also Add a pumpkin to your workout
- Pumpkin bicep curls
- Lunge with overhead press
- Single leg hip bridge (hold pumkin above chest or belly for resistance on arms or glutes, respectively)
- Triceps push up
Supercharge your workouts
Gravity is no joke, at least here on earth it’s not. Pair that up with the right angle and you’ve signed up for a challenging exercise. Some basic, but effective exercises that you can get started with on a suspension device include biceps curls, squats, rows, triceps extensions and shoulder press.
Getting a core workout while working other major muscles in the body is what a plank is all about. Really set your core on fire by placing your feet or elbows in a suspension device. The added instability increases muscle activation in the core in order to hold that plank, which will help you get a strong core in no time.
Looking for more exercise ideas? Click here.
Exercise physiologist aka: fitness Geek, loves running and being adventures. marathon & sprint tri finisher. music and veggie fanatic
Nancy Flock is a wellness enthusiast that's crazy about running, veggies, animals and living life to the fullest.