Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Five: The Running Expectant Mom Gift Guide

When you're pregnant, everyone wants to give the baby gifts. Which is awesome: what is cuter than baby stuff? But if you know a runner who is expecting and want to pamper her, here are some things I have loved so far during my pregnancy.

1. A Foam Roller. I had heard people sing the praises of the foam roller for years without being convinced. But when I started having sacroiliac joint pain and a friend loaned me one, I learned they are the real deal. Rolling on this thing has helped me feel so much better!

2. Gabrialla Maternity Support Belt. After reading reviews of several different belts, I settled on this one because it had the best reviews, seemed to be most popular with runners, and because it had multiple places to adjust it. I've only run in it once (review to come soon!), but I thought it did what it was supposed to do: support the belly and lift it up off my bladder. Some reviewers even claimed it helps prevent stretch marks when worn all the time, not just for exercise, in the third trimester. We will see when I get there!

3. Maternity Running Wear. I still fit in many of my normal running tops, so I haven't been able to justify buying any pregnancy-specific running clothes. But if/when I do, it will probably be something like this cute "Running for Two" top.

4. Hydration Pack or Hand-Held Bottle. I drink tons of water now. So much water. And I don't like to run farther than three or four miles without having water with me. I'm partial to my Nathan race vest, but bottles with comfy handles are a great option too.

5. Body Glide. A growing belly means chafing in new places. Trust me.

Bonus gift idea: A gift card for prenatal massages or a prenatal yoga class membership. Haven't done the massage yet, but I plan to. (What season of life has a better excuse for massages than pregnancy? None). Prenatal yoga was the most relaxing workout I think I've ever experienced, and I wish it was every night instead of once a week.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Trail Tech: A Toss-Up?

This month's Trail Runner Blog Symposium topic is whether tech gadgets are more help or hindrance on the trails.

In a way, gadgets have made endurance and adventure sports even more cool (and safer) than they were to begin with.

Have a trail map with no distances on it? Not a problem, just wear your GPS watch, and reap the added benefits of knowing your pace and elevation change and having access to all kinds of data about your run. Those numbers can be so gratifying after a hard workout.

Going alone? Never fear, your smartphone might get service there. Your friends and family won't have to worry about you, and if something does happen, you'll be able to call for help. It handily fits in the front pocket of your hydration vest, so you'll never miss a text, and you can even listen to music sans headphones. It also doubles (triples?) as a camera, for capturing that panoramic view or inspiring sunrise.

Night racing or training after dark due to a packed schedule? Just grab one of the latest headlamps, designed specifically for trail running.

Those are all examples of ways technology has changed running life on the trails for the better. I would honestly never consider running on trails alone without my phone if I was sure I was going to get cell service. Maybe I've read too many "I shouldn't be alive" stories.

And yet...

That GPS watch can turn a refreshing run into a competition with myself, and ruin my whole day if I don't feel like I measured up.

There is nothing more frustrating during a trail run (and especially during a race) than trying to pass a runner wearing earbuds, who continues to hog the trail because he is incapable of hearing my approach.

The same smartphone that can get me assistance in an emergency and play me pumped-up music when I hit a rough patch also interrupts my focus with texts and phone calls--things I wouldn't have a problem missing if I'd just left it behind. Stopping because I feel the need to reply to a text can definitely hinder a workout.

I think gadgets have their place in trail running, for safety, knowledge, and even entertainment purposes. If you run long enough without any gadgets, I think you are going to have a run where you find yourself wanting or needing one, whether a phone to call and tell someone you'll be late or a GPS watch so you can tell your running friends just how long this awesome new trail is.

But there is also something to be said for the freedom and purity of tech-free trail running. Just me with my thoughts and the trail can be a refreshing getaway from my highly-connected Facebook-and-email-checking life. Perhaps the key is balance, and if I find myself too heavy on the tech or tech-free side, maybe changing it up from time to time can add a new spark to my running.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Grocery Wars

I found an interesting food article and wanted to share it.

We Americans love to hate on Walmart, from cringe-worthy photos of the way its patrons dress, to its ruinous effect on small business when it moves into a community, to its lack of employee benefits. But the chain's ubiquity means I don't actually know anyone, hater or not, who has never shopped there. And that's why this Slate article grossed me out a little bit.

The author compares food products sold at Walmart to those sold at Whole Foods, focusing on a list of ingredients Whole Foods will not sell (but which are all approved by the FDA--Walmart is not doing anything illegal). The banned list includes the much-maligned high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), mono-sodium glutamate (MSG), and several artificial sweeteners and flavorings. The article is worth reading just for the interactive graphics. My favorite is the photo slider showing Walmart shelves and which products would not be sold at Whole Foods. (I couldn't find the slider at first--it's the gray bar on the left). Obviously all the cookies were going to go, but when all of the bread disappeared, I was sad. And it's mostly because of HFCS.

HFCS is similar to sugar, and our bodies probably react to it in the same way. I don't mind eating it if I know I'm buying a sugary snack. What upsets me is its pervasiveness in packaged foods: why does any kind of sugar need to be added to bread? When you bake bread at home, you add at most a tablespoon, and can omit it with no consequence. Grocery store breads pass themselves off as healthy with prominent claims on the packaging like "Whole grain!" and "7 grams of fiber per serving." These statements can be true even while the fine-print lists HFCS as one of the first ingredients. So a shopper grabs a supposedly healthy loaf and unknowingly adds five grams of sugar per slice to their diet.

In Walmart's defense, maybe there are loaves not pictured which have lower sugar contents. And lacking HFCS does not automatically make Whole Foods' breads healthier; they can still contain sugar or honey, which can add just as many grams of sugar as HFCS does.

What's disturbing is not that Walmart (and most other grocers) sells groceries with these ingredients, but the sheer number of products that contain them. The article mentions that Walmart's aim is to provide an array of options and let the consumer decide. Which is great, if you know what you want to avoid and have time to read ingredients lists. But many people don't know what's in their food and are easily swayed by a product's "healthy" packaging. Even if you do know you want to pass on, say, artificial sweeteners like aspartame, it is really difficult to ensure avoiding these ingredients at stores like Walmart without spending hours poring over each ingredients list.

Also, Walmart's prices are lower on many items, and the vast majority of neighborhoods don't have a Whole Foods. Which means Whole Foods is catering to a more high-end demographic. But shouldn't we all have the option to make healthy choices, regardless of income? These aren't dilemmas to which I have solutions, I just wish healthy foods were more widely available, easier to differentiate, and more affordable.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Five: Pregnancy Cravings

People keep asking if I've had any cravings yet. And the answer is...sort of, I guess.

Before I was pregnant, I thought a pregnancy craving was a sudden, urgent need to eat a strange combination of foods. Like pickles and ice cream. Maybe it is that way for some, but for me, so far, it's been things that I just want to eat more often than normal.

1. Pizza. I've talked myself out of ordering delivery almost every night this week. I'm not telling my craving no, I'm just holding out as long as possible. I know I'll give in eventually, and it will be delicious. (Also I've been holding out for a day that I go for a longish run, because sometimes cinnamon sticks find their way into my order. I have no idea how this happens).

2. Cheeseburgers. If I'm driving home from church or anywhere, really, and I'm hungry, it's almost always for cheeseburgers. Mmmmm, cheeseburgers.
Which reminds me of this:

Oh, Veggie Tales. You take me back.

3. Quiche. Finally, a more healthy craving. A friend recently had me over for quiche and  sent me home with two slices. I ate them both for dinner and I have no regrets. And then I had to make one for myself because I just wanted more.

4. Bagels with cream cheese. We live near a bagel shop. Specifically, one of El Paso's The Bagel Shop locations. Their bagels are perfect. And they have so many bagel varieties! Before the pregnancy, bagels were a weekend treat. Now I keep them in my fridge and try not to eat them every single day.

5. Whatever my neighbors are grilling. Seriously neighbors: hungry pregnant lady nearby! Please invite me to your house to eat whatever smells so delicious when I'm walking my dogs in the evenings. I'll even bring dessert!

I noticed none of my cravings are for sweets--odd, since non-pregnant me has not one sweet tooth, but a mouthful of sweet teeth. Pregnancy is weird.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday

I've been going through some stuff I finally brought from my parents' house a few months ago--boxes of the sort of memorabilia I wonder why I keep and then can't get rid of.

In one of the boxes was a scrapbook my mom started to document my high school activities--track, cross country, and Destination Imagination. (Yep, I was a cool kid). And man, it took me back.

So, just for fun, here's 15-year-old high-school me running:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Not Your Average Runner's Strength Training

I love reading iRunFar, especially right now while I'm not running or training for long races, I'm living vicariously through their race reports. They also have informative articles about improving endurance performance. This post, though, might change the way I train more than anything else I've read there.

In the article, Stephanie Howe, an elite runner for The North Face, and also a coach herself, discusses the benefits of maximal strength training for runners. That's right, the kind of strength training you see the guys with ALL the muscles doing at the gym. No, but really: she has science to back it up. The research section of the post is enlightening.

She cites several studies indicating maximal strength training can improve endurance, speed, and time to exhaustion. Howe's point is that not only can it benefit endurance athletes, but that it is the most beneficial type of strength training; more so especially than the light-weight, high-rep, core-and-legs-only type many runners engage in. The kind I do.

If there's so much research out there about this, why don't more runners know about it? For one, I think because it's kind of counterintuitive. You would think that doing a type of strength training that mimics your sport would help you the most in your sport. After all, we don't usually need to bench-press anything during an ultra. And if some runners do know this to be true, why don't we know more runners who do it? Are the kinds of people who like to run really long distances not the kind of people who enjoy power cleans and box jumping? I don't know.

My husband does maximal strength training, on a military-oriented plan similar to CrossFit: several sets of heavy-weight, low-rep lifts and plyometrics. And he does it in our garage, where we have steadily accumulated enough equipment to make it look truly gym-like. He's been trying to get me to join him for a while, and on occasion, I have (probably on occasions where my only excuse would sound really lame. I mean it's in our garage, it's not like I have to get dressed and drive across town). Sometimes I enjoy the workouts, but hate the way I feel the next day--dead-legged and unable to hold the blow dryer up long enough to do my hair.

But if I stuck with it long enough to stop feeling so awful after each workout, and I saw some results in my running, I could see myself learning to love it. It does keep things interesting--the plan is different every day, unlike my normal sets of squats and ab exercises. It's worth a try!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Book Review: Expecting Better by Emily Oster

I haven't been a pregnancy-book-reading sort of expectant mother. I think I knew I wouldn't be, going into this. I'd heard that the most common pregnancy books were either guides to what's going on with your baby and body during each week, or full of everything that could possibly go wrong. No thank you! My doctor gave me a book, and if I had a question, I looked it up there or asked her at my appointments.

But then I heard about Expecting Better. It's written by Emily Oster, an economist, and my opposite: she wanted as much information as possible on everything during her pregnancy. And she did the work to get that information, by going straight to the research when she realized many of the common rules and recommendations were not standard, and depended on whether you talked to your OB or consulted the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It sounded to me like Malcolm Gladwell--dispelling common misconceptions through a hard look at the data--only for pregnancy. 

The author received a great deal of criticism for being (1) not a doctor, and (2) willing to challenge the common (American) wisdom about pregnancy, especially with regard to alcohol and caffeine. Neither of these two criticisms bother me, because (1) someone with a PhD in economics knows how to read and interpret research in order to use it for decision making, and (2) why shouldn't we be willing to challenge recommendations and assumptions that do not seem to be grounded in data?

Expecting Better, like many pregnancy books, is divided into trimester sections, with a separate section for labor. The first trimester section includes an examination of the common don'ts: alcohol, deli meat, cat litter, fish, and caffeine. Each sub-section concludes with a helpful "Bottom Line" summary of what the data said and what that means. She presents the results in a conversational, understandable way, but lists her sources in numbered notes for those who want to consult the original journal article.

My biggest problem with this book was the manner in which exercise during pregnancy was glossed over. Probably because the author is an economist, not an athlete, and a self-described reluctant exerciser. Covered in the same chapter as Kegels, prenatal yoga, and sleep, general exercise during pregnancy is brushed off as not harmful but not helpful for the mom or baby. In other words, it doesn't matter. I would argue with that conclusion, out of my own experience so far, and for athletes or anyone who wants to return to exercise soon after delivery. (I am not arguing with her assertion that women with certain conditions, like placenta previa, should not exercise much, and all women should listen to their doctors). Just like with time off from running during any other time, the longer you go without exercising during pregnancy, the more fitness you will lose and the longer it will take to regain that fitness. Not to mention labor is like one extremely long workout itself! Running while pregnant (or doing any other type of exercise) might not be easy or fun, but I do think it's probably good for the mother and baby the same way it's good for everyone else,  and I would think it helps prepare you for labor.

The best part of this book is hands down all the graphics used to helpfully display the information. There are graphs about the likelihood of miscarriage by week in the first trimester, a chart displaying which fish are highest in omega 3s and lowest in mercury (salmon is a good safe one), and a graph demonstrating the effects of Kegel exercises on incontinence. I borrowed this book from the library, and I almost want to buy it for myself just for the charts!

Despite not being a comprehensive or traditional pregnancy book, I really enjoyed it and I learned a great deal. I would recommend it to any pregnant or soon-to-be pregnant woman who wants to look at the data behind the conventional pregnancy recommendations.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The El Paso Crud

I've officially come down with my annual bout of the El Paso Winter Crud. And it just got warm here. Short of acquiring a bubble in which to dwell during the winter months, I don't know what I can do to avoid this. I wash my hands, I take vitamins, I drink lots of water. I've even been eating kale.

I don't even know if this is a cold or allergies. I would say nothing with pollen should be blooming right now for me to be allergic to, but this is El Paso and I really have no clue. Dust. The answer here is always dust.

I thought having a cold (or something) while pregnant would be the Worst. Thing. Ever. That was me gearing up to feel sorry for myself and complain. But it's honestly not any worse than being sick while not pregnant. If anything, I'm sleeping better with this cold while pregnant than I would non-pregnant, because I'm extra tired. Or also because I'm already used to waking up three or more times a night to go to the bathroom.

I'm living on lemon tea and Ricola Lemon Mint Herb Throat Drops. (Ricola has no idea who I am and doesn't pay me to say that on the internet, I just like these things. They work).
Another bright spot: I don't feel terrible while running, so I've at least managed to keep up a daily run. It helps that it has gotten super warm, and is apparently supposed to stay that way for at least the next week. By which time I hope to have recovered. Until then, I'll be running as much as I can and keeping the Swiss throat drop makers in business.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Second Trimester Running Happiness

Having been in the second trimester of pregnancy for several weeks now, I can safely say that it is oh-so-much-better than the first. I read this and heard this from friends over and over again and thought, "How can that be?" But let me tell you: it's true. Especially with regard to running.

1) My morning all-day ickiness is gone. I can't really say "sickness" because I never threw up. And for that, I am so very grateful. But there were times I thought I might feel better if I did throw up. Nothing sounded good, even foods I normally love. I spent a day subsisting on potato chips because I could not stomach the thought of putting anything else in my mouth.
Here in the second trimester, my food aversions are mostly gone...except for one: salad. Before the pregnancy, I could eat salad for lunch every day, no problem. But now I have to force it down. And salad dressing is just the worst. Pregnancy is weird. Despite the continuing salad aversion, I have been able to eat healthier foods and a wider variety of foods than in the first trimester. And not feeling gross has helped me be more consistent in my running.

2) My energy levels have bounced back. I still sleep more than I did before pregnancy (which was already a lot), but I got to about thirteen weeks and suddenly wondered where all this energy had come from. My running schedule is once more comparable to what it was pre-pregnancy, minus the long-long runs. And I'm able to do a longish run now and still be able to go grocery shopping afterward.

3) The bump. This doesn't have much to do with running, but it's a second trimester perk nonetheless! By ten or twelve weeks, I was starting to just feel chubby. Most of my jeans weren't exactly comfortable anymore. I wanted to stay in my sweats instead of trying to button normal pants. But now the extra weight is (slowly) forming itself into a recognizable baby bump. Soon I will have a very visible excuse for any fatigue, and for my occasional cart full of weird foods at the grocery store.
Speaking of pants: While this is not the most clear or flattering photo, it gets the point across.  This piece of white stretchy fabric (called a belly band, with different brand names) is my new favorite thing. It holds my unbuttoned non-maternity pants up while looking like nothing more than the bottom part of a tank top under my shirt!

And now for the one running-related downside I've encountered: frequent bathroom breaks. This started almost as soon as the second trimester started. While running, I suddenly need to go. And sometimes stopping to go doesn't actually help. So I've accepted that there will just be some runs where I will feel that way the whole time.

All-in-all, this middle third of pregnancy has been good to me so far! I can't wait to see what the upcoming weeks and months bring.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Double 5K Weekend!

Last weekend, I did something I haven't done since college track: I ran two races in one weekend. One with my awesome friend Kalie, who set a goal to run twenty-five 5Ks to celebrate her twenty-fifth year of life, and one with both Kalie and another friend, Chelsea, who brought her sweet baby in his running stroller.

And it was an adventure.

Fort Bliss Post Championship 5K

The weekend kicked off at 5:30 a.m., hunting for a parking space within walking distance of Soto Gym, where registration was being held and where the race would start. At 6:30 a.m. This early start time was a first for me, although not that uncommon in the military, I'm sure. I finally parked in the middle of a huge field with hundreds of other cars, as the parking lots had filled long before I arrived. And then I pushed my way into the gym (it was necessary to literally push), and...proceeded to wait in the wrong line for fifteen minutes. Because I couldn't see the sign that said "Active Duty Only." There was no wait at the family member table, because apparently Kalie and I were the only ones crazy enough to actually do this.
At the starting line, with at least 2000 soldiers, it snowed on us. But it wasn't that cold, and it ended up getting warm later that day.
Starting Line   photo by Fort Bliss MWR
Race Highlights 
Getting to run with Kalie! 
It was free!
Running with so many soldiers made it a really fun atmosphere. 
And running as it snows is always exciting.

Stepping over so much spit as we ran...I know normally some runners spit, but I've never seen anything like this!
A pile-up and wait at the finish line because there were so many people trying to cross at once.

The Nun Run 5K

The next day found us at Loretto Academy, a Catholic school in El Paso, at the much more reasonable starting time of 9 a.m. They were hosting the Nun Run, a fundraiser to benefit missionaries. I had never been to this neighborhood, and it was a beautiful area.

The three of us before the start
The course wound through the streets surrounding the school, going up and down more hills than I had imagined there would be, and passing beautiful historic homes. 

Race Highlights
The beautiful course
Running what I thought was a decent time for being 17 weeks pregnant and starting to feel it--26:28
My shirt has a running nun on it. Awesome!
French toast and good fellowship afterward at The Clock Restaurant!

Missing an announcement at the start for all runners to come to the front--somehow we wound up behind a crowd of walkers.

New favorite race T-shirt

The Aftermath

Saturday I ran faster than I have in a while, to see how fast I could still run a 5K. I didn't go all out, though, and I didn't feel overexerted at all during the race, so I didn't expect to be quite as sore and tired as I was in the following days. I ended up needing to take an extra day off from running this week to recover. I'm sure this is related to the pregnancy, though I don't know the exact physiological explanation for why I'm so much more tired after running fast while pregnant (because my body is using most of its energy to grow a human?). So I probably won't be running anymore (semi)fast 5Ks until after we meet our baby this summer, but I am encouraged by how I was able to run, even despite the fatigue afterward.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Race Report: Seguin Christian Academy Half Marathon

So, in my last post, I announced my pregnancy and said I was excited to blog about it. And then I didn't. I will, I promise, but first I have a race to blog about!

I ran the Seguin Christian Academy Half Marathon in Seguin, Texas Saturday, at 16 weeks pregnant. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to do this if one of my good friends hadn't inspired me by doing the same last year, a little further along than I am. And I'm so glad I did it!

What's even more exciting though, is that this was my mom's first half marathon, and the farthest she has ever run! She did great! I love seeing people accomplish running firsts and meet their goals.

Before the start

Starting line
At the starting line, we all sang the national anthem together--with no music! And then there was a prayer. This is something I've only seen at a few races, but I absolutely loved it and I wish it was more common! Talking to God before we run, combining two of the things I love most in life!

As you can probably guess if you have ever run while pregnant (or even if you haven't), I had to visit the restroom more than once during the race. Fortunately for me, the course passed a restroom four times!
My sister and dad both helped out with the race on their bikes--my dad led the way, and my sister rode around checking on people. She also took these pictures and rode next to me to chat for a while, which was so fun!

Go Mom!
The course wound through some of Seguin's most scenic places--by Central Park, next to the new Walnut Creek Park, along the Guadalupe River in Starcke Park, and up the hill next to the Juan Seguin Burial Site. Aid stations were located every two to three miles, with water and Gatorade.

Running through Seguin's Starcke Park
At the finish with my lovely photographer!
After I finished, there were snacks and lots of fun as we cheered for other finishers, including my mom! I am so proud of her accomplishment and can't wait to see what she does next!

The longest run I had done recently in preparation for the race was a ten miler a couple of weeks before, so I was worried about adding three more, and I didn't really know what to expect. It turns out I didn't need to worry. I walked a couple of times, including while going up the steepest hill in Seguin, but I didn't get too thirsty or too tired at any point. By the end, my back was a little sore, but overall I felt great! I took the next two days off and completed a slow three miles this morning. My muscles were a bit sore, but I think the run helped to alleviate that and tomorrow's run will be back to normal.