Fuel for running – and life

It’s been a while since I have blogged, life has been hectic as I prepare to move from Austin to the San Francisco Bay area – I’ll be the new Provost at Menlo College starting in July. As always, running is one of the ways I deal with stress, and I’ll be running a 5k this evening, the Trail Foundation’s Margarita Run. Given that it will be hot, humid and I’m tired from traveling, I have to think carefully about how I will prepare myself for tonight’s run. For me there are four distinct phases of fueling a run. The first is what I eat for my regular meals. I try to avoid running on empty – I always eat something before a race, and I’m blessed with a digestive system that can handle almost anything before a run. When I ran track in college, I would always be in the first event of the day, the long jump, and the last, the 4×400 relay, so I learned early on that I had to be able to eat and run.

These days, if it’s a morning run, I’ll often eat some yogurt and/or a banana, and for the second phase of my run, the actual run itself, it depends on how far I am going. If I’m running more than an hour, I always take water, and some gel, chew or other type of fuel. I used to drink a lot of Gatorade, but found that I wanted to control my water vs sugar intake a bit better, depending on the heat and humidity.

In many ways, I find that music is another way to fuel my run, so I’ll call it the third phase.  I usually listen to dance music to keep me going. Songs by Michael Jackson, Prince, or the latest pop or R&B is fine, I’m usually into my head so that I’m mostly focused on the beat.  I don’t always use music, only for longer runs. If I’m running less than an hour, I like to use the time to work through problems in my head, or just zone out for a while.

The fourth phase of my run is recovery, which starts with stretching and some drills to strengthen problem areas. This is also where I usually treat myself to a hot chai latte, or hot chocolate. I use almond milk instead of cow’s milk, but it gives me the protein and carbs my muscles need to recover from a run. I will sometimes take supplements that help with recovery if I’m training intensively, but I haven’t done a marathon in a while, and I’m sticking mainly with 5ks and 10ks with the occasional half marathon thrown in. I find that if I have been doing my training right, the recovery from these types of races isn’t much of a problem.

I always have to keep in mind that I am getting older (50!) and I have always paid attention to my back issues, meaning I have to make sure that I have strong abs. I switch up my cross training on a regular basis to keep myself from getting bored, and train different types of muscles. I have all the tools I need at home to do a variety of workouts, including kettle bells, dumb bells, a medicine ball, and I’ll even do some hula hoop when it’s nice out. I focus on my abs with some pilates, yoga and just plain old fashioned push ups and sit ups. Every few years I’ll meet with a personal trainer to get some training tips and learning the latest ideas on staying in shape.

Overall, I find that it’s important to maintain a regular workout routine to keep my energy levels up during the day, reduce stress, and to sleep well at night. I look at running as important to both my physical and mental well being. I need fuel to keep running, but running and working out is my fuel for life.

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When I'm running well-fueled I feel like Wonder Woman!
When I’m running well-fueled I feel like Wonder Woman!

Fitness is forever…

In the last week I participated in a 5k run (Thursday night’s Maudie’s Margarita Run) and Austin Fit magazine’s “AFM FITtest.” Both events were challenging in their own way, but they both got me thinking about how we (in particular women) look at fitness. The first event was a typical “fun” run, with about 1500 people signed up, and a few of us who were serious enough to want to know our times, and be competitive. There were likely equal numbers of women and men, Austin is a great place to be a runner, and I often see more women out on the trail than men.  Saturday’s fitness event was a different story.  This event consisted of twelve tests of strength, agility and endurance, including sprints, throws, jumps and the always hated burpees and pull-ups.  Since I have been doing cross-fit workouts for the last few months, I figured I would give it a try.  I was surprised that there were only fifteen women competitors in my age group (40-49) while there were at least 40 men in the same age group.  As my group discussed the low numbers of women, we all thought that some of the tests would be intimidating to women, particularly the pull-ups, where many women can’t even do one (I worked on this one, so I was able to do five).  I freely admit that I am a bit of a masochist when it comes to working out (how else could I handle crossfit?) but it surprises me that more men than women were attracted to this event, compared to a 5k.

This all got me thinking about how I approach fitness.  In fact, this blog post was prompted by my friend Leslie who was asking me about Saturday’s event on our “Black Girls Run!” page.  I wasn’t really sure what to say — I managed to get through all 12 events and score reasonably on all of them.  But for me the experience of the 5k wasn’t that much different from doing the 12 different tests.  They are all testing me in different ways, but in some ways it’s mostly mental for me.  Having been an athlete all of my life, I love taking on new challenges (a la my new obsession with body hooping), and I approach each challenge with a similar mental and physical toughness that has gotten me through everything from a 400m dash to a marathon.  They take very different forms of preparation, but for me it’s pretty much all the same in terms of how I approach it.  I’m sure I developed this mentality during my years of running track and other sports from grade school through college.  Having been blessed to have the advantages of Title IX and having grown up with my two brothers, I was always sure I could do anything that the guys could do.  I started lifting weights in junior high, and continued with it through my 20s.  I recognized early on the benefits of cross training, and even though running will always be my first love, I also enjoy the adrenalin (and endorphin) rush I get from being able to lift a particular weight, or complete a WOD (work out of the day). I’m much more careful these days because of issues with my back, but I have always focused on form vs. showing off how much I can lift.

So I struggle with how I can pass on the passion that I feel about fitness to others.  How do we get more women to come out and compete in the FITtest the same way they do in the 5k?  I have been blessed to see the blossoming of our Black Girls Run! group — getting more black women out and running has been a wonderful thing, and we were even highlighted in an article in our local newspaper: tln-black-girls-run-03

So if we can work on changing black women’s ideas about running – how do we go about changing women’s attitudes about other types of fitness?  Does it matter?  I know that I’m an outlier when it comes to fitness, particularly for my age. Do men and women like me get a fitness advantage from the types of weight bearing activities we do? I don’t feel like I have an answer at this point, but it does make me wonder…it may be a natural shift as younger women start to do more activities and see themselves as competitive athletes, just as I lived in a very different world of athletic opportunities as compared to my older sisters. In any case, I hope I can be a role model to women of all ages, because for me, fitness is forever…

Terri - AFM Fittest

Why fitness matters…

There are so many critical issues facing our country today from gun violence, to the environment. Given that it’s black history month, I wonder what leaders like Martin Luther King or Barbara Jordan would be fighting for today.  I know one issue in particular that has touched me in so many ways is cardiovascular disease in the black community.  I first delved into this issue when my father passed away from a sudden heart attack nearly 12 years ago. What I learned was that my father had all of the warning signs for a potential heart attack, yet he had never been given a stress test and didn’t seem concerned when he had circulation issues just a few weeks before he died.  He was also under a great deal of stress, as I would later learn, but I felt helpless knowing that he wasn’t pro-active in dealing with his health.

The following quote highlights the problem:

Americans suffer more than 2 million heart attacks and strokes each year. Cardiovascular disease—including heart disease and stroke—is the leading cause of death in the United States. Every day, 2,200 people die from cardiovascular disease—that’s 815,000 Americans each year, or 1 in every 3 deaths. (http://millionhearts.hhs.gov/abouthds/cost-consequences.html)

Blacks are much more likely to have cardiovascular disease, and not all of it can be explained by lifestyle or genetic traits.

In 2005 my mother suffered a stroke from which she never fully recovered.  She passed away nearly 3 years ago.  What I learned about strokes was just as bad as heart attacks, “In 2009, black men were 38 percent more likely to die of stroke than white men, and black women were 36 percent more likely to die of stroke than white women” (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/01/29/to-your-health/black-men-women-hit-hardest-by-disease.html)

Study after study I learned about showed that blacks had a much higher rate of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and death from heart disease.  Health disparities are a critical issue for all communities.

I feel lucky that fitness has always been a part of my life, and the passing of my parents spurred me into action – I started Take Back the Trail to honor my parents, and in the hope that my efforts might make some small dent in the huge need that exists for fitness programs in under-served communities.  There are many programs targeting children, but I found few programs that targeted adult women in particular.  I feel that healthcare, from a variety of perspectives, is a top issue for our times, and many leaders, including First Lady Michelle Obama have stepped up to the task — but it will take much, much more and grassroots efforts must be a part of the move-ment.

There is hope – as recent studies have shown:

“Regular, moderate physical activity such as brisk walking can increase life expectancy by several years, even for people who are overweight, a new large study shows.

While higher levels of activity were linked to even longer life expectancies, moderate activity was beneficial, according to the study of people ages 40 and older. The benefit of exercise was seen regardless of people’s weight, age, sex and health conditions such as heart disease and cancer.” (http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/06/14976984-why-working-out-makes-you-live-longer)

If not for yourself – do it for those you love!  Given the size of this issue, I consider this project one of the most important things I have ever done – if you feel the same, you can support my efforts here: http://takebackthetrail.com/donate.html

Getting my groove back in my fitness routine

One year ago I was about about 8 pounds lighter and doing hard core workouts 5-6 days per week.  I ended up running a half marathon and the Austin marathon in the spring with a few 5ks and 10ks sprinkled in for good measure.  Running has always been a way of dealing with stress for me, and the last 2 years have been some of the most stressful in my life, mainly due to the passing of several friends and family members.  Now I’m finding that my legs feel heavy when I run, I’m often tired, and end up walking towards the end, regardless of the distance.  I’m sure it’s partly due to a bad allergy season, but I also know that it’s probably time to take a break from running.  I’m not particularly worried about gaining a few pounds (although I wouldn’t mind losing a few before my reunion in a couple of weeks), I’m still well below my high point of a few years ago, but I also know that the body needs a break from doing the same work outs all the time.

The basic gist of it all is, I need a change-up in my routine.  I’d still like to run the half marathon in January, but I’m definitely not doing the marathon and I’m not going to put any pressure on myself to run specific times or distances during my work-outs.  Exercise was a big help as I dealt with my initial grief, but now it’s time to ease up on my body and focus more on my mind.

Today I was able to get out to the lake and do 50 minutes of stand-up paddle board.  It was definitely a nice break in the routine, and I hope to be able to get out there once or twice a week, as weather permits.  I’m also going to fix up my bike and do some road cycling during the week.  I’ll probably continue to run 3 days a week, since it’s still my favorite sport, but I think it’s time to join a running group to keep me motivated and distracted during my runs.  I’m also planning to get down to the track and do some sprints and short runs, which I actually enjoy 🙂

Just like my writing (see my recent  Inside Higher Ed column) I know that my workouts occasionally need a reboot, and a change of pace/scenery does me a lot of good. Tomorrow is a new day, and I’m ready for a new approach to staying healthy.