What I Learned from Blade Runner

The GO! St. Louis race in April 2013 wasn’t my first choice.

I had originally planned to run the Christie Clinic race in Champaign, Illinois. I’d heard it was a nice course, flat, and it ended at the football stadium at the university. When I was training with Fleet Feet in St. Louis, it was the race I told everyone I signed up for.

But, because we weren’t able to find someone to dog sit for our very shy “Mississippi Mudhound,” I ended up not being able to run it. Instead I ran the GO! St. Louis race the week before.

The race was a challenge for me for a couple of reasons. Mentally, I hadn’t prepared myself to run it. Anyone who runs long distance races knows being mentally ready is half the battle. More importantly, I was experiencing some stomach upset and just wasn’t feeling my best. The few people I was running with from my training group had left me behind, due to my frequent potty stops.

So I was running on my own and feeling discouraged. I’d had high hopes that this race was going to be awesome, unlike a half I’d run two weeks prior that ended up a disaster.

Blade runner, GO! STL 2013Around mile 8, I sensed a growing excitement around me. Onlookers and fellow runners started clapping and cheering. I looked back and saw Blade Runner go by. In fact, he breezed by me a couple times during the rest of the race. Once, he fell. A man running next to him asked him if he needed help but he said no. When he got back up, everyone around us cheered.

I have to admit I felt even worse about myself after seeing him in the race. I wondered how I could be so shallow as to moan about not having the perfect race when this man had more challenges than I ever would.

But in reality, we all have our challenges. Some are physical, like this runner’s. Someone else’s struggles might be an illness they’ve beaten.

In the end though, we all run our own race.

How To Do a Pushup

There are several exercises that everyone can benefit from — pushups, lunges, squats and crunches. All of these require no equipment except our own body weight, so there’s no excuse for not doing them.

I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to having proper form when working out, for a few reasons. First, if you’re going to work up a sweat, you might as well make it worth your while. Without proper form, you aren’t going to get the results you’re looking for. Second, without good form, you’re more likely to injure yourself.

In this video, I demonstrate how to do a pushup, along with a couple of modifications. Kevin Reisick, owner of Arch Fitness in Bethalto, Ill., is providing some coaching.

Stairclimbing Can Be Competitive

Who would think climbing stairs could be competitive?

But I guess anything can be turned into a contest.2011 pic

Competitive stair climbing started back in 1977 when 15 competitors ran up the 1,576 steps of the Empire State Building. Now, many cities around the world hold stair climbing competitions. Some are fundraisers, such as the ones I’ve participated in for the American Lung Association in St. Louis. Some are just for competition.450px-Met_Square_stl

The stair climb in St. Louis is called Master the Met, named for the Metropolitan Building we run up. I’ve competed three times – in 2010, 2011, and 2012. I missed the race in 2013 because I was experiencing some knee issues while training for a half marathon. I thought it best to skip the climb this year but definitely want to do it again next year.

You can read an article I wrote about my experience with the climbs, how to train for one, and some fun facts about competitive stair climbing here.

Who’s Your Support System?

Do you have a support system in life? It makes our journey so much easier when we have people who encourage us and keep us moving forward.

I got to thinking about this when I flew to Rochester, Minnesota the day I posted this blog. My seat on the first leg of my trip was across from a group of four – a couple and what I thought were their children. It turned out the two girls, 6 months and 2 years old, were the woman’s children. He was their uncle and along for the flight to help her.

I’ve flown with young children before and it isn’t easy. The mother’s older Indian seatmate occasionally held the baby and helped keep the toddler amused.

“A mother has to have eight arms,” she said.

I realized just how much we need other people when we are on a journey that presents challenges and obstacles. One of my nephews just graduated from high school. He was 14 when he came to my sister’s home to live. To have him graduate was quite an accomplishment for both my sister and J. You see, J was without oxygen the first seven minutes of his life and so has some mental and physical challenges. With a lot of hard work, he graduated with a 3.32 GPA.

I’m fortunate to have two very special people who have helped me — albeit in different ways — throughout my life. My sister and I share a bond that only sisters can have. I can honestly say she’s saved my life and I don’t know what I’d do without her.

My husband has supported me in whatever I’ve wanted to do. Whether it was to stay home with the kids, go to school, work full time, freelance, take up running….he’s always supported me. If I told him I wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, he might roll his eyes but then he’d ask for my plan to get there.

When it comes to my fitness goals – and especially my running – my husband is my #1 cheerleader. I mentioned in an earlier post how he followed me around on my first 5k.Quincy & Danette_pit crew

Quincy encourages me when I get discouraged about not being “fast enough.” He chauffeurs me to races so I can focus on the upcoming race instead of worrying about traffic. At the GO! St. Louis race, he met me along the route with my sunglasses that I’d left in the car, so I wouldn’t have to squint during the race.

None of us are on our journeys alone. Whether or not we realize it, we have people around us who will cheer us on, lend a helping hand, guide us, share our tears and joys…. But we have to be willing to ask for it.

I’ve been blessed with many supportive people in my life, not just in running, but whenever I was faced with difficulties. I hope you, too, have a support system you can call on when you need it.



Protein is Important to Our Diets

Do you get enough protein in your diet? You can when you use a whey protein powder.

UMP_v_LGProtein is one of the basic building blocks of the human body; it helps us maintain muscle mass while we’re losing weight and helps heal injured tissues. In fact, protein is one of the most important factors that influence our metabolic rate, favorably influencing weight loss. If you work out, you should replenish your protein within 30 minutes of exercising.

How much protein should we eat if we want to lose (or maintain) our weight? If you’re on a 1,800-calorie diet, you could safely eat anywhere from 45 grams (10% of calories) to 158 grams (35% of calories) of protein per day. According to the RDA, that’s about 46 grams of protein a day for women and 56 grams a day for men.

But you have to balance that out with the proper amount of carbohydrates and fats (which should be no more than 20% of your overall daily calorie intake.

Eggs are one of the best sources of proteins, if you like them. One egg provides 6 grams of protein, or about 12% of the Recommended Daily Value. Tofu is an even better source of protein, containing 13 grams for just 3 ounces. I am still working on learning to like tofu. According to the USDA, ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese has an amazing 14 grams of protein.

If you get your protein from meat, make sure it’s lean, like pork or chicken; 1 ounce has 7 grams. Peanut butter also is a good source with 8 grams per tablespoon. And don’t forget the benefits of adding dried beans to your diet. They not only provide tons of protein, but essential fiber as well. One cup of cooked beans gives us about 12 grams of fiber.

I like to include whey protein powder to my diet. Whey protein is convenient to use and easily digestible. After my workouts, I mix 8 ounces of milk with a scoop of vanilla flavored whey protein in a shake (I add a squirt of chocolate just because!). Another way I incorporate it into my diet is in my oatmeal. I wish I liked oatmeal. It has so many benefits but I’ve never gotten used to the taste. But when I do eat it, I’ve taken to sprinkling a little whey protein on it. It adds the needed protein and just a little bit of sweetness to the cereal.

Whey protein powders are a smart choice when you’re looking for an additional protein source.


Read to Improve Your Running

I’m beginning to collect an array of books about running. Here are three that I’ve found very helpful.

Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running Chi running book cover(Danny Dreyer)

I first picked up this book after a conversation with a freelance photographer, and fellow runner, I work with occasionally. He was giving me some pointers on landing midfoot (rather than landing on my heel) and mentioned using a metronome in his training. I started Googling around on the Internet and came across Dreyer’s website. Intrigued by his book and the philosophy behind it, I ordered a copy and haven’t been sorry.

Over the course of several years, Dreyer met two Tai Chi masters who influenced his running form. Chi (chee) is the energy force that animates all things. By practicing mental focus and relaxation, we can learn to direct this energy. Observing the masters’ almost effortless movements originating from their centers, he wondered how he could incorporate that into his running.

The book discusses the Chi running form (landing midfoot) as well as cadence and stride length. Dreyer argues that 85-90 steps per minute is optimum cadence for most people. This is where the metronome comes in. Stride, on the other hand, is where your feet fall in relation to your body. The closer beneath your hips, the better, as overstriding can lead to heel striking, which leads to all sorts of other problems.

More than running form, though, is the four chi-skills Dreyer promotes, those same attributes Dreyer saw in the tai chi masters. Focusing our minds, breathing, relaxing and having a keen sense of what our bodies are doing so we can make adjustments along the way are the skills that will take runners to their top form.

The Runner’s Guide to Yoga (Sage Rountree)runner's guide to yoga book cover

If you’re a runner, you know how important it is to have muscles that are flexible. Tight muscles can lead to being sidelined by an injury.

Yoga keeps muscles limber while strengthening them. Holding a pose gently stretches muscles, yet the poses are isometric exercises as well. As muscles are strengthened and stretched, they help with overall joint health and stability.

Participants of endurance sports such as long-distance running frequently need to learn to balance the “need for speed” with the need for rest. This is where yoga comes in.

“Running and yoga go together like yang and yin . . . each hold space for the other at their core,” says Sage Rountree in her book The Runner’s Guide to Yoga. Yoga improves a runner’s efficiency and power while teaching (or reinforcing) intention and breath

A columnist for Runner’s World and a registered yoga teacher, Sage Rountree’s book treats common problem areas to make runners stronger and more resistant to injury through a regular yoga practice. The book offers poses for strength and flexibility and poses that prevent and correct overuse injuries, such as Warrior II. Rountree concludes the book with pre- and post-run sequences.

Breathing and meditation exercises also are included. Being aware of their breath, how it shifts with different paces and whether it’s originating from higher or lower in their chest helps runners find their baseline. They’ll be able to return to this foundation when they find their breathing off track during a race.

Anyone who has practiced meditation knows its calms the monkey-chatter in our heads and teaches us to be focused. We all experience self-doubt and self-criticism. Runners benefit from tuning out and turning off the voices in our heads and staying focused on their breath and form, improving their runs overall.

Yoga is about balance and Rountree’s book for runners shows them how to keep balanced within their bodies and in their minds.

Running Anatomy (Joe Puleo & Dr. Patrick Milroy)

running anatomy coverI knew I wanted a copy of this book when I first saw it in the bookstore. What I like about it is that it very clearly explains which muscles benefit from which exercises. The authors take each section of the body (such as the core), provide relevant exercises, then show the running focus, all with clearly drawn illustrations.

For instance, after an explanation of the bones and muscles in the upper legs, front and back, the intro to the chapter closes with specific training guidelines. Exercises are presented, showing various ones with machines as well as free weights. Technique tips and an explanation of how that particular exercise affects the runner’s performance.

The book also includes chapters on common running injuries and anatomy of running footwear, which I found interesting.

The one thing I didn’t like about the book had nothing to do with the content but with its typography. A san serif font was used to print the book. (Serifs are the little lines at the end of letters.) Serifs guide the eye along the page, making large blocks of print easier to read. I took me a couple days before I realized why I felt I was struggling to read the book. I have no quarrel with the content – it’s excellent. But the lack of serifs make reading it for extended lengths of time a challenge.

Taken together, these three books will push your running to new levels. Chi Running will provide you with a new way of running, one that will help you tap into your inner chi and keep you injury-free. Yoga for Runners will keep you flexible through the many poses within the book as well as giving you exercises to improve your focus. And Running Anatomy will help you understand how all the muscles in our bodies work together.



If You’re a Runner, Practice Yoga

Bridge pose stretches the

Bridge pose balances the front and back of the body. It stretches the hip flexors while it works the muscles in the glutes and hamstrings.

I’ve practiced yoga off and on since I was a teen back in the 1970s. When a yoga center opened in town about six years ago, it was “on” again. For a time, I was going to a class several days a week. I felt great! My muscles were flexible and my mind was calm. I felt I could do so much more – and more easily, both mentally and physically.

When yoga was “off” again, I concentrated on boot camp class and weight training. I focused on how much weight I could lift and on the cardiac benefits.

Now that I’m a runner, I can clearly see the advantage – and necessity – of practicing yoga regularly. Because I wasn’t stretching well enough, I developed an ITB issue early on. As I’ve worked to correct this, I’ve incorporated yoga back into my daily routine.

What a difference!

Not only are my muscles more limber but my ITB problem has been alleviated more so than when I was only doing the prescribed basic stretch that every runner learns.

Yoga’s benefits don’t stop at the physical level. Just as important – perhaps even more so – is the discipline of the mind that yoga teaches. Everything starts in our heads. If you’ve ever talked yourself out of doing something you wanted to because you weren’t accomplished enough, smart enough or “whatever” enough, then you know the power of the mind. Of course, it works both ways. We can just as easily talk ourselves INTO doing those things we normally wouldn’t do because we aren’t “accomplished, smart, or whatever” enough.

In yoga, we’re taught to focus on our breathing as we move in and out of poses and hold them. Meditation, practiced hand-in-hand with yoga, improves our concentration.

How does this relate to running?

Our yoga training comes into play when our energy starts to wane midway through a run and we “hit the wall.” As we become fatigued, we tend to lose good form. The more we can remember our breathing techniques from yoga (from the diaphragm rather than the chest) the more efficiently we can run.

The next time your gym offers a yoga class, check it out. Take a few classes and practice at home. It will complement your running program nicely as it strengthens your core, stretches your muscles and teaches you to maintain your focus.

Race Wish List

I’ve only been running about 2-1/2 years but it didn’t take me long to realize that runners have races they run regularly and races that are on their “dream” list.

This year, I’ll be able to start my own “annual” races list. I’ll be running the Mascoutah (Ill.) Meltdown on July 4. When I ran it last year, I was thrilled to be third in my age group! But it was so hot that day, my husband and I already had left and I had to drive back a few days later to pick up my trophy.

I had well-intentioned plans to run two half-marathons earlier this year: the Christie Clinic 5k and Half in Urbana, Illinois and the USMC Half in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a dog-sitter for the Illinois race and my husband couldn’t get off work to go to the Virginia race. I was disappointed. We were going to combine it with a vacation in DC and since I didn’t want to go without him, I forfeited my race fee.

I vow next year I WILL run those two races.

Meanwhile, here are some other races I’d love to do or plan to do later this year.

  1. I’m on a team for the Wood River (Ill.) Triathlon in August. Our team name is Earth, Wind, Water. I’m running (Earth); my sister is swimming (Water) and a friend will be biking (Wind). I don’t like to swim and I don’t have a bike, so this was the most logical way to do a triathlon.
  2. MO’ Cowbell. This race is in St. Charles, Missouri in October. Last year I ran the Rock N Roll in St. Louis. I heard the MO Cowbell was a really nice race so I think I’ll pass on the RnR this time and try that one.
  3. Someday, I’d love to get to Dublin for the Rock N Roll race there too. My husband talked about it this year but I really didn’t have the money to go. My family is from Ireland and my husband’s is from Scotland, so of course we’d combine it with a vacation.
  4. Any race in San Diego, Carlsbad or some other southern CA city. My son is stationed out there and it would give me an “excuse” to visit him.

Which races are on your wish list?




We Never Forget Our First Time

before 5k_9:11:11

Before my first 5k

No one forgets their first time. Sizing each other up. The tension that builds beforehand. The excitement. The racing heart. The sweat. The exhilaration when it’s over.

No one forgets their first time – competing that is.

I had competed in a couple stair climbs in St. Louis before but not a running race. My first time competing in a race was a 5k on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I had been working out with a boot camp class for six years and was looking for a little challenge, something to kick my workouts up a notch.

So I signed up for the 9/11 Heroes 5k at Tower Grove Park in St. Louis.

Before that, I hadn’t done any running. I had been walking frequently and occasionally interspersed my walks with a couple minutes of jogging. But at the most, that was barely two miles, down to the elementary school and back.

The morning of the race, my husband drove us over to the park where I signed up. I was so nervous I had to hit the bathroom three times!

Because it was a 9/11 commemorative race, a group of Marines were there to run and we let them lead the way. When the horn went off, I really had no idea what I was doing but just followed everyone else. I was then – and still am – a “middle of the pack” runner.

My husband was so cute and very encouraging. He waved me off at the start, then crossed the park to find me and wave me on again halfway through.

after 5k_9:11:11

A great first race!

I was so pumped up with excitement I was making very good time. I ended up finishing the race in 32:27 – almost an 11 minute/mile pace. Since then, I’ve run 11 more races, including six 5ks, a 4 mile race, a 4-person relay, and three ½-marathons.

In yoga, practioners are encouraged to come to the mat as if it’s the first time.  In other words, leave preconceived ideas of how you “should” be flexible or “should” be able to hold a pose without shaking.

It’s the same with racing. Each one is a learning experience. If you’ve figured out what pre-race food works for you, then maybe this race’s lesson will be how to get past the wall when you hit it. Don’t stress over what you “should” be doing in your race, but learn to enjoy the experience.

What was your first race experience like?


3 Favorite Blogs

We all have blogs and websites we”ve discovered around the Internet. Here are a few I’ve come across that I enjoy. I hope you do too.

1. Ex-Navy Seal Phil Black created an exercise deck of cards called Fit Deck. I have two of his decks — Bodyweight and Yoga — and would like to get a couple more. I’m not sure how I came across his website but I signed up for his blog and enjoy reading them. One of my favorites (because I always wondered how to do this) is his post on how to climb a rope. He also challenged himself to hold a plank pose for 5 minutes. This was done in real time, so you could see him start to tire at the end. I got tired just watching him!

2. Maybe I have a thing for ex-Seals! This second website and blog I’ve been following is MArk Divine’s Sealfit.com. I came across it when I was looking for races in California, where my son is stationed right now. He has links to a blog, exercise demos, and articles and resources.

3. I signed up for Jennifer McDaniel’s Nutrition Therapy newsletter when I went through my first half-marathon training with Fleet Feet in St. Louis. The Nutrition Connection newsletter comes to my inbox once a month with tips and recipes. Her website has her blog, resources and links to media she’s appeared in.

Check out these sites and let me know what you think of them.