Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day = Extra Workout?

Enjoy your Labor Day holiday!


Friday, August 29, 2014

Fit Kids, Strong Brains?!

An interesting article... since it's short, I'll just share.  Enjoy!

---

Fitness may boost kids' brainpower

By Randy Dotinga HealthDay Reporter
 
Exercise and brainpower in children may not seem closely related, but a small new study hints that fitness may supercharge kids' minds.

The finding doesn't prove that fitness actually makes children smarter, but it provides support for the idea, the researchers said.

"Our work suggests that aerobically fit and physically fit children have improved brain health and superior cognitive [thinking] skills than their less-fit peers," said study author Laura Chaddock-Heyman, a postdoctoral researcher with the department of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Hopefully, these findings will reinforce the importance of aerobic fitness during development and lead to additional physical activity opportunities in and out of the school environment."

The researchers launched their study to gain more insight into the connections between fitness and the brain in children. Other research has connected higher levels of fitness to better attention, memory and academic skills, Chaddock-Heyman said.

And two recent studies found that fit kids are more likely to have better language skills and to do better on standardized tests for math and reading.

But there are still mysteries. While moderate exercise boosts brainpower for a few hours -- making it a good idea to work out before a test -- it's not clear how fitness affects the brain in the long term, said Bonita Marks, director of the Exercise Science Teaching Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "The chronic impact is less certain and, for health, really the key for future research and health management," she added.

The new study didn't examine any thinking skills, but instead looked only at the brain's "white matter," which helps different brain regions communicate with each other. The researchers scanned the brains of 24 kids aged 9 and 10, and found that white matter was different in the fitter kids, potentially a sign of better-connected brains.

Higher levels of fitness may boost blood flow, increase the size of certain brain areas and improve the structure of white matter, Chaddock-Heyman said.

What do the findings mean in the big picture?

It's hard to know for sure. Megan Herting, a postdoctoral fellow with the division of research on Children, Youth, and Families at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, pointed out that the kids with lower fitness levels also weighed more, "so it is unclear if it is actually fitness or 'fatness' that may be affecting the brain. "Studies show that individuals with obesity have different brains compared to their healthier-weight peers," she said.

As for the stereotype of the 99-pound weakling nerd, Herting suggested it may be time for a rethink. "These findings do challenge that if you are aerobically fit, you are likely to be dumb. In fact, from an evolutionary perspective, we were made to move. So rather than fitness being 'good' for the brain and cognition, it is feasible that being sedentary may be 'bad.'"

The researchers are now working on a study that assigns some kids to take part in exercise programs to see what happens to their brains over time when compared to other kids, Chaddock-Heyman said.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Minneapolis Duathlon 2014 (Buncha Drunks)

 
Minneapolis Duathlon 
(3.15 miles run, 15 miles bike, 3.15 miles run)
Relay, Run Portions Only: Bad & Worse
Average Pace - Let's Not Even Bother



It's no secret that I'm not a Team Ortho fan.

Why?

Well, there's the time they ran out of food and finisher medals at end the last a half marathon I ran with them.  And the time they screwed me out of my free post race beer ticket. And don't forget about how they flat out didn't even start the last race my friends paid to run with them due to "rain" (thank goodness I wasn't at that one, where it didn't even start to rain until well into the afternoon).

Even when I did the Minneapolis Duathlon last year, I thought the way they handled the weather in regards to race cancellation was sub par...
 
Given all this, it's hard to believe that Team Ortho races are basically the most expensive races you can register for in the Twin Cities.  :-(  It's true!  Team Ortho races will run you at least $60-75 when most other comparable, well run races in the area will come in under $50.

So before I even get into this race recap, I'm going warn you not to waste your money on Team Ortho races.  Also, I will repeat what I think is the Team Ortho motto:  "Be big or go home". 

What does that mean? 

It means, as a Team Ortho race, you must:

(1) Be so big that your headcount numbers are astronomical. 
(2) Not worry about organization. 
(3) Not worry about communication. 
(4) Just keep booking and over booking people to race.  (No worries if a fueling station, medal station or post race party is under furnished due to overbooking.)
(5) Just keep taking registrant's money.

So, you're likely wondering why I even did this race.

Simply put, I'm nothing but dependable.  I promised my race partner from last year that we'd do this again, and so we did! 




Yep!


---


4:00 am wake up call. 




Plus thunderstorms.  And lightening.  And temps over 70 degrees - already. 

Oh joy, it must be another duathlon race day. 




Although I was definitely not having a good morning or feeling very up-n-at-em, just before 5am I found myself wandering across the street to meet up with my relay partner.  Oh, and his wife.  Because, NBD, he just managed to talk her into doing the race as a relay for 2014.  Hooray!

However, it was also kind of ironic.  Why?  Well, last year my partner - two weeks prior to the event - had a major bike accident and required stitches in his knee (not to mention major bike repairs).  This year, my partner's wife - also pretty much two weeks prior to the event - found out she need to put off having a tooth pulled for the race, and then came down with a major case of head/chest congestion.

Boo.

To make matters worse, just when I though last year's weather couldn't be topped, we made it about 10 miles down the road towards the race and ran into rain so heavy we could barely drive down the highway.  As we drove, I couldn't help but think how it seemed like a safe day to have an event where people would be focused on transitioning from a run to a bike ride ... on some of the skinniest tires known to man ... ON WET PAVEMENT.  Hmmm...  well... nothing we can do about this now.

Let's do this!

As we drove into downtown Minneapolis, the rain seemed to be letting up some... although it was still dumping down.  It wasn't a huge deal right away, since we needed to park and unload anyway, and we were fortunate to be parked in an area with a roof shelter.

Oh, I should mention.  This year, my partner was a little more on the ball than me and had figured out that the Depot just across from transition was offering all day parking for $6.  Major score.

Once at the depot, we met up with our last party member - my partner's wife's friend.




Gee, just a few more social connections from there and I should be able to connect myself to Kevin Bacon.  HA!

Anyway!

As we unloaded and got bikes situated, the rain began to taper off.  Around 6:10 or so, the rain pulled back, and the timing seemed good enough to at least get bikes into transition.  With less than a block to walk, we were in transition and ready to go well before the 6:30 cut off. 

Entry into transition was an odd situation, to say the least.  I don't know what happened to the organization of the event this year, but I noticed it went to pot even from the very beginning.  Why?  There was a huge area at the front of transition where you were supposed to check in with race volunteers/"security" (to ensure your bike was tagged, you tagged your helmet, had your bib, etc). 

We did not see this check in area until we were already inside and racking our bikes

How did we get inside without clearing security, you ask?  Well, the two back openings of transition were wide open with NO volunteers guarding the entrances and directing you around to the front.  Since we saw the opening, and had no idea that we were supposed to go through a security check, we just waltzed right in... along with at least several hundred other people. 

This was very concerning to me, given the fact that transition is supposed to be a secure area where you can leave your bike, AKA a very valuable asset that could just walk away due to lack of supervision.  Not to mention, when you think about lack of security, and then a situation like the Boston Marathon, well...

Aside from the poor security, nothing else too exciting happened once we racked bikes.  In fact, it was still relatively empty as many participants were still just coming into transition due to the rain.  So, we just sat back and watched people arrive.  Oh, and I took a photo of my partner and his wife, who just so happened to be wearing the jersey we all received for participating this year:





Not to shabby looking, eh?  (I mean the jersey, although they are a cute couple as well, AM I RIGHT?!?!)

As we were killing time, we saw this guy:





WTF!  Who brings a trainer into transition?!  And BTW, I don't think he even actually ever used it.  Weirdo.

Eventually it was time, and volunteers who seemed to be missing earlier started appearing and making sweeps of transition.  We were being herded to the start line, relatively unsuccessfully... sans megaphones.  And sans music.  Odd... but apparently, this was being done due to permitting issues.  The people who live in the condos near where Team Ortho starts all their races finally got smart and started petitioning about how damn loud these races are at 6am on a weekend ... when they want to be sleeping in.  Good for them for pitching a fit!!  Sounds like future Ortho races cannot use amplified sound until after 8am anymore.  HAHA.

Given the rain delay getting people into transition, and the slow push to get us out of transition without megaphones, by the time we made it up to the start line it was pretty much time for us runners to queue up and get going.  I didn't have a problem with that, since I was rearing to go. 

My partner's wife's friend, on the other hand, seemed a little more reserved than me in regards to being ready.  I suppose that may have been due to the pending doom of running a two 5Ks back to back... yeah, I guess that's not exactly something fun to look forward to on a hot summer day.  We both crossed our fingers and hoped the luke warm temps and overcast skies held out through most of our second run as well.

The finger crossing didn't last long, since the wave roll outs were timely.  Within minutes of lining up, my "running buddy" and I were out on course.  We hadn't really talked about it pre-run, but in the throngs of people, we kind of ended up running together and chatting for awhile. 

If you remember my description of the course from last year, you'll recall the first 1/2 mile or so leaves the parking lot near the Depot and crosses the river.  As I jetted out across the bridge chatting all the way, my "buddy" changed up the conversation with a "So... what pace are you thinking of keeping for this run?"

Whoops, I know what that means.  I'm running too fast.

After reviewing our watches, I learned that although I wasn't exactly Speedy Gonzales, I had shot out the gate with about a 9:00-9:30 pace.  Yes, I'll admit that some of that was due to race day adrenaline.  But some of that was also due to my increased mileage over the last few weeks.  I have been, after all, trying to get back into the swing of things, sort of.

Realizing that I had another 5K to come, plus my recent issues with plantar's fasciitis, I decided to pull back my pace and run with a friend.  Besides, what's more fun than running?  Running with friends!!  (My CCC peeps should appreciate that one.)

As we chatted and ran, the course wound back along the river, on a cobblestone area that I hate, over the Stone Arch Bridge, and out and back along the opposite side of the river prior to heading towards transition.  At about the 2+ mile point, there was a water stop offering energy drinks and cold towels as well.  We took a short break there due to the heat and minor hills prior to arrival, but aside from that and walking the ramp into transition, we ran the entire first 5K leg. 




Thank goodness, BTW, that I was walking into transition because my wet shoe slipped on the timing mat at the entry.  Walking, I was able to catch myself.  Running... it may have been a... spectacular wipe out, let's just say that.

Also, a note about the 2014 transition... there was a major change that I really did not like.  Rather than routing us along the outside of transition and having all relay participants meet their partner in the corral area like we did in 2013 (red lines below), they forced us to run up the center of all the bike racks in 2014 (blue arrows below):




This doesn't sound like a huge deal until you think about this: the back of transition is where the exit was.  That was also where the relay partners were.  Guess which racers were causing a traffic jam for all participants by hanging out INSIDE transition watching for their partners to arrive?  Yeah. 

There may as well have been no relay corral, it was so congested.

Terrible organization and planning, if you ask me.  And why they made the change versus 2013 is beyond me.  Regardless, given the change, there should have been some volunteers there getting people into the relay corral and out of the way. 

Oh well.

Moving on from the traffic jam, this was where the fun came in - the rip and switch.  Ah, sweaty timing chip ankle straps.  Delicious.

In less than 2 minutes our chips were swapped and our partners were off!

And now - queue Jeopardy music.  We wait and wait and wait for our bike partners to come back... in the open sun.  This year there was no tent to hang out under while we waited.  Ugh.  Extreme sun exposure.  At least it was a mixed day of sun and shade.  I was extra glad for the clouds given I had forgotten to put on sunscreen.  Shout out to no post-race sunburns - HOLLA!!

While we waited, I realized I made a fatal error versus 2013 - I did not bring fuel and had to go into run two on empty.  Yikes.  I knew immediately that run #2 would not be fun. 

And then, as if that wasn't enough, my left heel started to hurt.  FML.  There aren't chairs in transition, so I limped around to try to stay loose and drank as much water as I could while I waited...

Finally, my partner made it back ... without his wife.  Ooops.  Turns out she was a little delayed on a few hills of the course and was about 10-15 minutes behind him.  Not wanting to delay the inevitable (as my plantars pain was starting to wear on me), I decided to take off. 

In the first few steps, my heel definitely didn't like me.  So, I did what any normal woman would do.  I gave myself a pep talk by telling myself to not be a pussy and pushed myself to run to at least the 1.5 mile mark before taking my first walk break.

BTW, I can proudly say I am not a pussy.  But I did start my walk break as soon as my watch cleared 1.50. 

And then, the death march began.

You know how it is when you're alone, running, and things aren't going well?  Your mind can really start to work against you.  Not only was I pissed off that I was doing so poorly as compared to last year, I was hurting.  Really hurting.  My heel hurt like a bitch, I was starting to chafe from my phone arm band, I was running out of energy, and... it was hot.  I was turning into a royal diva.




To get myself out of a hate spiral, I decide to play a game between 1.50 and 2.25 miles.  I told myself that I could run the downhills, walk the uphills, and take a luxuriously long water stop break.  And I convinced myself that the energy drink will improve my non-fueled, hangry attitude.

The game worked, because before long, I was sucking down a glass of something red and turning out of the water stop.  Mmmm, red.  My favorite flavor.




Knowing that the race is almost over, I decided to push myself to run out as much of the distance as I could, and just get it over with.  To distract myself, I started people watching and realized... I was racing with a bunch of drunks!!

Bike jerseys included various beer and alcohol brands, mixed drinks all over them, and three of my favorites:

P.O.S Cycle Club (featuring a rack of tap handles on the back)

Liver Strong (featuring a liver floating over a beer on the back & a bottle of Jag on the front)

Belch - Oh hey, I know this company... my coworker makes them!!




I snickered about what fuels people to do this race - the need to burn of a night of binge drinking, perhaps - and bumble along.  Before I know it, the 3 mile marker was blazing orange in the distance.  My mantra changes to "I'm almost there!!"

Sure enough, just after that, the finish line was in my sites.  Just a hop, skip and jump...



*Yes, I wore the same outfit as last year.  Why not?!


And... I made it!  Another race complete!!

I sling the medal around my neck:




And meet up with my friends, the husband/wife duo.  Not far behind me, my "runner buddy" from 5K #1 comes through the finish line and we cheer our heads off for her.

Then, without delay, we ALL hop on bikes and head off to Brits.  Gotta get that free beer, and some food...  I didn't do all this running for nothing, you know!! 


+  =  a whole lotta calories to spare!


Once we arrive at Brits, we enjoy another great meal, some cold drinks, and some war stories.  Then we pack up for home, a little more tired, but a lot more happy than we were 4 hours earlier...

And that's the story of how race bib # 48 joined my collection.  Here's to another race soon... actually, next weekend again!  I'm on a mission!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Form is Everything - Burpees

Adding to my post from Friday, I wanted to talk about another fitness move I often see people do wrong.

Burpees.

Yep, I said it.  The swear word of the fitness world.




Seriously, every time I introduce a set of burpees into class, I swear the reaction from every student is something like:





Yeah, yeah.  I get it.  Burpees are hard.  No point in sugar coating it.  Moving on...

Anyway, I was inspired to talk about burpees thanks to this video, which was sent to me by a friend as a response to my write up on Cross Fit last week (here's a backup link for the video if that first link doesn't work).  If you've spent any time in a gym that shares a cardio space with weight lifters, you'll get a kick out of that video - take a second to watch it, and pay careful attention to the portion where one guy starts doing "burpees" on the floor.

Side note: this is about the time where I wish I was cool and knew how to make my own GIFs, because that guy's burpee form is awesomely bad.  Since I do not know how to make GIFs, I'll just have to insert some other pre-made, awesomely bad burpee GIFs I found online instead.







So before we get too far, let's revisit my plank post from last week.  Remember the good form connect the dots game?




Burpees essentially are a plank with some dynamic movement added, so think back to that good form first... and then add the jumps.  In case you're not sure what that should look like, here's a few basic demonstrations, with or without push-up at the bottom (I prefer without to keep the cardio moving more quickly).


 
 




If you compare these form drawings to the "awesomely bad" GIFs above, what do you see?

Well, there's the obvious issue of bad plank form - butt too high/low.

BUT!  There's another issue too... notice how quickly the two guys drop down to the floor, and how they both let their knees touch?  WTF is that?!  (OK, to be fair, the guy in grey isn't too terrible, but it does look like he's dropping to his knees some, and he's definitely got some belly dropping seal action going ... maybe that's why he wore gray?!  LOL!).

Also, what's with all three of them letting gravity and momentum take over?  None of them are truly popping out into plank and engaging their muscles to hold it.  Honestly!  There's no point in doing a burpee if you're just going to let gravity take over and pull you down to the floor, then let momentum swing you back up again.

The idea of a burpee is to engage those core muscles while getting some cardio.  When gravity and momentum take over, they do that work.  Not your muscles.

Of course there are other possible ways to do burpees wrong, too.  But instead of talking more about incorrect moves, let's see some folks rock burpees!!!  Check this out:





WOW!  Dots connected!  Engaged muscles stopping gravity and momentum.  I LOVE IT!!

So... that's about it!!  With a few easy corrections, any burpee can go from bad to good.  Just remember: connect those dots, engage those muscles, and get that burpee done right!!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Form is Everything - Plank

Recently, I was reading a fellow blogger friend's post and stumbled across this photo:





Seriously.  Seriously!  I just.  Can't.  CAN. NOT.






Fortunately, I was not the only one who saw the problem in this photo, and a few of us readers (and the blog owner, too) had a little poke-fun session.

Why?

This is why:





Do you see the difference?  Here, let me draw it out for you.



 
 
 


Ugh.  Cheating in plank is my ultimate pet peeve.  I so hate seeing someone do plank with bad form.

So, you might ask ... what's the problem with the above, and how do I fix it?

Well, as you know, I try to make every workout fun.  And with plank, I try to keep it fun by asking folks to think back to old school games to correct their form. 

What do I mean by that?  Well - when planking, why not play some good ol' "connect the dots"?

Notice how in the photo of the single woman, you can draw a nice straight line between her shoulders, hips and ankles.  Then, look at the group photo - those lines are more like an inverted V, right?

The true goal of plank is to have a nice straight line of connect the dots.  Lift those hips too high and you negate all the core building benefits of plank.  So - play the game right!  Get a good, straight line.

That principle, by the way, applies both ways.  While I don't want to see a bunch of inverted V's, I also don't want to see a bunch of seals either.




What do I mean by that?

 


Some people have a tendency in plank to over-correct the inverted V.  Then, before you know it, their belly is dropping down like a seal, hanging towards the floor.  This is equally bad, and may also lead to back troubles when done in plank position.  Don't do it!! 

Again, the focus here is to keep those hips in line - raise them up and connect those ankle and shoulder dots with a straight line!!

**(Yes, I will admit that this photo is actually a demonstration of a yoga form called up dog - just ignore that.  I needed an example of how you can lower your hips too far down in plank as well, and this gets my point across.)

And that's about it!!  With a few easy corrections, any plank can go from bad to good.  Just remember: connect those dots, skip those V's, and keep the seals out of your workout.  Get that plank done right!!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Feet Hurt

As I mentioned on Monday, my feet have been bothering me lately. 





I thought I might elaborate so as to put your fears at ease.  Here's the nitty-gritty:

I go to bed at night, things seem fine.
I get up in the morning and take my first step out of bed, and I am forced to hobble like a granny into the shower.

The pain is mostly in the center of my left heel radiating outward towards the back edge.  Although the right does get tender at times, too.  When I touch the area that hurts, it almost feels tender like when you touch a bruise.

It's not very fun. 

It's also not very consistent.  Some days I can get up and have little to no pain.  Other days I can barely stand to put weight on my left heel in order to walk out of bed.

Eventually, as I put weight on it during my morning routine, it loosens up and stops hurting ... or stops hurting as bad.

Unfortunately, I haven't' figured out yet what triggers it.  And it seems like there's also no correlation to what exercises bother it, and which ones don't.  At first I thought it was totally running related, and then I completed a run with no issues the next morning ... that was followed two days later with extreme pain after teaching a TBC class (which I only participated in at about 50% effort).

So annoying.

Upon talking with some friends in the Run Club a couple weeks ago about my issue, it sounds like I have plantar's fasciitis. 



The solution?

- wear supportive shoes
- stretch/foam roll/massage the foot and calf
- wear a stretching sleep sock

I don't know about you, but the sleep sock sure looks sexy to me:




Anyway.

I've found on the days where I do my stretching or rolling I feel much better the next morning.  So I'm trying to keep up with that to begin with, and may progress to the sexy sock if things don't start improving.  Right now my top activities include:

Step standing



Foot stretching



Golf/tennis ball rolling




I'm not being very scientific about this either - just doing all of the above on repeat, whenever I think of doing it.  Plus scrunching up and releasing my toes a lot (think of the motion you make when you pick something up off the floor with your toes).  It seems to be helping, but I'm not totally healed.

Regardless, I'm just hoping I can figure this out and get over it so that I don't have yet ANOTHER reason that allows me to mentally check out of running.

Wish me luck.

PS - have you had this issue before?  What helped you?  Comment below...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Screwing My Head on Straight

OK, it's officially been 6 months since I burned myself out on running (training) for the Little Rock Marathon.  For the longest time, I have been using that as a justification for dialing back on my running and taking a break.

Reality check time.  Little Rock was a long f-ing time ago.

To be honest, it wasn't just Little Rock that encouraged me to dial back my training as of late, though.  As you know, I have been pregnant or have been hoping to get pregnant ever since late March/early April, and that has continuously kept me in a "hold off on training for big things" mode.

Of course, along with those reduced training hours, I am now carrying an extra 10 pounds (more or less) that I am not proud of.  Yes, I gained them initially due to different reasons.  But my reduction in gym time hasn't exactly helped me get rid of them.  And I have made no progress in my effort to get them back off. 

I can't let that be anymore.

I have no excuses for not getting back into a regular running schedule again.  Or, really, a regular workout schedule in general. 

I say "workout schedule in general" because this because this week I realized something...

What my workout regime looks like in my head:

     Monday - run 3-6 miles
     Tuesday - teach TBC
     Wednesday - run or swim (or both)
     Thursday - teach TBC
     Friday - rest
     Saturday - race/bike ride/fun weekend active activity
     Sunday - rest

And what it looks like in reality:

     Monday - run 4 miles or rest (mostly rest)
     Tuesday - teach TBC
     Wednesday - swim or happy hour (mostly happy hour)
     Thursday - teach TBC
     Friday - rest
     Saturday - race/bike ride/fun weekend active activity
     Sunday - rest

Yeah, there's a lot of rest and happy hour in there that shouldn't be.  I don't think my head is screwed on straight.

Plus, I'm *****spoiler alert***** still not pregnant again, so I don't really have any reason not to be working out.  Or any reason to not shoot for a new long distance race goal.

My resolution?  Time to start a dedicated training program again.  For what, I've yet to determine (because I think I've got a small case of plantar's fasciitiis that needs attention, and I'm not sure if I can manage half marathon distances this fall with that).  But starting this week, it's time to get back into a regular running program.

Are you with me?  Let's do it!