Running for Wellness + A Special Guest
Maybe you recall that my personal workout of choice finds me on a yoga mat in the comfort of my office or backyard. Gentle, restorative, mindful movement to ease into each new day.
As a follow-up to last week’s Fueling a Healthy, Active Lifestyle post for National Nutrition Month® (and to keep the March fun going for a bit longer!), I want to highlight an alternative on the other end of the fitness for wellness spectrum.
It’s been around since man mastered walking and needed to move faster… away from the claws and maws of hungry beasts. And because humans are nothing if not competitive, running for sport followed soon thereafter. More recently, it’s becoming increasingly more popular thanks to Color Runs, Tough Mudders and other themed races, with roughly 1 million Americans training annually for some form of running event.
Boasting an impressive list of physical and mental benefits, it’s not hard to understand why. Running increases muscle strength and endurance; improves cardiovascular health; decreases risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and possibly some cancers; strengthens bones and joints; relieves stress; and may lead to an overall higher quality of life. Not to mention it can be done most anywhere and is virtually equipment-free. If you live close enough to your place of work, a good pair of shoes and a small pack are all you need to sneak in a workout twice a day.
Not at all my area of expertise, I enlisted a crazy impressive ultra-marathoner to help with this post – Gabe Joyes. Gabe is curator of the Wind River Running blog, and fortuitously, my sister-in-law’s husband. He’s been running ultra distances since 2011, and this year is competing in both the Bighorn 100 Wild and Scenic Trail Run and the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run. Just between those two races that amounts to more than 40 hours of running!
Because few people are at this level, I requested he provide an overview of what to consider before you commit and how to get started. So before you throw on your kicks, let’s chat with Gabe!
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First things first, what should beginners do on their first run? How do you recommend they choose a good route and appropriate distance?
I think it all depends on what you hope to get out of the run. I always try to make it fun, because if it’s not fun, why do it? For me that means choosing the most beautiful place I can think of that also has optimal conditions – ideally, a rugged trail. If that’s not available I pick the nearest road with the best scenery and least amount of traffic. So, step one: Do whatever it takes to make your run fun.
Next, if you aren’t used to running, mix in some walking and keep it to a couple miles (or whatever is comfortable), so it doesn’t become a slog. Having a friend to run with can also be a good thing, as long as you are compatible in terms of goals, ability, and motivation.
Besides a decent pair of running shoes and simple clothing, is there other gear you find necessary? What about the gizmos and gadgets (e.g., GPS watch, heart rate monitor) – smart or just expensive toys?
I always wear a GPS watch because I value the information it gives me. That said, mine is the perspective of someone who runs for fun, but is also pretty serious about competition. I use my watch to monitor progress over time – to help answer questions like: “Am I getting faster on this route?” and “Has my performance plateaued or gone backwards?” This information helps me decide if I need to take some days off, and if training is productive.
Some of the newer GPS watches also monitor running cadence, which is the number of steps you take per minute. Having an efficient running cadence is extremely important for fast and comfortable running, so I like monitoring that, too. Often when we run our perception isn’t very accurate. Some days I may feel like my running is poor and I get frustrated, but then I check my pace on the watch and it’s actually pretty reasonable.
I find that heart rate monitors are also extremely helpful, if you know how to use the information. Your heart rate is the best measure of your overall effort. For someone who is new to running, I recommend trying to keep your heart rate low. If you let it get sky-high, you probably won’t enjoy the run for very much longer.
My previous post provided guidance on what, when and why to eat/drink to fuel a healthy, active lifestyle. As a dietitian I’ve encountered several serious athletes who wished we didn’t have the phrase “you can’t out-train a bad diet.” I’m curious to know if/how your diet changed over the years, and what are some of the more common nutrition mistakes you see runners make?
I think it is absolutely true that “you can’t out-train a bad diet,” but I suppose that depends on what your goals are. For example, I’ve gone on 30-mile runs and eaten so much crap afterwards that I’ve gained weight. I try to stay as lean as possible for performance purposes, so to gain a few pounds after 6 hours of mountain running is very disappointing.
Over the years I’ve come to realize just how much better my body (and mind) feels with a diet of primarily vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean proteins, and quality carbohydrates. I used to finish long runs and eat half a bag of tortilla chips (in nacho form, of course), and tried my best to keep Haagen-Dazs in business. As you might expect, those choices make for really poor recovery.
Following my diet improvements, I no longer crave those foods after runs, and would much rather have something like an omelet with vegetables and bacon, some pan-fried potatoes, and maybe an apple with peanut butter or fruit smoothie. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy “H-D” on occasion, but I always make sure to get the nutrients I need first so I can perform at a high level again as soon as possible.
In 2013 you were diagnosed with Celiac Disease. As a runner, how did you cope with these new dietary restrictions? Did you reach out to anyone for help with the adjustments?
Dealing with the dietary restrictions has actually been pretty easy for me. One of my really good friends has Celiac Disease, so I went into it aware of many lifestyle changes I needed to make. I’m especially careful with running (and even more so with racing), because even the smallest amount of gluten in my system while running can cause catastrophic reactions. It’s amazing that I can even go for runs at all after some of the sufferfests I endured after accidentally consuming a trace amount of gluten. I’ll spare the details, but I will assure you it is a whole lot more than a little belly ache.
I’ve found that the easiest way to avoid gluten is to eliminate most everything that’s “processed,” and instead eat as much whole food as possible. For example, if I eat a banana, there’s no chance of it being contaminated with gluten. Eating food from some unknown factory or restaurant, on the other hand, is risky. Fortunately, eating whole foods that are not at all or minimally processed turns out to be a good diet for running, too.
I do want to note that many companies (like Gu and Justin’s Nut Butters) are fairly transparent about manufacturing processes, so it is possible to find sports foods that you can be confident are gluten-free.
Your running career began with middle school cross-country, continuing through college on to where you are today. How and when did your motivation shift to running marathons, and eventually ultra-marathons?
I was fortunate to play on a number of high-level competitive soccer teams throughout my teens and early twenties, which was actually the sole reason I ran cross-country during those years.
My interest in running more so came from a love of hiking and backpacking. I used to work at a summer camp in the mountains of Montana, and we were routinely given 24-48 hours off between camp sessions. Many of us were motivated to climb peaks, walk ridgelines, or visit remote lakes. We barely had enough time to get to and from these places, and often ended up running back to camp with our large packs so we wouldn’t be late. These trips became much easier and faster with lighter loads. Eventually I stopped carrying a pack at all. When I eventually moved to western Wyoming, spending more time in the mountains became even more accessible.
It took me a couple years to realize that people actually raced like this. I’ve only run one road marathon, and I don’t have a strong desire to do so again. I’m still motivated to get to amazing places in as short of time as possible, though, especially since I have a daughter who is almost three years old. Rather than taking days to backpack a beautiful trail, I can run it in a day and still be home for dinner with time to take her to the park. Sometimes I wish I could slow down, put on my backpack and walk, but it doesn’t fit my lifestyle anymore.
Racing is simply fun for me, and I use it as motivation to get the most out of myself physically, be competitive, and really challenge myself.
Are there specific resources you recommend new runners look into before beginning? What about for those individuals who might be considering a transition into the longer endurance races?
There are several different websites I regularly look at. Probably the most frequently visited are www.irunfar.com and www.running.competitor.com. iRunFar is definitely oriented towards ultra-running, but there are many columns relevant to running any distance. For instance, Joe Uhan’s “Stay the Course” series and Ian Torrence’s “Your Ultra-Training Bag of Tricks” (its not just ultra-running tricks, trust me). Competitor Running is a little bit more beginner-oriented. I especially appreciate their articles and videos about running form, which is absolutely critical for enjoyable and successful running. Other than that, I frequently visit blogs of other runners I admire to see what they are up to.
Any final words of wisdom to leave us with – or of encouragement for someone who feels even a 5K is out of reach?
My first half marathon was the furthest I’d ever run, and I was physically wrecked. After that, I was scared to train for a full marathon, because I didn’t think my body would hold up. But it did. The next challenge was running 50-miles, and what once seemed totally nuts at first has become a reasonable day to me. Here I am now. It took me a long time to get to this point, and I’ll certainly admit that 100-mile runs still intimidate me – they’re excessively long races – but I absolutely love running this distance.
People who just run every once in awhile tend not to get much out of it. Everyone finds a favorite distance, but first you have to get out there and explore the possibilities first. If you expect quick results and no adversity, running probably isn’t for you. The human body adapts to new things very slowly. If you start by walking 30 minutes, then 40, then running a few of those minutes, and so on, you too could eventually run a 5K.
Only a few years ago I never thought I’d run 100 miles, so don’t limit yourself by saying things like “I’ll never do it!” You can never understand what that 5K – or a 100-mile race – is like until you have the experience. If you dedicate yourself to something, you’ll be absolutely amazed at what your body can do. Be patient, learn to listen to your body, be persistent, and have fun!
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Granted, running isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun workout. Full disclosure: a former high school sprinter and jumper, that’s me. I lack both the lung capacity and motivation to run beyond 400 meters. That’s not to say I don’t think about going out for runs with my husband, and dream of some day completing a race of some sort. A short one, at least.
While the dream is there, I admit that the very idea still seems somewhat incomprehensible. But, thanks to Gabe, it is far less overwhelming a thought and I’m encouraged to see what the future may hold.
I hope our chat was helpful and heartening for you as well — whether you’re a seasoned racer or a dreamer, like me! Please join me in giving Gabe a big “thank you” in the comment section below, and don’t forget to swing over to Wind River Running and wish him luck on the upcoming 100s!
A few other reliable running resources I found:
Tell me… After reading this post + interview, are you inclined to take up running, or pursue new goals in your existing running routine?
**Disclaimer: Marathons are not something to introduce into your fitness routine on a whim. I suggest you first consider your overall health and be aware of your limits. If you have certain medical conditions, please seek a doctor’s professional opinion prior to introducing running into your fitness routine.**
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p.s. I love hearing from you! Check back if you ask a question, because I’ll answer it here.
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