The Hilly Easy Run, or How to Spice Up the Slog

By now, most runners know that in order to run fast, you have to spend a lot of time going slow.  Around 80% of the time, in fact.

If you run five days a week, two of them, if not three of them, should be slow and easy.  If you run every day?  Then it’s more like four easy runs a week.

Many of the runners I coach at Runners Connect find this concept very hard to grasp.  They’ll say that they are running easy, when they are actually running just a few seconds slower than marathon pace.

Sorry to say, your marathon pace is not your easy pace.  (Unless you run marathons far below your ability, but that’s another post.)

For reference, I typically run my easy runs 2-3 minutes slower than marathon pace.

“But I feeeeel good!” they’ll tell me after running a good 90 seconds faster per mile than they should.

Running so slowly is uncomfortable for me,” they’ll protest while logging an “easy” run that is actually right in between medium and hard.

Or the flat-out, “I want to run, not jog.” Sigh.  Jogging will make you a faster, stronger, and more resilient runner.

Unfortunately, what makes you feel good in the moment while you are running is not always what you should be doing.

Running slow and easy is just like eating your vegetables.  You gotta do a lot of it to be at your best.

Potato chips feel good, but no one’s going to say consuming a bag of Lays is going to help your running.

The idea of eating salads every day might make you feel uncomfortable at first, too, but it will certainly help with your health.

And lots of people would rather skip the veggies and eat fried chicken, milkshakes, half pound burgers covered with slabs of cheese, washed down with gallons of beer, but that’s not doing the body any favors.

So the trick to learning to love your easy runs is exactly the same as learning to love your greens–spice them up!

Instead of a boring slog on the same flat route you always run, find some hills.  Forget all about pace (seriously, you Type A runners–just let it go!) and just keep the effort easy, even if it means you have to stop or walk a bit on the inclines.

You want to keep your breathing slow, relaxed and even and your effort level should be exactly the same as if you were running on flat ground.

You should be able to sing a song out loud while running and freak out the neighbors.

That means that if you are used to seeing 7- or 8-minute miles on your easy runs, get your ego prepared to see some 9s, 10s or even 11s.  Let all the pride you attach to pace (we all do it, I promise) go and instead make your challenge be how smooth you can keep your effort level.

You will feel ridiculously slow on the inclines and that’s okay!  Shorten your stride so you can keep your cadence light and quick and just pitter patter your way up the hill with your nice forward lean.

You will be rewarded at the top with a descent where you can open up your speed a bit to take advantage of gravity.  This is where you can have some fun!

But don’t speed up so much on the declines that you accidently increase your effort level, of course, but it’s a treat to go a little faster while keeping the effort nice and easy.

Another point to make on the declines is to remember to keep your footsteps light and avoid the natural tendency to brake with hard footfalls.  You should keep your nice slight forward lean that you have on the inclines to almost fall downhill rather than stomp down it.

If you keep the effort level easy, running hills will add variety to your runs and will strengthen your legs and lungs for race day.  Running flat will soon seem extra easy and long hills late in a race will no longer have the power to defeat you.

And who knows?  Maybe just like veggie lovers who eventually start to crave kale, you’ll learn to love your easy runs.

 

 

Big Ol’ Beet Burgers

By now, most runners know they should eat their beets.  Loaded with dietary nitrates, beets have been shown to increase performance in runners as well as decrease our perception of effort.

Win/win, right?

I’m always looking for ways to add beets to my diet and these colorful beet burgers are just right for warm weather barbeques.

I’ve loved making Isa Chandra’s beet burgers, but I can’t help but tweak her recipe a little.

Along with the beets, a key ingredient in my version is walnuts.  Walnuts contain an essential fat called alpha-linolenic acid (usually abbreviated as ALA), or omega-3 fat.  It’s only found in just a handful of plant foods (ground flaxseed and chia are two more) so it’s important to try to eat a good source of omega-3s each day.

So colorful!

What’s great about these is that you can swap out the beans and/or the grains (yes, quinoa is technically a seed) for whatever you have on hand and they’ll still turn out great.  No quinoa?  Sub brown rice.  Don’t like pintos?  Go for black beans.  You really can’t mess up here.

Whole grains and beans are great sources of iron and zinc, two nutrients that are absolutely essential for overall health, not to mention running performance.

Looks weirdly similar to ground beef!

And while I’m not a huge fan of fake meat substitutes, it’s almost scary how much these look like beef while you are making them.  But after they are cooked, they are a brilliant magenta pink, guaranteed to catch everyone’s attention at the table!

A cookie cutter makes shaping easy

This is a great reason to make a few extra cups of beans or rice whenever you are cooking them for something else to tuck away in the freezer.  That way, awesome veggie burgers come together in just a few minutes.

I like to make huge batches of these because beets can be a little messy to work with.  I’d rather only clean up once and have a nice stash of homemade burgers in the freezer for a quick lazy meal.

Pretty patties can be baked, grilled, or dry pan-fried

The vitamin C in the beets help you absorb the iron to help move oxygen to your hard working muscles. And it’s even better if you top your burger with the beet greens!

Loaded with guac, tomatoes, onions, and ketchup!

These patties can be a little delicate, so be careful with them on the grill.  I like to play it safe and dry fry them or use a pan on the grill and cook them until they start to get just a few slightly charred spots.

Delicious way to get all your nutrients!

Yields 10 big burgers

Big Ol’ Beet Burgers

A bright pink, delicious vegan burger stuffed with plant superpowers!

40 minPrep Time

12 minCook Time

52 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups raw shredded beets (about two medium)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2.5 cups cooked and cooled quinoa or other whole grain
  • 2 cups cooked and cooled pinto beans or one 15 oz can drained and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel or crushed whole seeds (optional but yummy!)
  • 2 teaspoons dried mustard
  • 2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 cup panko or fine breadcrumbs

Instructions

  1. Peel the beets and shred with the shredder attachment of a food processor. Remove shredded beets from machine into a large bowl.
  2. Switch to the S blade and pulse the walnuts until crumbly, but not so long that they turn into butter.
  3. Add the onion, garlic, beans, quinoa, and shredded beets and pulse 15-20 times until the mixture comes together but still has a slightly chunky texture and looks eerily like ground beef.
  4. Transfer back to the mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients.
  5. Use your hands to squish everything together so it's evenly incorporated.
  6. Refrigerate bowl for 30 minutes
  7. Preheat your cooking surface(I like well-seasoned cast iron), if cooking right away, and shape into patties, either by hand or using a cookie cutter.
  8. If your cast iron is well-seasoned, you will need very little or no oil. If not, use a light spray or swipe with a neutral high-heat oil like canola.
  9. Cook for approximately 12 minutes, flipping a few times on each side until they are just barely charred and heated through.
  10. Serve with all your favorite burger fixings!
Cuisine: American |

Notes

Inspired by Isa Chandra's Quarter Pounder Beet Burgers

http://www.isachandra.com/2012/02/quarter-pounder-beet-burger/

7.6.4
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http://theplantedrunner.com/big-ol-beet-burgers/

 

Could Those Electrolytes Be Making You Fat?

Nooooo!!  Not again.  Another damn nutrition article ruins the fun.

What’s the villain in our diets this time?  One of the usual suspects: salt.

But not for the reason you might think.

According to an article published in the New York Times, researchers have discovered that salty diets can dramatically increase hunger and lead to overeating.  And not just a few extra snacks.  A whopping 25% more calories.

That’s like eating an extra meal a day.

The researchers fed cosmonauts living in isolation to mimic space travel a salty diet and despite conventional wisdom, the cosmonauts actually drank less fluid than on a lower sodium diet.  And here’s the bad news:  their levels of hunger dramatically rose, even though they were eating the same amount of calories.

Hmmm…so maybe it’s not the extra carbs that cause some marathoners to gain weight in training despite running more miles.

It’s the extra salt driving us to eat more.

Salt has always been the one thing as a runner that I have felt pretty good about indulging in.  After all, sodium is an essential electrolyte that is lost in sweat and is critical for life.

At my house, we can go through a bottle of (low-sodium) soy sauce in a week.  I grind pink Himalayan salt over roasted veggies and sprinkle a few shakes on my oatmeal.

Salt makes food taste better, plain and simple.  (Remember the watermelon post last week?)   But when food tastes good, we are more tempted to overeat.

And it’s not just the salty deliciousness of the bag of Sea Salt Waffle Chips that makes us want to eat more, it’s the body crying out to eat more to make up for the extra calories it burns creating extra fluid to dilute the sodium.

It’s a double whammy.

Strangely, instead of continuing to signal your thirst to bring on more fluid to dilute the salt, your body will create its own.  Just like a camel breaks down the fat in its hump to unlock the stored water, our bodies do the same thing cannibalizing your own fat and muscles.

This process burns calories, of course, which should mean we’d lose weight on a salty diet.  But we don’t, because our brain ramps up the hunger cues, leading us to eat more (salty) food.

Athletes seem to be given a free pass, when it comes to sodium. After all, nearly every sports drink on the planet contains salt.  Marathons offer water and salty Gatorade at every mile.

Runners even take salt tabs, especially during hot races, believing that it will prevent cramping. (Probably not.)

Athletes need more salt than non-athletes, right?  Salt stings our eyes in the summer and leaves chalky stains on our t-shirts.   Of course we need to replace it!

Yes, but it’s not that simple.  Hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, is a real issue in long distance events, but what about our daily lives?

It seems like scientists might know a lot less about salt’s role in the body than we thought.

We know that water, sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes work in a delicate balance in the body.  If you take on too much water, you have to pee.  If you eat something salty, you drink, which is why smart restaurant owners provide those salty bar snacks.

Now it seems that the salty pub mix not only increases drink sales, but it probably also increases food sales too.

So what does this mean for an endurance athlete?

Sodium is still a critical element in our diets, but we should probably be careful about our consumption, just like the rest of the population.  Many exercise scientists, most notably Tim Noakes, believe that runners’ deaths from hyponatremia come from over-hydration, not from under-consuming sodium.

What’s the bottom line, then?  How much salt do athletes need?  There is no clear answer.  Some say that excreting excess salt in our diets is one of the best benefits to exercise because we consume too much.

Yet others warn that restricting salt too much is dangerous as well, especially to the heart.

What’s a runner to do, then?

If you can’t figure out why you are always hungry or if you gain weight during heavy training, take a look at your sodium intake.  Perhaps it’s a part of the (complicated) equation.

But ultimately, I think the best advice is the same as always–choose fresh, whole foods with limited processing and don’t over do it.

Make meals at home and share them with the people you love.

And maybe go a little lighter on the soy sauce.

 

2017 Nutrition Summit Recipes

It’s been so much fun being a part of the Runners Connect 2017 Nutrition Summit!

To make it simpler for those who are just coming to my site for the first time, here are links to some of the recipes that I mention in my talk.

 

 

High Protein Whole Wheat Bread

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIY Generation UCAN Lemonade

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sugar-Free Chocolate DIY UCAN

 

 

 

 

 

Stupidly Easy Homemade Non-Dairy Yogurt for making overnight oats.

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Blackstrap Cocoa

 

 

 

 

DIY Nuun Electrolyte Replacement

 

 

 

 

Copycat GU Gel

 

 

 

 

Real Food Endurance Gels

 

 

 

Hope you are enjoying the summit!  And if you haven’t signed up yet, here’s how to get your free ticket!

How to Make One of Nature’s Finest Post-Run Foods Taste Amazing

I don’t like watermelon.

There’s something about its weirdly sweet flavor which is just, well, so watery.

But my kids love it.  They beg for it.  They would eat nothing but watermelon for dinner if I let them.

So every summer, I buy watermelon, cut it up for the kids and I eat none of it.

Then the other day, I got the latest copy of Nutrition Action, an awesome monthly publication created by the dedicated people at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

You know, the food lobbyists for the people, yo!

CSPI created scores for fruit by calculating the percentage of the recommended daily intake of seven major nutrients plus fiber and carotenoids.

What are carotenoids? you might ask.  Carotenoids are phytonutrients that give fruits and veggies their bright colors.  They act as antioxidants in the body fighting inflammation and protecting against disease.  Well-known carotenoids are lycopene, beta carotene, and lutein.

Watermelon was scored second highest on the Nutrition Action list, right behind guava (which amazingly was twice as high).  Two cups of watermelon has a score of 302, while an apple only weighs in at 34 with a difference of only 10 calories.

The publication makes it clear that all fruits are good for you so it isn’t necessary to only eat guava and watermelon while shunning apples, but adding a few more fruits that are higher on the list is probably a good idea.

Watermelon, in all its watery voluminousness, is also great for helping you feel full without costing a lot of calories.

But I don’t like watermelon!

So maybe I’ll try to find a guava.

Okay, I didn’t try too hard to find that guava, because I came home with a watermelon.

Later that night, my husband cut it up for the kids as usual and I decided to figure out a way to like watermelon.

At a dinner party years ago, some friends served mango for dessert dressed with a little lime juice and salt.  It was a delicious combination so I thought I’d try it with the watermelon cubes.

Complete transformation!

The salt cut the sickly sweet taste of the watermelon and it became fresh and tart with the lime juice.  I ate my 2 cup serving and then went back for seconds!

It’s the perfect combo to eat cold out of the fridge after a hot, sweaty run.  Two cups of watermelon provides 23 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein, and almost no fat.

But the vitamin and mineral content is where watermelon is a superstar for runners.  It provides 34% of your RDA of vitamin A, 42% of vitamin C, plus calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.  And when you sprinkle a little salt on top, you are helping to replace the sodium you just lost in your sweat.

Natural glycogen and electrolyte replacement at its finest!

The carotenoid content of watermelon is also quite high, providing more than 20% of what you need in a day for optimal health.  So it’s not just great after a run, but any time of the day.

One thing to remember is that carotenoids are fat-soluble, so sprinkling some sesame, hemp, or sunflower seeds on your frosty, limey, salty cubes is a great addition to make sure that all of those micro-nutrients are being absorbed well in your body.  It’s also a good idea to get some protein with your carbs post-run, so those seed sprinkles are doing double-duty!

So often we runners like to over-analyze and over-complicate things.  We buy gels and powders and goos and gadgets that are supposed to make every facet of our fitness optimized to the nth degree.

Yet sometimes, we just need to take a step back and look for the simple choice right in front of us: whole, unprocessed food straight from nature.