A Birthday Run

This weekend I celebrated a birthday. While it wasn’t any significant milestone, which I consider an age ending in zero or five because that means a new racing group, I am a year older.


I certainly feel it, too. I went out for a celebratory run early on my birthday through the streets of East LA, as I was visiting the area for the weekend. I climbed the hills of Pasadena, waved at Mark Feuerstein of “Royal Pains” fame as he ran with his dog in Runyon Canyon and saw Lance Bass speed by in a sparkling white Mercedes. It felt so good to get out and run on my special day. I even picked up the pace down a significant hill, sprinting at a speed much faster than usual.

I returned to my friends’ home flushed, sweating and with a big smile on my face. What a way to start day one of a new age!

Then the next day came. My legs were so sore and it hurt to even try to straighten them out. I wanted a massage and cursed lactic acid. I rubbed them with lotion, tried self-myofascial release with a foam roll and wore my comfortable shoes, despite my desire to wear the new pair of heels I received for my birthday.

I was tired, too. All I wanted to do was sleep. Is this what old age feels like? Although I have a new age to write on doctor’s forms, I really was only a day older than the previous day. But as much as I loathe to admit, this has been happening for the past couple of years. I’ve reached an age where my body doesn’t recover the same way. I used to run eight miles a day with no energy lost. Now I run five miles and my body aches.

Yes, this is what old age feels like. And I don’t like it.

I’ve decided to start eating healthier, banning that second Diet Coke during the day and turning to water to stay flushed out so that my running doesn’t feel so weighted down. I’ll try to stretch more often after I run as I can feel my muscles tighten as I age.

Although I can’t turn back the hands of Father Time, I can try to slow them down.

More Reasons to Get Outside

A good old fashion run on a treadmill has a lot to offer. It’s predictable, climate-controlled and convenient. You can get your workout in regardless of what the weather is like outside or what time of day it is. Plus, you can watch TV while exercising, which can be an especially appealing idea if you get bored during your workouts. That control is increased if you own your own equipment and don’t have to compete for a space at the gym.

But taking off out the door and running down the road or on a trail has it’s on unique set of benefits. What advantages does an outdoor workout offer over staying inside? Are there any reasons to stick to the treadmill?

The Good

The first, and potentially the most surprising, benefit of exercising outside is that it tends to be considerably more difficult. Natural terrain changes in a way that even the best treadmill would have trouble mimicking. For example, running downhill challenges your muscles in a completely different way then flat or uphill running. But you’re unlikely to experience a downhill run on a treadmill.

A more subtle resistance is also at work outdoors: the wind. Although you may not be aware of it, the wind can be a steady force working against your balance and strength. Several studies have shown that runners and cyclists work harder and burn more calories outdoors then indoors due to these factors.

Also, some studies have shown that running outside encourages a better stride. People run in a more natural way when not on a treadmill which could reduce the risk of injury.

Most of the benefits of an open-air workout, though, are psychological. One large review of 11 studies was compiled in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in an effort to compare the behavioral effects indoor and outdoor workouts. Across the board, it was seen that people who exercised outside enjoyed their experience more. Because of this, the subjects had more energy after the workout and stated that they felt less stressed or anxious. These positive feelings meant that the outdoor exercisers were more willing to workout again than their indoor counterparts.

The Not-So-Good

But don’t get rid of your treadmill or cancel your gym membership yet. There’s still good reason to choose indoor workouts as well. As previously discussed, exercising inside gives you greater control over almost all aspects of your workout. Hot, humid weather can put you at risk for dehydration or overheating. Rain and snow could also put you in danger of suffering a serious injury.

You may also be uncomfortable with running at night or even as the sun is setting but, if this is the only time you have, it would be helpful to have access to a treadmill.

As with many things in the fitness realm, it’s best to keep your options open and incorporate some variety into your workouts. Enjoy the sun and some extra vitamin D when you can but try to have an indoor option available just in case.

Have you enjoyed the benefits of exercising outside? Please share your tips and experience in the comments.






What the Events of the Boston Marathon Mean to Me

Normally I love April. My birthday is in April. I love April flowers blooming in my yard. I love the change in the weather from the listlessness of March rain. I love Earth Day (today!) and running in an Earth Day race each year. I love Arbor Day. Although Tax Day is in April, I do love refunds. April is my favorite month.

Minus this year.

Like all Americans, I felt stunned and bewildered by the horrific events at the Boston Marathon, among the many other tragedies that splashed across the nightly news.

We are all too familiar with violent attacks in this day and age, but I always felt somewhat removed from them. I didn’t have any relatives or friends involved with the Sept. 11th attacks. I didn’t know anyone at Sandy Hook or at a movie theater in Colo. But I had four friends running in the Boston Marathon this year. All four are okay; two finished and two didn’t. They were still on the course when the explosions occurred.

But this was about more than my friends; this felt like an attack on my community–the running community. We all are in this sort of brotherhood/sisterhood no matter what race in the world. These individuals attacked my friends, even though I’d never actually met 27,000 of them.

To anyone involved with marathons,  you know there are two types: Boston and all the others. Boston is the pinnacle of a marathon achievement; a race so exclusive runners spend years trying to qualify. It’s difficult to get into and the ones who do it say it’s a dream come true. Bostonians know how much this race means to the running community;  they treat the runners like rock stars even before race day.

Even the “mascot” of the Boston Marathon symbolizes something unique: a unicorn. A unicorn is a beautiful, mystical creature that only exists in fairy tales and imaginations. I think it perfectly complements the sentiments of many on the Boston Marathon; it’s a surreal race that only will ever exist in their dreams–to make it a reality is an impossibility.

This is what it is for me.  I’ve never done Boston. I simply hope that one day I’ll be able to cross the finish line and receive my medal. To peak Heartbreak Hill wearing a bib you earned must feel like total euphoria. I wouldn’t know. I only dream about it.

Today many runners across the nation have organized Run for Boston. I hope that anyone with two legs runs just even a few steps to show support for those who will never walk again.

Do You Really Need To Stretch Before You Workout?

From elementary school gym class on, we’ve all been indoctrinated to believe that working out without stretching was a sure-fire way to end up with a decrease performance and injury. And so, most of us, whether we’re preparing to lift weights or run will start with an extra 10 minutes of static stretches, like touching our toes, believing that that’s what we’re supposed to do. But, is that really the case?

Recent research, however, shows that this type of static stretching before your workout might be, not just counterproductive, but risky.

Mounting Research

While there have been many studies that have found that pre-workout static stretching doesn’t improve performance or reduce soreness, a review of more recent research shows something startling.

In March 2013, researchers for the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports looked through 104 studies conducted between 1966 and 2010 to try to understand the effects that static stretching has on performance. Overall, they found that long stretches, lasting 90 seconds or more, reduced strength in those muscles by 5.5 percent. This related to a drop in explosive muscle contractions, like those vital to sprinters, by 2.8 percent.

Other studies have discovered that static stretching reduces the amount of weight that athletes can lift by a surprising 8.3 percent. This might not sound like much but think about it this way: If you normally bench press 180 pounds, an 8.3 percent decrease would translate to a lose of about 15 pounds. Generally, this weakening was also associated with a reported loss of balance and stability.

How To Warm-Up

Notice that all these studies deal with static stretching and only static stretching. None of this research deals with static stretching combined with another light warm-up. The real issue at work here seems to be the fact that these stretches put stress on the muscles and connective tissue. So if this is done when these tissues are cold, it can do more damage then good. The story changes when the stretching is accompanied by a more active warm-up, like a light jog.

Another alternative is dynamic stretching. Use arm circles, leg swings and Frankenstein walks to increase your flexibility, blood flow and muscle temperature. This type of warm-up also help prime your body for the demands of exercise and increases the speed of your nerve impulses.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use static stretching at all, just be sure to use it appropriately. Static stretching is a great way to end your workout after a brief cool down.







The Boston Marathon

*Updated! As I was writing this, word came in of the explosion. Thoughts are with the runners and spectators! Much love. Such sadness on what should be such a happy occasion.


Today the most famous marathon in the world took place: the Boston Marathon. As a slow runner, I am no where near reaching the qualifying time for the marathon. I dream about it, but I’d have to completely change my lung capacity to reach the speed needed to shave literally an hour off my PR. Not easy to do. Thus, Boston remains an intangible goal.

Here are a few of its highlights–maybe one day I’ll experience them with a bib on my shirt and a racing chip on my shoe–not as a spectator:

It takes place on Patriot’s Day. To those of us outside of Boston, the third Monday in April usually means a standard work day (except this year it also means Tax Day). But for the citizens of Boston, it’s a special day off–although no one seems to know why. I guess we can call it Patriot’s Day/Marathon Monday…?

Heartbreak Hill. Anyone familiar with marathons has heard of Heartbreak Hill–the most notorious, dreaded part of the course. Kicking off the last 20 miles, this hill is a killer with runners pushing their bodies to the top (and often vomiting along the way). Be careful if you choose to watch the race from here–you may face a little extra liquid coming your way. Take caution.

Wellesley College. Around the 10-mile mark, runners pass by this all-female college and almost every female comes out to cheer. It’s loud, festive and provides an extra kick in the step of runners as they near the back half of the marathon.

Coolidge Corner. This area can get pretty lively with bar goers packing the streets and local pubs. After watching your runner go by, you can hop onto the Mass Pike or Storrow Drive to continue to spectate and see your runners pass by again.

While it’s difficult to quality for the Boston Marathon, runners do have options to participate. You can join various fundraising groups and if you raise enough, the Boston Athletic Associate will give you a bib and make you an official participant. You can also try becoming a racing bandit and race behind all those officially registered… It’s not the same, though.

Some day I’ll be in that line up!



Fartleks – For Faster Times and More Interesting Workouts

Interval training is doubtlessly a regular part of your routine. This fast-paced, on and off training method has been proven through years of use and clinical trials to improve speed, boost your metabolism and help clean up your form.

But it’s also fairly boring. Regardless of how you design it, traditional interval training is predictable and repetitive. Fartlek training, despite the funny name, is a unique approach to intervals that can help you get faster while enjoying your workouts more.

What’s A Fartlek?

Fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish, which is an excellent description of this training method. Whereas traditional interval training consists of a predefined period of high-intensity activity, followed by an equally long or longer bout of active recovery, fartlek training is much more informal.

In keeping with the idea of speed play, fartlek training allows you to listen to your body and base your intervals off split-second decisions. Once you’re warmed up, you run at a high-intensity for a short burst to a landmark that you pick, like a sign or a parked car, and then return to an easier pace for recovery.

The purpose of fartlek training is to keep you’re run free-flowing so that you’re not stuck glancing at your watch or thinking about your plan, while helping you run at gradually increasing intensities.

The Benefits

Fartlek training comes with many of  the benefits of traditional interval training, plus a few others. In addition to increased speed, endurance and a faster metabolism, fartleks make your workouts more interesting. Because the transitions of speed and intensity in fartleks are unstructured and somewhat random, both your mind and body are kept guessing.

In a real-world setting, this mental alertness could be a valuable skill. During a repetitive activity like running, it’s easy for your mind to wonder and for you to lose focus on what you’re doing. Fartleks, though, keep you focused on your run.

Their random nature can make fartleks especially fun when running in groups. Try taking turns with who gets to lead in picking pace and distance. This will add an aspect of excitement and competition to your run that can help you stay motivated in a way that’s sometimes difficult to achieve.

When it comes to competition, fartleks have a direct application on race day. Fartlek training will condition your body to perform surges of speed that are unnatural for the human body. Your body operates best at steady, even paces so the ups-and-downs of fartlek training are difficult for most runners to withstand. By varying your pace wildly, like in fartlek training, you stand a chance at wearing down your competition both physically and mentally.

How To Do It

While there are many fartlek workouts available in magazines and the internet, it’s difficult to plan a training method that is intended to be spontaneous. It’s best to perform fartleks instead of your interval training when you want to try something new.

After a five to ten minute warm-up, speed up to a pace that is slightly faster than your conversational pace. Keep up this speed until you’ve reached your landmark, then drop to below your conversational pace until your breathing has return to normal and your feel recovered. Increase back up to your moderate intensity pace, where you could carry a conversation, until you reach a landmark. This time, increase your speed to a full run before returning to your recovery pace.

Have you incorporated fartlek training into your workouts? Please share your experiences in the comments.








Start the Day Right, End the Day Healthy

We’ve all heard it our entire lives: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And this ancient bromide has been proven again and again in scientific trials. But still, 60 percent of American youths skip breakfast regularly. The argument for breakfast continues to gain footing, however. Among the many reasons that breakfast is so important is that it helps set the dietary mood for the rest of your day.

When you first wake up, chances are good that you’ve been fasting for about 10 hours. So if you skip breakfast, you’re increasing your temptation when it comes to just grabbing the first meal that comes along later. A new study shows that this benefit of breakfast can even extend to the end of the day.

The Study

During the course of the study, 20 overweight or obese women aged 18 to 20 were given either a high-protein breakfast providing 35 grams of protein, a normal-protein breakfast consisting of ready-to-eat cereal or no breakfast at all. All three of the breakfast groups contained 350 calories.

Throughout the day, the participants completed questionnaires and gave blood samples. Right before dinner, a brain scan was used to track brain signals related to control food motivation and reward-driven eating behavior.

The group who ate the high-protein breakfast had fewer food cravings throughout the day and the brain scan showed that their appetite was reduced. High-fat, sugary snacking in the evening was also reduced.

Put It Into Practice

It’s all well and good that this works in a laboratory but using that information in the real-world is a different issue. So how can you make this study work for you?

The high-protein breakfast used in the study was made up of eggs and lean beef but you can get that protein from several other sources. Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are also great sources of protein that require little-to-no preparation. Since most people skip breakfast because of time constraints in the morning, grab-and-go options are valuable things.

If you generally skip breakfast, though, you might be hesitant to start eating a substantial meal first thing in the morning. For some it may be that you pass on breakfast in an effort to lose weight, others simply find that their stomachs are uneasy in the mornings.

For those seeking to lose weight, the extra intake may actually be exactly what you need. Long periods of fasting slow your metabolism, cause your body to burn muscle for fuel and store excess fat. None of those biological habits are helpful for losing weight. As shown in the study, a protein-rich breakfast can also help you to eat better throughout the day to build better eating habits.

People who just have a difficult time stomaching a meal early in the morning, may just need to put it up with it for a few days. Don’t worry though, it should only take about three days for your body to adjust.

Have you benefited from a healthy, protein-rich breakfast? Please share your experiences in the comments!








Running a Marathon in Peru

As a lover of international travel, I certainly look for any opportunities to marry my two favorite worlds: travel and running. Exploring a new city via a catered 26.2 miles is a lifelong memory, albeit a painful one. A few years back, I hopped onto a plane to travel to South America for another global race in Lima, Peru.

Held at the end of April/beginning of May each year, I thought that it is fitting to write about my experiences abroad because this race is coming up soon. I highly recommend participating in races outside of America because you quickly realize just  how demanding and spoiled we truly are in the U.S. endurance world.


As seen in the photo, participants wears their race shirts. This isn’t typical of other international races in which I’ve participated, but in Lima, they like to don their new race shirts. Instead of running in a sea of colors, you run in a sea of whatever color the race directors chose for that year. Good luck trying to pick out someone in a race!

Aid Stations

I’m used to aid stations every 1-2 miles, maybe every 5K in smaller city races. Although Lima is a standard city race, the marathon offered a total of five aid stations for all 26.2 miles. And they ran out of water at the halfway point. If I could redo that race, I would have stuffed a few extra wads of cash into my racing belt and stopped in a convenience store located along the route. I did carry a water bottle with me and begged and pleaded with the volunteers at the few aid stations available to fill it up, but was told, “No hay agua.” (There is no water)…say what? For us slow pokes, the water ran out.

Interesting Mechanics

One of my best friends is also a Peruvian resident and I luckily visited her during my trip. She even came to cheer me on during the race and sat in the spectators’ bleachers. Unfortunately, they literally fell apart as my friend, and many others, were sitting on them. Everyone walked away unscathed and laughing, but in America, that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Open Course

I kept hearing “peligroso,” meaning “dangerous,” from police officers along the course. I concurred. The course was open to cars, and traffic in Peru is kind of a free for fall. I heard a honk behind me at mile 18; I turned around and saw a gigantic tour bus merely inches from my heels. That’s enough to make me run faster! I also had to make my way through roundabouts as traffic flowed in and out.

I finished still alive!