Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Leadville Experience

Last week I had the amazing experience of flying out to Colorado to visit my friend/mentor/former triathlon coach Sharon McDowell-Larsen and spectate the Leadville Trail 100.  My trip started in Colorado Springs and since I was determined to get in 60 miles of running, the first thing I did after landing was run 10 miles on a relatively flat trail.  Colorado Springs sits at about 6,000 ft which doesn't sound like that much, but trust me it's a lot higher than sea level!  I felt the altitude and my legs felt heavy from the plan ride so I just re-adjusted my pace goals (a theme throughout this trip) and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

Hard to be too upset about your pace when this is where you're running!
While in The Springs I also got to collaborate with Sharon on some food demos at The Center for Creative Leadership!  This was soooo much fun!  We picked out a few healthy recipes that are quick n' easy to make and video taped some cooking tutorials.  Here is the first finished product:  Asian Quinoa Slaw :)  Recipe courtesy of Heidi Bucher, thanks Heidi!!!

From Colorado Springs we traveled up to Breckenridge.  From my last trip to Colorado back in Jan 2013 I remember Breckenridge as being a winter paradise, a snow-covered playground.   I had skinned up mountains, snow shoed, down hill skied, nordic skied, and more.  This time around I got to experience the cute little ski town in the summer time and it did not disappoint!  I hiked and ran as much as I could in the thin air of 10,000 ft ;)  Being out in the wilderness on those trails you really feel like you could keep going forever.  I felt so calm and at peace in the throes of nature.

Sharon at home on her mountain bike
I also got to visit America's highest running store!  Cool!
Then we drove to Leadville and things started getting real.  We began prepping for the main event:  The LT100!  Sharon had been training for this race for quite a while and unfortunately had developed a severe case of IT band syndrome.  She had been getting massage, physical therapy, and giving her legs complete rest 3 weeks prior to Leadville.  We were all hoping that come race day she would feel good and be able to complete the beast.  If you are unfamiliar with Leadville, it is a 100-mile running race on trails.  It starts at about 10,200 ft and goes up and over Hope Pass (elevation 12,600 ft) twice. It is a grueling test of fortitude and endurance.

Leadville was an interesting town.  Back in it's heyday it had a population of 30,000 people, fueled by the mining business.  When that industry dwindled some 30 years ago Leadville literally became a ghost town.  There were no jobs so people simply left their homes.  The economy was broken.  Then Ken Chlouber, an avid marathoner, had a brilliant idea that put Leadville back on the map.  He created the Leadville Race Series, starting with a 100 mile mountain bike race.  This eventually expanded to the Leadville Trail 100 and the Leadman Competition (which includes the 100-mi mountain bike race, a trail marathon, 50-mi mountain bike race, trail 10K, and the LT100).  His vision was to allow people to "race across the sky" and experience the beauty of mountainous terrain of Leadville.  Because people are crazy his idea caught on like wild fire and now Leadville is one of the most well-known ultra events in the country.  Nowadays Leadville has a population of 2,700.  The inhabitants generally take vacation during the race series; they leave town and rent their homes out to racers like us!

The Official Leadville Race Series Store
The energy at Leadville was contagious.  There was certainly some nervous excitement in the air the day before the race as we went to packet pickup, the pre-race meeting, and shopped around at the official Leadville Store.  The drop-out rate for this race is ~50%, so I'm sure everyone had the same question on their mind, "Can I do it?"

The evening before the race we finished packing up all the gear that Sharon would need.  Prepping for this race was like getting ready for a triathlon with 20 transitions!  There were about 10 aid stations at which we would see Sharon throughout the race and we had to make sure we knew exactly what to have ready to give her when she came through.  When I say "we" I'm talking about the "race crew."  For these ultra type events, most people gather a few friends to comprise their "crew" and they have the job of "crewing" for the racer.  The crew's job is to wait for the racer at each aid station, provide necessary fuel, equipment, & motivation, and also take turns pacing the racer in the back half of the race.  Matt, Sharon's husband, was our crew chief, responsible for delegating tasks to everyone else, driving us from aid station to aid station, and generally making sure that we all carried out the plan.  Larry DeWitt was another member of our crew - as a 3 or 4 time Leadman overall champion he has invaluable experience in this race!  And Marry Barry was ever-shining ray of light in the group.  Her bubbly personality and positive spirit was a source of energy to all!  This was my first time being part of a crew and I couldn't have asked for better people to crew with!

And they're off!
The race started at 4 am, which meant we had to get up at 2:45 am!!!  That is definitely the earliest I've ever had to get up for a race, haha!  I'd describe the race start as a bunch of maniacs let loose with head lamps :)  At 4 am someone fired a shot gun up into the air and the race was off!  Any racer who finishes under 30 hours gets a shiny belt buckle!  Any racer who finished under 25 hours gets a bigger and shinier belt buckle.  Any racer who finishes the race 10 times gets an even bigger and shinier belt buckle!  Well you get the point - we saw one man who has finished the LT100 THIRTY times!!!  His belt buckle was the size of his entire torso, LOL!

Sharon was off and we crew drove to the first aid station and set up camp for a couple hours to wait until she came through.  Time went really fast due to all of Larry's stories of previous years of racing!

Chillin' at T1
I saw Mr. Jeff McClintock from Greensboro come through.  Way to represent NC!!!

Jeff McClintock of Greensboro NC
When Sharon came through I could tell her leg was really hurting her.  I felt so gutted for her - it's not a good sign when your leg is hurting 13 miles into a 100 mile run.   We swapped her pack and encouraged her and she's such a machine that she kept going!  We caravanned with the rest of the crews over to T2, which had an incredible back-drop.  Posting up there and watching all the runners go by was certainly not a bad way to spend the day!

While at T2 we got a phone call from Sharon.  She was on her way down one of the climbs and said that the pain in her leg was excruciating.  When you have an injury like that there is really nothing you can do but listen to your body.  While I was so disappointed for Sharon b/c I know how hard she had worked and how much she was looking forward to this race, I was also really proud of her for making the right call.  In a way it would have been easier to push on, creating more damage than make the smart call of stopping.  Anyone who's been racing for a while knows what disappointment feels like.  I remember how terrible I felt after getting my first DNF back at Rev3 Knoxville in 2013.  I felt like a failure and I felt like I let everyone down who had helped me and taken time out of their schedule to come to that race.  But, I really believe experiences like that make you a stronger athlete. So much of what we do requires mental toughness and it's only when you are really tested that you develop mental grit.  As per Ken Chlouber, "you don't know how strong you are."  It's easy to have a bad experience and then just hang up your cleats.  It's much more difficult to process everything (including the bad feelings), get back to training, and come back to your next race with even more confidence.  But that's what we do and that's why sports are so helpful in life.  They teach you how to get back up again after you fall down.

Sharon - you are an amazing athlete and have accomplished so many incredible athletic feats!  We are all proud of you and support you 100% in all your endeavors.  Thank you for having us be a part of your race crew!  Whether the race is 2 miles or 200 miles, we've always got your back!  :)

Vertical Runners!
The rest of that day we just chilled out, had a pic-nic at Turquoise Lake, and then Matt, Larry, & I ran 11 miles on the Leadville course back to our rental house.  OMG that run just about killed me!  Running at 10,000 feet is hard.  Really hard.  I don't know how anyone can complete Leadville without first acclimating to the altitude!

Turquoise Lake
I spent my last day in Colorado back in Breckenridge.  Matt had the genius idea that we do a 14er!  Of course Mary agreed and we decided to hike up Mount Quandary.  The three of us spent 4 hours completing the challenging hike and it was so much fun that I had to make a video about it :)

Overall, I had an awesome time out there and can't wait to make a return trip!  Oh, and even though I only got in 50 miles of running/hiking, I can live with that given how much harder it was to run up there than I thought it would be ;)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Best Quinoa Salad Recipes Ever!

Last Thursday we held the first annual TOPS Quinoa Cook Off and it was a huge success!  Thank you to everyone who submitted recipes, cooked up your delicious dishes, tasted & voted for your favorite!  I was amazed at how varied all the quinoa salads were - you guys are so creative!  Everyone has been asking for me to post the recipes so without further ado here they are.

There was a tie between Mrs. Jennifer Summers and Mrs. Cara Myatt for the first place prize of a 1-month unlimited membership to TOPS Athletics.  Here are their winning recipes:

Veggie Quinoa Fried Rice (#8 at the quinoa cook off)
By:  Jennifer Summers

1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup water
1 block tofu
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup of chopped onion
1 cup shredded carrots
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
3 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger powder
Cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to taste

Cook quinoa in 1 cup water 
Scramble the tofu in a nonstick large pan over low heat. Set aside.
Add oil to a large pan and heat over medium heat. Once hot add onion carrots and garlic and cook until soft. Add peas and corn next and he and till warm throughout.
Add the quinoa and scrambled egg to the pan and mix to combine.

Add soy sauce and spices and stir to combine serve warm and store in an airtight container in a fridge for up to one week.

Black bean and Corn Quinoa salad (#6 at the Quinoa Cook Off)
By:  Cara Myatt

1/2 red onion chopped
1 lg can of black beans
2 cans of corn (mixed with corn on the Cobb)
Pint of cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
Balsamic vinagar
1 1/2 cups of cooked red quinoa

Mix all together and refrigerate 

Here are the rest of the awesome recipes from The First Annual Quinoa Cook Off :)

Quinoa Pilaf With Cranberries & Almonds (#1 at cook off)
By:  Marie Crabtree

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow sweet onion, chopped
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Heat oil in a medium pot over medium high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until just softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add quinoa and toast, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Stir in broth and salt and bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in cranberries, cover again and continue to cook until liquid is completely absorbed and quinoa is tender, 8 to 10 minutes more. Toss with almonds and serve.
Cherry Berry Quinoa Salad (#3 at the quinoa cook off)
By:  Holly Cunningham

1 cup whole wheat Quinoa
1 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 1/2 cups pitted and quartered fresh cherries
1 bunch of green onions chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Put cooked Quinoa, water, lemon juice into a large, heatproof bowl. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and let cool slightly for 5 more minutes. Gently fold in cherries, green onions, pepper. Then scatter almonds over top and sprinkle with lemon zest. Serve Immediately. Can also serve cold.

Savory Apple Quinoa Salad - Amanda Dickens (#2 at  cook off)
By:  Amanda Dickens
1 cup quinoa
1 ½ cup water
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 tbs diced spring onions- the whites
2 cups diced apples (fuji or granny smith work great)
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs cider vinegar
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs honey Dijon mustard
1 tbs Mrs Dash lemon pepper (or any salt-free variety)
1-2 tsp black pepper (per taste)
¼ cup diced spring onion (green parts mostly)

Toast quinoa in a sauce pan over high heat, stirring, until it is crackling and smells nutty. Add water, salt, coriander, cranberries and the 2 tbs onions. Bring to a boil and then reduce, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Whisk or shake all of the dressing ingredients together. Pour dressing over apples and toss. When quinoa is cooked, mix all ingredients together. In the winter, serve as a warm side, in the summer, cool in the fridge. 

Quinoa Fruit Salad (#5 at the quinoa cook off)
By:  Leslie Tudor

1.5 cups Blueberries
1.5 cup Mango
1.5 cup Strawberries
1 cup Quinoa

juice of 1-2 limes
3 tbsp honey
2-3 tbsp fresh mint

Cook quinoa as per package directions.  Toss with fruit & top with dressing. 

Summer Quinoa Salad (#7 at the quinoa cook off)
By:  Lee Eatmon

Red Quinoa - 1cup
(All veggies are in bag) frozen 

Cook quinoa as directed and sauté veggies with olive oil. 
Cook veggies until done. Season to taste (ie. pepper, garlic, Italian seasoning)
Add veggies and mix. 


Mediterranean Quinoa Salad (#4 at the quinoa cook off)
By:  Roxanne Pearson
½  cup tri-colored quinoa,
1 cup broth (vegetable or chicken)
1 12 oz. package of Trader Joe’s frozen edamame, shelled
1 medium Gala apple, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 medium red pepper, chopped
¼ cup slivered almonds (optional)
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice (fresh is better)
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt

Rinse and drain quinoa.  Stir rinsed quinoa into broth and cook until broth is absorbed (15-20 minutes).  While quinoa is cooking, chop apple and red pepper.  Put apple and red pepper into serving bowl.  Mix cooked quinoa in with the apple and red pepper.  Set aside.  Cook edamame according to package directions (cooks in 5 minutes).  Drain cooked edamame and mix with quinoa mixture.  Whisk all sauce ingredients together and pour over quinoa/edamame mixture.  Mix thoroughly.  Allow to cool.   Top with almonds (optional).  Serves 10.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Savannah Y'all!

I'm 5 weeks into my training plan (by Tom Clifford of Without Limits) for Savannah Rock N' Roll Marathon.  Things are going well!  The goal for these first 5 weeks was to build up my mileage, and I have successfully done that without injury.  Here's what I've done since July:

Week              Run (miles)          Bike (miles)          Swim
1 (7/6)            50                         48                          2000 yds
2 (7/13)          55                         0                            0
3 (7/20)          60                         37                          0.75 mi OW
4 (7/27)          60                         40                          0.75 mi OW
5 (8/3)            65                         0                            0

This week is a rest week for me and I'll probably do 40-50 miles on the run.  I've thrown in the occasional bike & swim for cross training as I've felt up to it and as my schedule has allowed.  It's been hard not to do more biking & swimming, but I don't want it to affect my running, which is my primary goal right now.  I've still got 13 more weeks til race day, but I have to say I'm feeling optimistic about how things are going so far!  I'm going to hang out around 60-65 miles/week and barring injury or illness, I will be significantly more prepared for this race as compared to Quintiles!

Immediately next up for me is the Leadville 100 Trail Race!  I am heading out to Colorado on Monday to pace my former triathlon coach Dr. Sharon McDowell-Larsen for a 10-mile segment of the race.  I couldn't be more excited about this!  Although I do wonder if I'm getting into something over my head...  The race starts at 10,000 feet of elevation and I will be running with her over Hope Pass, which sits at a measly 12,600 ft!  Coming from sea level, I just hope I don't fall out.  When I asked the rest of the crew last night on a conference call what gear I should bring they told me that the weather can be highly variable.  In the best case scenario I'll be wearing shorts & t-shirt.   At the opposite end of the spectrum there could be a snowstorm with golf-ball sized hail at the top of the pass!  They also said to plan to be on my legs for 4 hours.  4 hours!?!?  I haven't done a race or a workout that long in over a year.  Gulp.  Oh yeah and I forgot to mention that the rest of the crew are all uber-athletes and Leadville veterans.  Hope the pacer doesn't get dropped by the racer!  Definitely going to make for a good blog!

Sharon & I going up The Incline last year...need to start wrapping my
mind around remembering that feeling of burning lungs :)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

How To Stay Hydrated During Long Workouts In The Heat

The heat and humidity of summertime in Wilmington is INTENSE!  For the record I'm not complaining at all b/c I'd much rather it be hot than cold, but it has raised some discussion recently among the athletes that I work with about how to stay hydrated on long workouts in these conditions. And after a few of these talks, I feel like this is a blog-worthy subject.

The heat and humidity of the hot summer months increase an athlete's likelihood of becoming dehydrated and can make training and racing feel much more difficult.  In high environmental temperatures (>80 degrees) heat cannot dissipate from the body as effectively, and in humid conditions (>50-60% humidity) sweat is not wicked away from the skin efficiently to provide the cooling sensation it is supposed to.  In these instances, not only are the body's self-cooling mechanisms impaired, but greater amounts of fluid are lost due to increased rates of sweating.  Dehydration can lead to decreases in speed, strength, stamina, mental capacity (including willpower) and overall performance, as well as increased perceived level of exertion and risk of injury.  Plus, large amounts of sodium losses via excessive sweating can contribute to muscle cramping.  In the worst case scenario, heat exhaustion or potentially fatal heat stroke could ensue.  Thus, it is EXTREMELY important to stay on top of your fluid intake in hot weather!
Here are some guidelines for you to follow and some tips for you to try.  Trust me, spending some time figuring out how to prevent yourself from becoming dehydrated is going to give you a huge one-up on the other guy you are competing against who hasn't given adequate attention to this important component of training/racing.

Before Exercise
*Adequately hydrate yourself 24 hours prior to exercise.  Duh.  For athletes who are training multiple times per day, you should think of yourself as being in a perpetual state of rehydration for the next workout.  

*Monitor the color of your urine.  Any former college athlete remembers the pee charts on the backs of the bathroom stalls that explain what your urine should look like!  For the non collegiate athletes out there I'll fill you in on what you missed - your urine should be pale yellow and without any strong odor.  Dark yellow/orange or foul-smelling urine is an indicator of dehydration!

*To ensure optimal hydration before a workout or race, drink 14-20 oz of fluids 3-4 hours prior to training.  This allows enough time to void any excess fluid before competition. 

*Plan to measure your sweat rate.  Why is this important?  Because of this graph (excellently hand-reproduced by myself):

This was a study where men walked on a treadmill at 3.5 mph at 2.5% grade for over 6 hours.  Each hour (x axis) they measured rectal core temperature (y axis).  The men depicted by the solid line (top line) did not drink any water, the men depicted by the solid line with circles (middle line) drank water as they were thirsty, and the men depicted by the dashed line (bottom line) drank water equivalent to their sweat output.  What this shows is that you cannot rely on thirst to adequately hydrate yourself.  At roughly 3.5 hours into the experiment the men who did not drink any water had a rectal temperature of 102, which is equivalent to the zone of impending exhaustion.  Those who drank water to thirst were a little better off, and didn't hit this point until 5.5 hours into the experiment.  However, the men drinking in accordance with their sweat rates, were able to completely stave of the zone of impending exhaustion!!!  Clearly the thirst mechanism will not lead you to drink enough to make up for your fluid losses!  What this means for you is that you should measure your sweat rate & here's how you do that:

1.  Weigh yourself without any clothes prior to exercise.
2.  Keep track of how much fluids you drink during exercise.
3.  Weigh yourself without any clothes after exercise.
4.  For each pound lost, add 16 oz fluid to your hydration plan. 

During Exercise
*Plan to drink 24-48 oz per hour.  Larger individuals and those who sweat a lot will be at the higher end of this range.  The best way to figure out where you fall within this range (or if you are above this general range) is to measure your sweat rate.  You sweat rate will be different in different environmental conditions and across different sports.

*Aim to consume 400-800 mg sodium per hour.  400 mg sodium per hour is generally a good amount of sodium to aim for.  For example, one PowerGel contains 200 mg sodium.  Therefore, if you are consuming 2 PowerGels per hour you will automatically reach the target of 400 mg sodium per hour.  However, if you are a salty sweater (i.e. someone who ends up with dried white salt all over their black biking shorts after a ride - and not because you peed on the bike), are exercising in extreme heat (>80 degrees and/or >80 percent humidity), or are sweating a lot, you should aim for up to 800 mg sodium per hour.  The best way to get this additional sodium is through sports drinks or salt tablets.  I have used LavaSalts before and had good success with those. 

*Keep in mind the signs and symptoms of dehydration:  dry mouth, chills/goose bumps, discomfort, dizziness, headache, accelerated heart rate, loss of appetite, impatience, and sleepiness.  Do not try to beat the heat.  If you start to notice these symptoms, slow down or stop and get some fluids because otherwise things will progressively get worse:

Here is what can happen when x% of body weight is lost as fluid:

1% - Thirst threshold & threshold for impaired exercise thermoregulation leading to decrement in physical work capacity.

2% - Stronger thirst, vague discomfort and sense of oppression, loss of appetite

3% - Dry mouth, increasing hemoconcentration (thicker blood), reduction in urinary output

4% - Decrement of 20-30% in physical work capacity

5% - Difficulty in concentrating, headache, impatience, sleepiness

6% - Severe impairment in exercise temperature regulation, increased respiratory rate leading to tingling and numbness of extremities

7% - Likely to collapse if combined with heat and exercise

After Exercise
*Weigh yourself and consume AT LEAST 16 oz of fluid for each pound lost in order to adequately rehydrate yourself.

*Reach for salty snacks like pretzels & V8 juice because the sodium will help improve fluid retention.

*If you find that you have gained weight, you drank too much

*Continue to monitor your urine and rehydrate for the next workout.  Failing to properly rehydrate will impair your next workout and prevent you from getting the most out of your double day.  

*Having a headache and feeling like crap later in the day is a sure sign of inadequate hydration!

Some Final Tips
*Never leave the house without fluids when running in the heat, no matter how short your run is.

*Do not plan your run around pre-planted water bottles - this will inevitably lead to dehydration.  Instead, carry bottles or a camel back with you and plan your run around places that you know you'll be able to re-fill, such as convenience stores, gas stations, hotels, water fountains, neighborhood pools/clubhouses, etc.

*Mentally prepare for and be ok with going at a slower pace.

*Seek out routes w/ shade.

*Do your workouts early morning or late evening to avoid the hottest hours of the days.

*Reduce body fat to decrease your natural thermal insulation.

*Carry a debit card with you so that you can purchase more fluids as needed.

*When all else fails, go old school --> find a garden hose and use it to refill your bottles!

Time for me to go run 10 miles ... guess I'll take my fuel belt (sigh). 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Should Women Cut Their Hair Short?

I have been wanting to cut my hair short (like really short) for a while now.  I've always thought it looks cool and figured it would be SO much easier to manage with swimming, biking, & running.  But, I have also always been afraid to do it.  Why was I afraid?  I mean, it's only hair.  It grows back, what's the big deal?  Why did it take me years to get to the point to actually do it?   Well, I guess these were my main concerns:

-I was worried I would look like a man
-I was worried it would look unprofessional
-I was worried people would think I switched my sexual orientation
-My family loves long hair.  Even talking about cutting my hair has always been met with negative feedback. (Except for Kurt - he's always been super supportive!)

Turns out my family are not the only ones who frown upon short hair.  I went online looking for ways to style my new short hair and found a ton of blogs/forums/websites dedicated to reasons why women shouldn't cut their hair (written mostly by men).  I was really surprised at how sensitive people are about this topic!  According to these writers, long hair is a sign of youth, femininity, & fertility and:

-Short hair is unattractive to men.  Period.
-Celebrities can't even pull it off so neither will you.
-If you cut your hair, you will stand out, but not in a good way.
-Having short hair amplifies your flaws.
-Short hair is a near guarantee that a girl will be more abrasive and more masculine.
-If you have short hair, there is something wrong with you.

Some guys are really stuck on this issue and there is no changing their minds.  One blogger said this:  When I date girls nowadays, I don't even try to reason with them on this. I just tell them, "Never cut your hair. Do not even think about it. It is the worst thing you could do to yourself."   Wow, he sounds like a real catch!

I even read an account of a woman who was dumped because her boyfriend told her he was no longer attracted to her after she cut her hair!  Are dead cells growing out of the top of our heads really that much of a deal-breaker???

Another thing I read that made me laugh was that supposedly women encourage other women to cut their hair short and say that it looks cute so that they can one up them in the looks department.  Really, we are that competitive with each other!?  Haha, that was probably one of the most ludicrous things I read.

Here are two amusing lists I found:

16 Reasons Why Women Cut Off All Their Hair

17 Things You Don't Say To A Woman With Short Hair

Anyhow, I've really been enjoying messing around w/ my short haircut.  Not only is it super practical for working out, but there are so many ways to style it!  I've learned that becoming friends with product is essential and that I shouldn't even try for a faux hawk when it's really humid outside.  I don't plan on keeping my hair short forever, but I'm glad that I finally did it and am going to rock it for the summer.  And lastly,  I feel like the only appropriate way to end this blog is with a bunch of selfies of some of my recent hairstyles!

The Posh Spice

Brushed Back

Beyonce's Pixie

My favorite, the Faux Hawk

Halle Berry Messy Style

Short hair is not sexy.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Mark Allen Approach

If you're looking for a great summer sports-related motivational inspirational read, try picking up Iron War.  I read this book a couple years ago and really enjoyed the intense tale of rivalry between super-human triathletes Dave Scott and Mark Allen.  The book chronicles their numerous battles at Kona, culminating with the legendary 1989 Ironman World Championship race in which *spoiler alert* Mark Allen finally beat Dave Scott for the first time.  In addition to being entertaining, this book also made me start thinking about the science behind the training.  It was the first time I'd ever encountered the "Mark Allen Approach."

Early in his career, Mark Allen had the same approach to training that most people do - the harder and faster you train in training, the faster you will become as a racer.  He has openly talked about how this approach led him to fatigue, burn out, and the inability to reach peak performance.  As he matured he started doing things differently which he believes allowed him to ultimately beat Dave Scott and become a 6-time Ironman World Champion.  What did he do?

At the start of every season, he spent a long (3-month) block solely focused on aerobic threshold training, meaning that he monitored his heart rate and kept it at or below aerobic threshold (AeT) for all training sessions.  Even if it meant he had to slow down or walk up a hill he did not exceed that number.  Week after week he would time himself in an 8K, keeping his heart rate at or below AeT.  In these time trials he would expect to see a consistent 5-6 second drop per mile per week.  The theory is that during this time, his body's aerobic capabilities were increasing such that he could spare carbohydrates, rely on fat as a fuel source, and run at a faster pace at the same given heart rate.  Year after year of this type of training allowed him to run at 5:30 pace with a heart rate of only 150 bpm!

So, why don't more athletes employ this type of training?  In this video, Mark Allen says that it's because "aerobic training isn't really sexy."  Because the intensity is so low you don't feel like you are really getting a great workout.  It can be kind of boring and difficult to run at a slower pace if you are used to burning it up for every workout.  And it takes patience to continue with this type of training for an entire 3-month block!

Granted, Mark Allen seriously ratcheted up the intensity of his training after the base period once his speed phase kicked in, but he believes that doing the aerobic base training allowed him to make greater gains from the speed block of training which lasted about 10-12 weeks.  After the speed block, he did a short recovery period before a very hard 8 week training push leading into Kona.  In addition, through the entire cycle he was putting in 30-40 hours per week of training.  I also forgot to mention that he did weight training twice per week in the base period.  Here is a link to an article on SlowTwitch with an except from The Lore of Running that goes into much greater detail on Mark Allen's training regimen and is certainly worth the read.

Anyhow, I find his approach interesting and I think scientifically it does make sense.  My previous coach had me do something very similar to this the year that I ended up qualifying for an elite license in triathlon.  I started my season with very high volume low intensity base training.  As the races got closer I started working on speed.  And then some of my hardest sessions, although short in duration, were at the beginning of a taper leading into a big race.  That approach worked for me.  However, I never religiously monitored my HR.  And I believe that too many people are going too hard when they should be going easy.  Then again, I was doing high volume (20-25 hours/week) and some people say that volume is the ultimate trump card...

So, at this point I'm training for the Savannah full marathon in November.  I obviously don't have time to do an entire base training period right now, but I have started training by heart rate, so I guess you could say it's going to be a little mini cycle of the Mark Allen Approach.  These are the reasons I'm using it:

1) I'm working on gradually building up my mileage and I want to prevent injury.  If you increase mileage too quickly, intensity too quickly, or both at the same time your risk of injury goes way up.  I'm hoping that keeping the bulk of my miles at low intensity will help me stay healthy.

2) Doing easy runs at AeT allows you to have enough energy in the tank to really crush the hard days, which is where you make your speed gains.  This method of training is also referred to as polarized training and I am a VERY strong believer in that model.  Here's a great video (long but worth it) on the subject.

3) I want to see if the Mark Allen Approach really works.  It may take an entire year to really test it out, but if I can get a decent result at Savannah, I just might do that :)

If you've ever tried the Mark Allen approach, please leave a comment and let me know how it worked for you!  And if you are a naysayer, I'd like to hear your thoughts as well!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Quinoa: The Mother Grain

Five years ago no one knew what the heck quinoa was.  These days I'm finding that quinoa (pronounced "KEEN-wah") is a common household grain.  If you don't have any quinoa in your pantry at the moment, then maybe this blog is your call to action to purchase some next time you hit the grocery store :)

Quinoa is an ancient grain that has been around since at least 3000 BC, originating in the Andes mountains of South America.  The Incas thrived on it and referred to it as "The Mother Grain" because it is so nutritious.  Quinoa contains more protein than any other grain, delivers all eight essential amino acids, is a good source of fiber, and contains calcium, B vitamins, vitamin E, and iron.

Nutrition Facts (1/4 cup dry)
160 calories
2.5 g fat
28 g carbohydrates
3 g fiber
6 g protein

Cooking quinoa is super easy and QUICK!  All you do is add water & quinoa to a saucepan (2 cups water per 1 cup quinoa).  Bring the mixture to a vigorous boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, until quinoa is tender but still chewy and white spiral-like threads appear around each grain.  This takes about 15 minutes total.

Quinoa is delicate in flavor, perhaps slightly nutty.  The texture is fluffy once cooked.  It may be used as part of a main dish, a side dish, in soups, salads, and even desserts or breakfast foods.  One of my favorite uses of quinoa is as the basis for a grain salad.  I'll cook quinoa and combine it with a variety of veggies, kind of like how you would make a cold pasta salad.  These quinoa salads are the perfect thing to pack for lunch because they deliver vegetables & whole grains and free you up from the boredom (and cancer-causing nitrites) of deli-meat sandwiches.  Plus, they are great for summer because they are light and refreshing!

Because quinoa is such a great food, it's the July Food of the Month at TOPS.  In addition, I'm inviting everyone to participate in a Quinoa Cook Off!  Whoever produces the best quinoa salad will win a FREE one-month unlimited membership to TOPS Athletics!  Here are the rules:

*Spend the month of July perfecting your quinoa salad recipe.  The only caveat is that it may not contain any animal products (come on, it should not surprise you that I'm looking for whole foods plant based recipes here people!)

*When you have perfected your recipe, send it to me at along with your name, your email address, your phone number, and the name of your recipe.  This will be your official entry into the contest.

*Cook a batch of your quinoa salad and bring it to the TOPS tent at TryThursday on August 7th (exact time TBA, but it will be around 5:30/6:30 pm).  [TrySports at Mayfaire in Wilmington, NC]

*All participants at TryThursday will be invited to sample the quinoa salads and cast a (blind) vote for their favorite.  The winner will be announced that evening and recipes will be available to all!

To provide you with extra inspiration, my friend Heidi Bucher, owner of Heidi's Healthy Kitchen, will be making a new quinoa salad every week in July.  She'll be bringing samples to TOPS every Tuesday for you to try!  And OMG I absolutely love her Healthy Honey Balsamic Red Quinoa Salad which is going to be the first sample, available TODAY!

Put your creativity in the kitchen to the test this month and use this as a good opportunity to introduce  quinoa to your family, friends, & coworkers who may still be living in the dark when it comes to incorporating this healthy superfood into their diets.