Monday, April 30, 2012

About The Silver Lining

"Clouds may come.  Clouds may go.  But behind each cloud you know, the sun or the moon is shinning through."

It is often said that each and every cloud has a silver lining.  Sometimes however, its difficult to at first glance recognize this.  Because of this very same reason, I have learned to take time out after any "not so ideal" experience to gather my thoughts and compose myself.

This was the case after last Saturday's Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville.

I had been looking forward to this event for weeks.  Not just because it has become one of my favorite annual races but because this year I was going to run it with both my daughters and my brother.  Add to this the fact that I had been running at a pace I had never done in the past and I was looking forward to a spectacular race.

The weekend started in great form.  Along with my wife and one of my daughters, we picked up my brother Hernando at the airport and headed to pick up our race packet and to the expo.  Neither experience disappointed.  Both were organized with utmost professionalism, as usual.

Saturday morning's 4am alarm came quick.  Got out of bed without hesitation and had breakfast.  All my running gear had been left out the night before so this was smooth.  Left the house en route to pick up my daughter Marcela, on the other side of Nashville.

Everything was going just as planned.  The traffic was moving, the weather promised to be great.  It was gong to be a fine race.

The crowds were gathering...all 31,000 runners were arriving.  The feeling of excitement filled the air.  It's always and experience like no other.  The time was getting closer.

Mauricio, Juliana, Marcela and Hernando before Country Music Half Marathon

From previous experience I learned that when you register for a race like this, you claim your estimated finish time about 30 minutes faster that you actually think you're going to finish.  This in order to get assigned a corral closer to the front.

Two reasons for this.  One, the wait is not as long.  Two, you have a chance of establishing your tempo a lot quicker due to the fact that you're not racing behind folks who may be a little (or a lot) slower than you, or maybe even behind walkers.  This is extremely important if you want to run with a time in mind.  This year,  I did.

Some thirty five minutes before the start of the race I had the urge to visit the restroom (porta-potties, if you will).  This is where it all started going downhill.  The lines were so stinking long that by the time we made it out and into the race course, we started somewhere around corral no. 22!  That's 14 corrals behind where we were supposed to be.  Note to self:  Next time... go behind a tree!

I had been hit with a severe bout of stomach flu earlier in the week.  As early as Friday morning I was still feeling the effects from it.  I had been totally dehydrated but worked diligently to recover from this in time for the race.  As I crossed the starting line my only thought was that I hope I had done enough.  We would see.

The first mile or so, the pace was slow, but I was okay with it because it was right within my plan.  Little did I know that this pace would not get much better as the race went on.  Not so much because I couldn't step it up, but because it was impossible to step it up.  Impossible due to the tremendous crowd.  Wall to wall runners, joggers, speed walkers and walkers.  At times, even zig-zagging was an issue.  It never got any better.

As the miles started piling up, I kept watching my estimated goal time of 1:59:59 go by the way side.  And as this began to happen, I began to stress.  "How could I let this happen" I kept thinking.  "This can't be, I must speed up, crank it up, rev it up."  I would find a glimpse of daylight and I would take it, would run right through it only to find another wall.  Another human wall.  Here we go again.  And again.  And again.

Frustration was setting in quick.  Around mile 6, I remember thinking "It's now or never".  As it turns out, it was Never.   More people, every where... people.

And so it came, mile 9.  The wheels officially fell off.  I had nothing left and at this point I realized that my goal was not going to happen today, that it was time just to enjoy the rest of the run.  And that I did.

The last half mile or so, I watched as everyone around me was passing me, everyone had left a little in their tank for their final push.  Except me.  At this point, it didn't matter.

I made it through.  Picked up my medal which weighed heavy around my neck.  And then the"bottleneck".  Whoever designed this chute is out of their mind.  After running a marathon or a half marathon you can't ask people to just "stop", and that's what they did.  This is/was insane.  This will have to be addressed.  I've heard of several people that almost lost it at that point.

So all's not lost, hence the silver lining in the story.  Several lessons were learned on Saturday, but most importantly, I learned that...

For me, I will never go into a race, of any kind, of any distance again, with a specific time "goal" in mind.  For five years I have done just fine with "I will run my race, I will do my best, I will be happy with my effort."  I will go back to that.

I learned that no matter what happens during a race, the most important thing is to smile, be happy and enjoy.  I will go back to that.

Hernando, Mauricio, Marcela, Juliana and Colton after Country Music Half Marathon
 And while I was soaking in my sorrows, I witnessed the most amazing efforts from my daughters Juliana and Marcela and my brother Hernando.  They all finished with huge smiles, happy with their times and ecstatic about their efforts.  For each one of them, their experience during their second half-marathon will be one they'll never forget, and having been part, albeit a small part, of that will make up for any shortcoming during my own race.

Next on my schedule is Ironman 70.3 Florida at Lake Eva Park near Haynes City Florida.  This race is on May 20th.  That's right, just 20 days away!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Healthy Eating: Some Tips for Staying on Track & Strengthening Your Resolve :)

We all know that exercise is only part of the equation. Of course, good nutrition is another, highly significant part of that equation as well. And, as athletes, we all know that it's also an essential component in helping to boost our athletic performance. Simply put, an athlete cannot maximize their health and fitness potential without it.

Of course, the tricky part is establishing and maintaining our path to good nutrition. Sometimes we might find that it can be especially challenging when we're trying to form these new patterns, particularly because both eating and exercise have added psychological elements to them. ;) While this is something that's important to be aware of and acknowledge, we also need to recognize that we have a choice in the matter and don't need to let it rule us or our behaviors. Usually, when we fall off course, it's because we've let our less helpful emotions take hold and/or have switched from a state of awareness to unconsciousness, and just need to return to that former state, reestablish a sense of balance, and get back to basics. We have the option to make conscious choices, but in order to do this, we first need to be conscious of that fact. :) Then, we can find ways to change and reinforce those changes until they stick.

So what are some ways that we can stay on track and reinforce our healthy habits? The solution is actually fairly simple and straightforward. The way to healthy eating is no different than the way to forming consistent patterns of exercise: We can overcome these challenges and master these struggles within ourselves with a bit of planning and reinforcement of gradually introduced, small changes until they supplant those older, less healthy habits. This way, these newly formed exercise and healthy eating patterns have a much better chance of success.

Of course, a lot of our current eating and exercise patterns are just done out of habit. So, since any established pattern of less-than-healthy eating had to be established at one point or another, whether it was consciously established or not ;), it can be unestablished by consciously practicing a new behavior pattern and then reinforcing it until it replaces the old pattern.

Also, technology can be of great assistance in helping to solidify these new behavior patterns through continual (electronic) reminders to reinforce regular planning and practice. For those of you with iPhones and iPads, meal planning and grocery shopping apps like MealBoard and Groceries can be particularly helpful in that regard. Of course, there are Android equivalents like Mighty Grocery Shopping List, Grocery Gadget, Food Planner, and the like, all of which have been highly rated as well. The simple fact of the matter is this: If we plan out each meal and snack on a weekly or biweekly basis with nutrition in mind, then we're less likely to succumb to unhealthy selections as a last-minute, irrational impulse, especially when our blood sugar starts to drop and/or our hunger starts to kick in. After all, there's less of a temptation to look elsewhere when you've got a readily available, healthy and nourishing selection on hand.

Another useful tactic is to pack veggies for snacks during the day and couple them with a protein source like hummus or healthy Omega 3 rich nuts (i.e., walnuts, pistachios), etc. This gives us a "battle plan," so to speak, to stave off any potential hunger pangs (that are often due to lack of proper planning), which in turn, keeps us from grabbing other, less healthy things.

So why is this combination particularly effective? Protein helps to sustain one's blood sugar while the veggies contain slow-release carbs and fiber to help sustain us (for a much longer duration than carbs containing simple starches) and satisfy our hunger. And, the healthy fats also help to create a feeling of satiety as well. The first part of the above snack (i.e., the veggies) also helps us to fulfill the recommended daily allowance of eating at least 4-5 servings of veggies per day, while the latter (i.e., walnuts, pistachios, etc.) helps us to fit in some much-needed Omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce inflammation, which is particularly useful to athletes, as these powerful Omega 3 fatty acids can reduce post-exercise induced inflammation.

As for my own practices, I'll usually save any "fun," sweet (but still healthy) snacks for right after dinner, especially if I'm in the mood for a healthy dessert. This is when I'll typically eat a fruit I love and sometimes mix it with Greek yoghurt drizzled with a small amount of honey. (This snack also has the added advantage of taking little kitchen prep that takes no time at all.) Or, I'll premake all-natural fruit pops or smoothies using the same ingredients. For small fruits like raspberries, I'll mix them in after I blend together the other ingredients. For larger fruits, like strawberries, I'll slice them first. If the fruit is really sweet, I'l sometimes add a small squeeze of lemon to the mix to balance the flavors.

Of course, I don't always want a snack like this, so about once a week, usually on the weekends, if I'm really craving something sweet or salty, I'll allow myself to have a snack in a reasonable, pre-determined, measured portion size that isn't a veggie or a fruit. :) That way, I won't go bonkers and eat a whole chocolate cake. Lol. Of course, that's an exaggeration for humorous effect, but you get my point. In moderation, the practice of consuming a special treat every once in a while, that is, if our decision is a conscious one, is a perfectly normal and reasonable behavior. If a person eats like a normal healthy person as a cumulative practice, then that once-in-a-while treat can be put into perspective, as it's the overall trend that truly matters. The larger picture of achieving good health and a sense of well-being for the long-term is what's truly important.

I hope you find these tips helpful in your quest to eat more healthfully! As they say, a failure to plan is planning to fail. Or, put in a more positive light, planning is 95% of the battle right there. And we all know this to be true because as athletes we practice this very principle to guide us to success in our own race training.

I wish you lots of success in your quest for fitness and health.


For more tips on healthy eating, sports nutrition, and wellness, feel free to follow my public Facebook feed, recipe/nutrition blog, Cooking with Corey, and/or running blog, See Corey Run.