Half Marathons to Add to Your Racing Calendar

race-day-720x288This year I crossed the half century threshold in number of half marathons finished. While I view that as thousands of calories burned, my friends look at it as thousands of dollars lost.   I guess I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal when it comes to races. I feel nothing but positivity when I race–it forces me to rise early, get my workout done at a faster pace than I would run on my own, water and sports drinks are handed to me by nice volunteers, I feel supported by the crowds and other runners, I get a medal to commemorate my finish (that granted, gets stuck in a bag in the back of my closet), and I feel a sense of accomplishment that I reached another goal (despite my horrific finish time).

Out of my first 50 half marathons, here are a few of my favorites:

561761_3980390742837_446598658_nDisneyland Half Marathon. Taking place Labor Day weekend, the Happiest Race on Earth traverses through the Happiest Place on Earth: Disneyland. You’ll run through Disneyland, California Adventure Park, into Angels Stadium where the crowd noise will astound you, and receive your best race photos. If you don’t care about time, you can stop and have your photo taken with Disney characters, the automobiles from “Cars,” and the famous Disneyland castle.

Safari Half Marathon.  
For anyone wishing for a vacation out west, San Diego offers this little gem of a half marathon taking place in May. Though the course is challenging, the rewards are worth the effort. You’ll run past a vineyard where owners serve Gatorade out of wine cups, runners dress up as animals and Tarzan characters, and end up right in the middle of Safari Park–an adventure park/extension of the world-famous San Diego zoo. About 40 minutes north of San Diego airport, the race starts near Escondido, Calif.

Kauai Half Marathon. Naturally, any race in a tropical locale will make anyone’s running list. Also generally held over Labor Day weekend, the Kauai marathon is a tough course with hot temperatures–be prepared to sweat. You’ll race through this garden island’s green scenery, through a road with tree branches forming a tunnel of sorts for runners, and end up right next to the Pacific Ocean. For those more ambitious, a full marathon is offered with approximately eight miles of climbing. My hat is off to those who dare.

Salt Lake City Half Marathon. It is easy to PR at the Salt Lake City Half Marathon held each April. With 11 miles of downhill, your quads will hate you, but your Garmin will love you. I love the cherry blossoms that blow in the wind as I run by, the clean air at a higher elevation, the snow-capped mountains and ending at a shopping center.

Happy running!

Should You Use Your Smartphone When Running?

smartphone6Should you use your smartphone while running? We all see runners with their phones strapped to their arms probably listening to Pandora or Spotify. But do smartphones help or hurt your workout? Researchers at Kent State University wanted to know the same thing.

In a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers found listening to music did result in a higher heart rate than not. Plus, the participants enjoyed adding music to their workouts. Not surprising, talking and texting kept the heart rate at a lower level.

According to the study, “It appears as if listening to music and, to a lesser extent, talking may have benefits on the duration and/or frequency of exercise due to their ability to increase enjoyment,” researcher Dr. Andrew Lepp said. “However, if an individual’s opportunity for exercise is constrained by time, then it appears best to avoid talking on a smartphone during planned exercise.”

The set up:

Forty-four young adults (33 females, 11 males) each participated in four 30-minute exercise conditions (texting, talking, music, control) on a treadmill in random order. During each condition, the treadmill speed display was covered and researchers kept the grade at zero (flat road). However, participants could alter treadmill speed to whatever pace they wished.


Are Treadmills Good for Your Health?

imagesA number of years ago, I was running on a treadmill and tripped. My neck fell right into the handle bar causing me to jerk my head and hit it against the interface. This made my entire body fall onto the tread and because the machine was moving, my body moved backward and then plopped onto the floor. Not only was this embarrassing, but painful. I could barely move from the neck injury.

I am hardly alone. Recently, the treadmill-caused death of David Goldberg made national news as he was someone of high profile. This has brought treadmill safety back into the spotlight. According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, only 30 reported deaths from the use of treadmills occurred between the years of 2003 to 2012. However, injuries are quite common.

In 2014, injuries associated with treadmills numbered 24,400 and caused the largest amount of injuries than any other piece of exercise equipment. A New York Times article states, “the vast majority of injuries from sports equipment were related to overuse — for example, an injured tendon from a long run on a treadmill.”

How can you prevent an accident?

Most injuries stem from errors of the user. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Pay attention. If you are the type of person who zones out while running, perhaps treadmill running isn’t for you. Losing your balance is one of the most major types of treadmill injuries and comes from people who step off to the side or get back on a treadmill without slowing it down first.

2. Don’t run barefoot. This can cause a stress fracture in the leg. Wearing running shoes will give you better traction for the tread.

3. Stop making funny YouTube videos. I see it all the time at the gym–people videotaping their friends dancing on treadmills or creating pranks to get people to fall.


4. Be aware of the red stop button for emergencies.

It’s common sense, but practice safety always!




A Little Exercise Goes a Long Way

Goodshoot 1We all know the benefits of exercise and how running enhances our lives for the better. From muscular bodies, keeping the weight off, to giving you more energy, running provides a wealth of advantages to your life.

Now you can tell your more sedentary friends and family that even a little exercise will still reap gain. In a recent study published late last month in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, participants who spent more time on the sofa than doing anything that raised their heart rates, changed their lifestyle to incorporate 30 minutes of walking each day. Results showed this reduced their risk of dying over a three-year period by 33 percent.

Researchers wanted to know what the minimum threshold was to achieve any kind of health gains. “We know prolonged sitting is associated with poor outcomes,” Dr. Srinivasan Beddhu, a kidney specialist at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City and lead author of the new study told Live Science.

They did find that activities such as standing or writing did not provide any health benefits. Basically it comes down to this: move.

To complete this study, Dr. Beddhu and his team researched activities of more than 3,600 adults representative of the U.S. population. During the three-year study, 137 died from various reasons. Those who exercises more were less likely to die.

“We are not advocating for a total of two minutes per hour of light activity,” Beddhu said. “If a person is already doing 10 minutes per hour of light activity, going to 12 minutes per hour might further decrease their mortality risk.”

So tell your less-inclined-to-exercise friends: a little adds add to a lot. Try making subtle changes to get out and move.




What You Should Know About IIFYM

If you’ve been around the health and fitness community for any length of time – particularly online – you’ve more than likely encountered “IIFYM.” Short for “If It Fits Your Macros,” this term has spread across the internet and has gone from being a pithy piece of nutritional advice to defining a whole diet. So, what exactly is IIFYM and what should you know about it before fully embracing the concept?


What It Means

According to Examine.com, IIFYM got it’s start on the Bodybuilding.com forums. Dieters would post a question, asking if they could have a particular food, and the popular answer became a simple “IIFYM.”

The idea represented by those five letters is that you can essentially eat anything you want, as long as it stays within your limits of total calories, protein, fat and carbohydrates – macronutrients (macros). Eventually, this simple phrase spawned an entire diet and subgroup within the fitness community.


The Problem

The idea behind IIFYM – sometimes called flexible dieting – has definite merit. Allowing yourself the freedom to enjoy “treats” occasionally without being overly concerned with what you’re eating is a proven way to prevent discouragement and burnout while dieting.

And, for many people, this is all that IIFYM means. But for many others, the phrase has become an excuse to indulge in junk food… IIFYM. Writing for Breaking Muscle fitness expert Kyle Hunt, himself a flexible dieter, made some interesting comments on this. Hunt even states that this is a misconception about IIFYM that started with memes on social networks, depicting all sorts of junk food, put out there just to poke at clean-eaters. But the truth is that there are people who jump on the IIFYM wagon using these memes to set their dietary standards.

Flexible dieting is a liberating and effective way to eat. But you should not ignore quality of calories. If you were to compare 200 calories of walnuts to 200 calories of potato chips, the walnuts would doubtless give you a better nutrient profile. There is also the concern that chips – and many processed foods – contain artificial additives that increasingly demonstrate negative health effects. Many processed foods, for instance, contain emulsifiers that studies have shown can damage gut bacteria in a way that significantly increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and digestive conditions. The same can be said for artificial sweeteners.

The problem, then, is not IIFYM itself but rather the way that some misguided people use the phrase. As Examine.com puts it, “A more precise meaning of IIFYM would ‘if you have gotten high quality food and have reached your general macronutrient targets, there is nothing wrong with indulging in food.'”

By all means, enjoy your food and do not feel like you need to heavily restrict your diet. But don’t go to the other extreme and disregard the quality of a calorie.





Can Prebiotic Fiber Help With Weight Loss?

Dietary fiber is sort of an odd thing, nutritionally speaking. It is vital for our health and significant amounts of it are recommended each day (38g for men, 25g for women) – but our bodies can’t actually digest it. Still, this tough stuff has been connected to a huge number of health benefits, including improved digestion, reduced cholesterol, balanced blood sugar and – most famously – weight loss.

This ability of fiber to help you achieve a healthy weight has really been the reason that so many people pay attention to it. We have known for a long time that fibrous food tends to contain fewer calories while making you feel fuller for longer periods – thus preventing you from overeating. But, recent research shows that a surprising mechanism is at work here.


A Surprising Connection

It’s an odd and somewhat off-putting concept, but there are innumerable microorganisms living inside of your digestive tract. The existence of this gut bacteria isn’t a newly discovered fact, but experts are only just starting to understand the impact that these little bugs have on our health.

In a new study from the University of Calgary, a team of researchers demonstrated a powerful and surprising link between dietary fiber, gut bacteria and weight loss. Mice that were fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet were split into two groups: the control and those fed dietary fiber in addition to the diet. It’s very important to know that the fiber was a particular type, called oligofructose.

At the end of the study, the team reported that the fiber-fed mice gained much less weight than the control group.


How It Works and How To Use It

The reason that oligofructose was used in this study is because this specific fiber is known to act as a prebiotic – a nutrient that is especially useful to your but bacteria. While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, it’s clear that oligofructose changed the gut bacteria of the mice in such a way that weight gained is restricted. Previous studies have demonstrated this property in humans but this study was the first to look closely at effects of the fiber on gut bacteria.

It’s also interesting to note that the oligofructose changed the hormone profile in mice so that they felt full longer and therefore craved less food.

But, as always, we need to be clear that there is no magic bullet for weight loss. Oligofructose alone should not be seen as a replacement for healthy eating and regular exercise. The fiber could be used, though, to give your otherwise healthy lifestyle an extra boost.

Core Exercises Off The Floor

When we talk about working your abs – or core – the first thing most people think of is the classic crunch. And, don’t get me wrong, the crunch has it’s place. In fact, according to two separate studies – one in 2001 and the other in 2014 – both conducted by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the crunch is still the best overall core exercise.

Sort of. For one thing, many people just do the crunch wrong and end up either limiting the effectiveness of the exercise or causing injury to their lower backs. Many more have preexisting injuries that stop them from even attempting the crunch.

But another issue comes up when you consider the mechanics of human movement. Your core is just not made to be doing much while you’re lying down. Those muscles are meant to keep you upright and moving correctly. So, it stands to reason that the best way to work them would be while you’re standing up.

What follows are some simple exercises that you can do to work your core while standing. These having the added benefit of training your balance and stability – aspects that are very valuable to the athlete.



  1. Woodchoppers – Stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart so that your left leg is slightly ahead of your right. Hold either a medicine ball, a dumbbell or a cable handle in both your hands with the weight resting on your right side and your arms straight. Keeping your knees soft lift the weight up and across your body so that it comes above your left shoulder. Slowly return to starting position. Switch the position of your feet and weight to work the right side.
  2. Around-the-worlds – Stand with your feet even, about shoulder-width apart. Hold a medicine ball or dumbbell in both your hands, with the weight resting in front of you and your arms straight. Tighten your core to stay upright and swing the weight in a wide circle, clockwise around your body. Keep your arms straight throughout the movement. After 10 reps, pause and reverse direction.
  3. Side bends – There are several ways you can work the side bend movement, but holding the weight above your head adds a challenging element that can help improve balance and posture more than the traditional take. Stand with your feet at shoulder-width and hold a weight above your head. Keeping your arms straight and your knees soft, bend your torso as far as you can to the left. Slowly return to center before repeating the movement on your right side.

Try adding these movements to your normal workouts as a way to improve, not only the strength of your core, but also your balance and posture.

Heat Stroke Symptoms

IMG-20130716-00010I finished a race yesterday out in the desert. Sweat beaded up on my forehead and I felt thankful I applied at least some sunblock before crossing the start line. Although temperatures aren’t blasting yet all over the country, it will happen sooner than later.

I found a recent study offering a new way for athletes to combat high body temperatures. In Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, heat stroke kills thousands of people and is the leading cause of death among young athletes. Be forewarned: heat stroke kills.

You can prevent heat stroke with proper hydration and limited outside workouts during the hottest parts of the day. Before heat stroke occurs, you can watch for the warning signs for heat exhaustion–its precursor–which include heavy sweating, clammy skin and nausea. If your body temperature reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit, however, you will be susceptible to heat stroke.

The authors of the study found a way you can ease heat stroke should it occur: apply cold packs to the hands, cheeks and feet. These are three areas of the body in which blood vessels don’t contract when cold packs are applied.

In the study, the researchers had 10 visibly healthy men wear military clothes specially designed to trap heat and then had them walk on a treadmill for 30 to 40 minutes in a room heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

All 10 completed a treadmill test three times, resting at least one day between each trial for recovery purposes. On the first test, they received no treatment for lowering body temperature. The second time researchers gave them cold packs and applied them to the armpits, neck and groin. On the third test, they received cold packs on their hands, cheeks and feet.

After each test, their body temperature was 102.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Here were the results:

  • Body temperature after first test with no cold treatment: 101.8 degrees Fahrenheit after 10 minutes.
  • Body temperature after second test with traditional cold treatment: 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit after 10 minutes.
  • Body temperature after third test with new cold treatment: 100.9 degrees Fahrenheit after 10 minutes.

Although not a perfect test because the researchers only used healthy, young males, these are significant results. You should be aware of how to help yourself or other runners when faced with symptoms of too much heat.



Fast Food – the New Recovery Trick?

When a 2012 study reported that chocolate milk was an effective post-exercise recovery drink, athletes and exercisers everywhere rejoiced. Not only did the findings mean that you could save money by skipping some of the fairly expensive recovery products out there, but it also gave you an excuse to drink chocolate milk guilt-free.

A similar wave of excitement – albeit with a little more hesitation – is sweeping the health and fitness realm in response to a University of Montana research paper entitled “Post-exercise Glycogen Recovery and Exercise Performance is Not Significantly Different Between Fast Food and Sport Supplement.” While the title itself may not be particularly exciting, the findings of the study carry some interesting revelations for athletes when it comes to post-exercise nutrition.


What They Did and What They Found

For the study, 11 male subjects (all recreational athletes) completed two separate time trials on a stationary bike. First the men took on a 90-minute ride, designed to deplete their glycogen stores, followed by 4 hours of rest. During this rest period, muscle biopsies were taken to measure glycogen levels.

The subjects were also given a recovery meal, consisting of either traditional sports supplements or fast food. Each of the meals was designed to contain roughly the same amounts of total calories (about 1300) and macronutrients. At the end of the 4 hour rest break, the men were put back on their bikes for a 20K time trial.

After various numbers – including performance, glucose response, insulin response, cholesterol response – were crunched, there was no difference between the fast food and the sports supplements.


Implications and Cautions

After this story first broke several months ago, many publications latched onto it. But, according to one of the authors of the study, these articles misrepresented the findings. This study is not a free pass to load up on fast food.

The positive results in the study, related to eating fast food as a means of recovery, were achieved with small portions.

You also have to consider that food contains a lot more than just calories – especially fast food. There are plenty of preservatives, dyes, flavorings and texturizers added to processed food that may have any number of negative health effects. While these additives most likely will not have any acute impact on your athletic performance, they probably aren’t doing you any favors in the long-term. So, then, you have a choice to make: If you do not typically indulge in fast food, you may consider allowing yourself this one dietary lapse as a recovery meal. On the other hand, your repulsion from fast food might be too strong to even let that slide.

Either way, the facts remain: Fast food is – depending on your personal attitude toward the subject – an acceptable recovery meal. If your dietary conscience allows and you can practice moderation, grabbing a bite from the nearest fast food establishment can provide you with a cheaper, more accessible option than the more traditional sports recovery foods on the market.

Races to Run in 2015

With spring in full swing as we make our way out of winter hibernation, it feels like a new day with running. I no longer wake up to darkness and leave work with the moon shining. Thank goodness! I am not a fan of winter. Although I must endure spring allergies, I prefer this season with all the flowers blooming along my long runs. You might start thinking of filling up your racing calendar now with some fresh races for 2015. Here are a few ideas for you:

Vegas Shenanigans

In freezing cold with mittens wrapped around my fingers and a headband clung tightly to my ears, I headed out for a  13.1-mile run/walk that  raced down to the Stratosphere and turned to head into downtown Las Vegas along the old Fremont Street. I then ran back down the strip to the finish line at Mandalay Bay. Unfortunately, this race was a little too crowded for my taste–it took a good 5-10 minutes just to cross my timing chip over the finish line due to the crowds. But…if the thought of running down the strip with no cars allowed suits your running fancy and finish times don’t matter, the Las Vegas Strip at Night Half Marathon and Marathon should come near the end of your racing schedule.

Best Finish Line Treat

Hot Chocolate 15K. Partnering with a popular chocolate company, these races populate the United States and offer runners something better than a medal that sits in box–finishers receive liquid chocolate. With cardboard plates shaped for fondue, runners enjoy warm chocolate with treats such as pretzels, marshmallows and fruit to dip. If that’s not enough, hot chocolate is also offered to keep your insides warm after running. In the words of Rachel Ray, Yum-O!

Not for the Faint of Heart

Tough Mudder. I have to admit, I’ve not done a Tough Mudder. I’ve done a mud run and highly suggest completing one. Prepare your body for hours of torture! From an obstacle course called the Arctic Enema to electric wires, I don’t know if this race is for everyone. Even those names alone have me shaking in my running shoes, but crossing the finish line might make one feel pretty tough, so to speak. I’m interested to hear about anyone who has completed one…would you recommend?

Best Clothing and People Watching

Awesome 80s Run. With spandex, neon colors, bangles and leg warmers, how can you not love a race where you don fantastically ugly outfits? For those without acid wash jeans still in the back of the closet, this race may cost you a registration fee and a trip to Goodwill. But the bright colors of participants will have passersby scratching their heads.