Sunday, September 30, 2012

Healthy Snacking

On this slightly rainy weekend that has me between races and major training events, the idea of writing about healthy snacking options came out of a conversation with a friend.

I work primarily in an office environment, with the occasional option to be out of the office. These situations offer ample opportunity to indulge myself during between meal periods, and that is something that I have long fought to control. For much of the recent year I have felt more successful than not at healthy snacking. I don't like to go more than a couple hours between meals or snacks as I feel like doing so puts me at a greater risk of overeating at the next meal. During heavy training cycles, I may need to eat almost every hour just to consume enough healthy calories to keep my body properly fueled. I know it might seem difficult for some to accept, but when you're burning an average of 2,000 calories on your "regular" training days you need to eat at least 4,000 calories to maintain your body's needs. It can be really hard to eat that many calories when you commit to eating a healthy diet.

As to my specific strategy, it really is very simple. I make sure that I provide myself an opportunity to be near a healthy snack option as much as possible. My desk drawer will keep a stock of healthy options available. These may include small amounts of nuts, mini CLIF Bars, microwave popcorn, protein powder mix, and so on. In my refrigerator at work, I keep apples (I like them cold.), almond milk (low calories and mixes well with protein mixes.) for snacks. I also will keep salad mix, including fresh spinach and/or arugula, plush a low calorie dressing for many lunches. After this as a base, I need only keep some chicken breast in the freezer, or bring something from home to add to the salad mix for a good meal.

My current protein powder of choice is the Vega One and Vega Sport line of products, which I also use for some of my racing electrolyte and caloric needs.The Vega One provides a good mix as a base supplement as part of my diet. The Performance Protein provides a healthy source of an extra protein supplementation during my heavier workout days.

During the past year, I have become more conscious of the importance of my diet as part of my attempt to live an overall healthy lifestyle. I'm far from perfect, and still enjoy the occasional ice cream, cupcake or similar unhealthy treat, but this is a true treat and no longer the rule of my snacking options. For the first time in more years than I can remember, I have kept a relatively stable weight all year. Other than for short periods related to my activity levels, I have spent most of the year between 175 - 179 pounds, which is something I never thought possible a few years ago.

I'd be happy to answer any questions asked by blog readers and would love to read your own ideas on the subject of healthy snacking by posting as a comment to this blog post.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

CASA 5K Race Report

I decided to do the CASA Superhero 5K fairly recently and worked in into my weekend's training regime. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA is (from their website): 
"We are Montgomery County’s only court-appointed organization advocating for abused and neglected children. CASA Advocates are appointed by Judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social services or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Advocates stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many children their CASA Advocate will be the one constant adult presence in their lives during this time."

I was doing this race with my good friend and fellow crazy distance athlete, Karen. Karen was going back to defend her age group title from last year and is the one who told me about this race. It turned out that there were several hundred people doing the kids 1K or the full 5 K races this year, which I gathered was a significant increase from the last 2 years. Packet pickup went smooth as Karen picked up my packet due to work schedule issues on my part. (Thanks again, Karen!)

Karen and I also carpooled to the race site and discovered that arriving early gets you the worst possible parking--or at least the farthest parking from the event site. We had a nice long walk along part of the running trail to the event site. After we arrive we chatted with friends before getting in a 1.1 mile warmup along the course start. This 5 K is a trail race through the state forest and is a mix of rock and dirt trails (mostly dirt), and given recent rails there was a good bit of mud and water on the course--although the trails were well-constructed and were also in better condition than I expected them to be.

As the race came close to the start, Karen and I positioned ourselves just behind the first group of fast runners and prepared for the race to begin. When the gun (or whatever it was) went off we took off together and stayed together for almost half the course. The early part of the trail that we ran earlier seemed to be on of the best parts of the course, in terms of condition. Running was a matter of avoiding getting boxed in by other runners and areas of poor terrain. The path began to open up after a half mile, but it really took close to a mile before I wasn't always near another runner. After the first mile there was a lot more mud on the course and I attempted to run along the more densely packed mud where jeep tires usually drove through for better footing. I was forced to adjust my path numerous times in search of more solid footing during the race. The second and early third miles seemed to have the worst of the mud along the course, but that is what you get with a trail run on some days. I think this may have worked to my benefit as I have some experience in running on muddy trails, and that is a different experience than running on concrete. In the last mile of the race I was trying to use the runners ahead of me as pacing guides, though I kept catching and passing them one after another. Although I was trying to run a controlled pace that was as fast as I could maintain for the race, when I hit a half mile left I pushed with about all effort I could muster for the rest of the run. This last effort made my last mile my fastest by several seconds, even thought it had worse overall footing than the first mile. I ended up finishing in 23:06. Just short of a 5 K PR for me on roads, but definitely a PR for a trail 5 K.

After catching my breath I walked back along the course a bit to cheer on the other racers finishing, including Karen, who wasn't too far behind me. After we regrouped and got a bit of rest and post-race nutrition, we went to see the posted run timing for the race. As it turned out Karen not only defended her age group title from last year but was this year's Women's Masters winner (runners over 40) and I won my age group by over a minute. Wow! 

I entered this year never having won any racing awards and have now won my age group in three straight competitive events. That kind of success was beyond imaginable for me less than a year ago. I hope in some way my success gives hope and inspiration to other athletes overcoming obesity and years of inactivity (or some other personal situation). 

Me, just after getting my award.

Posing with some superheros and other age group winners.

Karen and I after a successful race.

1st Place Age Group Award :-)