One Month One Hundred Miles

I can’t deny it, 2012 is starting pretty good for me running wise.

I’m still learning my body limits: how fast I can push without feeling my hamstrings, how hormones affect my ability to run, how  shin splint are never quite as far as one thinks.  I’m still learning what my body needs to be fueled right and work at its best, or how long it really take me from the time I get up to the time I hit the pavement.

But the training is going well so far (I need to do a recap to be honest). And I feel good. My shins were borderline two weeks ago so I eased a little bit on the pace, rolled the legs and did more yoga. It worked, it feels like it never happened.

I reached a milestone for me this month: 100 miles in a month. Until then I had never gone above 86 (that was back in August). I would have had 96 but I threw in an easy run with my husband this week, just because. It felt right and I was happy to run by his side.
It hasn’t been all rainbows: I’ve had some crappy runs, but I’ve also had some can’t wipe the smile away from my face kind of runs too.

Bring it on 2012, I like the way you’re starting.

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Parc de la Ciutadella, Arc de Triomf and Medieval Streets

During our trip to Europe, I had planned for a three-day getaway with my Husband to Barcelona. The fun Catalan city is after all only 3 hours away from my Mom’s by train. While we had a few visits and a lot of eating planned, running was also high up on my list.

In fact the moment we got there, Hubby and I put on our running clothes and went out together. I used mapmyrun prior to our visit to plan a few options. I knew there was a Park right by our accommodation that would provide an easy run. Now one thing I learned during this trip is that you can only rely so much on mapmyrun to prepare a run. Let’s just say that some fences and gates are not always visible on a map… I learned that when running on vacation on should either: follow a local’s run or be flexible. We did the second option and it turned out all right.

Here is a map of our run: http://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/61205642/

Starting from the Bed and Breakfast, we “lost” ourselves in the small medieval streets going toward Santa Maria del Mar. From there we went straight toward the Parc de la Ciutadella. The Park has a mixture of straight and meandering trails. While my original goal had been to follow the meandering ones, I had a hard time finding them once there and completely reorganized my route. The park was beautiful though, with several fountain, water features, trees and sculptures.

But the biggest surprise was when we came upon La Fontana, a monumental fountain built in the late 19th century. Hubby and I looked at each other and decided to run to the top just because. It was fun, the steps were easy and we took a mini break at the top to enjoy the view.

From there we continued to the edge of the park and crossed the street. I wanted to see another monument while running: the Arc de Triomf. To get to it we just had to follow the wide pedestrian area from the Park’s North-West entrance. It was absolutely worth it with great views on the mountains behind Barcelona.

At that point I knew the run was really short, so we just went around the park to add some mileage. Nothing really exciting to be honest. I even started wondering where it was taking us as the road does a large half circle around the zoo. But then we saw the tramway line and followed it with the Park’s wall on our left back to the next entrance. We ran back into the park, went by the Museum of Zoology,  a really neat building. And then followed Calle Princesa back to our accommodation for a good shower. It was really a nice introduction to Barcelona and a treat for me to run there with my husband.

3.69mi, 34:00 @9:12 pace

How do you plan your vacation runs?

Is That a Bear or a Dog Print?

I sometimes get asked if I’m not scared to go alone on the trails. Truth is I’m not. I usually go in areas used by hikers and bikers and I feel safe surrounded by them. Oh sure there could always be some crazy dude jumping on me, but I feel that the chances of that happening are about as high around my house. Heck I’ve never ran upon a shady business in the woods. Unlike last night when I ran with my running group, a buddy and I did the longer loop and I’m pretty much sure we came upon the end of a drug transaction in a darker street. It was really weird. There is two things I’m afraid of on the trails however: bears and snakes.

Last time I went on a long run, it rained the day before. So when I came upon what seemed like a large print on the ground, I froze. Bear or dog? Bear of dog? That little mantra came through my head. The print seemed fresh and I had no interest in following a bear, especially while running.

You see I’ve been in front of a bear before, during our trip to Alaska. And the things I learned were: don’t stay there but don’t run either. Running makes you look like a prey. Not a position you want to be into. And sure it’s winter and most people will say that bears hibernate. I’ll have to disagree on that one. If they’ve found that the Pyrenees brown bear come out in the snow, I’m pretty sure black bears are not sleeping everyday during and unseasonably warm winter.

It turns out the print I saw, while large is most likely a dog. The palm section is not big enough to be a bear as can be seen compared to a bear print I took a picture of last November.

January 2012-Likely a dog print

November 2011- Bear print

So what do you do if you have a bear encounter. Well the first thing would actually be to prevent it:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings. Don’t look just 3 feet in front of you. You don’t want to look up to see a bear snout in front of your face.
  • Make noise while running: clapping, chanting, etc. I have done that when I ended up running in far darker conditions that expected. It also had the benefits of cheering me up. But it’s not always doable when running uphill. I try to cough loudly when in doubt to announce myself.
  • Run with a group. [fail]

If you come upon a bear, well there are all sorts of positions on the subject. According to the Ultimate Guide to Trail Running by Adam Chase and Nancy Hobbs one should:

    • Be aggressive if it’s a black bear: stand still, pick up a rock and prepare to fight. Err I’m not fighting a 300 pound furry ball. It’s about 3 times my weight!
    • Be calm if it’s a brown or grizzly bear: don’t make eye contact, speak softly, walk backwards, put calmly a jacket on the ground to distract the bear and in last resort play dead protecting your neck with your hands curled in a fetal position

I was always told to make yourself tall (mother nature made me 5’1 that’s going to be tough) and do noises. I know the most dangerous encounters are a bear with cubs, and it’s best to stay clear of them.

When we came upon the black bear in Alaska, it checked us out. It never stood up but we could tell it was smelling us. I’m pretty sure we did one of the no-no which was looking it in the eye. But we turned around and slowly walked away while talking to each other. While the bear followed it was on its way to somewhere else and took at some point and to our great relief a different path.

The print encounter, while a dog’s made me realize that I’m pretty foolish with only a cell phone with me. I think I’m going to get a whistle to make noise and be able to direct help my way if anything was to happen, I also need to get a Road ID in case I am not responding and got forbid someone needs to call my husband.

What are your bear encounter rules? Do you carry bear spray on the trails? Did you come upon one, what did you do?

Marathon Training Plan: Run by Effort

The FIRST program worked great with my half marathon so when came the time to think about how to train for a potential Marathon, there was no question in my mind. I downloaded their Marathon training plan. Like the Half, it only has 3 run workout a week unless one wants to add easy runs as cross-training. For now my cross-training plans include yoga, at home workout (a mix of push ups, pull ups, lunges and squats), and cycling for a few easy miles.

Now the plan is pretty precise on the pace, that’s what makes it work: speedwork, tempo and easy long run. The pace goals should be based on the last best 10k. Well I have not run a 10k race ever, my last 12k race goes back to March of last year and I’m not sure I can trust the changing paces on my 6 miles runs. So I’ve decided not to go by pace (gasp!). Let’s be honest, I took so much time calculating pace goals last time I training to find out that I was either faster or slower depending on the days. I’m also training for a hilly course and no 10k race pace around our area would give me an accurate feel for that.

So instead of building my training around numbers, I’m going to do it on feel. I know how it feels to make my body go faster or easier. So I’m not going to worry about a specific pace but run how it feels. Oh I will still record my pace afterward but I think that running by effort will benefit me ultimately since I don’t own a Garmin and will only run with my watch for the time being.

Do you run based on your pace goal or by effort?

 

 

 

I Can’t Rust

Iron and Iodine Rich FoodWhen I went home, I took the time to meet with my Doctor. Even without health coverage in France, an appointment with her and the blood test she requested for a complete check up where less than what it would have been in the US (free for me in fact because my grandmother and dad were not going to let me drop a penny).

While I’m overall healthy with a great BMI of 21.1, only 18.8% of fat and pretty much everything good there were two issues that came up through the blood tests.

#1 My Iron Bank levels are really low: 16.1

While the reference levels are 11-158, my doctor would like to see me at least at 40. Heck last time I was at 40 (2006) she had me take iron supplements. Women need around 18mg/day. I eat a pescatarian diet (fish, dairy, eggs) which means no read meat. And guess what? That’s where you find not only the most iron but also the one that is absorbed best.

Now being  a runner (and mostly vegetarian) probably has a lot to do with this. This great little article Running and Rusting explains how runners have more blood hence the iron is more diluted. Foot strike hemolysis aka the break down of red cells when the foot hit the ground is also to blame. So being a runner doesn’t help and yet we need iron even more. Iron is needed to produce hemoglobin, hemoglobin carries oxygen and we all know how lack of oxygen in the muscles feels.

Right now I am on iron supplements to boost things up a little. Ultimately I’d like to be off of supplements and just obtain it through my diet. So I’ve started looking into what I can eat to improve iron sources and absorption in my diet.

  • Avoid tea (or coffee) and calcium along with iron intake because they lower the absorption of  iron. So my cup of tea has to been taken out of meal time, same for dairy.
  • Take a source of vitamin C which helps with iron absorption during meals: hello fruit and citrus.
  • Add iron rich foods to my diet: canned sardines (10% of my need for 2oz), molasses (1 Tbsp=15%) (do you think molasses cookies count?), dulse flakes (1 Tbsp=14%), an egg every morning (5%/egg), use the cast iron pan.

#2 My thyroid is working too much. That is likely due to both lack of iron and lack of iodine in my diet.

Iodine is necessary in the function of the thyroid. The thyroid controls the metabolism and regulate hormones. Adults need about 150mcg/day but shouldn’t take more than 1,100 mcg (it becomes toxic over a certain amount).

I realized that the salts we have at home do not have iodine. A lot of table salts contains iodine because it’s one of the only ways to have it unless you live by the sea and breathe it every day. I have been prescribed with supplements for the time being, but again I don’t plan to live on supplements.

Solution: Eat Dulse Flakes which contain 173% of my needs per Tbsp. All I do is sprinkle a little on my salads and voila!

I am thankful that I have not felt the effects of low iron and iodine yet. But I don’t want to let it go to that point so it’s important for me to take steps now. I’m even considering having red meat maybe once a week to help with the iron.

Have you ever dealt with low iron and/or iodine, what did you do to help?

A Running Tour of the Pink City

I knew that I needed to keep on running while on vacation. Ahead of time I had drawn a few courses on Mapmyrun. While I’m familiar with Toulouse I was less with Barcelona, not to mention that I wanted an idea of my mileage.
Thankfully for me it wasn’t my husband’s first time in Toulouse so I was able to skip the tours and enjoy running around the main site instead which to me was really fun. Toulouse’s nickname is  the Pink City (“La Ville Rose”) because of its brick walls and clay tile roofs.

I knew I wanted a run that would include a lot of historic sites and be scenic. I wanted to soak in the city that heard my first cry.
Well my Mamie (Grandmother) happens to leave close to the Roman Arena of Ancely (well what’s left of it). As a child my Dad and my Aunt would go play in it all the time, it had not been “recovered” yet. So that’s where I started.

Source: Jean-François Peiré

Then I followed the Avenue de Casselardit that goes by Purpan Hospital and turned on a small street that I knew would bring me to the Garonne River levees. The only weird part is that there is always a homeless person living under that bridge, however I have never had any issues with it. I had one good mile overlooking the river and seeing downtown get closer and closer. I arrived to the Bazacles, a former ford which is now a type of dam used for a hydroelectric power station. On the west bank is the Parc Raymond IV where I was. The park is borded by the Garonne River, the Roman Wall and the Abatoirs modern art museum. At Place St Cyprien, I took a turn to hop on the Pont St Pierre which also happens to go right by the Dome de La Grave, a XIXth century chapel.The best thing from the Pont St Pierre is the view over an other bridge: the Pont Neuf which I would run on a few miles later.

Pont St Pierre et Dome de la Grave

I kept on going straight to reach the Romanesque Basilica of St Sernin. An 11th and 12th century church on the path to Santiago de Compostella. Every Thursday there is a great Flea Market around it. I ran the course twice during our visit, the first time I just ran by the basilica, the second time all around it, which was even better. I love how the bell tower stands out. You can also begin to understand why it’s called the Pink City.

Basilique St Sernin

From there all I had to do was follow the Rue du Taur to the heart of Downtown which is the Capitole. The building dates from the 16th to 18th century with a neoclassical facade. Not only do I love the town hall, but it overlooks the Place du Capitole, a very large plaza where one can find the Croix Occitane, the Occitan cross in the middle. Now this time the cross was not very visible due to the ongoing Christmas Market, but I knew it was there and that was enough.

Capitole

I went behind the Capitole and followed the newly pedestrian only street of Alsace-Lorraine. It’s a wide avenue boarded by many of my favorite shops. Had I not been running I would have had to stop and look at the current French fashion. But we ended up going back later with Hubby. One thing the picture below does not show is that there was some ongoing work being done on the street. So it wasn’t all smooth pavers, but since it was early I also did not have to fight the crowds.

Avenue Alsace-Lorraine

Alsace-Lorraine links the current downtown to the roman heart of the city. The place Esquirol is where the Romans had the Forum and where the two main roads would cross. Today it’s a busy area mainly used to hop on the bus or the metro. But I wasn’t taking any shortcuts. I turned on the rue de Metz and went straight back toward the Garonne for an other highlight of my run: going over the Pont Neuf. While neuf in French means new, this bridge is nothing like it. In fact it is the oldest one in Toulouse! Back in the days people did not give fancy names to bridges, there would just be the new bridge and the old bridge, so it kept its name.

Pont Neuf

Le Pont Neuf took me back to St Cyprien neighborhood and I ran again along the Garonne river back to my Mamie’s house. Truth is I did this run two different ways, but I like this one the best. Not to mention that the second time I ran it, my husband came with me.

I ran it at an 8:42 pace on my own and 9:17 pace with my husband by my side. If you ever go to Toulouse I highly recommend it.

Failing to Fuel

MST Folk Art Center-Cravens Gap

Winter view from Lunch Rock on the Mountain to Sea Trail

Ten days ago was one of my worst run ever. Sure I was a little ambitious, picking a 10.22 mile run which went way uphill (1000 feet) but I could have done it. My  biggest mistake was not eating enough and not taking something with me.

You see I’ve done long runs of 9-10 miles where I don’t need anything, so I completely underestimate what this one would do to my body. All I had before I left home was a Cliff gel. One. That’s it.
I’m an idiot.

The run started fine. My goal was to do the Out and Back from the Folk Art Center to Cravens Gap following the Mountain to Sea Trail. It starts flat, then a light uphill, followed by somewhat flattish, a good uphill (which I stupidly thought would be the worst one, Ah!), then the trail follows the crest so it’s a little easier, and suddenly you hit this steep section. It was relentless and I walked most of it.You think you’re almost done, but then the trail goes downhill (which you know will be uphill on the way back) and then it goes on and on and on until you reach a crossing of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The uphill took a lot of my energy out. I think if I had taken some energy gels with me and had proper food prior to running it would have been hard but doable. Instead I started stopping a lot on the last 2 miles, checking the directions I had recorded on my phone, thinking the BRP would be right there. Well not so much. It took me  a whole hour to do 5.11 miles. I took a break at the gap and texted my husband so he wouldn’t be worried that the run was taking me longer than planned. But the rest was not enough, I needed energy and didn’t have anything to fuel because I left it all in the car.

I have to admit that the whole way back was a daze. I was low on energy and I knew it. I was only focused on returning to the car and eating the Larabar I had in my purse. I was worried about the risk of fainting but thankfully that did not happen. I did however walk in section I would normally run without any problem. I did stop. But I knew I was somewhat ok since I could still talk to the people I met on the trail.

Back at the car I chewed the Larabar slowly and processed to drink even more water. That was my second mistake. I think so much water on an empty stomach and a tired body did not go too well. Not to mention the smoothie I drank on top of that for fast refueling. I ended up feeling nauseous for the next three hours and so low on energy too.

So lesson learned, next time I go on a long hard run I need to have a running snack with banana and more and pack things with me. Better to have it and not need it.

Have you ever gone really low on energy during a run? What was your solution?

I May or May Not Be Running a Marathon

Ah the runner’s high! Finishing a Half-Marathon in great shape and realizing the body can do it. Days later, the thought starts to creep up. Could I? Can I? Will I? Could I face the symbol of long distance running? The Almighty Marathon?

When that thought came to my mind I first thought I was nuts. Come on people I took up running barely two years ago. But I’m a runner, we know how that works. As days and weeks went by it grew. As I heard other people talking about theirs, I wanted to join. So I started thinking: Ok, I could run a Marathon before I’m thirty or on my thirtieth year. Sounds fair, it gives me a little bit of time. Then I started looking at Marathons around the world. Flat or course was my #1 criteria. Why would I want to run 26.2 miles uphill after all right. Who in their right mind would do that?
I started thinking it would be cool to run it in France, back in my home country; make a whole trip out of it. Toulouse, meeh the course was all right. Paris then? That looks fun and I know many people who can welcome me there.

So can you tell me why I entered for a chance to win an entry to the Blue Ridge Marathon? I can’t have been in my right mind. The high of the holidays maybe? When Lil’Runner ran a giveaway for a chance to enter a marathon I had a talk with my husband about the pros and cons.

It would mean that I couldn’t run the Dupont State Forest Half Marathon that I really want to run.
But it would be free, and a marathon. My first Marathon. In the same mountain range I live in.
It’s freaking uphill!
But it’s not as far as Paris and does not require a plane ticket.
I love mountains.
I’m obviously a masochist.

He told me to enter and figure it out later. It was when I was in France that I receive the email that I had won. Can I admit it, my first though was shit! I’m the only idiot and masochist who entered for it. Seriously? What’s wrong with me.

Today we’re a 100 days away from the marathon and I signed up. But here’s the catch: I’m not committed.
Seriously. I’m not.
I’m training for it all right, I’m signed up for it all right, but I’m still not sure I’m going to run it.

There are many reasons why I’m not committed. One of them is the hills. I love trail running in Bent Creek. But running 26.2 miles with 3,620 feet of total elevation gain is daunting. I know that if I set my mind to it I can probably do it. The other reasons are more personal and kind of health related. So I here it is I’m training for my first Marathon, but not sure how many people I’ll tell yet (ok besides the whole wide world, but I don’t have to talk to you face to face thank you very much). If for any reason I feel that it is too much, I give myself until April 1st to switch to the Half-Marathon.

And now we need to find a place to stay at.

2011 Running Review

My goals when I started 2011 where based on a 101 in 1001 list.

I wanted to run a 10k and a 15k. I did not run the 10k, instead I ran a trail 12k race, I did run a 15k and to top it off I ran my first Half Marathon.

I wanted to run more on trails and I did. So I can say that I went beyond my goals.

I ran a 774  miles in 2011. I went from running twice a week to thrice a week.

January

I got the flu and really picked up running right after that. Technically I ran when I still had the flu and I feel that it helped me recover faster.

February

I discover Shin Splints and the 10% rule when it comes to increasing mileage. I scale back and up it slowly.

March

I run 6 miles for the first time ever. I remember being so proud of myself. It’s funny now to think that a 6 mile run is a normal thing. I also run over an hour for the first time and run my first trail run: the Dupont State Forest 12k. The rain made for some not so fun condition (aka risks of hypothermia). But I loved the race and hope to do it again. This year my husband also wants to do it. I also start running with the Diamond Brand running group.

April

I decide to start a running specif blog instead of having it take over my expat/immigrant/life blog. I learn about speedwork and scare hikers on the trail.

May

I hurt my knee by starting too fast. I had to scale back on the running, it was hard. I realized that I hate not running. I also make the decision to sign up for a Half Marathon in September and start training as soon as my knee improves. I run my first 15k and love every minute of it. Given how much trail running has taken over, I splurge on some new trail running shoes and fall in love with the Saucony Xodus 2.0. At the end of the month I take a 3 day running break to go hike on the highest summits of our state instead with my husband.

June

I run the Asheville Chamber Challenge for the 2nd time and pull a PR in a hot day. I also have a really hard run in 91 degree whether and while I tell myself I won’t run in such temperatures again, truth is my body got used to it over the summer. I run Hickory Top in Bent Creek for the first time, I was proud to reach the top, to this day it’s my favorite loop in Bent Creek with 9.3 mi.

July

I train for the Half Marathon, reach 13 miles and realize I will have no problem finishing. A friend gets dehydrated on a run.

August

I make compromises when it comes to running and spending time with family. In return my SIL introduces me to Lululemon and I get my first running skirt. I decided to do a Detox week-end, cutting off most carbs, soy and sugar. To top off the month we get to run in Alaska and on a Cruise ship.

September

I get to run my first Half Marathon and pull a sub 2hour time. The rest of the month is followed by health issues unrelated to running and blogging becomes more difficult.

October.

Due to the health issues I am not allowed to run for two weeks. It seems like an eternity at a time when running would have been my escape. As a result I DNS a 5k I really wanted to do at the airport.  I ease back into running once cleared and run a virtual race to make up for it. It was a really had month for me mentally.

November

I run in the ice for the first time of the season. I skip the traditional Turkey Trot but go enjoy a nice relaxing trail run in Bent Creek instead. My goal was mainly to get my legs back but also train for a 5k to see how I improved.

December

I run the Jingle Bells 5k and get a new PR, jingling all the way which may or may not have cost me the 1st female place. Mid month my husband and I fly to Europe to spend Christmas with my family. We escape to Barcelona, Spain where we get two beautiful runs. I run in beautiful Toulouse, France; in my grand-parents town and on the trails at my Dad’s. While I cut back on the mileage to enjoy my family I feel very happy about finishing the year in such beautiful places. I end with one last run on the 31st, to get over the long flight back home.

Did you achieved your goals this year?

An Escape to Europe

Romanesque Church (10th-11th century), Merens Les Vals, French PyreneesMy blog has been very quiet in the past few weeks for the simple reason that we were away in Europe. The trip was planned since May but I didn’t want the dates to be known online. With the running I know my name can be found online with a little search and I had no wish invite unwanted people into our home while we were gone.

I cut back on mileage during the last two weeks of December, keeping it to barely 14 miles. There were days when I wanted to run but preferred to take time with my family. After all I can run all year round but my family is thousands of miles away and spending Christmas with them is a rare thing those days. The last time I was in France for Christmas was 2004, the year I met my husband. Somehow we’ve spend every Christmas together since then. This year was also my Mom’s family Christmas family reunion. It had been 8 years since I got to take part in it and I cherished every single moments of this. If you’re curious about Christmas in France, head over to my other blog.

I’m looking forward to share our runs in Europe. We escaped to Barcelona, Spain for two days and did two beautiful runs there. I also realized how difficult it can be to run not only on vacation but when you are not familiar with the place. I ran twice in Toulouse. I took my husband on his two longest runs ever. I ran in the mountains with my brother and husband, went skiing with my dad in my childhood home. It was a real treat that I will cherish for years to come.