Review of “Roar: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life” by Stacy Sims and Selene Yeager

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I first heard about this book through the Another Mother Runner podcast several months ago but I only recently borrowed it from the library. Why the long wait? Honestly, I just didn’t really think it could be that good. I’ve read other books written by female athletes, although not a ton, but I just wasn’t that inspired by them. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t anything special either.

“Roar” is not only a book for female runners but for female athletes in general and I can honestly say it’s one of the best books for women that I’ve read. Dr. Sims is not only a nutrition scientist and exercise physiologist but also an athlete herself. One quote I really like from the book is “You are not a small man. Stop eating and training like one.” This sums up the book well.

There are 17 chapters in “Roar,” covering everything from pregnancy to menopause to the female digestive tract, although there is some redundancy in places, but I found the book to be laid out well and easy to follow. “Roar” is filled with scientific information and while I’m a scientist and may be a bit biased, I thought it wasn’t too scientific for most non-scientists to follow. I also liked the “Roar Sound Bites,” brief summaries at the end of each chapter.

Not only does Dr. Sims lay it all out there for women by explaining how hormones effect athletic performance, she gives advice on how to control hormonal effects on our bodies. For example, women should take in protein high in leucine before exercise and within 30 minutes of  exercising to help maintain muscle when hormone levels are high. One thing I learned about myself is I need to be consuming even more protein than I previously thought. Dr. Sims recommends 1 gram of protein per pound per day for athletic women (this is much more than is recommended for non-athletic women).

Dr. Sims also has examples of daily diets for athletes of all kinds including triathletes, cyclists, and runners. She sometimes will give comparisons of their current diet vs. what Dr. Sims recommends they eat. There are also exercises with photos that take up two chapters of the book that she recommends for female athletes. A not-so-fun fact is that women who don’t strength train lose at least 3% muscle mass per decade after age 30.

There are also of course large chunks of the books devoted to diets, sports-specific fueling, and hydration. In addition to specific examples of recommended daily diets for athletes, there are recipes for snacks. Not surprisingly, women’s hydration needs are different from men’s because of hormones. One interesting tidbit is that Dr. Sims partnered with nuun hydration to help re-formulate nuun performance hydration powder in 2016; the partnership was announced shortly after “Roar” hit the publication stands but there are no references to any of this in the book.

There are also sections on how women can deal with extreme temperatures and high elevation including specific ways to cope and a section on recovery after a hard workout. One interesting point is that when men take an ice bath, they can start shivering and get microspasms in their already-fatigued muscles, which leads to more soreness and stalled recovery. Women, however, need help speeding up vasoconstriction after a hard workout, so women can still benefit from ice baths.

The chapter on supplements was interesting to me because it’s part of what my field of study has included for my job. Many women may be surprised to read that the only recommended supplements mentioned in the book include iron, vitamin D, and magnesium. Calcium and antioxidants such as vitamin C are not recommended and in fact can be harmful. Dr. Sims’ opinion on supplements is in agreement with what I’ve also read from other scientists but this information doesn’t seem to have trickled down to the mainstream yet.

Finally, the last couple of chapters are about how men’s and women’s brains are different and how we can use this information. For example, women tend to have a greater ability for social interaction so we would benefit from things like group runs or cycling sessions. Also, positive thinking and mindfulness can be especially important for women who often need help in these areas. The final chapter is about biohacking (looking inside your physiology) and discusses everything from pee sticks to blood testing to the simple but often overlooked question, “How do I feel?”

As I said earlier, I feel like “Roar” is one of the best books geared towards female athletes that I’ve read, and I do recommend picking up a copy. I read a review on Amazon that this book isn’t for the average athlete, but is more for elite athletes, and I disagree. I’m by no means an elite athlete and there was plenty I could take away from this book. OK, now I need to go eat more protein!

Have any of you read “Roar?” If so, what did you think? Are any of you intrigued about the book now and would like to check it out? You can see if you public library has it or Amazon has it for sale here.

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Milestones Every Serious Runner Should Reach (Or so They Say)

After reading an article on Active titled 13 Milestones Every Serious Runner Should Reach I started to think about it. For those of you that don’t want to read the article, I’ll break down the thirteen steps.

  1.  Finish your first 5k
  2. A double-digit run
  3. Your very first gel
  4. Your first black toenail
  5. Completing your first half marathon
  6. The sub-2 hour half marathon
  7. Your sub-7 minute mile
  8. Your first run in bad weather
  9. Hitting 40 miles in a week
  10. Your first 20 mile run
  11. Your first race bonk
  12. Crossing the finish line of a marathon
  13. A BQ (Boston Marathon qualifying time)

I’ve done all but the last one, earn a BQ. My one and only marathon was a disaster and by no means was I anywhere close to a BQ. I also had no desire since then to run another marathon. My body just isn’t made to run marathons, nor do I have the time nor am I willing to make the time to train for a marathon.

Does it make you any less of a runner if you don’t run a marathon or even a half marathon? What if you run for an hour five days a week faithfully for years but never enter into any races- are you not a serious runner?

What does “serious” runner mean anyway? Apparently to the author who made up the above list, a serious runner is only one who runs marathons and runs them fast at that. Or do you have to only complete some of these from the list to qualify as a “serious” runner? Maybe if you’ve done most of them, you’re a serious runner. But then that would mean the slower runners wouldn’t be serious. I’ll bet if you ask anyone who has run a few marathons but hasn’t finished even close to a BQ, they would tell you they’re a serious runner for sure!

I guess I consider myself a serious runner. Running is a big part of my life and like I said, while I’ve only ever ran one marathon, I run a few half marathons a year and am approaching my 43rd half marathon. When I was training for my marathon, I ran 40 miles in a week, ran 20 miles in a training run, and bonked because of the extreme heat at the marathon, but I did still manage to cross the finish line. Now that I train for half marathons, I don’t or won’t ever do the last five items in the list. I don’t think that makes me any less of a serious runner.

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My one and only marathon, the Long Beach Marathon

Many of these items on the list are possible “one and done” kind of things. Does simply completing a 5k, half marathon, and marathon (which means by default all but numbers 6, 7 and 13 would likely also happen and quite possibly number 3 as well) make you a serious runner? Does that mean once you’re a serious runner and you can tick off the majority of items from the list, you’re always a serious runner? Or does that status go away if you’re not running half marathons and marathons and qualifying for Boston?

I know I’ve asked a lot of questions and haven’t answered many of them. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what my list would be for a “serious” runner. I think it varies for everyone. Some people are never going to run sub-7 minute miles and that’s just a fact. I don’t think that makes you any less of a serious runner because of that. Likewise, many people are never going to run a sub-2 hour half marathon and even more are never going to run a BQ marathon.

I think if you just finish a marathon, you’re a serious runner (assuming you’re not walking the entire race of course). It takes huge amounts of effort and time to just train for a marathon and anyone who doesn’t agree has never trained for a marathon. Also training for a half marathon takes huge amounts of time and energy.

So no, I don’t agree that every runner “should” reach these milestones to be considered a serious runner. I agree that these are indeed milestones that some runners reach over the span of their running careers, but I don’t agree every runner needs to do these things. I think to say that somehow makes the efforts of people who are out there running, doing the best they can, but not running 6 minute miles or going out for 20 mile runs seem less worthwhile than runners going faster or further. It says what they’re doing isn’t good enough. I’ve always said, you’re racing against yourself and that’s all that matters. I use the term “racing” loosely too, meaning, training runs, during a race, or even just out by yourself for a run with no race in sight.

However, I can go the other direction, too, and agree that most people wouldn’t call someone who goes out and runs for a mile or two at a light and easy pace a “serious” runner. So I guess you might say “serious” to me at least implies someone who goes a bit above and beyond the everyday runner. Still, I don’t want to demean someone who goes out for short easy runs and never runs a race. Just because you’re not a serious runner doesn’t make you any less of a runner. Certainly not everyone should be or in some cases is able to be a serious runner.

Milestones should be very personal for each runner. A milestone for one person may not be a milestone for another. So I ask you all:  what are some of your running milestones?

 

 

The 2017 Tunnel to Towers 5k in North Carolina and Why it Sucked

Sometimes you just need to vent after a race. I’ve never written a post like this before, about a race I didn’t even run. My daughter ran this race last weekend and there were so many things about it that just rubbed me the wrong way I felt the need to get some things off my chest. I hope you all don’t mind if I vent.

I signed my daughter up for this race because she recently decided to switch from swimming year-round on a swim team to focusing her time and energy on running instead. She can’t try out for her school track team until February. I knew giving her a goal race would keep her motivated to get through the last of the summer heat. She was doing great in her training and I had a feeling she would do very well at the race.

A few days before the race, I emailed the contact on the website to ask about a course map. Two days later, I got some kind of response that was like, “In order to ensure the best possible race for the runners, we are still working on the logistics of the race course.” In other words, there was no set race course yet. That was when my first alarm bell went off.

At packet pickup (which consisted of getting a t-shirt and bib) there was still no race map. The day of the race, still no map. When I asked a volunteer if there were any course maps, I was told there were only a few print-outs available but volunteers had them. OK. So I told my daughter to just pay attention on the course and hopefully it would be well-marked. Note, I did later find out the Facebook page had posted a course map the day before the race, but I was unaware since I didn’t follow the Fb page.

Promptly at 9:45 am, the runners were off. Here’s another reason why I didn’t like this race. 9:45 is too late to start a race in central North Carolina in September. The sun was blazing hot and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Just pushing up the start to 7:45 am would have made a huge difference.

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Toeing the line at the start

Fifteen minutes into the race, I decided to walk up to where the runners would be coming back through towards the finish line. Two volunteers were questioning the position of cones, which were there at the start so runners wouldn’t make a wrong turn. It turns out the cones should have been moved, because the runners were supposed to go down that road to the finish. Unfortunately, the mistake wasn’t realized until after the first three finishers had already gone through, adding at least a tenth of a mile on, if not more. This was yet another case of poor organization.

I saw my daughter coming through and cheered her on to the finish. She looked hot, sweaty, and tired, but strong. She told me there was some confusion about where to go on the course, because it wasn’t well-marked and had some strange turns. There was also a big hill at the end they had to run up. It wasn’t the most scenic course and there’s certainly nothing memorable about the area, but I don’t necessarily fault the race director for that although the overall course organization could have been better.

There were no medals given out to finishers but there was water, well until they ran out of water. This race only had about 250 runners and walkers and they still managed to run out of water. The problems with this race just kept piling on.

We decided to wait around for the awards ceremony, thinking my daughter may have finished in the top three for her age group. But first, they retired the flags, the insurance commissioner of North Carolina spoke, a woman sang “America the Beautiful,” and the announcer spoke for a while. Did I mention it was blazing hot? I fully understand the race is being held for a cause and they really wanted to drive that point home, but I felt it could have been organized better.

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Many firefighters ran in full gear, like this woman shown here who jumped into the race after snapping a few photos

Finally they began the awards ceremony. A group of firefighters were given a really nice trophy for the fastest group of “Heroes” on the course. They called up the top male finisher overall, the top male finisher for ages 10-14, and the top male finisher for ages 15-19. Then they called the top female finisher (who had already gone home) and concluded the awards ceremony. Wait a minute. What about the rest of the females?

Everyone started going towards their cars, and by now, I was so angry I was shaking. I went up to the race director and asked, “What about the rest of the females? Why weren’t they recognized?” The race director actually told me, “The males got awards because they were the fastest to finish.” WHAT? Did she seriously just say that? I told her at every single other race I’ve been to where awards were given, both males and females were recognized, not just the males. There was another parent of a young girl who had ran, backing me up.

The race director told me that Fleet Feet, who had done timing for the race, would have the official results and the top three finishers in all age groups could pick up their awards at the store. I told the director part of winning an award at a race was the recognition. After several minutes, the race director made an announcement that they had made a mistake, and awards would be given out for the top females. By this point, there was literally only maybe 20 people still there.

Need I tell you I was furious by this point? Never before had I been so thoroughly upset with the poor organization of a race. They did announce my daughter’s age-group win, and gave her a medal (medals were only given out to age-group winners). I didn’t even see it, because I was at the timing tent, looking up her finish time, as I was told to do by the director.

It turns out she finished first in her age group. I should have been excited, but at that point, all I felt was angry. Angry that the race director was so clueless that what should have been a momentous occasion for my daughter was ruined. It all left a bad taste in my mouth.

Although we hadn’t planned on going there the day of the race, we drove to Fleet Feet since it was in another city from where we live and we wouldn’t normally shop there with my daughter. After another 20-30 minutes of waiting while the person working at the store was on the phone with the race director trying to figure out what the gift certificate amounts would even be for the age group winners, we were finally told it would be $15. Why on earth the race director hadn’t already worked this out with Fleet Feet is beyond me. I also don’t know why the gift certificates weren’t on-hand at the race and given out to age group winners. I guess that just goes along with the rest of the poor planning and poor communication with this race.

What gets me is this race is part of a series held in several cities. We were told the one in New York City has 30,000 runners. I would have expected more out of a series that’s been going on for at least a few years now and is in several cities to be better organized. Maybe it’s just this one, and the others are great. Who knows. All I know is, we won’t be doing this race again, which is a shame because I do think it’s for a good cause.

Tunnel to Towers 5k

What are some of the worst-organized races you all have participated in?

 

HIIT Me Baby One More Time!

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Sorry, but I couldn’t resist! I’ve been doing a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout once a week that I’ve been loving. It kicks my butt, but I feel like it’s a great workout for runners. I know this is nothing new, and I’ve done HIIT workouts before, but this particular HIIT workout feels different from others I’ve done in the past.

Here’s what I do:

warm-up

  1. Burpee
  2. Squat
  3. Lateral slide
  4. Reverse lunge
  5. Mountain climber
  6. Scissor kick
  7. Spiderman

I do each exercise for 20 seconds at high intensity then 10 seconds of rest continuously for 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, I rest for 1 minute then start the next exercise. Exercises are only done for 4 minutes, so I don’t cycle through then repeat exercises. It takes about 35 minutes not including the warmup and I am thoroughly wiped-out when I’m done.

I’ve done this workout twice and I was sore for days after the first time. I was only a little sore after the second time. I figure I’ll keep doing this series of exercises until I feel like it’s getting easier, then I’ll change out some of the exercises for others. For example, I could swap out scissor kick for leg lifts or something along those lines.

I feel like this will help me with running hills and just running in general. It should also help with dead butt syndrome. I think this workout is definitely helping to strengthen my core and my glutes. After the first time, it hurt when I would sit down or get out of a chair in particular. I probably would back off of this intense of a workout in the final couple of weeks before a half marathon, but since I’m in-between training plans, it’s the perfect opportunity for something like this.

Here are links that show how to do each exercise:

burpee

squat

lateral slide

reverse lunge

mountain climber

scissor kick

spiderman

How about you all?  Do you have a HIIT workout that you’re loving/hating right now?

My Age Adjusted Half Marathon Times

After reading Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr (see my review here), I wanted to see how my age adjusted half marathon times looked. One of the main takeaways from the book is that although your race times will inevitably increase as you get older, particularly beginning in your 40’s, your age adjusted times should actually remain the same or decrease if you’re lucky.

Warning: this blog post is full of data and probably only for true data geeks. If it puts you to sleep, don’t say I didn’t warn you. For those of you that are into this kind of thing, you’re in for a treat!

First I plotted all of my half marathons from the very first one in North Carolina to the  one I ran in Utah. I did not include my last race in New Jersey, however. This includes half marathons I ran over an almost 20 year span with 41 half marathons in 39 states, so there are a lot of variables here besides just age to consider. For instance, the terrain and weather varied greatly from one race to the next. Beyond that, I was anemic for a period of years, so there is a spike in my times due to that until I was fully recovered.

You’ll see my race times are in red and my age adjusted times are in black. Initially, the age adjusted times are the exact same as the race times, so you’ll only see a black square for the first few races. Only around my mid-30’s do you even start to see a separation between the red circles and black squares.

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There is also a spike in my times for the race in Colorado. Running at a high elevation really took it out of me so this was definitely one of my slowest finish times. I decided to take out the times when I was anemic and the points from Colorado, since I thought they were outliers from the rest of the data.

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OK. So now I’ve removed the points from when I was anemic and my race in Colorado. With these two graphs, I can get a better idea of the “big picture” of my running.  The obvious outlier in the first one is my first race ever. Even with that point included, however, the general trend for my age adjusted times are decreasing, as shown by the linear fit shown by the blue line. When I throw out my first race time, the trends are more consistent. My race times have averaged around 2 hours and a couple of minutes over the years and have slightly increased. However, and here is the main point of the whole thing, my age adjusted times, again, as shown by the blue line, have definitely decreased over time, which is what I wanted to see.

Another interesting thing is the very large degree of separation between my race times and age adjusted times in my 40’s. For my half marathon in Utah, the difference between these two times is almost 10 minutes!

My plots aren’t anywhere near as “pretty” as the ones in the book, but I think maybe a big reason for that is the author’s age spans over a much longer time than mine do. Perhaps when I’m in my 70’s (as one of the authors is) and I plot my race times versus my age adjusted times, I’ll see something even more linear, rather than what I see. Hopefully even though my race times will (inevitably) increase, my age adjusted times will continue to decrease linearly.

Here’s the link to the Runner’s World website where you can plug in your numbers to see your age-graded race times.

Dead Butt Syndrome

I think my butt may be dying.  I don’t think it’s dead because I don’t have the extreme pain that I’ve read comes with dead butt syndrome. If you’re a runner and especially a long-distance runner, you may have heard of “dead butt syndrome” or even personally experienced it. For those of you that haven’t heard of this, I’m not making it up. It’s a real condition technically known as gluteus medius tendinosis, an inflammation of the tendons in the gluteus medius, one of three large muscles that make up the butt.

People with dead butt syndrome usually have pain in their hip(s) and poor stability around their hips and pelvis. It can occur at any age. Even non-runners can develop the condition if they have a job where they sit for long periods of time each day.

Muscle imbalance is often a culprit of dead butt syndrome. People over-compensate with their already stronger hip flexors and/or quadriceps, resulting in less use of their hamstrings and gluteal (butt) muscles, which weakens the glutes over time. Us runners without perfect biomechanics are particularly prone to this problem.

Is there hope for people with a dead butt or dying butt? Yes! You can save your dead or dying butt if you’re diligent about doing some exercises to strengthen your glutes, hips, and hamstrings. There are many exercises you can do, but some of the more recommended ones include bridge, squats, side leg lifts, and clams.

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You’ll need to do lots of squats to help dead butt syndrome!

Here is an explanation of the exercises I mentioned plus a couple more:

Bridging:  lie on your back with your eyes straight up at the ceiling and your legs bent. Pull your heels as far as you comfortably can up to your butt and raise your hips towards the ceiling. Tighten your butt when you’re as high as you can go. Slowly lower your hips back down.

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Photo credit yoga.com

Bodyweight squats:  it’s very important you have proper form for squats so use a mirror to help make sure your knees aren’t going beyond your toes as you slowly lower your butt down as if you were sitting in a chair. Have someone watch you if you’re still unsure if your form is right.

Standing on one leg:  this is a great way to fire your stabilizer muscles. Make sure you have good form and your pelvis is level. Start with aiming for 30 seconds per leg and try to increase up to one minute per leg.

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Single leg squat:  also known as a “pistol squat,” where you squat down on one leg at a time, with the other raised in front. Only do this exercise if you’ve got perfect form for bodyweight squats and this doesn’t cause pain.

Side leg lifts:  lie on your side with both legs on top of each other and lift the top leg towards the ceiling. Make sure your hips are level and your bottom leg is slightly bent.

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Clams:  lie on your side and bend both legs at a 45-degree angle. Raise your top knee up toward the ceiling, keeping your heels together and keeping your hips square.

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Photo credit keywordsuggests.com

You can incorporate these into your regular post-run stretching exercises and it should only add a few more minutes to your routine. I know, I know- more stretching! I recommend seeing a physical therapist if your pain is severe or these exercises don’t seem to help any.

What I Learned from 30 Days of Plank

After reading yet another article about a “30 day plank challenge” and similar things related to doing plank exercise I was curious about what this would really do for me. I wanted to know, are the reports from other people exaggerated? Would I see any improvements in my running? Would I see improvements in my posture? Or would I not really notice much of anything?

My plan was simple. I would do a one-minute plank every day for 30 days in a row. I had been pretty good about doing core exercises these past few years, but then suddenly the gym where I work stopped having the Friday afternoon core class. Even though I promised myself I would do my own 30 minutes of core exercises at home on Fridays, I wasn’t consistent. Pretty much the only core exercises I was doing was about 5 minutes at the gym once a week and what was covered in my yoga class once a week.

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Day 1 began after going for a run with some fartleks mixed in. For all of you non-runners or new runners, fartlek is Swedish for “speed play” and basically means you mix in some short sprints with slower, more continuous running. But I digress. The point of this isn’t to talk about running, but planks, and more specifically what would happen to me after doing a one-minute plank every day for 30 days? The first day of plank felt fine. I didn’t have a problem holding it for a minute and could have gone a bit longer.

I’ll spare you the day-by-day blow of what happened but here’s a summary:

For the first several days, I felt pretty much the same each day. I was a bit shaky starting around 30 seconds into it but not so bad that I wasn’t able to hold for one minute. By around day 6, it felt like it was getting easier to hold. On day 8, I did 30 minutes of core exercises in the evening then a couple of hours later did my one minute plank, so on day 9 I was a bit sore. On day 13, I felt like it was definitely getting easier to hold. Half-way though on day 15, the 60 seconds went by quicker than usual and I actually went over by 5 seconds, accidentally (I zoned out).

Then something unexpected started happening. I noticed it was a bit easier for me to run up hills on my long runs. Whereas before, I would have to walk up some of the especially steep or long hills, now I could run at least partly if not all the way up them. I didn’t expect that to happen after just doing one-minute planks for a couple of weeks! I’m not saying I could now power up every hill I came upon, but I was definitely able to run up some hills I couldn’t before.

Also, I had an easier time in my yoga class. I take a Vinyasa flow yoga class once a week that’s geared more for athletic people; it’s definitely a power yoga class. It’s tough and our instructor usually has us do something like 5-6 flow sequences where we go from plank to chaturanga then upward-facing dog to downward dog over the course of about 30 minutes, before we move on to other things. The other option is to just hang out in downward dog and skip the plank, chaturanga and upward-facing dog. If you don’t do yoga, I’ll just jump to the important part. Instead of getting through about 3-4 flow sequences then choosing downward dog for the other times, I was able to do the full flow sequences easily. I wasn’t even that tired after class. Normally I’m wiped out by the time I get home, but when I was about halfway into this plank challenge, I felt fine when I got home from yoga and wasn’t the least bit sore the next morning. I didn’t expect that.

On day 18, I did a 30 minute core workout on my own and was only a tiny bit sore the following day. For the rest of the days up to day 30, I felt like my abs had definitely gotten stronger. This is something I can stick with too. It’s hard for me to fit all of the stretching, foam rolling, etc. after I run, but this is only one minute. Even I can squeeze in an extra minute!

Now my plan is to continue doing plank every day for one minute until I reach the point where a minute feels easy, then I’ll do some side planks or dynamic planks. I’ve read conflicting information about planks, but all I know is the results I’ve personally seen, and they work for me!