Thursday, July 16, 2015

Clean Running- A Survival Kit

     Greetings fellow VeGALs and fans!  Every summer I swear it's the hottest one ever and that's when I swear off fall marathon training for good...that is, until the next year.  So here I am, regretfully having kick started my training for a series of fall marathons once again.  I swear I must be a glutton for punishment but what choice do I have? The fact is, as brutal and punishing as the months can be leading up to a busy race schedule, if I didn't have anything on the calendar, I fear I would turn into a fat blob!  Let's not forget how yummy and potentially fattening plant-based foods/alcohol can be.  As a vegan foodie, there is no way I could ever "swear off" plant-based cuisine despite any decrease in physical activity.  Thus, the dreaded fall marathon training is a must.  As a "survival kit" of sorts, I have come up with a phrase I refer to as "clean running," a method I believe all runners, not just VeGALs, should adopt to ease the transition and help combat the harsh elements associated with the summer months leading up to our wonderful and rewarding fall events.
     Clean running starts from the inside out, from head to toe, from your nutrition to your outerwear, from how you look to how you sound as well as how you carry yourself.  Clean running means going that extra mile to represent runners in a most positive light.  It means inspiring others to do the same. Clean running doesn't necessarily mean you will magically feel better while training in the extreme heat and humidity but it can mean the difference between challenging vs. disaster.  Clean running is a state of mind which leads to an awesome state of body.  As I have quoted in the past..."To look good is to feel good and you look mahvelous!"
     Let's start from within and address nutrition.  When you think of clean, think of clean-burning fuel, and by that I mean whole foods, plant-based as much as possible! How can anything else be "clean" if it is derived from animal sources??? As we all have learned by now, digesting animal products can be very taxing on our organs, possibly leading to disease and/or medical complications.  With such a wealth of plant-based pre/during/post workout energy drinks, gels and snacks, why try anything else? May I suggest Vega Sport, Genuine Health Vegan Proteins/ActivFuel+, Sun Warrior, Nuun, coconut water, Fuel 100 Electro-bites, Pro Bar Bolt, Gu, Cliff Shots and Gels, Hammer Gel, Pocket Fuel, Salt Sticks/S-Caps and Drip Drop. Wow...that's a lot!!!  Even if you're not completely plant-based, why not use natural fuel sources for increased bioavailibilty/digestibility rather than animal-based/artificial counterparts? Clean products help you to maximize efficiency, aid in recovery and reduce fatigue after a long hot run! Better for you, the enviroment AND the animals!!!  If you typically run with a water bottle, especially in hotter months, why not make it a reusable handheld one that is contoured to fit comfortably in your palm, as an extension of you. Ones by Amphipod and Nathan are both affordable and ergonomic, with pockets provided for your Nuun tablets, gels, money, keys or even your cel phone.  
     Next up...hygiene.  Just because you look like you just stepped out of the shower after less than a mile into your run doesn't mean you shouldn't be clean before heading out.  I don't mean shower right before, but do a quick rinse the late afternoon or night before so you are still basically fresh prior to hitting the stifling, pea soup air.  Note that showering/bathing too often can deplete the skin of natural oils as well as good bacteria. Being clean does NOT mean dousing yourself with perfume or cologne to mask your natural scent.  Perfume can be offensive, even suffocating, especially if you are running with others. Clean running means being considerate of others. Clean means just that...CLEAN, from skin, to hair and body parts so that when you do start to sweat, you might stink a little bit but you won't reek.  Hairy armpits...gross! More hair equals more trouble! Truth be told, I struggle with mainstream anti-persperants/deoderants vs the healthy, natural ones...the latter never seem to work for me, especially with the amount I sweat and the region where I reside (I'm a "schvitzer" from way back).  I'm willing to risk my health a bit for the sake of humanity!  Hairy legs, not cool...ever (unless you are a Ve-dude)!  As for the hair on your head, a little dirt doesn't hurt and is actually beneficial (overwashing can be damaging) for a run as long as it doesn't smell nasty...just dab a little conditioner or leave-in product with SPF and neatly tie it back before heading out the door. And don't forget your hat and sunglasses, not to mentiion the waterproof/sweatproof sunblock if the sun is unavoidable, for added protection.  I recommend natural, cruelty-free products from companies like Kiss My Face, Jason or Alba Botanika.
     The clothes make the girl, right?  I don't mean the fancier/pricier the better but rather the cleaner, neater and matching the better!  Whether running alone or with a group, once you put on fresh, clean, comfortable technical apparel, you are already one step ahead of the game.  Clean running means clean lines and sleek designs, paving the way to streamline running.  The better the fit, the better your performance.  In addition... the more you cover, the less problems you will have in terms of sun damage, dehydration and chafing. Running with just a job bra and shorts for VeGALs and shirtless for Ve-dudes is not advisable on long runs since it can lead to overexposure to the elements.  Lightweight, dry-fit clothing can keep you cooler and dryer rather than running essentially "naked. " Ill-fitting clothes, either too snug or too loose, can lead to added chafing.  And speaking of chafing...If you struggle with this issue, why not give Uberlube (found online on Amazon or Walgreens) a try?  This silky, non-greasy, odorless, scentless and tasteless product is all the rage!  It's made with friendly, inert ingredients.  This quality lubricant can also be used for other creative activities, wink wink.  What a great investment
     It's true that running apparel can be very costly but as long as you wash them with naturally-sourced, biodegradeable detergents like Method or Seventh Generation and avoid the dryer, your hallowed running clothes will last through several seasons.  Before throwing out a very stinky, expensive running bra, try adding distilled vinegar to the rinse cycle.  I recommend shopping online at Oiselle or Lululemon in the sale or "we made too much" section for your running apparel.  Road Runner Sports (RRS) also has a wide variety to fit your needs with great VIP discounts and sales. Once you know your size, who cares if you buy last season's stuff at half price! I like to buy Moving Comfort's running skorts made with recycled water bottles and coffee grounds at RRS.  I also like the durability as well as the selection that Brooks has to offer.  On very long runs, you may wish to pack a clean outfit/fresh shoes to change into midway through your run to avoid the inevitable stinkage (which could ultimately get you kicked out of your local running club) or serious chafing (which gives way to screaming in the shower once the hot water hits your burned flesh- OUCH!).
     We've covered head so let's jump down to toes...running shoes, that is!  The rule of thumb is to change your shoes every 3 months or so, depending on your mileage.  Wearing nasty old running shoes is not only a turn off but can be associated with several types of running injuries if the soles are worn down too much.  You may wish to alternate shoes, depending on the type of workout, to extend the life of your fave pair.  BOGOs can be available either online or at your local store so stock up whenever possible!  Your shoes may not be worn out just yet but they can still stink to high heaven in which case I suggest tossing them in a delicate wash cycle and letting them air dry.  A trick my running partner suggests is after a hot and sweaty run when your shoes are water-logged, try stuffing them with newspapers and storing them in a cool, dry place for a day or two.  Carry a pair of flip flops to change into immediately after your run to air out your shoes as well as your stinky feet.  If all else fails, there's always Febreeze!!!  
     Another aspect of clean running beyond your nutrition and overall appearance is your voice!  If you are running with others, make sure to keep your volume down to avoid distracting others as well as annoying neighbors in nearby residential areas. In addition, be careful of content and try to avoid adult or awkward topics that may make random passers by uncomfortable.  Watch out for language that may be inappropriate for younger runners, especially during family-oriented race events.  Control sudden outburts of laughter or swear words, if you can.  To that end, if you listen to music and like to sing along, be mindful of the volume...if the music is too loud, then your voice will automatically be too loud. Rule of should be kept at a soft enough volume so that you can still have a conversation as well as hear ambient noise (safety first). The newest annoyance out there is cel phone music playlists on speaker, especially at races.  Ughhh...that's so rude! YOUR taste is NOT MY TASTE and I DON'T want to hear your crappy music!!! I'm not trying to take all the fun out of running (if you know me then you know my fowl mouth lol).  I am merely suggesting that you show some tact and decorum out there (I should take my own advice). Others may not, but you will be proud of yourself when you show some class while you kick some ass!!!
     And finally, there's running style to address, which is essentially, how you put everything together to make yourself a clean, mean running machine!!! Of course, running is a very individual sport, but there are some common characteristics/principles that runners try to adopt such as good posture, form and stride.  As much as we strive to be as efficient as possible, we cannot help but incorporate our own natural style into every step we take, thus making us a little more prone to injury. As long as it works for you then don't worry about fixing it.  However, there are those instances where a runner should question their gait at which point, their running economy may be compromised. My biggest pet peeve on the road is hearing a fellow runner scrape or "shuffle" one or both feet.  The occasional scrape is okay- I even do it from time to time, kind of like a wake up call to switch gears or step it up.  But there are those runners out there who desperately need to listen to their own sound and re-adjust their gait, if applicable.  Clean running means QUIET running, not scraping your feet like nails on a chalk board!!!  Clean running means being able to sneak up on runners ahead of you who never heard you coming!  That's always fun.  My running partner and I like to amuse ourselves and rate runners passing by in terms of degree of shuffling on a scale from 1 to 10.  Sounds a bit childish bordering on cruel, I know.  But all that noise can really be bothersome to us, especially when we are trying to escape, clear our heads and relax on the road. If you think you might be a shuffler then ask yourself if your shoes are right for you.  Perhaps you are a heel striker and those big clunky heel to to drop shoes aren't ideal for you. Shoes with more fore/midfoot support may help you to get off those heels. Maybe you are leaning too much to one side.  I'm not exactly sure what causes the shuffling, I do NOT claim to be an expert.  But common sense tells me that if you are making lots of noise while running, then something might be wrong. Landing too hard is another pet peeve of mine.  Think of being light on your feet, like floating through the air, to reduce all the extra pounding/wear and tear. Maybe you need more cushioning, or perhaps less. I recommend looking into a Chi Running course which can help tweak your form, reduce injury and maximize your running efficiency. Clean running also means arms are comfortably by your side, loose and relaxed, not flailing.  You certainly don't want to wack someone as you pass them!  Or do you? (I feel like that sometimes lol) Keeping your head slightly lowered while bringing your arms in and keeping them close to your body makes you a more aerodynamic runner, enabling you to move through the thick, hummus-like air with ease (just keep telling yourself that).
      So there you have it...your survival kit to becoming a clean runner!  Pretty simple, huh?  Clean running is just the survival kit you need to get through the summer and achive success throughout the year. If you can put all the pieces together as you put yourself out there, you will represent all runners in a very positive light, which will hopefully inspire both new and existing runners to do the same, giving way to a more courteous and respectful running community overall.  To sum it up, clean running is how you prepare as well as present yourself as a runner, from head to toe, from the inside out, from how your move through space and how you win the race!  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Dreaded DNF

     Long time no see, VeGAL.  Wasn't feeling inspired there for a while. Still not too enthusiastic at the moment but starting to turn the corner.  Rather than write about a fantastic race event, where everything seemed to go just right, I've decided to share a bad, if not deeply sad moment in time with my readers to let 'yall know that not every race goes as planned...not even close!!! From elite athletes to the novice participant, a DNF, aka Did Not Finish, can strike at any time!  It's something we fear, an occurrence we dread, and most definitely try to avoid at all costs!  But should it happen, go with it, deal with it and be done with it!!! I am struggling to take my own advice so please bear with me as I take this cathartic journey in accepting my first DNF which took place down in the Florida Keys last Saturday at the Keys100 50k race.
     As many of you know, I ran the Keys 50-miler last year, and things went better than planned!!!  In fact, my finishing time far exceeded my expectations due to the unseasonable cool front that blew in the day before, leaving the air a little cooler and dryer.  Don't get me wrong, it was very tough but looking back, especially today, I would do it all over again.  In fact, I had wanted to do the Keys 100-miler in the forseeable future but due to time constraints as well as my running partner's busy work schedule, I thought it best to delay it for a few years.  So when I casually mentioned to my partner that the race had added a 50k event, he was all over it and signed us up straight away.  I was less than excited to learn that the race was to start at 1 pm, the hottest time of the day, in the middle of May, not less.  Realizing that that cool front last year was a freak thing, I was pretty damn sure it wouldn't happen again. And...indeed it didn't!!!
     Thinking that doing a race in Key West would be a nice little excursion, an excuse to get away, my partner insisted we go but in all honesty, I truly believe he was looking to prove something to himself, perhaps some redemption from a previous 50k race that turned out to be very physically challenging to him as he suffered extreme nausea.  I totally get that...we all want that second (or third ) chance, especialy ultra runners who by our very nature, tend to be a "bit" OCD, haha.  So I obliged him and off we went to conquer the Keys, minus any miraculous cool front. Tried as I might to be optimistic, I remained apprehensive about the 50k, right up until we toed the line. From the start, the heat was oppressive, where I could hardly catch my breath.  It's as if the gates of hell opened up and said "come on in?" And to make matterts worse, a side cramp kicked in to boot, ugh.  My partner, on the other hand, was ready and eager to beat the odds!  In fact, I could barely keep up with him!  So we forged ahead, trying to stay cool and steady.  Nutritionally speaking, I stayed true to my vegan regimen, although not all my fuel would be considered "healthy"...Vega Sport Pre-workout drink, Salt Stick caps, Fuel 100 Electro-bites, Drip Drop powder, pretzels, Fritos and ginger ale...not too much at one time.  I always say, "less is more."  My partner, who vowed not to overload on sugar this time as it apprears to be his nauseau trigger, ended up overdosing on Drip Drop, not realizing it contained high amounts of sugar, unbeknownst to him.  In addition, he took in 1 1/2 Hammer Gels (without me looking) and I remember cramming ginger ale down his throat, and the combo ultimately created this sugary tornado that just sat in his belly, wreaking havoc on his system...once again!  Not even Baby's famous coffee could do the trick!
     Rather than bore you with the details of our dramatic 6-hour trek down US1 in the blistering heat and unrelenting sun, I will skip to the part where we came to our decision at mile 25 of 31.07 to throw in the towel.  I will say that along the way, it was very traumtic for me, watching him struggle to walk, nevermind run.  I almost resented him for holding us back. It looked as though at any moment, he could pass out.  That said, when we approached the race marshall who had no ice, but only warm water and Mountain Dew, with a mile to go to reach the ice station, my partner dropped out.  I actually thought he was gonna drop dead.  He insisted I keep going the 6 more miles needed to finish (together, it would've taken us at least another 2 hours) and truth be told, I considered it.  I tought we had come way too far to quit now and I didn't want to face an imminent DNF.  I wanted to cross the finish line and get my medal! How selfish of me, right?  But then seeing him start to hurl then spread himself out on the concrete. my heart sank with fear which was quickly replaced with love.  It was in that instant that (as I approach mid-life in a few years) I grew up a lot!!!  So we carefully placed my partner in the passenger seat with the air conditioning on him full blast. Not exactly in the mood for celebrating, I asked to be dropped off at the hotel, but my partner agreed with the race marshal that we should go back to the finish line and enjoy a cold beer.
     As we took our walk of shame and dropped our timing chips in the bucket, we were mindful not to go anywhere near the finish mat. I watched in dismay as my fellow 50k peeps, along with some 50-milers and relay runners crossed the line and got their medals.  Just then, I decided to drown in my sorrows with the light and watery beer offerings and stuff my face with the veggie burgers, only to find out after one bite that they were Morningstar...NOT vegan!   I began to sob inconsolably. A dear friend of ours, who just happened to win the 100-mile relay event with his team and set a new course record, caught me crying like a baby, rolled his eyes and handed us an IPA to share.  Whether is was vegan or not...who the hell cares!!!  
     We eventually made it back to our hotel and I was completely spent both physically as well as emotionally.  I just wanted to curl up in bed and go to sleep and put an end to the miserable day once and for all.  I stopped taking anymore photos for the rest of our trip as my spirits remained rather low.  My partner insisted we go out for dinner on famous Duval St. that night since we were still in fabulous Key West. quickly my partner recovered!!!  I regrouped and we found Willy T's, where they offered a b vegan burger and fries.  Perhaps it was me but I didn't find my beloved post-race reward staple very rewarding at all.  I would've much preferred a huge bucket of Five Guys french fries (nearby) in bed with a good movie. Oh well.  It seems I wasn't exactly getting what I wanted that weekend. No biggie.  What was big was seeing our sweet and passionate ultra running friend DB, the oldest runner in the race, 2 miles before he completed the 100-miler 32 1/2 hours later! What an inspiration, a true hero! 

    Well, as I near the end of this blog, I can say with all honesty that I accept my DNF as a right of passage and I wear it with pride, like a badge of honor, better than any race hardware (NOT!). Gives me an idea of how some 100-mile runners feel after they are forced to drop out of a race by either missing their cut off time or from sheer exhaustion/fatigue.  No applause, no medal/buckle, no praise from their running club, even though they have probably run 70-80 miles that day, more than most in a month!  Both my partner and I retraced our steps to see what we (he) could've done differently and for starters, we would NEVER choose a 50k race that starts at 1 pm in the deadly heat!  As far as nutrition, I think my partner has it all figured out (hopefully).  So we will forge ahead, thinking of our next distance race and how great it will be, no matter what, as long as we are together.  Oops, I more picture that I couldn't help taking as we pulled away from a famous local key lime pie shop parking lot...
I'm sure they weren't as slow as us at the race :)))

Gotta Run!  VeGAL Andee