Race Report- Steamboat Marathon 2016

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My last marathon was a little over 4 years ago when I ran the Vermont City Marathon. It was not that I was burned out or sick of training. Life got too busy for training. For a period of time I was happy if I could get 30 minutes of running in at a time or make it to the gym for weight training. I posted back in 2012 about life getting busy and finally 4 years later I am finding time to train consistently again, and it feels so good. Click here if you are interested in reading that article titled “When life Gets Busy.”

Back in January I decided to make the commitment to racing again. Things have finally settled down and I am no longer driving to Denver several days a week or trying to juggle 5 different jobs/commitments. I wanted to run another marathon and signed up for the Steamboat Marathon after carefully weighing my options and wanting to keep it cheap and easy (and close to home). I have traveled to sea level for all of my marathons and decided to give a high altitude marathon a try. I also wanted to qualify for Boston. I know it does no make a lot of sense to travel to higher altitude to run a marathon and try to qualify for Boston, but I have never shied away from a challenge.

I changed a lot of things this go-around with my training. In my article about overtraining  I talked about my own personal experience with overdoing it and the impact on my health. I decided the high mileage did not work for me. No more 80 mile training weeks. This time my highest mileage week was 60 miles and I only hit that mileage during one week of my training leading up to the race. Most of my mileage averaged around 30-40 miles a week. This might blow some of the more “old-school” training gurus away. Many people think you need to put in endless miles to run a successful marathon. I proved this is most definitely not the case. In fact, I decide to add more strength, cross training, and CrossFit (I can hear a few people gasp). Yes, I did CrossFit on average about 3 times per week leading up to the race. I did the key training days including track workouts, fartleks, tempo runs, and got my long runs in. I eliminated all the “junk” mileage and replaced it with swimming, biking, strength training, and CrossFit and I believe it made me a stronger athlete.

For some who might be curious, I am my own coach. I have been a running for 20 years, I have a solid understanding of exercise physiology and training concepts, and self-motivation (at least when it comes to running). I do use a few tools to help me with training. I recently starting using HRV (heart rate variability). I don’t want to go into a lot of detail in this post, but by measuring HRV I am able to see how recovered I am on any given day. This helps me plan days I should work harder or days I should back off on training. I also used a Stryd power meter for running. This helps me with target heart rate zones for training and helps me have some feedback about how well my training is going and where I am at with my fitness.

When it comes to nutrition for training during the marathon I made sure to enter my intake into MyFitnessPal a couple of times per week. I wanted to see where I was with my total calorie intake and make sure I was getting enough energy to support my training and hitting my macros. I kept my macronutrient goals at 25% protein, 35% fat, and 40% carbohydrates. It might seem like a lot of fat for some people, but this ratio was perfect for me and my goals. On longer training days I increased total carbohydrates, but most everything else stayed the same. I ate mostly whole, non-processed foods and made sure to get 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies per day. I also take a few supplements including vitamin B12 (because my levels were suboptimal), fish oil, turmeric, selenium (to support my thyroid), and vitamin D.

On race day I did something I always tell people not to do and that is to change up pre-race nutrition. I have a really hard time eating anything on race day morning. I have a hard time eating at 5 am anyway and with race day jitters I always feel like I need to puke. I decided that in order to get enough calories/energy for the race that I would add coconut milk (the high fat, canned kind) to my oatmeal the morning of the race. The reason I did this was because coconut milk is high in MCTs or medium chain triglycerides and these fats are absorbed more rapidly than longer chain fats. I figured I could get in a lot of energy, but it would not be sitting there in my stomach causing issues during the race. I also ate a honey stinger waffle about 30 minutes before the race start. I must have been correct because I felt amazing during the race and never had any issues with digestion or gastrointestinal problems during the race. I made sure to stop at every aide stating during the race and follow my fueling plan for during the race.

I felt the best during this race than any of my previous marathons. Even at mile 18 I still felt pretty darn good. The race was deceptive, because it looks like it is mostly down hill, but there are a few hills that either long or steep or both. This was one about mile 22 that seemed to last forever and ended with a steep incline before finally tapering off. I powered through the hills and really did not start feeling fatigued until mile 24. Once I really started to hurt it did not matter because I had reached the town of Steamboat and there were so many people cheering. I knew I was the first female and many people were offering words of encouragement including “you are my hero!” I could not let them down! Running through downtown Steamboat was an amazing feeling. I have never won a marathon and running through the finish line tape is an experience I will never forget. I was also very pleased with my time of 3 hours, 10 minutes, and 40 seconds (at an altitude of 7,000 feet). I qualified for Boston by almost 25 minutes and was 17 minutes ahead of the second place female. I was even interviewed by the local paper and you can check out the article here.

Now that the race is completed and I am satisfied with the results, I am looking ahead at the next race. I will be transitioning to triathlon and will be competing in the Loveland Lake to Lake olympic distance triathlon in only a few short weeks. Then I start really focusing on the swim and bike for my first half ironman distance race with the harvest moon triathlon in September. After that race I will be taking some time off before starting my base training and looking towards the Boston marathon in 2017. I plan to periodically post about my journey in additional to my more information/research based blog articles, so check back often.

 

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What is a Healthy Relationship with Food?

It is kind of weird to think of having a relationship with food. When I think of a relationship I often think of my connections with other people. My husband, my friends, my coworkers, my boss, or my family, etc. I don’t often think of my relationship with food. The truth is, whether we like it or not, we all have a relationship with food. The difference between a relationship with food and a relationship with people is that the food relationship is very one sided. The food we eat does not have emotions, opinions, or the ability to speak. Often I hear clients tell me that the cookies were “calling out to me from the cupboard” until the client finally opened the cupboard and ate the entire box. Obviously the cookies were not calling out from the cupboard because cookies can’t talk, but that is how many of my clients describe it. They know the cookies are there and they can’t stop thinking about them. The client may try to resist, but because willpower is limited, they finally give in.

Obviously, this is not the case for everyone I work with. Some people can have an entire box of girl scout cookies sitting in their cupboard for months and others devour the entire box within a day or two. If cookies are not a problem for you, maybe it is something salty and crunchy like chips. This is often referred to as a “trigger food” because once you have a little bit it is almost impossible to stop. For some people a certain type of food can sit for a week in their cupboard, fridge, or freezer, but when life gets stressful or sad or even happy, they reach for the food.

I do not think there is anything wrong or bad about chips or cookies, in moderation. I have worked with clients that swear that cookies and chips, or any kind of junk food, is evil. These are the people with a black and white mindset about food. Either the food is good or bad. I have had encounters with people who gasp when they see me eating a cookie (or any food they consider a “bad” food) and say “I did not know dietitians ate cookies! Cookies are full of sugar and fat!” This does not happen often, thank goodness, but it has happened to me and it is upsetting. The one rule I have is to never judge a person’s diet by just one meal. Thinking you know all about someone’s diet based on one meal or one food is like basing their IQ from the color of their hair. It is completely arbitrary. When I sit down with clients I look at several days worth of meals and sometimes even weeks worth of dietary habits and even then I refrain from making judgments about their diet. My job is to help them, not to judge them!

It is the black and white thinking that can be dangerous. I know people that will have this thinking when they start a diet (having lists of good foods and bad foods) and as soon as they consume a food they consider “bad or evil” things spiral out of control. They eat the food, have guilt, beat themselves up over it, and then give in to the food entirely and eat an entire box (or container or bag, etc).

Often clients tell me that they are failures because they could not stick to a certain “deprivation” diet. Usually they have tried several deprivation diets or fad diets before they finally come to me. They lose and gain the weight like a yo-yo, up and down and up and down and then back up again. They follow a very restrictive diet and as soon as they come off the diet and start eating like they were before, they regain all the weight. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result! Obviously something is not working. Over time this sort of dieting can cause a very rocky relationship with food. Food is no longer something to be enjoyed or eaten for nourishment and becomes all about calories.

I work with many athletes and active people. For many athletes food is a source of fuel before a workout and nourishment after a workout. I have to admit that one of the great things about being an athlete is being able to eat more as long as I am fueling to support my training. It becomes concerning when I talk with athletes or fitness enthusiasts that seem to only be exercising or training to burn calories so that they can eat whatever they want or make up for eating too much the day before. They run longer on recovery days to burn more calories in order to eat more or do an extra gym session after a hard workout to burn more energy. Instead of focusing on fueling for exercise and to support training they are using exercise as an excuse to eat more. In some cases I see this with active people that want to lose weight. Instead of eating more they eat less and exercise more to lose more weight. The athlete no longer views food as fuel to support exercise or to nourish their body.

I think most of us have had negative thoughts about food or guilt after eating a certain food or meal. I know I have. Just like most relationships in life, our relationship with food may not always be perfect. If you were struggling in your relationship with your husband or boyfriend, would you seek help or find a way to work it out? Sometimes relationships can be difficult and it is the same with our relationship with food. The thing about the food relationship is that you are in control, even if it does not always feel that way.

If you want to have a healthy relationship with food it is important to start learning to trust your body and learn to listen. Most healthy relationships are built on a foundation of trust. Our bodies have internal cues or sensors that tell us when to stop eating, but sometimes we don’t listen or don’t trust our body’s internal cues. The best way to learn to trust internal cues is to turn off all distraction while eating so that you can really listen to what your body is telling you. Pay attention to the taste, the smell, and how that food make you feel. Listen really hard because your body will tell you when you have had enough.

I am sure most of us have heard the phrase “everything in moderation.” Unless you have a food allergy or severe aversion to a certain food, this phrase can be useful. The idea that there are good and bad foods is intrinsically wrong. Remember, killing someone is bad or evil, eating a cookie is not. One cookie, or even one Twinkie for that matter, will not kill you. Think of eating as a chance for nourishment and remember that food is also meant to be enjoyed.

Eating a cookie to soothe an emotion can be tempting. For a brief moment that cookie may help you feel better, but generally that moment is fleeting. Then after eating that cookie (or several) another emotion may set in- guilt. Instead of grabbing food to soothe emotions try to go for a walk, take a bath, call a friend, or listen to music. Anything that will take your mind off what is causing your emotion and to take your mind away from food.

Sometimes it might be appropriate to think of certain foods as that friend that you enjoy being around occasionally, but not every day and certainly not living with you. This might be a good case to keep certain foods out of the home. If have trouble eating ice cream or chips in moderation, then only eat them outside of the home. When you feel like ice cream make a special trip to the ice cream shop and get a small serving. If you feel like eating chips, go to the store and buy a single serving bag of chips. Not having the food in your home does not mean you will never eat that food, it just means you have to make more of an effort to eat it. This may help you eat less and cause you to pause and ask yourself “do I really want this food?”

Feeling the need to make up for overeating can also lead to a troubled relationship with food. Many people think of purging and they think of bulimia. Is purging by exercising to burn off the calories from a meal that different? I would argue it is not. Ask yourself when you go out for a run or to the gym, why am I working out? If it is because you love the way it makes you feel, the energy you get, because you want to be faster or stronger, or because it helps you with stress then great! If you are exercising because you ate too much for dinner the night before and you feel the need to burn the excess calories, it is time to stop and reassess.

So, you ask, what does a healthy relationship with food look like? A healthy relationship with food is to appreciate food for the nourishment it provides, but to also keep things in perspective and balanced. Being too strict, dogmatic, or restrictive with food can lead to unhealthy thoughts and behaviors around food. One major red flag is missing certain normal social engagements because you are avoiding food or needing to exercise to maintain a certain lifestyle or diet. Another thing to ask yourself is how much are you thinking about food and meal preparation? It is good to plan ahead and think about what foods you are going to be eating for meals. It becomes concerning when I talk to people who are consumed by thoughts of food and eating and worrying about what they are going to eat or the calories in a meal. This is when the relationship with food becomes abusive. I have heard the relationship advice before to cut off any relationships that are negative in our life or bring us down and hold on to the ones that are positive and make us a better person. The same can be said for our diet.

 

 

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Is Muscle Testing to Diagnose Nutritional Status Quackery or a Quick Fix?

My undergraduate degree is in kinesiology so naturally I was curious when I stumbled across the idea of Applied Kinesiology. I read some information online regarding a practitioner that used Applied Kinesiology (AK), and more specifically muscle testing to diagnose food allergies and other nutrient deficiencies. As a dietitian and nutrition expert this peaked my interest because I work with individuals with food allergies and nutrient deficiencies nearly every day. It is also important thing to note that AK is not the same as the study of kinesiology (biomechanics), which is the scientific study of principles of movement and anatomy in relation to human movement.

Applied Kinesiology is a diagnostic technique used within the Integrative Medical Community. It uses the modification of the motor system in assessing and treating the causes of musculoskeletal dysfunction. The basic idea behind AK is that every organ dysfunction is accompanied by a muscle weakness, which enables disease to be diagnosed through a muscle testing procedure. Manual muscle strength testing is used for a variety of purposes in the health care setting. Applied Kinesiology (AK) practitioners use manual muscle testing (MMT) to identify what are believed to be immediate neurological responses to a variety of challenges and treatments. (1) AK proponents claim that nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and other adverse reactions to foods or nutrients can be detected by using MMT techniques also known as Nutrition Response Testing (NRT). This usually involves having the patient chew or suck on these items or by placing them on the tongue so that the patient salivates. Some practitioners advise that the patient merely hold the test material in their hand or have the material placed on a part of the body. At this point in my research I began to roll my eyes. Sounds like quackery to me, but I decided to go ahead and look at the research.

I began my search by looking in PubMed for good quality research on the subject and I even typed “research on applied kinesiology” into Google search. I found that there is limited scientific research on Applied Kinesiology. Also, many of the published studies have not established links between muscle responses and disease.

Researchers reviewed the literature from the AK field consisting of 50 papers as well as non-clinical studies and concluded that the research published by the Applied Kinesiology field itself is not to be relied upon. These researchers also concluded that Applied Kinesiology has not been demonstrated to be a useful or reliable diagnostic tool upon which health decisions can be based. (2)

A commentary and critique of a literature review done by Cuthbert and Goodheart (the founder of AK) found that the original review had several methodological deficiencies. The authors of the commentary conclude that the validity of the AK procedures as diagnostic tests can’t be supported. They found that the use of MMT for the diagnosis of organic disease or disease conditions is not supported by research. (3)

One website I found stated that Nutrition Response Testing is very precise and scientific. This is misleading! How is it scientific or precise? The research is seriously lacking and most of the research indicates that this is not a reliable way to diagnose illnesses of any kind.

A study of sixty-five patients independently evaluated using AK techniques and laboratory testing concluded that AK enhanced but did not replace clinical/laboratory diagnosis of thyroid dysfunction. (4) I had to dig back as far as a 1988 to find anything regarding AK in the diagnosis of nutritional status. In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, eleven subjects were evaluated independently by three applied kinesiologists for four nutrient deficiencies (thiamin, zinc, vitamin A, and ascorbic acid). The results obtained were compared to lab results and computerized isometric muscle testing. The results of the study indicated that the use of applied kinesiology to evaluate nutrient status is no more useful than random guessing. (5) This study was limited in the small subject size and limited nutrients being tested. More research would be beneficial in determining if MMT or NRT has any merit in diagnosing nutritional status.

There are several well-known physicians that conclude that the best AK tests and procedures are ineffective in studies comparing them to standard medical techniques. There is no good scientific evidence to support the claims made by AK practitioners. Even Dr. Andrew Weil, a well-known natural health and wellness physician, agrees that the AK techniques are not reliable (see his website http://www.drweil.com).

I understand that people who suffer from food allergies, experience low energy, or feel sick may fall for scary words and phrases such as “chemical imbalances” or “organ dysfunction.” They may want a quick fix and not want to have to go through blood testing or see a physician. People can be easily manipulated into thinking that this so called “natural” and “holistic” approach will solve all of their problems. The old adage of “if it sounds too good to be true” most definitely applies here. At best being tested for food allergies or nutrient deficiencies using MMT or NRT techniques will likely only temporarily work (think placebo effect) and at worse a potentially serious illness may go undiagnosed and untreated. Although it may not pose an acute danger to health, if there is a misdiagnosed allergy or nutrient deficiency this could have serious consequences in the long run. What if there is a misdiagnosis of nutrient deficiency and nutrient supplements are provided in the absence of a clinical diagnosis through blood testing? This could lead to the potential for toxicity.

Many of the practitioners I found online want to sell their clients specific nutrient or herbal supplementation. They find “imbalances” and “deficiencies” using pseudoscience and convince their client to purchase $200 worth of supplements. The client may leave the appointment having no idea what they are taking and if the supplements are effective or safe. As a registered dietitian I occasionally recommend a supplement to a client, but only after ample research regarding a specific supplement and brand has been completed and a true clinical diagnosis or laboratory test confirms a true allergy or deficiency.

My advice? Don’t fall for this quackery. Consult with a registered dietitian who specializes in food allergies if you suspect a food allergy. If you suspect a micronutrient deficiency then it is smart to get a micronutrient blood test. Be an educated consumer and don’t rely on pseudoscience.

  1. Conable, K and Rosner, A. A narrative review of manual muscle testing and implications for muscle testing research. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine. 2011. 10(3): 157-165
  2. Schwartz S, Utts J and Spottiswoode S, et al. A Double-Blind, Randomized Study to Assess the Validity of Applied Kinesiology (AK) as a Diagnostic Tool and as a Nonlocal Proximity Effect. The Journal of Science and Healing. 2014. 10(2) 99-108
  3. Haas M, Cooperstein R, and Peterson D. Disentangling manual muscle testing and Applied Kinesiology: Critique and reinterpretation of a literature review. Chiropractic and Osteopathy 2007, 15:11.
  4. Jabocs GE, Franks TL, Gilman PG. Diagnosis of thyroid dysfunction: applied kinesiology compared to clinical observation laboratory tests. Journal of Manipulative Physiology Therapeutics. 1984, 7(2): 99-104.
  5. Kenney JJ, Clemens R, and Forsythe KD. Applied Kinesiology unreliable for assessing nutrient status. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1988 88 (6); 698-704.
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The Slow Cooker: An Athlete’s Best Friend

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Imagine coming home in the evening after a hard workout. You are tired and hungry and the thought of making dinner is overwhelming. The aroma of a fresh cooked meal greats you as you walk into the house and you remember that dinner is already made. You grab a plate and help yourself to a delicious home cooked meal.

This can be your reality of you own a slow cooker (crock pot). Slow cooker meals can be prepared ahead of time and meals prepared in the slow cooker usually take between 4-8 hours to cook. This means you can prepare the meal before work or before a long workout and don’t have to fuss with preparing a meal when your motivation is lacking.

Slow cookers can be more energy efficient depending on the size of the slow cooker and the length of time that it is running. Because it takes about 4-8 hours to cook a meal in the slow cooker, they are not a good choice for last minute cooking. The best way to use a slow cooker is to add the ingredients in the morning or early afternoon and allowing the slow cooker to work its magic.

Here are some important tips to remember when using a slow cooker:

  1. Food safety can be an issue with a slow cooker. The “danger zone” for food temperature is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees because bacteria thrive at this temperature. The goal is to heat the food to 140 degree as quickly as possible to avoid the danger zone. Another way to avoid the “danger zone” is to never add frozen ingredients to the slow cooker. If you prepare ingredients the night before store vegetables and meats in separate containers. The slow cooker inner pot needs to be at room temperature before you start cooking. It is not advised to keep the inner pot in the fridge. Perishable foods should remain refrigerated until you need them.
  2. Cut vegetables into small or medium sized pieces and place the vegetables in the bottom and around the sides of the slow cooker. This allows the meat to drip over the vegetables and distribute the flavor. The exception to this rule is when cooking softer vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms, and zucchini. It works best if these vegetables are added during the last 45 minutes of cooking time.
  3. Plan the meal ahead. Do all of the chopping and preparation ahead of time. This can be done the night before and food items can be stored overnight in containers and added to the slow cooker in the morning. Another option is to get up a little earlier and chop/prepare ingredients before work or before the day begins.
  4. Make clean up easier by spraying the inside of the slow cooker and spray or line it with a slow cooking bag.
  5. Tougher, cheap cuts of meat are perfect for the slow cooker because they become tender after long, slow cooking. This includes chuck or shoulder, brisket, round, rump, shank and oxtails.
  6. Recipes such as casseroles, stews, and braises are great for the slow cooker because the slow cooking allows flavors to develop.
  7. Do not fill a slow cooker to the rim. This will ensure your meal is finished in the time listed on the recipe and will help avoid potential food safety hazards. The slow cooker should be filled no more than 2/3 full.
  8. Keep the lid on for the duration of the cooking time. If the heat escapes during cooking this can cause the food temps to decrease and be a potential food safety hazard. Once the food has cooked or about 30-45 minutes before serving it is okay to take of the lid.
  9. When making rice or pasta dishes it is best if you use the slow cooker on high for a shorter period of time.
  10. Use corn starch to thicken sauces, by removing a spoonful of sauce from the pot, and whisking with 1-2 tablespoons of corn starch before returning to the pot.
  11. Take the time to brown the meat really well before adding it to the slow cooker. This helps increase the appearance of the meat and adds a richer flavor. This is not a necessary step, so if you are time crunched then you add the meat to the slow cooker without browning it first.
  12. Slow cookers are not just for meat lovers, there are plenty of vegetarian meals that can be prepared in a slow cooker. Vegetarian chile or vegetarian pasta dishes work great in the slow cooker. Tofu can even be added to a slow cooker to make a tofu curry or barbeque tofu. The slow cooker can be an easy way to cook beans and lentils.
  13. Leftovers can be served for two nights and some slow cooker recipes can be made in to two different meals. For example the slow cooker can be used to make shredded chicken. The first night the shredded chicken can be used for tacos and the second night it can be used for quesadillas or taco salad.
  14. Consider purchasing a programmable slow cooker. You can set the time you want to cook the meal and then switches to a setting that keeps to food warm and at a safe temperature until you get home from work or are ready to eat.
  15. You can make baked goods in the slow cooker including cakes, cobblers, and quick breads. Some slow cookers come with a baking rack or you can use one from your own kitchen.

Looking for some slow cooker recipes that are both healthy and delicious? Over the month of January I will be posting several slow cooker recipes.

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The Training Tightrope: The Fine Line Between Training Hard and Overtraining

Endurance athletes are known for having a tendency to overtrain. It seems that many endurance athletes are on a tightrope, trying to balance between training hard and overtraining. Many athletes, especially at the elite level, have experienced the effects from overtraining. I have a personal experience with overtraining, and in my case, I fell completely off the tightrope.

Overtraining has a clinical diagnosis and is referred to as overtraining syndrome (OTS). The definition of overtraining is a maladaptive response to excessive exercise without adequate rest, resulting in neurological, endocrine, physiological and immunological changes (Kreher and Schwartz, 2012). In other words overtraining syndrome can cause fatigue, mood changes, and increased susceptibility to illness and injury.

My experience with overtraining happened when I was in graduate school and training for a marathon. At the time I was running between 60-80 miles per week, swimming and biking as an active member of the triathlon team, while also writing my thesis, applying for my dietetic internship, maintaining good grades, and trying to make time to eat and sleep. I should have known better.

I can remember the exact day I pushed myself too far and fell off the tightrope. I had a track workout that day. This was about three weeks before my November marathon and it was a cold and dreary day.  I ate breakfast, put on my running gear, and headed outside to start my warm-up to the track. I was not feeling it. My legs felt like a heavy weight was attached to my feet and they were stiff. I briefly thought about giving up and just going home, but I pushed on. I started to feel a little better as I approached the track. I decided I would at least start the workout and reassess how I was feeling after my first few 800-meter repeats. The first few repeats felt okay. My legs were still a little heavy, but I did not want to be a quitter. I had to keep going. I pushed through 6 of the 8 x 800’s and decided to complete the workout despite barely making my time goal for the repeats.  I was in pain during the last two repeats and they were slower than the first 6. I remember being so frustrated because I was supposed to run negative splits. After taking a few minutes to catch my breath, I started to jog home. It seemed like my legs refused to move. They felt sore and it was almost like my entire leg was cramping up. I had to stop and ended up walking the two miles back to the house.

I had to take two days off. Things did not feel quite right, but with marathon training it can be expected to feel sore and tired. I was beginning my taper leading up to marathon day and figured I would start to feel better with less mileage. This had happened during previous marathons, but this time it was different. It was a struggle to get out the door and the soreness and fatigue did not go away as my mileage dropped. With only a few days until the marathon I was a little worried, but I had traveled to California for the race and there was no backing out.

On race day it was perfect weather for a marathon. That morning was about 60 degrees with a slight breeze. I got caught up in the excitement and nervousness of race day. I was optimistic that my legs would feel fresh as they had for previous marathons. The race started and I was off trying to position myself in the crowd of runners and find a pack of racers to help pace me. I was hitting my goal time for the first several miles. I felt good but not great. The pain and discomfort started at about mile 10. I had a heart rate monitor and my heart rate was above goal. I started to get worried, but pushed on. At the half marathon mark I really started to feel the pain. It is hard to describe, but it was as if every muscle in my legs were tightening up and it was getting worse with every mile. At mile 18 I started to slow down. My heart rate was well above goal and my legs just could not keep up with the pace. I made it to mile 22 and could not hold on any longer. I had to walk. I had experienced pain in previous marathons, but it was the kind of pain where you just grit your teeth and keep going. This pain was different. It was so bad I was contemplating giving up. I half walked and jogged for two miles knowing that I could not give up. Somehow I mustered up the strength to jog the last two miles and crossed the finish line.

I could barely move after that race. I had to hold onto things just to get around. I took the following month off from running. When I did start running again, I could barely run a 9-minute mile without feeling like my heart was going to come out of my chest. My heart rate was going dangerously high and 4 miles felt like 12. I lost 5 pounds in the matter of a few weeks and I could barely sleep. I felt high energy and exhausted at the same time. I went to the doctor and found out I was experiencing a hyperthyroid. In other words, my thyroid was over producing thyroid hormone. There was nothing I could do but wait for my thyroid levels to normalize. I had to take it very easy with training for another month before my heart rate started to normalize and I started to feel normal again.

California Marathon

This is a picture of me at the end of the California International Marathon. This is the marathon that pushed me over the edge. 

Athletes over train often. In fact over training can be a part of a healthy training program. It is chronic overtraining that can cause health problems including adrenal insufficiency. Over training without adequate rest can result in dysfunction of the adrenal glands and they are no longer able to maintain proper hormone levels (Brooks and Carter 2013). As a result athletic performance is severely compromised.

Symptoms of overtraining syndrome include weight loss, lack of mental concentration, anxiety, awakening unrefreshed, and heavy, sore, stiff muscles. Looking back I realize that I was likely experiencing most of these symptoms. I wonder if I had taken a day off instead of doing that track workout if my marathon experience would have been different. My body was screaming for rest and I did not listen.

For many athletes overtraining can be career ending. They may never run or participate in sport at the same capacity again. Luckily I was able to have success after this experience. This experience has made me more aware of my body and knowing when to push myself and when to back off. I have a better appreciation of rest days and I have mastered fueling strategies that help my body recover faster and keep me going longer during long, hard workouts.

Prevention of overtraining is key. Training must include proper nutrition, while balancing training and recovery, and stress management. Hopefully my story will help you recognize the symptoms and consequences of overtraining so you can keep your balance on the training tightrope towards a successful season.

References:

Brooks, KA and Carter JG. Overtraining, Exercise, and Adrenal Insufficiency. Journal of Novel Physiotherapies. 2013; 16:125

Kreher JB and Schwartz JB. Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide. Athletic Training. 2012: volume 4, number 2.

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Easy Weeknight Naan Bread Pizzas

This is one of my favorite go-to week night dinners. I love pizza, but ordering delivery is not always a healthy or cost effective option. The naan pizza takes about 10-15 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to bake. When I am having an extremely busy week I usually make whole wheat pasta with part of the pasta sauce one night and then use the remainder of the sauce for the naan pizza another night. I love piling on the vegetables and using a lean protein such as low fat sausage, Canadian bacon, lean ground beef or grilled chicken. The meat is not necessary and vegetables with a part skim mozzarella can make a great vegetarian option. This can also be a great way to get the kids involved (and eating more veggies) when choosing their own toppings for the pizza. Here are the steps to making the perfect (and individualized) naan bread pizza.

  1. Place the naan bread on a cookie sheetunnamed-9
  2. Spread pasta or pizza sauce on the Naan bread. This can be store bought or better yet home made. This time I did the store bought pizza sauce to save some time.unnamed-15
  3. Sprinkle with shredded cheeseunnamed-10
  4. Cut up vegetables and cook protein (in not already cooked)unnamed-11.jpg
  5. Add as many vegetables as possible and lean protein unnamed-12
  6. Once the pizza is ready throw it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutesunnamed-13

Take the pizzas out of the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes and enjoy!

 

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Kale Stuffed Shells with Butternut Squash Sauce

Kale Stuffed Shells with Butternut Squash Sauce

StuffedShellsSquash

Ingredients

Butternut Squash Sauce:

  • 2 cups cooked butternut squash (made from fresh or frozen)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1-2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup milk or cream

Shells and filling

  • 18-20 jumbo pasta shells
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups (1 small bunch) kale, torn into small pieces
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 15 ounces skim milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups (113 grams) shredded Italian cheese blend (parmesan and mozzarella)
  • ¼ cup of chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

To make the sauce:

  1. In a large sauce pan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook about 1 minute and add the sage and rosemary and cook another 4-5 minutes. Add the cooked squash and heat up squash in the pan. Add the broth. Heat and cook the broth, squash mixture bout 10 minutes.
  2. In a blender or food processor, combine the roasted butternut squash and onions, chicken/vegetable stock, and milk and blend until smooth. Work in batches if necessary. Set sauce aside or store in the fridge for up to 7 days if making ahead.

To assemble the stuffed shells.

  1. Boil the jumbo pasta shells in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 10-12 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. While pasta is boiling, work on assembling the filling. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant. Add kale pieces and cook, stirringIn a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, eggs, salt and pepper, and kale mixture.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×12-inch baking dish with nonstick spray or butter.
  4. Pour the butternut squash sauce into the greased dish. It should be about 1-1/2 inches deep. Scoop a spoonful of the kale and ricotta mixture into 12 of the cooked pasta shells. Place the shells into the butternut squash sauce.
  5. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling.

 

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