Setting New Goals for a New Year, Successfully!

corky-2816As one calendar year is about to come to a close and we look to the New Year, fitness and health frequently take center stage. This is often a time of reflection on the previous year – races, health, nutrition, happiness, and a time of anticipation and dreams for the future – getting health or weight on track, attempting your first race, working to set new personal race records, trying a new sport, dropping a dress size, sweating on a daily basis, gaining muscle, eating a balanced diet – the dreams and possibilities are endless!

While sorting through your goals, I recommend you do a few things in order to better your odds of succeeding:

  • Be honest about your level of dedication/commitment to change – and what kind of change. It may be a million times easier to achieve a 30 minute walk per day for you, than to consume over 10 servings of fruits/veggies per day – for example.
  • Be patient, and take your goals one day at a time. You are a human being, so expecting a perfect track record is dooming yourself off the bat. While focusing on each day, do have a clear goal for a few weeks, months or years from now. Each day of success will take you a step closer towards that goal or milestone.
  • Ask for help. Very few humans can hold themselves 100% accountable for real change. Rely on a friend, hire a coach/trainer, or use social media or a journal to help your accountability. Meetup groups can also be helpful.
  • Change takes time. Don’t expect to see or feel a huge difference within a day or week. However, you’ll be surprised the difference you’ll notice in a month or two!
  • Trying something new may not be right for you. Or perhaps what you try won’t be the right fit. Perhaps kickboxing is a better fit than ballroom dancing, for example. We are all different, so don’t feel bad if what you initially try isn’t the right thing! Move on and be fearless in what you try.
  • When creating a race goal, be sure to give yourself enough time to be successful! Also be sure any additional races you add to your schedule are supportive of that big goal and not destructive. A big PR in a marathon you flop on your schedule for 12 weeks from now is not wise. Understand your goals the time and work they’ll require.
  • Laugh, have fun and get creative with your goals. Not every day will be easy or fun, but I’m a firm believer that we stick to something we like, and that brings positive change to our lives. Life is too short to be unhappy or dissatisfied. See the humor and fun in everything you can!
  • Toss out the negative. Recognize triggers, and kick them to a curb. Perhaps it’s your daily mid-morning baked good from the office kitchen, or that friend who guilts you into ditching your run for happy hour each week. Everything is a choice, but you can make those choices easier by breaking bad habits, relationships and influences.

If or when you fall off your goals (remember – you are human!), simply pick yourself back up and try again. Just be sure to not do the same thing and expect a different result. You don’t need a New Year to spring into your goals. Tomorrow is just as good as January 1st.

When Did You Become a Runner?

For many of us, there was a defining moment, experience, or year when we became “runners.” This isn’t to say that there is a rule in my book as to what makes someone a runner or not, and it certainly doesn’t have to do with speed, races, or how seriously you take running as a sport or hobby. To me, someone becomes a “runner” when it becomes a fluid part of their life and routine. It becomes part of their day and who they are just like brushing one’s teeth, reading a book, or something else you do without thinking much about. It’s part of you and your day or week.

Sometimes that transition to “runner” is so natural, you can’t remember what your life was like before it. Other times it’s a huge change. Last week I went back to Southwest Michigan for the first time in eight years, to a small town where I worked for 4 months at a theatre. I didn’t realize it until I went back, but that location and time in my life was when I’d say I became a “runner.” I ran before Michigan, but I don’t think I was a runner. For one thing, before Michigan, I ran out of fear of gaining weight. Being an actor can mess with your head and view on body image. And while I liked running, I wouldn’t say I did it consistently. When I ran I enjoyed it and felt great after, but it was still more of a chore and something I did out of insecurity than anything else.

In Michigan, running became a part of almost every day. It began out of the usual place – don’t gain weight while working a stressful job. But from there, it quickly became my favorite part of my day. While most everyone else went out to party at night or slept in for as long as possible, my alarm went off every morning at 7:45am, I’d toss on my running clothes, and be out the door for a run by 8am. I’d get home around 9am, quickly eat a small breakfast, shower, and arrive the theatre by 10am – where I’d usually work until midnight or 1am. I didn’t know how fast or slow I was, and I always ran an out-and-back, turning around about 30 minutes into the run. Some days I’d make it farther than others. I usually carried my iPod (an archaic model by today’s standards), and let my mind wander as I sweat out my stress and felt strong. And while it took me years after my time in Michigan to enter a race, this was when I became a runner.

If you don’t consider yourself a runner yet, but someone who sometimes runs, you may find that changes over time – perhaps undetected under your nose. Until going back to Michigan, I don’t think I could have pinpointed what I became a “runner.” Or perhaps it will be a defining day, experience, or decision. If you consider yourself a runner, when do you think that happened? It’s fun to travel down memory lane, and reexamine when that shift happened. And if you are not a runner, well…never say never! Happy running!

Empowering Each Other – and remembering our words have influence

If you frequent my blog or know me in person, you probably know that I am all about girl power, healthy body image, and trying my best to live as an example of what I value and believe in, while also having a sense of humor. Maybe it’s because in the past I was a self-loathing, diet pill popping, calorie-obsessed human being, or have been in the modeling world too long, but I have recently been noticing trends in behavior, whether we mean to our not, that hurt our attitude about women.

Unless you live under a rock, it’s pretty obvious that women in the USA are held to high “standards” of beauty. Part of that is Hollywood, part of that is the media and beauty magazines, the other part is what we choose to demand from ourselves or the women around us. For example, I can choose to read tabloid/beauty magazines or not. I can also choose to read them and compare myself to every photoshopped, genetically gifted, or miserably starved model/actress in the magazine of my choosing, or I can refuse to compare myself. Yes, it’s hard to do. But don’t make the assumption that because someone “looks” ideal or perfect to you on tv or a photo that they are. There are a ton of tricks to the trade. And eating disorders, body dysmorphia and exercise anorexia run rampant. Ironically, many people are in denial about their disorders or issues, and are extremely good at fooling themselves and everyone in their lives. Skinny doesn’t equal healthy, happy, strong, or anything other than skinny. Of course some people who are skinny ARE healthy, happy and strong – but I am going to call many folks out here. To be “model” or Hollywood skinny (remember, the camera adds pounds!) is a challenge for most women.

Before I bring down the mood, I want to talk about someone who I think is an excellent example of body image. She’s a model, she eats (she posts more photos and recipes about food than anything else!), and she shares her flaws but not in a “look at me, I’m not perfect, I have work to do, wah wah wah kind of way.” No, she posts photos of her cellulite as if to say “Hey look, I’M A FUCKING HUMAN – and modeling is about bringing who you are  – flaws and all, and working your angles, working with immaculate lighting, photographers, and Photoshop.” You many have guessed it – I am referring to Chrissy Teigen. I have never seen her post anything negative about herself looking for attention on social media. If you don’t follow her – you should. She is hilarious. And real. But yes, more “beautiful” than most of us. She, in my opinion, is an excellent example of a model EMPOWERING women. And here’s the thing, if Chrissy were posting negative things about herself, she is putting all of us women down. I mean, if someone who makes a living being beautiful and photogenic isn’t “good enough,” than who is?!? I am sure that Chrissy, like many women, has insecurities. She’s human. But she doesn’t weigh us down with them. I don’t personally know Chrissy, but follow her on twitter and IG, and you cannot help but like her and want to be her friend.

Unfortunately many women don’t present themselves on social media with Chrissy’s positive attitude. No one is perfect. And frankly, I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone to try to hold themselves to that standard. It’s exhausting. And really annoying. I am totally for people doing what they want to be happy and comfortable in their skin. Tattoos, Botox, implants, dropping or gaining body fat, packing on muscle – you do what will make yourself happy. But there’s a difference in going on that quest for yourself and projecting it onto the women in your life. Perhaps instead of saying “I need to drop 5 lbs. to be perfect, I am such a fat ass,” say “It’s really hard to shave off those final few pounds, but if I can work at it, so can you! Hard work is just that – it isn’t easy!” Can you see how those messages are completely different, while still sharing your goals?

Maybe I don’t take myself or life as seriously as many women. I get that. But our bodies are all aging, changing, and adapting – all the time. Some of us will be out thinnest in our teens – perhaps partly genetics and partly choice – nutrition and exercise are CHOICES, after all. Some of us had baby fat until our early 20s and blossom into the “thinnest” version of ourselves in our thirties, forties or fifties. Obviously some of that is genetics, aging and growing – things we don’t get to control. Some women fall in love with a form of exercise or sport, and their body transforms do to that new-found interest. Sometimes medication, job schedules, personal relationships and other factors will affect our bodies. It’s important to remember that “thin” should never be the ultimate goal.

Our power as women in the USA is only as powerful as we make ourselves. Equal pay, paid maternity leave, reproductive rights, being viewed as “the weaker sex,” all while also being told by outside influences of what we should look like and value – that’s a whole lot to handle. That’s stressful. I don’t know about you, but stress is a trigger for me to binge. Let’s please help ourselves, as women, by empowering each other. It’s okay to want it all – our ideas of the perfect body, a career and a family – whatever it is you want – but let’s please not impose our demands and expectations of ourselves onto our fellow ladies. Let’s lift each other up and support one another. Next time you turn to social media, please think twice about the image and attitude you are putting out there, and how that will make the females seeing it feel. Your friends, family and strangers will begin to form opinions based on their gut reactions to what they see. None of us want to come across as putting down others. None of us want to be viewed as self-obsessed narcissist. But I bet many of us want to come across as positive, supportive, and perhaps someone other people can look up to – because we exude something good. You don’t know what insecurities your audience may be harboring – or the age or mental comprehension. Girl power is positive. Girl power is supportive. Girl power says “you can do anything!” – so let’s do some empowering.

 

Fat America

There is nothing wrong with indulgences, as long as you KNOW what you are doing!

There is nothing wrong with indulgences, as long as you KNOW what you are doing!

There’s that saying: You are what you eat. Love it or hate it, I suppose there’s some truth to it. Americans are often consuming packaged, easy to prepare food. Not only is it accessible, it usually tastes good, and as a culture, we tend to work long hours and prioritize our jobs and making an income. It’s no wonder fewer and few Americans actually cook their own food or have any real understanding of basic nutrition. And let’s face it – ignorance is bliss. America is full of blissfully ignorant people. This isn’t to say we are stupid. It’s that if we are in denial, we can always point blame or accountability elsewhere.

Personally, I rarely eat at chain restaurants. In NYC we have so many restaurant options, and I tend to gravitate towards the privately owned, Ma and Pa places. But the awesome thing about chain restaurants in NYC is the following: they are REQUIRED to list nutritional info on the menu. This eliminates ignorance. You have the calorie content of your future meal in front of you before you order. For someone wanting to watch their nutrition, sticking to chain restaurants would be a way to honestly make educated choices for every meal consumed. On a rare occasion, I dined at a chain restaurant last weekend. America, we have a problem.

Chris and I sat down to dinner at Pizzeria Uno in Astoria, right across the street of the movie theater. We wanted to grab dinner before seeing Jurassic World, and didn’t have time to really wander and make the movie in time. I haven’t eaten at a Pizzeria Uno in probably 10 years, and so there was something exciting about eating there. I realize that to Suburbanites, that probably sounds strange. I opened the menu, and was in shock. We could only find 1-3 entree options on the menu for UNDER 800 calories. This isn’t including calories in bread, appetizers, drinks, or dessert. Ironically, all of the salads were over 1000 calories. The pizzas, designed to be shared, topped the chart at 3500-4500 calories.

After a good ten minutes of searching the menu pages and weighing my options, I opted for a soup and side salad for dinner – still combined over 500 calories. Chris and I then split the 1300 calorie cookie sundae, bringing my total calories for that meal to about 1000.

Now here’s the thing: it was REALY HARD to find something to eat that wasn’t half of my recommended daily calories. If it’s that hard to make good choices, no wonder America is so obese. And sure, as someone who is usually incredibly active, eating a 3000 calories dinner here or there isn’t going to kill me, but I am pretty sure my lifestyle is not the norm. Having just come back from vacation (in other words: no exercise and all the guacamole and pina coladas I could stomach), I was looking to eat lighter and get back to my normal diet. Knowing how much Americans eat out, and how few cities and states require nutrition information on their menus, of course we are a fat nation. If I ate out at a place like Pizzeria Uno 3-5 times per week, even training as I do, I would probably be a good bit heavier. If you are someone looking to drop weight, you will NEVER DO IT if your lifestyle involves this kind of eating.

Chris and I asked ourselves if seeing the nutritional info before placing our orders affected our ultimate decisions, and the answer for both of us was: YES!!!!! Chris joked that the nutritional info ruined dinner for him, and I can agree – no deep dish pizza, appetizers or really ANY entree made it in front of my face.

If you are unhappy with your weight, be honest about your meal choices. Nobody is forcing any of us to eat out all the time. If you are needing or wanting to drop weight, the first thing you should do is stop eating out and start cooking. You’ll save calories, money, and KNOW what you are putting on your plate. Learn about nutrition – simply the basics will help. Measure and weight ingredients and know the calorie total per serving. Does this take some fun out of eating? Probably. But will you be healthier, lighter, and wealthier? Yes.

Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power. The informed are always the successful ones. You have two paths to choose from, and the choice is yours.

Vacations and Training

Representing MHRC on the beach in Canucun - where I didn't run once!

Representing MHRC on the beach in Canucun – where I didn’t run once!

It’s the time of year when many folks head out-of-town on vacation. Summer vacations kinda rock, though they can pose a challenge if you are in the middle of training for a race or fitness goal. Today’s blog is all about travel and training – and how to strategize to make training happen while away, and when also to also embrace vacation and let training slide.

When in the middle of training, I suggest planning a vacation that complements training instead of complicating it. For example, a week in Cancun in June is going to guarantee very hot and humid conditions, and is also the kind of vacation that promotes consumption of alcoholic island beverages all day – not drinking water or being active. A vacation somewhere with cooler conditions over the summer or a place that promotes being active will perhaps be a better fit for training. However, a week in Cancun with no races in the near future can be a beautiful thing!

When on vacation and attempting to stick to a rigorous training plan, here are some tips:

  • Run or train early in the day, that way it’s out-of-the-way and your training won’t be derailed by drinking, eating, or sightseeing.
  • Research running routes and get familiar with the area. Ask the hotel staff for recommendations if you need help.
  • Look into hotels with gyms. Many resorts focus on other amenities and skip the gym, or have a bare bones option. If training is important to you, don’t assume your hotel will have a gym you can rely on.
  • Pack GU, water bottles, and any other fuel you may need. Chances are you won’t be able to purchase or stash fuel along your route, so be prepared to bring what you need before you head out-of-town.
  • Accept that your training may be sub-par while on vacation, and focus on maintaining fitness – not building fitness. The odds are that you won’t be running repeats on a track or clocking a 20-miler while on a cruise, for example.
  • Plan for your vacation week to be a “recovery week” in training. Doing so will mean your mileage and intensity will purposely be less – which will fit vacation-mode beautifully.
  • Look into local races or running groups. Both are great motivation, good for accountability, and ideal for running in a new place.

Back in 2013, I was on a Caribbean cruise for a week in August. My goal marathon, scheduled for that November, was a big goal for me. I embraced the idea that my vacation would be a recovery week – and placed my long runs at either end of the vacation so that it was a none-issue while on a boat. However, I was the idiot in the gym most days, and also the one running mile repeats on the beach in St. Thomas at 10am. With a good 12 weeks of training after my vacation, I PR’d my marathon time by 10 minutes.

If you are not currently training for a specific race goal, I highly recommend embracing some time off. It can be extremely liberating to take a vacation from reality – training included. I recently took a full 10 days off from all training while on vacation. I really loved time away from training – more time off from running than I’ve taken in over a year! Even after a 24-hour Ultra Marathon last July, I was back to running in under a week. While it felt odd to not make running part of my daily routine, it was great. I also came back home rested and really excited to get back to running and big goals.

Don’t worry about losing fitness during a vacation. Taking a week or so off from training may actually be a really good thing. Many of us are extremely dedicated to our weekly mileage, and forget that some recovery is necessary for our bodies to recover, build stronger and avoid injury. A vacation may be just what you need!

Debunking Diet Delusions

Today’s blog is about nutrition habits. Many folks looking to hire a trainer or sign up for a marathon are hopeful that with committing to something physical, they will magically be able to eat everything they want and lose weight. It’s a nice thought, but usually not true. In fact, it’s not uncommon for folks to gain weight during their first season of training – because it is really easy to say “hey, I ran today!” and eat everything. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that burning 500 calories on a run doesn’t erase the calories in a burger and fries.

Did you know that many elite athletes are very careful about their caloric intake and nutrition habits? It may sound silly and unnecessary, but it’s quite often true. Folks who may be running 120+ miles per week are careful to not gain any weight. Yes, someone running 120 miles per week can afford to eat a hell of a lot more calories than the folks running 20 mile weeks, but my point is that to be their best, they need to be strong and as light as safely possible. The same is true with you and your goals, if they are based on pace and a time. If your goal is to lose weight, nutrition when training becomes incredibly important.

When I meet with new clients, I am sometimes told they want my physique. They joke to “sign them up” for whatever I am personally doing. I should also say that many friends and family assume I eat anything and everything all the time. I don’t. When I am visiting friends and family, I am often choosing to indulge. We are at a party, a celebration, out at a restaurant, a family get-together, or they simply see me on a day I am indulging because I simply want to. These same family and friends don’t believe me when I say that what they see me consume isn’t the norm. Do I eat bagels, cake or pizza everyday? Nope. Not even close. Do I talk about food, blog about it, dream about it and love it? Yes, guilty as charged. So I wanted this blog to showcase the reality of what it takes for me to be fit, strong, and extremely goal-driven – and perhaps you can apply some of what I do to your own life and goals.

Here are a few facts about me you may not know:

  • I very rarely weigh myself. In fact, in the last year I have only weighed myself to keep track of dehydration levels when training and racing Ultra Marathons (12-24 hour races).
  • I keep track of everything I eat, every day. I use an app. on my phone. I want to know what I am consuming and I find I need to keep myself accountable – be it calories, grams of protein, servings of fruits that day – I track EVERYTHING.
  • I also track my activity. Hours of sleep, time standing, running, weight training. I keep all the data.

To show you what my nutrition usually looks like, I am listing below 2 random days from the past few weeks. One day is an “average” day for me, the other is a “rest day,” – and I tend to eat more calories and junk on rest days. I’ll also make note of my training on the “average” day.

Thursday, May 14th, 2015: an example of an “average” day for Coach Corky.

  • Breakfast: Coffee, 2 TBS. Half/Half, 1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal, 1 cup fresh blueberries, 4 tsp. brown sugar
  • Lunch: 1 large sweet potato, 5 tbs. parmesan cheese, 2 links of turkey sausage
  • Dinner: 1 cup Goya black beans, 2 whole wheat tortillas, 1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese
  • Snacks: 1 orange, 1 Gala apple, 1/2 fresh pineapple
  • Total calories consumed: 2084
  • Training: weight trained for 1 hour, ran at a moderate pace for 1 hour
  • Total calories burned: 2837

Saturday, May 9, 2015: an example of an indulgence day

  • Breakfast: Coffee, 2 TBS. Half/Half, 1 large avocado, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup shredded cheese
  • Lunch: 1 Larabar protein bar, 1 pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food FroYo
  • Dinner: Whole wheat pasta
  • Snacks: 1 brownie, 1 orange, 1 Gala apple, 1 banana, 3 bottles of Sierra Nevada beer
  • Total calories consumed: 3902
  • Training: ran for easy coaching miles for 50 minutes
  • Total calories burned: 2513

As you can see, some days I burn more than I eat and other days it’s the opposite. I usually try to focus on consuming fuel that makes me feel good – I want to be strong and healthy for my training. But I am also human, and am a really great stress eater.

A month or two ago, I decided I want to drop a little bit of body fat. Why? Well because if I want to be my fastest and my best out there for goal races, I need to be light. Trying to drop what little excess weight I have is tough. It’s like that last little bit your body is hanging on to and doesn’t want to give up. So I made sure to focus on weight training, running, and eating less than I burned. Did I lose the fat? Probably a little bit. But I am not going to lose sleep over it. I feel stronger, and am lifting more than ever before in my life, and am getting back to some speedy running and so things are going in the right direction.

Your journey and your goals are your own. Just be aware that when you see a coach, athlete or person on the street you don’t know – you have no idea what goes into their training and what genetics, sacrifices and dedication may have been necessary for what you see to be possible. Am I going to torture myself to be the lightest I can be? Nope. It’s not worth it to me. And as long as I feel healthy and capable of achieving what I want, the rest is gravy. Mmmm…gravy. No, I don’t eat gravy frequently. But it is damn delicious.

Answering NYC’s Questions

With teaching group classes, I always welcome questions during and after class. I thought it may be helpful to highlight some questions that have popped up frequently, and answer them as I have in person. After all, if folks I have coached in person have brought up the following questions numerous times, the odds are some of you may also have the same questions. Let’s get cracking!

What are the best kind of running shoes?

Despite what shoe manufacturers will tell you, there is no one shoe that is the perfect shoe for all runners. If a sales person tells you that their brand or style is perfect for you, run for the hills. Your feet, body weight, stride, weekly miles, terrain, experience, injury history – all are factors when finding the right shoe for you and your running career. I would, however, recommend you keep the following brands in mind when shopping: Mizuno, Brooks, and Asics. These brands are popular with mid-long distance runners, and are the brands of choice at most races. That doesn’t mean those brands are right for you. A shoe should feel like an extension of your foot. If it doesn’t, it’s not right. If you are in the right shoe, insoles and orthotics shouldn’t be necessary.

Are there workouts I can do to trim and tone my thighs?

You cannot target one body area for weight loss and body fat. If you want more definition, you need to lose body fat percentage in general. Zoning in, targeting, etc – that’s not how our bodies work. You can tone up by weight training and losing body fat – that combination will give you visual results. However, based on your genetics, you may never have thin or toned thighs – for example. Your thighs may be the last place you’ll lose body fat, and the dedication to lose that final bit may be extremely challenging. Instead, I would highly recommend folks looking to tone up focus of safely losing some body fat, and instead focus on weight training, and a healthy amount of cardio.

I have pain in my shins. What do I do?

Shin splints often occur when an athletes takes on too much too soon – going from little or zero mileage to running every day, running intense workouts too frequently, or running in old shoes. To help ease shin pain, stretch and foam roll your calf muscles, ice, and perhaps take some anti-inflammatory. Cutting back on mileage and intensity and focusing on some rest days will also help. If the pain continues, see a sports doctor or physical therapist. I am not a doctor, FYI.

I have been training really hard. How come I am not seeing an improvement in my speed?

Improvements in fitness sometimes take time, and very rarely can you expect to see or feel huge improvements in a few days or a week. In fact, you should expect to put in hard work for a few weeks or months before improvements appear by leaps and bounds. Remember that rest and recovery is just as important as the hard work, so if you are someone who rarely takes a day off or skimps on sleep, you may be getting in the way of your own success. Adding some additional rest and active recovery days may help your paces improve.

Is there a way to run on the treadmill that targets my butt?

If you are trying to target a muscle group like your glutes, hills can help. However, you also need to make sure you are activating your glutes and hamstrings. Many runners are quad runners, meaning we overuse our quads and don’t take advantage of the power our glutes and hamstrings offer us. If you are trying to gain strength, shape or size, you need to weight train that area. Running alone will not offer glute definition.

How do I know what my goal race paces or efforts should be?

This is sometimes hard to navigate. When setting your goals for the coming year, I encourage you to be ambitious but also realistic. For example, if your current Half Marathon best is 2:00, aiming for a 1:25 in your next Half Marathon is probably too ambitious. However, aiming for a 1:50 or 1:40 may be ambitious but also reasonable with hard work. If you achieve that goal, then work down to the 1:25. If you have taken a lot of time off from training, or are tackling a new distance, go by effort. This is especially true when training in heat or humidity. As you improve, your paces should hopefully drop towards your goal paces – though you may need to curve your expectations as you go further into training.

When trying to improve, should I focus on more miles or quality miles?

If you are just beginning your running journey, focus on slowly increasing your miles and keep the paces easy. Don’t go out and run hard, but instead focus on comfortable, conversational miles. Once you build the quantity up to a good number, you can then focus on quality – speed, hills, long runs, etc. If you are a runner who is already clocking consistent miles, focus on quality instead of quantity while training for a goal. Do the least amount of running necessary to achieve your goals – this may still mean 60 mile weeks while marathon training for your ambitious goal – but you also may be tempted to push to 70 mile weeks because you have heard more miles are better – but more miles means injury risk and chances for burnout increase.

Do you have questions for me? They can be anything running, nutrition, health or fitness related. If so, shoot me a comment, a message on twitter or FB, or in class next time.

The Runner and the Gym

img_6834-editIf you are avid runner, there’s a good chance that all you do is run – little or no time is spent stretching, weight training, or cross training. And let’s face it – when you are short on time, it’s common to only get done what feels necessary – for many of us that means those miles towards race training. The old school thought was that runners simply needed to run in order to improve. Some coaches and runners still practice that method, but many of us are fans of runners doing other things too. In this blog I am going to give you the rundown on why I as a coach and athlete am a fan in runners weight training, stretching and cross training. I am going to ask you to be open-minded and to remember that no two bodies are the same.

  • In order to improve as a runner, you must run. There is no real substitute for running, and so you will spend most of your training time pounding the pavement.
  • Runners often develop extremely strong bodies, but rarely balanced. This imbalance is often what leads to injury.
  • Running tends to tighten the human body’s hips, muscles, and sometimes compromises range of motion. Even if you don’t notice your range of motion changing, a tight hip may slightly change your stride, causing potential pain or problems anywhere in the body from your hip to your toes. We are rarely designed to be 100% even on both sides, and very few of us are ambidextrous. We usually favor one side of our bodies. When doing something extremely repetitive like running, those imperfections often come out.
  • Our arms counter our legs as we run, and can be a huge source of power and strength on the race course. Totally ignoring your upper body means your arms won’t be as strong as they could be, or in balance with our heavy, strong legs. Weight training and strengthening your body from the waist and up will give you the strength and power you’ll need for PRs.
  • Our arms and legs swing from our core. Ignoring your core (front and back) means you won’t have a strong anchor. With a strong core, your entire body will feel like a harmonious running machine. You’ll be less likely to sink into your hips, collapse your shoulders, and fall apart on the race course.
  • Weight training should work in harmony with your training. Lift heavy, 2-3 times per week, ideally on your hard run days, a few hours after your hard run. Be sure to refuel with a protein-dense snack after your workout.
  • Weight training your legs will give you power, and ideally balance your body. That forward motion with running doesn’t tax or legs evenly. Becoming strong all the way around will prevent injuries due to imbalance in strength.
  • Cross training is a great way to get in some active recovery. Swap in some time cross training (swim, bike, row, stair climb, elliptical) for an easy run day. Some time away from the pavement, while flushing out your legs is a great way to prevent minor aches and pains from getting worse.
  • Every runner is different. Some runners can simply go out and run, and never experience pain, injuries or weakness. Many of us, however, benefit from not only running, but instead focusing on total body strength and wellness.

Think of the big picture – not just this season. In a prefect world, you want to stay injury-free for decades of running.

Body Image in Athletics

img_6222-editPeople come in all shapes and sizes. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes. It’s often an odd transition viewing yourself as an athlete, but I ask all my clients to do so. When you slightly change your perspective of yourself, you’ll view your nutrition choices, sleep, training, priorities, and life differently. I find this shift is extremely important for folks who struggle with nutrition/weight and with time-management and sleep. Instead of viewing food as “good” or “bad,” you start to think about your training, and what choices will properly aid you in pre-run fuel, post-run recovery, or general nutrition. Suddenly you won’t feel “bad” about a food choice, because your perspective of you as a human being will be different. The same is true with sleep – you’ll suddenly be aware of how it’s an important component of training – and that if you want to train harder and improve, you’ll need to get more Zzz’s.

I remember when I personally went through the shift, and how I finally felt settled and had an “identity” as far as food goes. I’ve been pretty open about my relationship with food and body image in the past, and I know I am not the only person who has struggled with it. But running and training for challenging race goals gave my body a purpose, a hunger for achievement, and I became excited and dedicated to doing what it took to morph my body for those goals. I too referred to myself as “not a real runner” for a long time – dismissing my involvement in this sport because I wasn’t professional, fast, or taking it seriously.

Over the last 5 years, my body has changed a lot. There have been years where I was curvier, years where I was rail-thin and friends voiced concerns, and years where I have been muscular with relatively low body fat. My size has swung from 6-0 and everywhere in between, and changes depending on what I am training for, how hard I am training, and honestly how I am feeling. There are some months where all I want to do is eat, and I need to pull myself up off the couch and into the gym or the park. There are other months where I feel so motivated and energized, I forget to eat and am struggling to take in enough calories. As you can imagine, this changes my body. And though I hate to admit it, it changes how I feel about myself.

What’s interesting is how I am perceived – often by strangers, casting directors, acquaintances, and friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I must always look “athletic,” because the topic usually comes up in conversation. I have had casting directors and the like ask if I am a gymnast, yogi, dancer, Pilates instructor, CrossFit activist – the list goes on. Ironically, few guess “runner.” Perhaps, to be fair, this is because runners come in all shapes and sizes. But to hear “Really? You don’t look like a runner -” it somehow feels like a stab in the gut. I usually am quick defend myself, saying I am not a sprinter (so I am not rocking large powerful muscles and very low body fat), and I am also not an elite middle or long distance runner – folks who are often associated with looking unhealthy, waif-like, and gaunt. Here’s the thing: while I am indeed a runner, I am not a professional athlete. Folks expect to see the stereotype on magazines, winning marathons or track events – not the folks who are “better than average” but also are not training full-time.

I assume if I struggle with being judged, and often have to defend my body and my choices, that other folks out there do too. Unfortunately, females are judged based on how they look before they can even open their mouths. And while I shouldn’t assume this is only a female thing, being female myself, I can only speak for the ladies.

To the folks who judge – I say go watch a race. You will see all body types cross that finish line – 5K through Marathon. You will see the elite runners you expect us all to resemble, you will also see body types doing amazing things that will honestly catch you by surprise. Don’t judge, be inspired. After all, they are the ones training and clocking miles while you sit there on your ass and point a finger.

And while some folks are probably not aware that making assumptions or judgements about a person’s body and sport can be hurtful, we should all remember to think before we speak. It’s the same with fat shaming, or assuming someone’s life is easy because they look like our idea of a “model.” You have no idea how hard someone might work for their sport, or to maintain a healthy weight. You also probably don’t know how hard that person has worked to achieve where they are today.

Being an athlete is hard. It’s a huge time commitment, which makes it a big part of your identity – whether you realize it or not. Wear that identity with pride. Train for your sport and your body will reflect your hard work, and hopefully give you the result you want. There is no perfect body or size. What’s perfect for you is what will help you achieve your goals and feel your best. If I was told gaining 10lbs. would make me faster and set crazy PRs, I’d be the first in line to pack on those additional pounds – assuming it wouldn’t hurt my health, of course. Sadly, that’s not true. Your body is your tool in this world, and we are only given one. What we do with it is our choice.

Recently when given the whole “Really? You’re a runner?!” response, I carefully explain that indeed I am – and that runners come in all shapes and sizes, and their bodies will usually be different depending on the distance and pace one runs. I figure if I cannot stop that awkward comment from arising, perhaps I can educate the person asking and they’ll think twice before assuming something about body types in the future. And for the record, I have never taken one yoga, Pilates, CrossFit or gymnastics classes – so all of those guesses are WRONG. Go figure, right? And while I used to be a dancer, it has been a few years since I have been in class. Again, proof that many snap judgements are totally off-base. I am ever going to look like Shalane Flanagan? Nope. Am I ever going to be as fast as Shalane Flanagan? Nope. And that’s OKAY!!!!!

I hope if you are struggling with your own relationship with food, body image, weight, or role in your sport that you are kind to yourself. Don’t let a stranger’s uneducated opinion sway how you feel. And if you are looking to become lighter and leaner, remember that there is no quick fix – it’s a process. You don’t owe anyone anything. But you do owe it to yourself to be happy in your skin.

5 Tips for Novice Runners

As temperatures slowly start to warm, we are all anxious to get outside and active. Even for experienced runners, taking an off-season means coming back slowly. Novice runners are usually very eager to get out and go from 0-60. Taking on too much too soon can often lead to injury and burnout, so I am giving a few pointers getting in those miles carefully.

  1. Start slow. Your pace for all of your runs in the first few weeks should be comfortable. An easy pace should feel comfortable, relaxed, and sustainable. This pace is also sometimes referred to as “conversational,” meaning you could talk during the entire run without huffing and puffing. If you cannot hold a conversation or sing a song, you are going too fast for you easy miles. The purpose of easy miles: active recovery, building weekly mileage, maintaining or building current fitness.

  2. Focus on time, not miles. Start small. Perhaps the goal for the first week is 20-30 minutes of walk/run, 3 times per week. As your fitness increases, you’ll naturally be able to handle more time on your feet. Many folks getting into running want to go out and run a hard 5 miles. While the enthusiasm is great, our bodies take a little more time than our brains to adapt. Look at the big picture, not just what you want to accomplish that one day.

  3. Take rest days. I recommend that when getting into running, focus on 3 non-consecutive days for the first few weeks. For example, Monday-Wednesday-Saturday. Rest days are just as important as your running days, and should be spaced between those running days. While you rest, your body rebuilds and recovers from the stress you put on it while running. You need to take days for the rest and rebuilding process, or you will break yourself down too much and risk injury. Again, the stronger you become, the more you will be able to handle. But start small.

  4. Sleep. If you are cutting back on sleep to train, your rest days become that much more important. Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to properly function day-to-day. Many of us don’t get in that kind of sleep, and often sleep is the last priority for busy people. You need to rethink the value of sleep. There is nothing “badass” or “warrior-like” about averaging 4 hours per night. You are harming yourself, plain and simple. Get some more sleep, and your world will change – especially when running or exercising regularly.

  5. Be patient. It takes some time to settle into new habits. Most of us take 4-8 weeks before a new routine feels truly comfortable. It’s normal to have setbacks, struggle with your new priority, and to juggle everything else in your life and your running goals. However, there is nothing that says one crazy week or an overwhelming weekend will ruin your goals of becoming a consistent runner in a few months. Simply get back at it, and take your time. Don’t try to skimp on rest days, or double up to “make up” those missed workouts. They are gone. Just be patient and take it one day at a time.