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Archive for October, 2010

It’s a curious thing: when I was a more-or-less full-time triathlete I attended core/abs classes twice a week (45 minutes each time) and even did ab workouts on my own, but I could never actually see my abs. Too much flabbiness, even when I weighed almost nothing and wore a size 2-4 (I’m 1.67M/5’8″). For several years, the ab workouts just complemented the many hours I ran/biked/swam, including on double workout days. I rarely took days “off” — in fact, I remember when the only days I completely had “off” (no yoga, no light swimming, no short run/slow jog) were after a marathon or half-ironman, or days when I was so busy or traveling such that it wasn’t feasible to workout. In other words, I often could not remember when I had taken days off. This still happens, mind you, but I don’t have the time/money anymore (and the interest, frankly) to have such a crazy lifestyle: I’d rather run 5-6 days per week and throw in a kickboxing or spin class or a swim for cross-training every now and then. I’d say this schedule began sometime around the start of grad school, became crazy again while in Taiwan (lots of swimming, gym classes, and running), then became almost entirely running once again after I returned to the U.S. in 2008 and joined the Santa Cruz Endurance race team (http://scendurance.com). Since then, I purposely do a single triathlon per year just to prove I still can do it –that is, I prove to myself that I can still place in the top 10-20% of my age group even if I no longer can place in the top 3 or 5. Since 2008, however, I’m a 5-6 days / week runner, at least 45-60 minutes each time, with tempo runs and track workouts thrown in occasionally–my 10K and marathon times have improved respectively (about 44 mins on the 10k; marathon PR of 3:30 in 2009).

I’m explaining all this before what I’m about to say because I want people to know how much lifestyle changes outside of sports / athletic training have influenced how I feel and the way I work out as well as my overall health, body fat, body weight, muscular development, ETC. Without further ado, here are those big lifestyle changes:

1) Less stress, more sleep. Well, this isn’t and hasn’t always been possible, but I know for certain that I feel better (like anyone else) with more sleep and less pressing deadlines (yay for finally being ABD!). However, I don’t think that adding tons of sleep back into my daily routine is the only thing helping me (but it sure does make me feel better) because I did that for two summers recently when I lived in Toulouse, France. I often slept 7-9 hours per day, and my overall comportment was quite obviously affected, but my workouts and diet remained about the same — as did my weight, muscles, and pace on the track.

2) My workouts definitely got some more direction under the SC Endurance coach (http://tricoachmartin.com) and more competitive when I went to track practice with fast teammates. I can’t deny that having someone timing me every time I do a loop, in front of other people, makes me want to run faster. But I also don’t think it’s the main reason I can see my abs now because I couldn’t see them then and I weighed a little more than I do now. 🙂

3) I basically have little to no alcohol in my diet. Well, I actually think has less of an influence than people think. I still drink maybe 2 beers or glasses of wine per week, and I’ve never been a heavy drinker (aside from my first year or two as an undergraduate). Nevertheless, I think there is a noticeable difference if one drinks more than a glass of beer or wine every day or nearly every day. Case in point: in grad school, I noticed that stress + alcohol + caffeine + not enough sleep all probably combined to increase my weight the first year, despite my consistent 2-3 hour runs on the weekends and weekday runs. But I also think that when I moved to Taiwan, giving up alcohol and increasing workouts, not to mention walking/biking around the city, didn’t immediately drop the pounds or make me feel better, but rather it remained about the same. I do think, however, that the food in Taiwan didn’t help. (See next point.)

4) I have become an almost-vegan as this blog states. I decided to do this in November 2009 (almost a year ago!). My last piece of meat was a small slice of Turkey for Thanksgiving that, frankly, was rather tasteless without my mother’s yummy (dairy-free and meat-free) gravy smothered all over it. Unfortunately that little piece of meat only served to confirm my suspicions that my stomach hates (at least most) meat. For several months I had been experiencing ridiculous amounts of random flare-ups every time I consumed any meat (including poultry), the kind where I would attend a BBQ or dinner party and then leave early or sit on the couch in a ball with a distended/bloated stomach, in pain, and ask the host if he or she had some mint tea around (mint tea= ultimate natural soother). Previously, I had only had this problem with dairy cheeses (although raw dairy often gives me a fever), broccoli, onions, and some kinds of mushrooms, which I continue to avoid like the plague. (To be honest, until I was about 24-25 I thought it was normal to get one of the following after most meals: acid reflux, indigestion, abdominal / intestinal pains, and all the lovely, ahem, “side effects” that come with those. Then I found out about IBS.)

So why do I bring up the diet changes? For two reasons, mostly. One, I physically feel a googleplex times better (e.g., 1010100 ) than I did a year ago, and getting married wasn’t the only reason (although I have been a hell of a lot more content since I found my husband in 2008 🙂 ) but also because other things started to get better. I PR’ed in races. I don’t get that awful sluggish feeling in the afternoon anymore (you know what I mean: the one where you’re looking for the coffee or candy bar). I still absolutely ADORE chocolate, coffee, espresso, cake, cookies, ETC. I eat them like there’s no end… I eat as I feel like eating, just as I always have, but I have to make sure I don’t eat stuff that’s going to upset my stomach. I try to avoid processed foods because, well, they also give me stomach problems and they’re just gross. Within about 4-5 months of giving up meat and heavily processed foods, even though my training had remained about the same and my consumption of sweets continued (and salty–sometimes I gotta have fries), I noticed something weird: I felt better and was about 8-10 pounds lighter (without trying). And for all those years of TRYING to get abs, who knew that a year after leaving the meat world  I would be able to see my freakin’ abs!

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Now that I’ve had a week (and a day) mostly off (well, we still ran most days) and have almost fully recovered from a cold (this happens to me often after long races in terrible weather), I thought I’d write a little bit about the marathon atmosphere in Berlin and the vegan restaurant we discovered afterwards.

Berlin was my fifth marathon: Richmond (Virginia; in 2004), Marine Corps (Washington, DC; 2005), Boston (2006), California International (Sacramento; 2009), and now Berlin (2010). It is absolutely no exaggeration that one learns something new in each marathon. I had never done a marathon in poor weather conditions, nor had I ever done a marathon with more than 25,000 people. I got both in Berlin. The weather was crap the morning of the race and Berlin had 40,946 competitors signed up. (It turns out that the weather was the lesser of the two evils.)

The day before the race my husband and I headed to the craziest race expo I have ever seen (only Boston compares, and even then I don’t remember things like outdoor bratwurst and pretzel stands). After weaving us all the way through hordes of people to the other end of the Nazi-built Tempelhof airport, we finally found the place to pick up our numbers and chips. Of course, we had to go back out the same direction, and on the way stopped briefly at the huge New Balance stand so I could bitch a little about my recent problems finding their shoes in Berlin. Luckily, I found a nice man who spoke English very well, and he informed me that Laufen and Langen and any other store that is a member of the “Lex group” officially distributes New Balance in Germany. However, not all models available in North America are also available in Germany, so I’d have to first inquire. He gave me a brochure and they do have 759’s and 905’s for women (yay!) as well as 850-somethings… but no 904’s or 100’s (awesome minimalist trail runners)… so fine, whatever, now I know where and how to get (some of) my NB shoes!

The next morning when we woke up it was still raining (ick), but at least it wasn’t freezing cold (yay!). We bundled up, put hats on, and headed to the U-Bahn to ride a whole four stops to Potsdamer Platz, where we had to get off and walk a good 15-20 minutes to the race site (near the Reichstag and Bundestag). At this point, I started to freak out a bit about the number of people. It took us forever to find out where we needed to drop off our bags, although the bag drops were extremely organized and very efficient (even if my husband’s drop-off was quite literally at the opposite end of mine, about 800M distance between the two), and Adidas provided temporary-style rain ponchos to anyone who wanted one. (My husband and I ended up wearing these things until about the 35K point.)

The start was quite chaotic, with everyone pushing to get onto the main street and people taking last-minute potty breaks in the woods around us (note to self: do NOT visit that part of Tiergarten for the next few weeks; this is the #1 thing on my list of what I don’t like about big races, lack of porto-o-johns with short lines in convenient spots–at Boston some women peed on my shoe right before the start). We didn’t quite make it to our starting blocks on time (which is all the better since they had put us in separate ones and we wanted to run together), but it didn’t matter because we all had chips and there was a massive amount of people moving in the same direction. Unfortunately, this also means that our first 5K or so was unbearably slow basically to the point that it threw off our whole pace. It continued to rain steadily until the last 10K or so, at which point my feet felt like they were eating the pavement and I was really, really sick of being in a crowd with that many other people. I liked my last marathon in California much better — the best of all marathons I have ever run in terms of time (3:30) — I believe 4,000-6,000 competitors is about all I can tolerate. In the end, we ran a 3:43 (it was still my third best time in a marathon, and an amazing time for my husband’s FIRST marathon) but we had hoped to be closer to 3:30ish (or even 3:40). Next time we’ll choose to do a race with < 40,000 people and hope for better weather conditions.

The crowds didn’t end after the finish. We got our medals, hobbled to find our bags (a lot of hobbling), hobbled about a mile (or more) to find the U-Bahn (with stairs involved), as it continued to rain off and on, and we shivered. But we came home to hot showers, food, and the warmth of our cozy bed, where we spent the next few hours dozing on and off, and contemplating where to have our celebration dinner, and if we wanted to leave the house again in the rain (it had started to downpour). I’m so glad we decided to try out a new all vegan restaurant called Viasko in Kreuzberg, about 20-25 minutes (subway + some walking) from where we live. It’s a converted Irish pub with lots of yummy beers, cozy tables, books and board games, and delicious food! We had an appetizer of avocado cream + tomatoes and tofu on baguette, followed by veggie pesto panini for me and veggie “gyro” (HUGE!) with pommes frites for my husband. We both also had draft beers (I chose hefe and he had a pilsner? not sure…). The service was very friendly, the place warm and cozy, and the menu quite diverse. Apparently the menu changes frequently, probably because of fresh ingredients. I really wanted to try the dessert, but there was too much food and we came home with doggie bags. (Total cost of the meal including drinks, tax, etc: 24 euros — if this place were slightly cheaper we’d probably eat there more often!) We’ve reserved a table for brunch at Viasko next week following the Asics 10K race, so I’ll report on that in the next post. I’ve heard good things about the all-you-can-eat brunch on happycow, and since we’ll be racing I hope it lives up to its reputation. I’m going to be hungry!

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