A Big Announcement!

As many of you know, I’ve been coached by an online coaching program called Runners Connect for the past year.  Developed by former Hansons-Brooks member and 2:22 marathoner Jeff Gaudette, Runners Connect is an online coaching service and community.  A team of coaches create a running schedule based on your goals and fitness level, you log your workouts and you can share them to the RC community.

The great thing about that is not only do you get expert advice from professional coaches, many of whom were or are elite athletes, you get a community of athletes that are all going through the same thing and cheering you on.

You become part of the tribe.

Because let’s face it, no one but other runners care about your run, what your splits were, or how many miles you ran.  Your non-running friends and family are sick of hearing about your running, okay?

The Runners Connect philosophy is mainly based on the 80/20 principle or polarized training.  You run 80% of the time very easy, and 20% hard.  As counter intuitive as it may seem, running slow will really make you fast.

And I’m proof.

I started running in 2013 to get in shape for my reunion.  I didn’t follow any particular training advice and just winged it on my own.  The reunion came and went and I kept running.

I decided to sign up for a half marathon.  I began to learn a little bit more about the process and ran the Asheville half marathon in September of 2013 in 1:55.

At the finish line of the Asheville Half Marathon in September 2013
At the finish line of the Asheville Half Marathon in September 2013

The next step was to sign up for a marathon, right?  And not just finish a marathon, but qualify for Boston on the first try.  I started researching online, trying to figure out the best strategy.  There are so many articles and advice out there that it’s a bit overwhelming, so I found a free basic plan outline and stuck to it.

I didn’t understand the reasoning behind each workout and felt that the generic plan didn’t fit me at all.  Even so, I finished my first marathon in the Spring of 2014 in 4:02.  I was happy to finish, but it was not a Boston Qualifier.

I needed to do more research.  Whenever I searched a particular topic online, Jeff Gaudette’s name kept popping up.  He’s written for Competitor, Running Times, and many other running sites and I always found his articles to be well-researched and backed by science.

I wanted to know the reason why I was doing a particular workout and Jeff always had the answer.

I discovered a free basic training plan online that he wrote for RunKeeper and I used it to qualify for Boston at the Big Cottonwood Marathon in the fall of 2014 in a time of 3:38, twenty-four minutes faster than my first attempt that same year!

Qualifying for Boston in September 2014 with a time of 3:38.
Qualifying for Boston in September 2014 with a time of 3:38.

I was hooked.

I found that as I was getting fitter, the one-size-fits-all plans weren’t fitting me anymore.  I’d been reading everything I could get my hands on, studying the science of the marathon.

But it wasn’t enough.  I needed help to reach my potential.

So I signed up for Runner’s Connect.  And with their guidance, I am in the best shape of my life.

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Racing the French Broad Half Marathon in a PR time of 1:26:40.

So what’s the big announcement?  I’ve been asked to join the team at Runners Connect as a coach!

Me, a running coach?!?  I’ll be backed up by the “real” running experts, of course, but I am so excited to share my experience with others going through the process.

I will also continue to be coached by Runners Connect and member athletes can still follow my training and progress.  I will be the first student to become a coach on their team and I couldn’t be happier about it!  For now, it’s just part-time, but we will see how it progresses.

I have to admit, it is intimidating to join forces as a coach with such talented and accomplished runners and coaches, but my story of becoming a runner later in life is one of the attributes that they liked about me:  I am relatable to so many of their athletes.  I am just a regular person who fell head over heels for running and have accomplished so much in such a short period of time.

My hope is to encourage and inspire all of the athletes in the Runners Connect community to reach their running goals, no matter how big they dream.

If you are curious about the Runners Connect program, please comment below or direct message me.  I’d be happy to help you become the best runner you can be too!

Comfort Food by the Fire: A Make-Ahead Menu for a Crowd

Last night was a beautiful fall evening and it was my turn to host a group of my long-time friends for our monthly book club.  We each host about once a year and then get treated to a nice vegan/vegetarian meal the rest of the year.

We catch up, drink wine, talk for a few minutes about the chosen book, and drink a little more wine.

For my turn, I wanted something warm and comforting, easy to eat in a big bowl around the fire on the patio, and something that could be completely made in advance.  Chili and cornbread had been done before.  What about Indian? I thought.

I adore Indian food and one of the best things about it is that many, many dishes are vegan or easily veganized.  My first attempts at cooking Indian meals began with a few recipes in Chloe’s Kitchen.  Her rich and creamy saag aloo (spinach and potatoes in a cashew cream sauce) and the vegetable biryani (spiced rice and veggies) were easy to make and delicious.

I have since been cooking my way through the wonderful cookbook Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen by Richa Hingle.  It is so, so good.

For book club, I wanted something that I could make and keep warm in the crockpot by the fire.  So I flipped through the book and found one that I had starred and wrote “Yum!”

Navratan Korma or Vegetables in Luxurious Royal Sauce had been a hit before, so I adapted it and simplified it quite a bit to make it work for a crowd around the fire pit.  It’s a tomato-based cream sauce, thickened and softened by pureed cashews and sauteed onions, covering chunky bites of spiced veggies.

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Definitely worth a “Yum!” notation

(If you are interested in my version of the recipe, let me know in the comments and I’ll write a future post about it.)

We wiped our bowls clean with hunks of Garlic Naan made from Chloe’s book–basically just pizza dough kneaded with minced garlic and placed under the broiler until brown and bubbly.

For dessert, I made the truly unbelievable Ultimate Unbaked Brownies from Chocolate Covered Katie.  They are fudgy squares of heaven that you would never guess are made from just dates, cocoa, salt, vanilla, and nuts (seriously healthy!).

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Topped with a decadent chocolate frosting made from cocoa and maple syrup, these brownies will beat the butter-oil-and-eggs kind any day!

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You can tell how good a meal is by how clean the dishes are after dinner.  I’d say it was a success.

French Broad River Half Race Report

How many races out there promise “flat and fast”?  Not many in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The new French Broad River Half sounded like an ideal tune up race for the Richmond Marathon:  point-to-point gradual downhill along the beautiful French Broad River with a just couple of hills as you enter the the quaint town of Marshall.

Well, the last part of that was right.

The day before the race, the Department of Transportation threatened to cancel the race because they felt the planned rolling closure of just one lane of traffic on the curvy and narrow Riverside Drive would be too dangerous for runners.  The race director worked out a compromise to close the entire road, but for only half the distance, so the point-to-point became and out-and-back.

Meaning the two hills at the end of the race turned into four hills at both the beginning and the end.  Not what I signed up for.

The elevation gain of the new course would be nearly as much as the entire Richmond Marathon!

After stressing out about the course change for a few minutes, I reminded myself that this was not my goal race and it would still be great practice for my race.  Many of my friends and teammates would be out there and I was looking forward to seeing where my fitness was.  I’ve been having a good string of workouts lately, so this was a great opportunity to get a confidence boost.

Jus' Running Maggots at the starting line to the French Broad River Half Marathon
Jus’ Running Maggots at the starting line to the French Broad River Half Marathon

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was that the course change was probably a blessing in disguise.

My plan for the race was to negative split, or run the first half slower than the second.  Negative splitting sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s proven as the most effective strategy for racing anything longer than 800 meters.  If you can save your energy during the first half, you’ll have more left to push when things feel really hard at the end.

At the start, the temperature was about 45 degrees with 9-15mph winds.  The wind was coming up river so it was a tailwind going out from Marshall and a headwind coming back in.  This is where the course changed helped; we only had to fight the wind half the time. Unfortunately it was the second half, but still, better than a headwind for 13.1 miles.

First Half:  6:35, 6:54 (hills), 6:45, 6:43, 6:41, 6:42.  My plan was to keep the pace between 6:35-40 for the first half.  The hill slowed me a little more than I expected, but I felt good for the entire way out.  Solid effort, but even breathing.  I am learning that concentrating on my breath, much like what’s taught in yoga or meditation is the key to hard effort running.  At this pace,  I breathe twice as long on the inhale than the exhale.

The second reason the course change was beneficial was being able to cut the corners off the curvy road, or run the tangents.  With both lanes closed, we were not forced to stick to the edges of the road and could run in the middle, effectively making the course shorter.  Although I learned pretty quickly that due to the steep pitch or camber of the road, running the absolute shortest line between two corners was not ideal, so I stuck closer to the double yellow lines than I would have had it been flat.

Just before the turn-around, I opened a Salted Peanut Butter gel and had about half of it.  I’ve been experimenting with adding less water to make the package smaller and it was far too thick and gooey for me.  Back to the original recipe!  Glad I didn’t find this out in Richmond!

Second Half:  6:30, 6:41, 6:33, 6:32, 6:45, 6:47 (hills), 6:33.  Now it’s time to turn up the effort. Right into the headwind.  I was hoping that I’d be in a pack of runners so that I could use someone to draft off of, but I was almost completely alone for the second half.  I picked up the pace and moved to equal breath in and out.  It was never a panicky, hyper-ventilated breath, but it is a hard, yet controlled effort.  This kind of breathing is what I really want to master.

At mile 8, my music stopped.  Yes, I still run with headphones even though it seems that at every major race, they fail me.  I really enjoy running fast with dance music and I feel like it gives me a boost, but I am really starting to reconsider it.  It’s extra weight to carry and it’s a bummer when it doesn’t work right.  As I focus more on my breathing and the other nuances of racing, I’m starting to think that I should skip them.  I ran both Bostons without music due to malfunctions, so I’m thinking I should not bring them to Richmond.

Maybe I’ll practice on my long run this weekend before I decide.

At the second to last hill, I could hear a steady beat of footsteps coming up from behind.  I thought there was no way anyone that I had passed could have turned up the pace enough to catch me.  I was running such a controlled race that for someone to pass me at this point really didn’t make sense.  I turned to see my very fast friend Stu easily gliding by, giving me a quick, “Good job, Claire,” in his British accent.  At the turn around, I had been astonished to see that he was behind me, jogging easily with a friend.  I learned later that Stu was just using this race as a progression run, running his first mile in 7:27 and his last in 5:48.

Coming into the home stretch
Coming into the home stretch

For the last mile, I really wanted to run hard. It turned out to be my second-fastest mile, but I have to admit, I was hoping for a very solid kick.  Maybe that didn’t exactly happen, but I loved seeing my husband and two kids near the finish.  My 5-year-old daughter cheered when she saw me and ran into the road to hug me.  I managed to dodge the sweet little race bandit and both kids tried to chase me down to the finish.

One day they will be faster than I am.  They have a long way to go.

My official finish time was 1:26:40 or 6:36/mile.  It was a PR of over a minute from my last half on the mostly downhill Swamp Rabbit Half I ran in February.  That was good enough for 5th place female and 1st place Masters.

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First Place Masters

I am happy with my effort and I think it was a good indication of my fitness for Richmond.  I am certainly glad that I don’t have to run Richmond as fast as this half, so hopefully that will make the slower pace feel that much easier.

I find that I really enjoy the half marathon distance.  It’s not so short that you feel like you have to redline yourself the entire time, but not so long that you have to spend a week or more recovering.

I’ll be taking it easy for the next few days, gradually getting back into some easy miles and saving speed for the end of the week.

I can say that while the course was not flat, it was certainly fast and I’ll be back next year!

Time for a Tune Up

This Saturday, I’ll be lacing up my racing flats for the inaugural French Broad River Half Marathon.  It is exactly three weeks before my goal marathon and I’ll be racing it as a tune up for Richmond.

The French Broad River
The French Broad River

Three weeks out is not exactly the ideal time to race hard before a marathon, but it’s pretty close.  (Four or five weeks out is probably perfect since there is no question about being able to recover well before taper.)  But because it’s so close, I have to decide whether to race it for a PR or to treat it as a marathon-paced practice.

I have decided.  I’m going to race it.

There are benefits to each strategy.  The last half I ran was the Swamp Rabbit Half in Greenville, SC in February and I chose to run it around goal marathon pace.  It was challenging, but at the end I felt like I could have run the whole thing again.  It taught me that I was in shape for my marathon goal in Boston and was great pace practice for the real thing.  Even though Boston didn’t go as planned, I know it wasn’t because I was not fit enough for the pace.  I got a PR in 1:27 (6:47 pace) for the half, and I know that I’m strong enough now to beat that now with not much more effort.

At the start of the Swamp Rabbit Half with my Jus' Running girls!
At the start of the Swamp Rabbit Half with my Jus’ Running girls!

But racing the half at anywhere between 10-20 seconds per mile faster than goal marathon pace will be a thrilling suffer-fest.  It will be a great benchmark of my fitness and it will be good mental practice for harsh reality of racing  the marathon.  Each time we push ourselves to run very hard without dying, the brain learns that we are not actually dying and allows us to push a little harder or longer next time.  Racing hard will teach my brain not to panic when it’s critical to keep going.  That kind of mental strength training will not happen if I only run marathon pace.

Either way, I will get the benefit of practicing the logistics: waking up early, eating a good breakfast, warming up, proper fueling and hydration, proper pacing, and soaking up the adrenaline from the race.  The course is beautiful and slightly downhill until a few surprise hills at the end (like a mini-Boston!).

I am not tapering for the half to keep a little fatigue in my legs.  I did only one shorter-than-usual speed session on Monday and have been running easy in the days since.  Not tapering will make me not race the half as well as possible, but the ultimate goal is the marathon, not the half, so tapering now would not ideal for marathon training.

I’m really excited about this one.  Wish me luck!

 

Hot Blackstrap Cocoa

Iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium.  Along with sodium, these are the minerals every runner needs to stay healthy, strong, and fast.  Sometimes it can be hard to get enough of all of them, even eating a healthy diet.

But there is one very simple food that has big quantities of all of them in one little tablespoon:  blackstrap molasses.

Blackstrap molasses is what’s left over after sugar has been boiled down three times to remove its crystals.  It is less sweet than light or dark molasses, which are produced after one or two boilings, respectively.  Since it is more concentrated, blackstrap molasses retains a higher vitamin and mineral content per serving than any other form of sugar.  Sweet, right?

Here’s a weird fact:  In 1919, a tank holding 2.3 million gallons of molasses exploded, causing a 40-foot wave of the sticky syrup to smother the streets of Boston.  Known as the Boston Molasses Disaster, the accident killed 21 people and injured 150.  Rescuers has to trudge through a river of knee-deep muck to reach survivors and clean up lasted for weeks.

The Boston Molasses Disaster, 1919. Photo from the AP.
The Boston Molasses Disaster, 1919. Photo from the AP.

Each brand of blackstrap molasses has different nutrition data, but here’s the one I used.  Check out those minerals!

molasses

If your only experience with molasses is in cookies at Christmastime, you might not know what to do with it.  I certainly don’t recommend eating it by the spoonful (yep, I’ve tried).  But you don’t have to save your molasses just for cookies (although a very worthy use!).

So besides cookies, what do you do with this stuff?

The leaves are starting to change here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, cooler temperatures have arrived, and I find myself wanting a hot drink in the evenings.  And here’s where the blackstrap molasses comes in.  It makes a delicious, satisfying alternative to hot cocoa that is full of essential minerals runners need.  And if you use unsweetened almond mild it’s only about 100 calories a serving!

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The molasses adds a rich, earthy flavor that I actually prefer to regular hot cocoa.  My version is not very sweet, so adjust yours to your liking.

Serves 1 large mug

Hot Blackstrap Cocoa
Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces almond milk (can be sweetened or unsweetened)
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. Heat almond milk over the stove or in the microwave.
  2. Stir in the remaining ingredients until dissolved.
  3. Enjoy!

Notes

Each serving has 100 calories, 14.7 g carbs, 3.5g fat, 2.2g protein, 648mg potassium, 344mg sodium, 32% RDA Vitamin A, 74% RDA calcium, and 30.4% RDA iron.

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http://theplantedrunner.com/hot-blackstrap-cocoa/

#richmondready

Yesterday was the longest long run of this marathon cycle training for the Richmond Marathon on November 12.  Twenty-two miles.  That capped off my biggest volume week at just over 82 miles.

I’ve run 80 miles per week in both of my last two marathons, but this was the best so far.  I feel strong and fresh as opposed to being sore and tired.  It’s a good sign.

This particular long run was not yet another Long Slow Distance.  It was a quality workout that had over 8 miles at or faster than marathon pace.  After 10 miles of easy running (in the 8 to 8:30/mile range), I had 8 surges of 90 seconds each at 6:30 pace, with 5-minute “floats” of marathon pace (goal is 6:52) in between, finishing the rest of the run easy.  The goal of this workout is to simulate the pace changes you might have in a race and to keep you running fast when tired.  It is also a great indicator of marathon readiness; if you can nail the floats at goal, you’ve got a great goal.

I’m proud to say I executed this one perfectly.  My surges averaged out to be 6:26 and my floats 6:51.  Right on the money.  More than any other workout so far, this one that combines length with speed tells me a lot about my fitness and the possibility of achieving my goal.

But it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion. Am I really #richmondready?

Renowned marathon coach Greg McMillian, famous for his running calculators, wrote an article for Competitor Magazine that just happened to pop up on my feed after my run yesterday.  It’s called “Six Key Factors to Achieving Your Marathon Goal.”

Would I pass McMillan’s test?  Let’s see.

 1. Stable mileage?  Check.  After a summer mostly staying in the 50 mpw zone, I gradually moved up to the sixties during August, up to the seventies for five weeks through Septmeber, and just crossed over to 80.  I like big mileage and can handle it because the majority of my running is very easy.

2.  Long Runs? Check.  Yesterday’s 22-miler was great and I’ve had two other 20s and two 18s.  One of the twenties was not quite up to speed, but it was only a few seconds off.  “Successful marathoners are usually the ones that not only get in the long, steady runs,” McMillan writes, “but they’re the ones that recover well in the few days that follow.”  I feel zero soreness today, which I’m extra happy about.

3.  Grooving Goal Pace?  Check.  The nice thing about running those faster strides is that in comparison, goal pace felt much more under control.  I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, but it’s comfortably hard.

4.  Leg Durability?  Check.  I haven’t felt leg soreness in a very long time.  This is a huge difference from past marathon cycles.  It certainly helps that I’ve eliminated the high-intensity strength training, in favor of simpler body-weight routines.

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5.  Fueling?  Check.  I’ve been really happy with my homemade gels.  No tummy issues and they go down smoothly and easily with a lot less water.  My caffeinated Salted Peanut Butter with a touch of protein was perfect for the back half of yesterday’s workout.  The Lemon Cream Pie will also be with me in Richmond.

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6.  Mental Toughness?  Check.  I earned this one at Boston this year.  Toughing out a PR in less-than-ideal conditions was the hardest race I’ve had.  I think I’m even better prepared now.

Barely lifting my feet up on Boylston
Barely lifting my feet up on Boylston

My score: Six out of six!

There’s is still a little over a month to go before the race.  I’ve got a tune-up half marathon along the French Broad River on October 22, which will be another good test of my fitness.

But the big miles are now behind me and I see big breakthroughs ahead.

 

*top photo of the James River in Richmond, VA courtesy of www.rvanews.com.

 

The Protein Thing

I was raised to believe that a balanced meal included a veggie, a grain, and a portion of meat.  When I was old enough to cook and too old for after-school babysitters, I remember dumping a box of instant scalloped potatoes in a Pyrex, stirring the orange cheese dust and potato poker chips with some water, plopping a few frozen pork chops on top, and going back to watch DeGrassi Junior High with my sister while it cooked in the oven.  An hour later, dinner was served with some peas on the side.

Not exactly the beginnings of a fine culinary career.

Now that I choose not to eat meat or dairy, I often am asked the question about protein.  And I get the curiosity. It kind of feels like taking taking a wheel off a tricycle to think of eliminating the meat.  How can you get rid of the protein?  It’s not balanced!

First of all, you are not “getting rid” of the protein by eliminating meat.  In fact, there are many ways to eat plenty of protein and it doesn’t simply mean swapping the meat for a hunk of tofu. I’m not a nutritionist, but Gena Hamshaw is and she wrote a fabulous piece for Food52 on how to get lots of protein as a vegan.  And, no, you don’t have combine certain proteins with others to create “complete proteins” with all the essential amino acids in the same meal. “Current nutrition wisdom is that we don’t actually have to seek out complete proteins with every meal,” Hamshaw writes, “because our bodies can assemble them efficiently when given an array of amino acids building blocks from a well-rounded diet.”

High-protein homemade vegan sausage crumbles made from walnuts, beans, and mushrooms.
High-protein homemade vegan sausage crumbles made from walnuts, beans, and mushrooms.

But what about runners?  Don’t we need more protein?

Yes, but perhaps not always for the reasons you might think.

Precision Nutrition, a company of fitness trainers and nutrition experts say, “the basic recommendation for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram (or around 0.36 g per pound) of body mass in untrained, generally healthy adults.”  So for a 115 pound female, that’s 41.4 grams a day or a measly 166 calories of protein for the whole day!  “For people doing high intensity training,” they say,  “protein needs might go up to about 1.4-2.0 g/kg (or around 0.64-0.9 g/lb) of body mass.” That brings the range to 73.6 to 103.5 grams for the 115 pound runner.   

But that’s the basic recommendation.  You know, the lowest amount possible to keep your body from consuming your own muscles and to keep your hair from falling out.  There are many really good reasons to get a little more.

“Consuming more protein may help maintain an optimal body composition (in other words, help you stay leaner and more muscular) and a strong immune system, good athletic performance, and a healthy metabolism.” writes Ryan Andrews of Precision Nutrition.   “It may promote satiety (i.e. make you feel full longer) and consequently help you manage your body weight.”

Protein makes you feel full.  If you are trying to lose fat and/or gain muscle, some extra protein can help, but not simply because protein builds muscle.   Extra protein does not build more muscle.  But it does make you feel fuller longer, which hopefully will keep you from eating extra calories.  Even if you are not trying to change your body composition, extra protein can keep you from feeling so ravenous all the time.

Another cool thing about protein is that it takes a lot more work for your body to break it down and use it.  That means that 30% of the protein’s energy goes toward digestion, absorption, and assimilation, versus only 8% of carbohydrate calories and 3% of calories from fats.

Protein also can help maintain a robust immune system, improve athletic performance, and a healthy metabolism.  Check, check, and check.

But too much of a good thing is too much, so going overboard on protein is not a great idea.  Not only could you end up consuming too many calories overall, but runners risk crowding out essential carbohydrates that fuel optimum running.

So what’s the balance of enough but not too much?  A good rule of thumb for athletes is a gram of protein per pound of body weight.

And it can all come from plants.

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