Friday, July 26, 2013

Eating Healthy Doesn't Have to be Boring...Really!

I have been asked periodically about the food I eat to fuel my body.  I have been steadily dropping weight over the last year and a half, and even more significantly over the last five months since I have been running.  I have “always” carried an extra 30 lbs. or so, since entering high school, that I have never seemed to be able to get rid of.  All through high school, my weight ranged between 173 and 178 lbs.  After having three children in my early to mid 20’s, I topped out at 232 lbs.  I carried that excess weight for a couple of years until I decided it was time to get rid of it.  Through moderation, I was able to get back down into the 170s, but only once did I get down to 168 just to jump right back up into the 170s.  Over the last decade, I have ranged anywhere from 175 to 195 lbs.

A year and a half ago, in January of 2012, our family began following a Paleo-type eating plan.  Basically, we do not eat anything that is processed.  No breads, grains, flour, table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sugar substitutes, canned fruits or vegetables, and the list goes on and on.  We choose our foods from the perimeter of the grocery store in the meat department and fresh produce department.  We eat anything that can be caught or hunted, such as fish, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, wild game, etc.  We eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  We make our own condiments, other than mustard, frankly because I have not yet figured out a good mustard recipe and the mustard we buy has nothing artificial in it, nor does it have any mysterious “spices” that we are unable to identify.  We use local honey instead of sugar in our ketchup and we use olive, walnut, or almond oil in place of soybean oil in our mayonnaise.

One thing I would like to be very clear about: when I say our family follows a “Paleo-style” plan, I mean that we consider what would have been available to our Paleolithic ancestors and we consume based on that.  However, we also consume foods such as dairy because we do not have any adverse reactions to it.  Our kids drink milk, I have milk in my coffee, we sometimes have parmesan or feta cheese (we choose cheeses with the least amount of processing and consume absolutely no processed cheeses, such as Velveeta or American cheese).  We eat eggs, though some Paleo proponents promote no consumption of eggs because of the gut issues some people can have.  We do not have those issues, so we go ahead and eat eggs.  Our rule of thumb is this…if our bodies feel energized and good after eating anything that is natural, we eat it.  If we feel heavy or tired after eating something, if it is processed and/or full of chemically-derived ingredients or vague ingredients, we do not touch it.  Plain and simple.  We have found substitutes for many of our old favorites, one of which is a great Paleo pizza that tastes awesome.  I’ll be sharing that recipe later!  If you would like more in-depth information about how to put together a Paleo template that works for you, visit Chris Kresser's website here.  He has a lot of good information beyond just Paleo, as well.

Continuing with my story…

I dropped 20-25 lbs. in the first two months of following this Paleo-style eating plan.  I maintained a weight ranging from 170 to 175 over the course of a year, basically plateauing at that weight once again.  This past February, as my readers know, I started running.  I cut back on the amount of protein I was eating and increased my carbohydrate intake.  When I put a plate of food together, it looks as though the protein takes up one third of the plate, while the fruits and vegetables take up the rest with some good fat thrown in the mix.  The protein level is about 3 to 4 ounces, though I don’t measure exactly.  The fat comes in the form of half an avocado or some olive or coconut oil.  I eat when I am hungry.  Some days that means more, some days that means less.  It depends on the length, time, and energy burned on my runs.

I eat protein, good fats, and fruit about two hours before I run.  Upon returning from my run, I have an apple and banana, or some watermelon (especially during the summer months), maybe some cherries or other type of fruit.   If it was a 5+ mile run, I will have a homemade energy bar also, which is filled with protein, fruits, and nuts, as well as local honey, blackstrap molasses, and a host of other yummy, healthy ingredients.  I also put sea salt in the energy bars, especially during the summer months, to help replace the salt lost during our runs.  About 30 minutes after my run, I fill a plate in the proportions listed above with protein, vegetables, and some good fat added in.  The rest of the day, I eat when I am hungry, just to satisfaction.  While I would encourage anyone looking to live a more healthy lifestyle to try a Paleo-based eating plan, I recognize the my food lifestyle may not be right for everyone…it is up to the individual to find what works best for them, Paleo or otherwise.  What I would like to share, over time, are some of the recipes our family has adopted.  Not only are they healthy, they taste really good, too.  Try some of them.  You might be surprised at what dishes become your new favorites and your family’s, as well.  Take liberties with the recipes.  If you have another favorite nut flour in place of the nut flour we use, try it.  Add different seasonings and spices.  Use a plethora of vegetables and fruits.  I’ll offer suggestions and variations, also.  Most important...have fun with the recipes!  Get creative.  Try new things.  Enjoy eating your creations!  With that…here is the first recipe.

Nixon’s Almond Chicken
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3-4 T butter, melted
1 cup almond meal (you can purchase the meal or grind your own almonds)
2 T Italian seasoning (or to taste)
1 t sea salt
1 t curry powder (optional) OR
1 t smoked paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine the almond meal, Italian seasoning, and sea salt, plus other seasonings if desired, in a shallow dish and mix well.  Melt butter in a shallow dish.  Dredge the chicken breasts, both sides, through the butter and then the almond mixture.  Lightly coat a large baking dish with olive oil and place the coated chicken breasts in the pan.  You can sprinkle any extra almond meal mixture over the chicken breasts and then drizzle any leftover butter over them.  Bake, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads at least 170 degrees at the thickest point.  Pair up with some of your favorite vegetables or a nice side salad and enjoy!  Also great served cold later on.

Look for more great recipes to come your way soon.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Running: A Love/Hate Relationship

Written Thursday, July 18, 2013
Published Friday, July 19, 2013

Ten miles on the road today.  It wasn’t all that much, and yet, it was a lot.  I didn’t hurt too much, but, yeah, I really did hurt quite a bit.  My mental stamina was fantastic…and, well, not so much.

Today was a study in contrasts for me.  I don’t know how anyone runs 50 miles, let alone 100 miles, though eventually I would like to do both.  It was tough running ten miles for the first time.  It was hard being out there for almost two and a half hours.  In the same breath, though, I truly enjoyed running that far.  I enjoyed spending that time with myself.  I relished in pushing myself further than before.  I still feel the throbbing in my feet, and it feels wonderful.  I feel as though I accomplished something big today…for me.  This was big…for me.  I got to experience the feeling of being one with myself, the serenity, solitude, and quiet of my surroundings, the communion (from a distance) with others of a similar mindset who were out running, walking, or cycling.  I felt the fatigue, both physical and mental, the discomforts that come with pushing one’s body, the desire to chop off my legs from the knees down at one mile out from the finish because of the fatigue in my calves, shins, feet, and even my toes.  I faced the dread of reaching the furthest mile marker from home and wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into.  I also experienced the wonderful, dizzying, head-in-the-clouds sensation of feeling totally insane for enjoying every single one of these things.

I like to hurt.  I like the ups and downs I experience from one moment to the next when I am running.  I like that in one breath I think, “I hate this!” and in the very same breath, I think, “I love this!”  I laughed out loud today, when at mile marker nine, I was having these two thoughts go through, back to back to back to back.  A Cheshire cat grin spread across my face as I thought about the sincerity of both and the insincerity of both.  Because, frankly, sometimes I do hate pushing myself.  But, most of the time now, I love it.  Sometimes I hate feeling tired after a run, while most of the time it is a reminder of the effort I am putting into myself.  And, that, right there, is key for me.  I am enjoying the work I am putting into myself.  I am becoming more confident.  I am becoming more aware.  I am growing and blossoming into someone I had no idea I could be.  I am finding myself, learning more about who I am and what makes me tick.  I am becoming healthier.  Healthier in body, healthier in mind, healthier in spirit.  And I’m okay with the love/hate dichotomy I sometimes experience while pushing myself.  I find it revelatory.  I find it refreshing.  I find it cathartic, in a way.  I find that it is something that is just part of my experience.  I find that it helps in the strengthening process of my mind.  And, it provides me with lots to write about!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Handling Fear, Despite the Fear

As I sit here today, preparing to write another blog post, I feel a bit…well, I’m not really sure what I am feeling.  I re-read some of my previous posts and I’m just not sure what I want to share with others.  Cognitively, I know writing is like that…there is a tendency to let our heads get in the way and not let the words just flow.  A deep part of me, though, fears the inability to come up with new things to write.  A deep part of me doubts I can keep this blog going, for a couple of reasons.  The first, and greatest, doubt is “Who cares?”  Really, who cares what I have to say?  Do I even care sometimes?  Who wants to read about my life experiences in the athletic world?  “Who cares?”

A second reason is not knowing what to write about next.  I know there is an over abundance of ideas, but just because I know it doesn’t mean I believe it all the time.  Some days, I avoid opening up Microsoft Word because I just can’t imagine that I have anything good to say on those days.

There exists this crazy balance of two things that affect my writing.  I love to write.  I love the satisfaction that comes with pulling information together and presenting that information in a coherent, well-laid-out written piece.  I enjoy sharing my experience with others through the written word because writing is how I feel I best express myself.  Feedback from others tells me I write well…I enjoy knowing that, too.  On the other hand, I loathe writing.  I hate the initial stages of it, the part where I feel as though I have to fight to come up with anything to write about.  Actually, it is not hate or loathing.  It is fear.  I fear what people might think.  I fear that no one will care to read what I have to write.  I fear myself.  I fear I am incapable and am unable.  I fear I don’t have what it takes.

Fear has stopped me in the past.  I don’t want to let it stop me again.  That is actually part of the reason for even writing this post.  If I write about it and acknowledge it is there, I will be better prepared to deal with it and not let it control me.  And, maybe, just maybe, I will continue to follow through with writing, writing despite the fear, writing whether anyone else but me ever reads what write, writing for the sake of writing, writing for my own self-development and growth.  The fear is still there, but I am writing anyway.  The fear is there, but I will continue writing.  The fear is there, but I am becoming an athlete.  The fear is there, but I will continue my journey improving as an athlete.  The fear is there, but I will continue pursuing my dreams and my passions.  The fear is there, but I will continue developing my self, growing my self.  In the words of Susan Jeffers (1988), “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.”

I know I am not alone in feeling fear, but sometimes it sure seems like it.  How do you deal with fear?  Do you feel the fear and do what it is you fear anyway?  Do you let fear stop you?  I welcome your comments on this, not about the fear I feel and how I should deal with it, but about the fear you feel and what you do with it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sacrifice, Commitment, Dedication

“To make gains means to be willing to hurt.  ‘Hurting’ is different from being hurt or getting hurt.  Hurting means to sacrifice.  It requires commitment, and most importantly, passion.  To hurt without passion is foolhardy.  To claim a passion but refuse to hurt in its pursuit is not passion but wistful, magical thinking.”~Charles R. Nixon, Ph.D.

I keep coming back to this quote since first reading it several days ago.  It stands out to me because I have been guilty of both.  I have been the foolhardy soul who has been determined to go after something, put in a lot of time and effort, sacrifice and commitment, only to find I was not truly passionate about that something.  I have also engaged in the wistful, magical thinking of believing I was passionate about something without putting my all into that something, unwilling to hurt in that pursuit.

What does this have to do with now, you might ask?  Why has it been on my mind this week?  I would venture to guess that it has been so prominent because of where I am in my journey with running.  I know my tendency is to jump into some things with grandiose ideas of what might be accomplished with little thought to the effort needed to realize those would-be accomplishments.  I know that sometimes trial and error are necessary when searching for something worthy of a high level of dedication and sacrifice.  But, I have had my fill of trial and error.  At this stage in my life, it is time to find that something(s) about which I am truly passionate.

I have been questioning whether or not I am repeating the same patterns of my past with my current interest in running.  I have been wondering if I am really willing to invest in myself, long-term, to continue running and experiencing the fruits of my labor.  Or, will I decide in a couple months time that this just isn’t for me and go searching for something else?  Will I, again, be struck with wanderlust and seek out a different exercise venue in which to throw myself?  I cannot answer these questions from a years-down-the-road, long-term perspective, because none of us can really know how life will change and what curveballs might come zipping our way.  I can, however, answer them short-term, in that I have experienced a change in mindset.  I don’t know if it is because of my age, my education, my experience to date, etc., or a combination of factors, but it is there.  I still go through the ebb and flow, as any runner does, within my runs, within any given week or month, of feeling good and feeling not so good.  But, the feeling good, the results I am experiencing, are so much more prominent in my mind than the days I don’t feel as good.  It is this mindset that is different for me.

Sometimes my body hurts and sometimes it feels great…even in a short 4-mile run.  I go through the ups and downs of feeling the weight of my legs and the effort it takes to carry me, at times.  I feel the burning in my lungs and know when my heart and lungs are not working together, but I also feel when they are working together.  I feel the stress in my feet but I also feel as though I am running on air, at times.  I feel the sweat pour down my body…sometimes I beg for a cool breeze or rain, other times I am content to feel the heat radiating from me, knowing the effort I am putting forth.  My mind is sometimes my worst enemy, as I focus on the negative, the difficulty, the hardship, the utter difficulty with which I place one foot in front of the other.  My mind is also my greatest ally, as I focus on the positive, the benefits, the commitment I am honoring, the sheer grit and determination I demonstrate to myself, each and every time I make a decision consistent with my body’s needs.  Sometimes a good decision is one in which I choose not to run, or to shorten my run, to allow my body time to adapt and become more fit.  Other times a good decision is to push myself beyond my comfort zone to find new boundaries that are less confining than previously perceived limitations.  Sometimes I make good decisions; sometimes I don’t.  I am still learning to know when my body is truly in need of something and when my mind just wants me to stop.  As my husband said to me the other day, it concerns him that I may push myself too hard at times because I may not allow myself to walk when necessary, that I may go out too fast on a longer run, that I may push myself to always better my time instead of just enjoying the experience of the run.  His concerns are valid.  I am highly competitive, by nature, and I don’t back down when I have set my mind to something.  I have had to rethink this strategy over the past several months and I am beginning to see the wisdom in being fluid and flexible, willing to change things up, whether mid-run or otherwise.

Learning to be fluid and flexible in my runs has definitely played a role in the change I am experiencing in my attitude towards running and towards myself.  I am enjoying the runs themselves and I am reveling in the changes I see occurring as a result of my commitment and dedication to running.  The “hurt” I feel when I am out on the road or trail is so worth it.  I find myself almost obsessing about where I will run my next run, almost immediately after completing a run.  I wake up thinking about running.  My comment when I got home the other day, from an 8 mile run went something like, “Wow, that felt great today!  In the next few weeks or so, I can see going for a 9 or 10 mile run!”  This was all in one breath.  No longer do I look for excuses to miss a workout.  No longer do I cry and whine about a particularly difficult run (well, at least for the most part, anyways).  No longer do I feel the need to tell everyone about how sore or bad my body feels.  No longer, no longer, no longer.  Instead, I talk and think about how good I feel, how strong I feel, how I am tired from a satisfactory perspective, how my mental strength is increasing.

There is a freedom that comes with dedication, commitment, and sacrifice.  A freedom that I am experiencing at an ever increasing level.  I like this.  I like this, a lot.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Post-Run Thoughts About My First Trail Race and Limitations

Limitations.  What are they really?  Do they exist to the extent we often believe they exist?  What beliefs do you hold about your limitations?

I have been challenging my beliefs about my limitations over the past week and a half at a startling rate for me.  Oh, sure, I have seen some of my perceived limitations dissolve before my eyes, but not to this extent, beginning with my first trail race on Saturday, June 22.

It was early in the morning, not quite the break of dawn, as we headed towards our destination in Cumming, GA.  We were on our way to pick up our race packets and ready ourselves for that first trail race.   Our training has typically been on paved road surfaces or concrete sidewalks with just a few trail runs.  My thoughts were to just get out there on the course and see how things went, not focusing on my pace or heart rate; rather, just allowing myself the experience.  I was successful in keeping my eyes off the heart rate screen, but not so much off the pace.  I ran with my daughter and we started out strong.  We actually started a little too strong, as we were swept into the flow of runners, but we managed to rein it in and drop down to a pace closer to our typical first mile speed.  It took some pushing down of the pride to do this, as most of the runners swallowed us up quickly and were gone (and we didn’t even start middle of the pack!).  I just kept reminding myself that we had 5.5 miles to run our race.

Well, this strategy paid off for us, because as time went on, still within the first mile, we began passing some of the same runners who had raced passed us over the start line and we never saw them again.  We passed a few handfuls more over the next two miles, some walking, some running, and, again, we kept our pace, overtaking them and staying in front until the end.

For the next mile or so, we were on our own, seeing only a few runners in front and behind us.  We stayed with a consistent, but fast (for me), pace as we pushed on over the course.  I was huffing and puffing pretty hard, but my body felt good, so I kept pushing those perceived limitations.  I knew I would either push past them and be able to keep my pace or I would hit a wall and have to slow down to finish.  What was not up for consideration was not finishing.  I knew I would finish if I had to run, jog, walk, or crawl across the line.  About this time, I looked up and saw my daughter with her right thumb up, pumping her arm up and down and I heard her say, “We got this, Mom!”  From that moment on, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would cross that finish line running.

Where I really felt the limitations being blown away was in the final mile when we passed a runner, who then immediately sped back past us, only to fall immediately behind us as we held our pace.  As we passed him the second time, I gave him a thumbs-up and said, “Great job!”  For the rest of that mile, he tried desperately to pass us.  I could hear him plowing up behind us, then fading back again, just to repeat this process many times over.  The pattern that emerged was one of being almost caught on the downhills, but then pulling away on the uphills.  I pushed myself to keep my pace, racing down the declines and powering up the inclines.  It was there, on those inclines, he couldn’t keep pace.  It was there, on those inclines, I found that I could keep my pace up.  It was there, on those inclines, I found that I had more energy and more heart than I thought possible.  When I thought I might back down, especially on the last significant climb, I steeled my resolve and drove my body up the hill, telling myself the entire way “I got this!  I got this!”  And, sure enough, I got it.  I raced over the finish line, completing the course in 1:04:58 for a pace of 11:49.  That 11:49 was a PR for me.  A big PR.  My best average pace time has been right around 12 minutes.  On the road.  With less severe elevation gain/loss.  For me, to PR on a trail run that was 5.5 miles with more elevation gain than I am used to felt fantastic.  To know I pushed past several perceived limitations felt even better.

As the week following the race unfolded, I found myself wanting to just ease back into the running, giving my body some time to recover from the exertion I put forth that Saturday.  Monday and Tuesday were typical run lengths for me, but my pace was way off at 13:19 and 13:34 min/mile, respectively.  My legs felt heavy, my body felt heavy, and I just didn’t want to run.  On Wednesday, I went for a shorter run of just two miles and still only managed a 13:16 pace.  Paltry, to say the least.  Thursday, I decided to wait until evening to run, even though I don’t like running in the evening.  I know, I know.  I was just putting off my run because, again, I didn’t want to go.  So, when I finally got out there, it was already getting dark and now I was questioning whether I was even going to get my run in before full darkness descended.

About a mile into the run, a slow rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance, but I decided to push on and get as much distance in as possible.  Less than a half mile later, another low rumble could be heard.  At this point, my two boys could be seen coming back down the path towards my daughter and me, since they had heard the thunder and thought it wise to turn around and go back home.  I wanted to get to the end of the trail we were on and thought it was possible to do so and still get back home before any storms came rolling in.  Boy, oh boy, was I wrong.  We made it to the end of the trailhead, turned around, and started back.  The end of the trailhead is about 1.8 miles from home.  Not a terrible amount of time away, though the times I had been running all week were certainly longer than I would normally take.  Less than a quarter mile on our way back down the trail a massive boom paired up with a sizzling snap, crackle, and pop, could be heard and seen overhead, as well as felt through my entire being.  Still under a lot of tree cover, I told the kids we needed to start pushing it hard to get out from under the trees because they can come down fast.  We were running fast (not so much for the boys, since they run a faster pace, but my daughter and I were running hard) to clear the trees when my husband called and asked where we were.  I told him through gasps of breath we were on our way back down the trail, to which he said he would be at the end of the trail waiting for us.  We cleared the trees some minutes later, I saw the car (as the crow flies, about a ¼ mile away, but as the trail goes between waist deep weeds, about a ½ to ¾ of a mile), and we continued booking it, running as fast as our legs would carry us.  We finally reached the car with me huffing and puffing (the kids were no worse for the wear) and we scrambled inside, soaked to the bone, and headed for home.

I learned from this run that I have a LOT more in me than I realize.  My previous best pace EVER for one mile in any given run had been a 10:47.  I ran the final mile of that thunderstorm run at a 9:35 pace.  Not only did I run at my fastest pace ever; my heart rate also stayed below 100%.  Don’t get me wrong…I was pushing it hard enough that I was going about 99% of my max and I couldn’t have kept it up for a lot longer, but I proved to myself that I could run a lot faster than I thought, further than I thought.  Having kept that in mind over the last few days, my runs have gotten stronger and faster, again.  I am pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, but still training in a zone that is optimal for what I am working towards: increased fitness, strengthening of my heart, increased endurance, and increased speed.  My desire to run has returned, stronger than ever, and it feels good to make the necessary sacrifices to go after my goals.  I think it feels so good, despite the hurt involved, because I know I am capable.  I know my limitations may not be limitations at all, but rather, perceived limitations because I have not yet pushed myself past those boundaries.  The sacrifice feels good, too, because it’s exciting to do things I have previously thought impossible.  It’s satisfying to prove myself wrong.  It’s gratifying to go to bed at night knowing I have given more of myself than I have been willing to in the past and that I am reaping the rewards of the choices I am making.

So, I ask again: Limitations.  What are they really?  Do they exist to the extent we often believe they exist?  What beliefs do you hold about your limitations?  What will you do to challenge your limitations?