Running and Giving Thanks

529628_143654692483796_997524455_n (1)I started running a long time ago, as evidenced by medals I found in the back of my closet when doing a little fall cleaning. I never take it for granted. I remember once stopping at a gas station on my way to a run up a small mountain along the outskirts of Phoenix and a woman in a wheelchair had such a difficult time crossing a street. No car would stop to let her go.

I’ll never forget that day. It made me realize how blessed I am and how at anytime, running can be taken away from me. For this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for running despite how slow I am right now.

Here are a few things you can do to say thanks during this time of thanksgiving:

1. In a previous post on France, I list some ways you can donate your running shoes and how you can run for charity. Perhaps this is something you can put on your New Year’s Resolution list.

2. Thank a volunteer. In every race, I make it a habit to thank at least one volunteer. They get up in the dark and cold when I’m sure they’d rather stay sleeping in bed. But they arrive with cheerful dispositions to hand out aid to the runners with no compensation. They deserve at least a thank you.

3. On one long run coming up, spend each mile thinking about a specific person who has helped you in your life and how grateful you are to that person. Then later that day, send an email to these people listing out why you are happy they are in your life. It’s easy to do and that person will remember that email for a long time.

4. Volunteer for an event yourself. Maybe it’s time to give back and help out other runners achieve their goals.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Running for France

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

I spent the past week in Cuba, running a half marathon for the first time legally in the country since the Cuban Revolution. However, the day’s events were tainted with the news of France. I couldn’t help but think of what could happen as I stood at the start line. I was lined up with thousands of people getting ready to begin the race and someone from France standing near me mentioned what would happen if a similar event took place now.

We all started to panic and I even thought about the Boston marathon bombings and how this could actually happen here in Cuba. Luckily, I made it through the race completely unscathed. However, I did think about France for most of the race.

At a half marathon I did the week before, I had a race director tell all the runners to think about how we could be better people as we ran  the 13.1-mile endurance event. He said we should spend the race thinking about how to live life better and be better. We have time to kill out there running alone and it made the race really powerful for me.

Here are a few things I thought would be helpful:

1. Start running for charity. You don’t even need to ask friends to donate money (which I hate doing). You can join a website in which you track your miles and then those miles will convert to money to go toward various charities. It’s called Charity Miles and the website states:

Bikers earn up to 10¢ per mile; walkers and runners earn up to 25¢ per mile, all courtesy of corporate sponsors in accordance with our terms of service.


2. Donate your shoes. In Cuba, I had many people stop and ask if I would donate my running shoes. I did. I don’t need the shoes as much as they do. Running shoes were a luxury item to Cubans. I can get mine on FTTF website easily.

One World Running is one charity I found where you can donate shoes, but plenty of organizations do it. Their website states:

Donations currently go to washing, sorting, storing and transferring shoes to youth and adults in need, including the U.S.


Here’s to safe running!

Social Media Can Improve Your Fitness

FTTF_Background_3-BIGI can’t count how many hours I have wasted on social media. From Facebook to Twitter, I find myself reading news feeds and looking at a lot of unnecessary information. I feel like it makes us all even more sedentary. But I found a little nugget of good news in regards to our health and social media.

In a new study published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports, researchers found a way to make social media improve exercise habits: a program-assigned “health buddy.”

In a randomized controlled trial, researchers created a website in which 217 graduate students enrolled in free exercise classes at the University of Pennsylvania gym. They separated the group into two:

1. The first group received promotional messages that included motivational videos and infographics with fitness tips.

2. The second group saw no messages. This group was placed in a social network with six others. Participants then updated each other on their exercise achievements and could monitor each other’s progress on the website, making them feel more accountable. Also, when a member signed up for a new fitness class, everyone received an email telling them about it.

The test lasted 13 weeks and the results were obvious:

1. The first group receiving the promotional messages bumped up class participation initially, but then it quickly fizzled. The advertising messages had no effect on keeping students in the class for the long run.

2. The second group were more effective at motivating each other to exercise. Enrollment levels grew.

What does that mean to you?

As a runner, especially if facing burn out or lack of motivation, finding like-minded partners may help you get off the couch and lace up your shoes. You can start your own Facebook group for free and post every day what you ran and receive emails of what other people are doing to keep you inspired.





Take Your Vitamin D

santa monicaWinter is approaching. Holiday music is playing at my local coffeehouse, and the mornings feel crisp. With the change in time this past weekend, nightfall comes faster and my ability to run during daylight  decreases.

If you work full time or go to school during daytime hours, you’ll not spend much of the approaching five months getting direct sunlight. This means your Vitamin D levels can drop.

But you need the Vitamin D, as evidenced by recent research. In a study published in the Society for Endocrinology, researchers found Vitamin D can improve your exercise performance.

In this study, researchers from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh gave 13 healthy adults of all the same age and weight a vitamin D  or a placebo once per day over a two weeks. Adults supplementing with vitamin D had lower blood pressure compared to those who took the placebo. In addition, a fitness test found that vitamin D group could cycle 4.7 miles in 20 minutes, compared to 3.2 miles at the start of the test. Despite cycling 30 percent farther in the same time, the group taking vitamin D supplements also showed lower signs of exertion.

“Our pilot study suggests that taking vitamin D supplements can improve fitness levels and lower cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure,” said Dr Raquel Revuelta Iniesta, co-author of the study. “Our next step is to perform a larger clinical trial for a longer period of time in both healthy individuals and large groups of athletes such as cyclists or long-distance runners.”

How can you get your Vitamin D?

-Take a supplement
-Look for milk with Vitamin D added
-Add fatty fish to your diet such as salmon, swordfish and tuna
-Drink orange juice fortified with Vitamin D.
-Add one egg to your diet everyday and include the yolk–that’s where the Vitamin D is found.


Try Out a Mud Run This Fall

RunningInRainWith the booming mud run craze, it’s easy to see why many runners have changed out their standard 5K “run around the park” to mud runs complete with obstacle courses. They make you feel like a kid again and give you the perfect excuse to get dirty and burn calories at the same time. Here are a few tips to know before you click on that registration button:

Bring your friends. Often mud runs allow for team events–this is a great way to bond with others and even bring co-workers for some fun team building event.

Buy tight clothing at a discount store. Because of the level of muddiness you will incur, you probably don’t want to wear your nice, expensive running outfit. Save the apparel you buy from First to the Finish for your training runs and regular races. You don’t want to ruin those clothes! You’ll end up so dirty you’ll probably just want to toss out what you have rather than bring it home and ruin your washer and dryer.

Volunteer at an event first. Because most know little about mud runs until they actually do one, you can acquaint yourself with the race by volunteering. It’s actually a very smart way to acclimate yourself to race conditions and lend a helping hand in the process.

Train. Although a mud run sounds like something you’d do “just for fun,” it still requires you complete the full mileage–along with plenty of obstacles to boot. Some mud races require you scale walls, jump over hurdles and practically swim through mud under low-hanging wire. It’s actually HARDER than a standard 5K.

Don’t worry about time. Because of the difficulty of the obstacles, you really need to go at your own pace and not care about your competition.

Try adding one of these to your autumn schedule. Whether you’re in high school or you’ve been running for decades, anyone can enjoy a mud run. Who doesn’t love to play in the mud?


Change Up Your Running

imagesIt’s finally fall. It is a cloudy day today and I feel like I’ve entered into my favorite season after a rather long summer. Football is on TV and I am drinking pumpkin spice lattes.

At this time of year, I try to shake up my running to keep my body energized after coming from a hot summer where I got worn out from even trying to run short distances. Here are some workouts to try if you feel the same need.

1. Speed training on the treadmill. With the weather turning a bit sour in many parts of the country, perhaps you need to take your running indoors. Here is a FARTLEK:

5 mins: Warm up
3 mins: Tempo; 2 mins easy x 4
5 mins: Cool down

This makes a total of 30 minutes, which isn’t too long on a treadmill. You can cover a few miles if you push your body hard enough.

2. Outdoor hill training. As the leaves change, I try to find hills with lots of fallen leaves to give me something pretty to enjoy as I run. Try to find a hill that climbs approximately a mile or longer. You’ll run a mile on it and then turn around and go back down. It’s best to have a Garmin for this workout, as going up hill will slow you down, so it’s hard to gauge your speed versus distance.

5 mins: Warm up on flat ground
1 mile up hill. You can speed walk if necessary.
1 mile sprint down. Go easy if this hurts the knees.
1 mile up hill.
1 mile down.
5 mins recovery on flat ground. You can walk if you need.

You’ll hit about 4.5 miles on this workout and really shock your body. Your heart rate should rise pretty high. Don’t push going up hill too hard. Save that for the down hills.

3. Track training. Most high schools are now back in session, so they open up the tracks at night.

800 meters warm up
2 miles going faster every 400 meters.
400 meter cool down.

You’ll really need to pace yourself to be able to pick up every lap.

Happy fall training! Enjoy the shorter days before they become even shorter!

Trying Out New Running Methods

Goodshoot 1I once interviewed a very famous, world champion endurance athlete on techniques he’s learned over the years. He told me something that really stuck: In training, he’d eat a big bowl of nachos with cheese and other excessively evil foods just before a long run. Naturally, he’d vomit during the run and his stomach would shut down. However, this taught him to keep going even in the worst of pain. That way, come race day, when he’d eventually start to bonk, he’d have trained his body well to handle any kind of disgusting pain and could always make it to the finish line.

While I haven’t trained to this extreme, my thoughts do run (excuse the pun) to this interview when I’ve had maybe one too many fries before a long run and I suffer gastrointestinal distress. I think it’s important to shake up the running routine and try something new every so often. Here are a few techniques I like to take:

I do a race that isn’t timed. Many female-only mud runs are making their way to cities near you, and they’ve done away with timing. It’s nice to take my time in a race and not worry about what my Garmin says. I just hang out with my girlfriends and take the opportunity to really enjoy running without caring about the finish clock. If we hang out a little long at a particular obstacle, that means we get to spend a few extra minutes together.

I run at night. I run best during mid-day when I’m a little more awake than just after I roll out of bed with no caffeine… or just after work when I need some time to digest the day. Mid-day seems to be when I’m most alive. But I shake it up and run after 8 p.m. to shock my body. I don’t think my body appreciates the shocking and neither does my alarm clock, as  I hit snooze a few extra times (running at night invigorates my blood so I don’t fall asleep easily). But I feel like it makes it harder, and harder is always a good thing. That means I’m not falling into a running rut.

I run my entire time up a hill. Near my house is a long, treacherous four-mile hill. It’s ugly. It’s brutal. Bikers curse it; runners’ legs scream at it. But we all make our way up it no matter what the pain. It makes my legs stronger and more appreciate of flat roads.

Try out something new and see what happens!

Runner’s Knee: What is It?

ankle sprain, pain


No doubt you’ve experienced a number of running-induced pains. From back pain to leg cramps to fasciitis, most of us can ramble on the ailments we’ve dealt with by participating in this sport. This post focuses on runner’s knee. I’ve heard about it, but don’t know much about it so did some research.

What is runner’s knee? 

It is pain that you feel around and under the knee cap, which occurs because the knee cap isn’t properly moving in the correct place. Because you need your knees to run, continuing on with this pain can only make things worse over time.

What can you do to avoid it? 

1. Weightlifting is the best way to proactively avoid runner’s knee. Building up the muscles around the knee cap will help it hold in place. You should work on the quadriceps, especially the inside quad muscles. People with pain tend to run abnormally, which causes weak quads. Also, work out your IT band.

Once or twice per week, focus your weightlifting routine on legs.

Do monster squats. To complete a monster squat, hold a barbell over your shoulders and squat all the way down. It’ll be tough to come back up from this position so make sure the barbell isn’t too heavy or you risk improper form. Also add in the leg press. Start pressing with a closer foot position and move to a farther foot position to work your inner and outer thighs.

IT Band:
Lie on your side on your floor. Bend the knee of the bottom leg while keeping the upper leg straight. Lift the upper leg again, isolating motion to the hip. Do these leg raises 10 times for 2-3 reps.

2. Watching how you bend your knee. Stand in front of a mirror and do a single leg squat. If your pelvis drops to the opposite side, you could be straining your knee. This can be improved by simply being aware of it and running with your hips in line and focusing on not allowing one of your hips to drop below the other. Running square will keep your hips aligned and in turn, your knees aligned.

Hopefully you can avoid this painful problem with these easy steps.

Runners’ Hydration Levels

heat_0I was so thirsty during a weekend half marathon a couple days ago. It was hot, but I normally don’t get THAT thirsty. I drank so much during the race, I got waterlogged and it was tough to finish. I clearly wasn’t hydrated properly.

This caused me to pause and start researching hydration. What is the best hydration technique for an endurance runner in a marathon?

In the article “Fluid Replacement During Marathon Running,” by Tim Noakes, M.D., published in the “Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine,” it states, “During endurance exercise, about 75 percent of the energy produced from metabolism is in the form of heat, which cannot accumulate. The remaining 25 percent of energy available can be used for movement. As running pace increases, the rate of heat production increases.”

The greater the body mass, the greater the heat production. Thus, to keep oneself cool, you need to drink fluids to ensure proper sweat availability for evaporation and circulatory flow.

But how much is enough? Surprisingly, the article didn’t give specifics. Rather, it just states for runners to drink ad libitum, meaning, drink what you need, but no more than 400 to 800 mL per hour. Drinking too much water can lead to hyponatremia, which is when electrolyte balance falls too low. Too much body water can dilute the serum sodium.

I conducted more research and found helpful information from the International Marathon Medical Director’s Association (IMMDA). Being a visual learner, this chart helped me to discern proper fluid intake levels:

Fluid Intake for Marathoners During a Race*

Finish Time
Race Pace
Fluid Intake
Fluid Intake Total
< 4 hours 10-12 oz / 20minutes 3.5-4.0 liters
< 8 minutes/mile 30-36 oz / hour
1000-1250 ml/hour
4-5 hours 8 oz / 20 minutes 3.0-3.5 liters
9-10 minutes/mile 24 oz / hour
750 ml / hour
> 5 hours 4-6 oz / 20 minutes 2.5- 3.0 liters
> 10 minutes/mile 18 oz / hour
500-600 ml/hour


For anyone running in an upcoming race, this hydration chart is helping me to gauge what I need to do to not feel so water logged and hopefully finish strong.


Lighten Up on the Nighttime Caffeine

ankle sprain, painIt should go without saying that drinking a caffeinated beverage will keep you up at night. This hurts morning time running–we all know how important sleep is to repairing and restoring your body for optimum performance. However, no research has showed that evening caffeine delays the internal circadian clock, until now.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England discovered that evening caffeine delays the circadian clock–the internal clock that tells  when to get ready for sleep and when to prepare to wake up.

The research team showed the “amount of caffeine in a double espresso or its equivalent three hours before bedtime induced a 40-minute phase delay in the roughly 24-hour human biological clock.”

Researchers used five participants: three females and two males in a double-blind, 49-day study and tested in four conditions:

1. Low light and a placebo pill.

2. Low light and the equivalent of a 200-milligram caffeine pill based on the participants’ weight.

3. Bright light and a placebo pill.

4. Bright light and the caffeine pill.

Participants who digested the caffeine pill under low-light conditions had a roughly 40-minute delay in their nightly circadian rhythm compared to those who took the placebo pill under the same conditions.

In addition, bright light alone induced circadian rhythm delays of approximately 85 minutes and bright light combined with caffeine induced circadian rhythm delays of approximately 105 minutes.

“This is the first study to show that caffeine, the mostly widely used psychoactive drug in the world, has an influence on the human circadian clock,” said Wright, a professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Integrative Physiology. “It also provides new and exciting insights into the effects of caffeine on human physiology.”

What does this mean for the runner? With the amount of daylight decreasing, your workouts may be either morning or midday. To keep yourself on track, do not take in caffeine at night and keep off the lights while you are in bed. Keep your computer and phone off once you get into bed and make sure your blinds are shut to keep the bright light out to ensure you are properly rested for your earlier workouts.