3 things to do (or not to do) 2 weeks before your race

The Augusta University Half Marathon and 10K is two weeks away, which means I’m easing up on my mileage, locking down my nutrition plan even more and not changing a dang thing with my apparel.

It’s “taper time”

A friend once asked me, “I’m running a 10K Saturday. Can I work out Friday?” I told her that, if it’s typical for her to work out and then run that distance (6.25 miles) the next day, then yes. Just be careful and listen to your body.

She was asking about a topic called tapering. I define “tapering” as the ramping down of physical activity in order to avoid injury and to restore energy in preparation for an endurance athletic event. There are also nutritional and mental aspects, but this post addresses the physical aspect.

There are many and different rules about how to taper, and I think this is because it all comes down to the individual, mainly based on 1.) how conditioned he or she is and 2.) how hard he or she trained. For instance:

  • Conditioning: I believe that the running community typically rests the day before a race, because people use these events to push themselves farther. I know I do! In fact, I only sign up for races that have me running a longer distance than I would, left to my own devices, which means that I likely won’t be partaking in much, if any, physical activity the day before an event.
  • Training: Admittedly, I’ve never trained so diligently that I’ve been so concerned about tapering. However, I already ran my longest run in my training program, and I’m starting to decrease my mileage. Next week at this time starts the “doing very little to nothing” part of tapering, which is the hardest part for busy bodies like me.

If you’re tapering in preparation for the Augusta University Half Marathon and 10K like I am and truly cannot sit still as prescribed by the end of your training program, try to focus on stretching. Whatever you do, be careful not to work your muscles to fatigue (until you can’t do a given exercise anymore).

(This post continues below the photo.)

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Me, No. 7319, finishing my third half marathon in November 2015. I returned to run the race that got me hooked on half marathons, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon & 1/2 Marathon in Savannah, Georgia. This was the hardest race I’ve run to date because of the crippling heat and humidity, which unfortunately caused medical issues for many participants and, very sadly, two fatalities. I drank at each water station (something I don’t typically do), and, still, I couldn’t seem to consume enough fluids to keep up with what I was sweating out. At around mile 10, I felt a chill come over me and wanted to make sure that I wasn’t on the verge of dehydration, so I asked a man running next to me if he felt that breeze. He said, “Ha! No, that’s you.” That was a warning sign for me to get some fluid in me – and fast. I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay hydrated and in tune with your body, which brings me to my next point…

Fueling for an endurance athletic event

Here are three things you’ll need in order to effectively fuel for endurance athletic events:

  • Fluids: Fueling your body with an adequate amount of fluid is the most important thing you can do for your nutrition before, during and after an endurance athletic event. Water, for instance, regulates body temperature, serves as a lubricant for many body parts and processes and transports nutrients to give you energy and keep you healthy. Some athletes reach for sports drinks, because they not only help with hydration but also replenish electrolytes.
  • Sodium: While a low-sodium diet is important for heart, kidney and overall health, some is necessary in your diet. Sodium is an electrolyte, which regulates the body’s fluid levels, as well as muscle and nerve function. Electrolytes exit the body through sweat, so it’s important to replenish them.
  • Carbohydrates: Carbs have gotten a bad rap for what happens to them when the body reaches its glycogen capacity: they turn into fat. However, carbs are vital to those who participate in endurance athletic events, because they provide energy and are the primary fuel source for muscles.

“What Not to Wear” (or ingest): anything new!

While training for this half marathon, I started trying things that I never imagined trying, thanks to a new running buddy. I bought two running belts, was given a Garmin training watch, started drinking a recovery shake after long runs and even tried GU Energy gel. She has not only introduced me to a lot of helpful products but also taught me how best to use them.

One morning, she and I set out for one of our relatively longer runs. I decided to try this hydration belt thing. I always considered buying one when I lived in D.C. because of how doggone hot and humid it gets there, but I always looked at gear like this as extraneous. Well, I had barely gotten out of the Walgreens parking lot, where we meet, before I found it riding up from my hips to my waist and bobbing around. I kept tugging it down. I started regretting buying it and, even more so, wearing it and having to deal with it for seven miles. My running buddy mentioned that these belts work best over cotton, because the cotton keeps them from sliding around. Lesson learned.

I share this with you to tell you that it’s not only can the wrong sneakers ruin your run – or worse, injure you. It’s also the smallest of gadgets and things that are made to help you that can be a nuisance and distract you. Race day is not the day to try something new with your wardrobe (or diet). A lot of my friends who run lay out their race outfit the night before – and even take photos of it to share their excitement for the race! I want to see yours, so tag your photos with @charmedwellness or #charmedwellness!

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Victory is mine!

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Healthier red velvet cake

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Nate and I decided to celebrate last night, since our Sundays are often spent grocery shopping and preparing meals for the week.

Both of us went about our Saturdays as we normally do. I went to the gym, got a mani/pedi and ran errands while Nate worked on his car. He had to run a couple of errands, himself, during the mid-afternoon. While he was out, I baked him a red velvet cake from scratch. (Sidebar: This was actually the first time I’ve ever made cake and frosting from scratch!) He already told me late Friday that, earlier in the week, he made dinner reservations to one of my favorite local restaurants, The Bee’s Knees. Then, to my surprise, he came home with roses in my favorite color, purple, and an adorable card – also in purple. He knows me too well!

So, about this red velvet cake…

As you can imagine, I lightened it up and made it a bit more nutritious with the following swaps:

Original red velvet cake Healthier red velvet cake
White flour Wheat flour
Sugar Stevia
Oil Applesauce
Buttermilk Plain yogurt and nonfat milk mixture
Regular red food coloring Amoretti food coloring
Cream cheese ⅓ reduced fat cream cheese
Butter Coconut oil

I was ambling around Whole Foods Market Augusta in search of a few ingredients. I never bought vinegar at Whole Foods, so I had no idea where to find it. I asked an employee, and he said something to the effect of, “Vinegar is actually against Whole Foods’ policy.” I definitely considered that to be a possibility and that he could’ve been serious, but he quickly snickered and walked me over to the wall of various vinegars and oils.

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Thank you to the sweet man at Whole Foods who gave me a sample of the food coloring, since they don’t sell it!

In jest, I shot back with, “So, I probably shouldn’t even bother to ask about food coloring, right?” He told me that he had an idea and that he’d be right back.

He tracked me down in another section of the store and presented me with a bottle that he said he couldn’t sell to me but then handed me a two-ounce container of it that he said he got from the bakery for me. How kind! This gentleman has no idea how much time and heartache he saved me that day. Images of “squeezing” beets to get the juice to use as food coloring were flashing through my head. No, thank you!

Since this was the first time I made a cake and frosting from scratch, thankfully, the whole process from finding all of the ingredients to baking the cake and making the frosting was easy and fun!

Ingredients:

  • Cake:
    • Cooking spray for pans
    • 2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
    • 1 ½ cups stevia
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
    • 1 ½ cups applesauce
    • 1 cup buttermilk (2 tbsp nonfat milk plus enough plain yogurt to equal one cup)
    • 2 Tbsp. or 1 oz. red food coloring (I recommend Amoretti food color.)
    •  1 tsp. white distilled vinegar
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Cream cheese frosting:
    • 12 oz.  reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
    • 3 cups confectioners’/powdered sugar
    • ¾ cup coconut butter, melted
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
IMG_7745Instructions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray and flour a 9×9-inch and 9-inch round cake pan.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the flour, stevia, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the applesauce, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla.
  4. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until batter is formed.
  5. Divide the cake batter between the greased cake pans. Spread the batter evenly in both pans. Check this by poking the batter in various points with a toothpick until it hits the bottom of the pan. Inspect all of the battered toothpicks; they should have the same amount of them covered with better.
  6. Place the pans in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.
  7. Remove the cakes from the oven, and let them cool before removing from the pans.
  8. Add the cream cheese, sugar, coconut, coconut oil and vanilla into a medium bowl, and mix with a hand mixer on low until whipped.
  9. Cool completely before frosting.
  10. To quote my girl, Kate Spade, “Eat cake for breakfast.”

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How I learned that I can love unconditionally

Anna and Nate's Wedding by Ward Photography | www.wardpics.com

Today is my baby sister’s 21st birthday.

But I didn’t send a gift.

Or even a card.

Most of my posts are far more planned out. However, this one is different, as the inspiration behind it comes from a text message that I received just a few hours ago.

In fact, I had totally forgotten that I even sent my little sister, Gretchen, a text message last night, before I went to bed. I wanted her to have either a message from me in her inbox at the stroke of midnight or as soon as she woke up in the morning. I wanted her to know how incredibly special and loved she is.

This was the first exchange we’ve had in months. Not because we’re mad at each other – or at least not because I’m mad at her. Our fallout ultimately stems from the decision I made June 3, 2014, to sever the ties with a few toxic family members, with which she obviously disagrees.

After months of missing her from my life but feeling oddly at peace, that’s when it hit me:

This is what unconditional love feels like.

I’ve always struggled with the concept of unconditional love, because I wasn’t shown this starting at a young age. It’s hard to feel or behave a certain way when you haven’t watched something first. As becoming a mother someday is something that is in the distance but on the horizon, this has always been a troubling feeling.

“Will I love my children unconditionally?”

And then I remember the sacrifices I happily made for Gretchen, when our parents separated and we lived with our mother.

I’m the one who dropped out of the after-school activities I enjoyed so there would be someone to pick her up and walk her home from the bus stop after school…who fed her an after-school snack…who helped her with her homework when I had homework of my own (I had just started high school)…who made her dinner…bathed her…read to her…and tucked her in – all while our mother was out having her mid-life crisis.

And I enjoyed every minute and would do that all over again for her – not if I had to…but if I could. It was this experience that brought us closer, because we suffered through some very difficult times together.

Gretchen and I have been inseparable since she was born. Through the shuffling around of our two other siblings, her and me as a result of our parents’ nasty divorce, we stayed together. We always found a way to do that.

That’s why I’m patient and believe that we’ll be reunited again someday.

Unconditional love is having faith and hope that people will come around.

Unconditional love is being disappointed, sad and even angry but allowing love to overcome those feelings.

Anna and Nate's Wedding by Ward Photography | www.wardpics.com

But unconditional love is not allowing people to hurt and walk all over you. If there’s one thing that therapy has taught me, it’s that you can feel all of the things above while keeping your boundaries. And that’s what I plan to do.

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5 healthy eating tips from my 5-0 pound weight loss

I was replacing the empty five-gallon jug on our water cooler at work last week, when I thought to myself:

“This feels like 50 pounds. Even if it isn’t, this has to be close to the amount of extra weight I carried on my body going on four years ago. And I could never put it down.”

Wow.

Now, I’m a strong person. I can safely lift heavy objects and put them back down, but, as I lugged that jug down the hall, I couldn’t help but think about my vitals. My heart was probably beating a little faster. I was probably breathing a little harder.

Every time I think of my body carrying 50 additional pounds on it, I feel a lot of different feelings.

Amazed… about the types of activities I pursued anyway as an early to mid 20-something. Cardio, spin and weight training classes. I also took up road cycling. I even took advantage of living on the National Mall and often jogged three or four miles.

Frightened… about the impact this had on my body.

Even sad… that I had to work so much harder to move my body than I do now.

As many of you know, in 2012, I lost 50 pounds through healthy eating and exercise. While both lifestyle modifications contribute to weight loss and a healthy lifestyle, I primarily attribute my weight loss to healthy eating, simply because my eating habits are what changed before and as I lost weight.

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I’ve managed to keep the weight off through various life events, including changing jobs, getting engaged, earning my master’s degree while working full time, getting married and moving from the health-conscious city of Washington, D.C., to Augusta.

So how did I do that?

The initial weight came off as a result of behavior change, but what kept it off was changing my attitude and values surrounding healthy eating. I’ve learned the value in trading instant gratification for delayed gratification, because the effect of making healthy decisions lasts longer than the moments spent indulging in more calories and less nutritional value.

Here are five healthy eating tips, which I shared with WJBF December 28, to get you started:IMG_7249

  • When shopping for groceries stick to shopping the perimeter of the store as much as you can;
  • Keep your fridge stocked with healthy food, and make sure that you have healthy snacks on hand at all times;
  • Prep your meals for the week to save time and take the guesswork out of healthy eating;
  • Focus on making healthy swaps, because:
    • All of those small changes add up to a big change;
    • This is a lifestyle and, therefore, it needs to be sustainable over time; and
  • Be accountable – I recommend doing so through an app and people who support you and your goals.

Regarding accountability and social support, that’s where my gym, Oxygen Fitness Studio, comes in. It’s a community of people who care about each other and our goals and aspirations.

susano_mediumthumbWellness instructor Susan O’Keefe will talk about what’s trending and how to build a better body, as well as offer tips on spring cleaning the pantry! Attendees can also sample juices and nutritious bites from local restaurants. The 90-minute workshop takes place at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016 and costs $50 per person.

 

 

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Add these recipes to your Super Bowl Sunday lineup!

A few months ago, while gearing up for the holiday season, I shared a little bit about how I stay on track with healthy eating at social events. This can be a challenge, because other people factoring into situations makes having full control over myself difficult. The Super Bowl is another example of one of those gatherings that can make me feel like my healthy lifestyle is being threatened.

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Here’s what I do to put myself in control of what I eat:

  • Before the get together: Plan to bring something healthy – the operative word being “plan” – so you can fall back on that.
  • During the get together:
    • Scan the spread, and identify the following:
      • The nutritious food.
      • The less-than-nutritious food that you want to eat.
      • The less-than-nutritious food that you want to avoid.
    • Try not to park yourself right near the food, but, if you must, sit near the nutritious things so you’re more likely to eat that – and allow yourself to eat the less-than-nutritious things in moderation.

Here are two of my own favorite football game-friendly foods to add to your Super Bowl Sunday recipe lineup!

Healthier BUFFalo Chicken Dip

Here’s how I use healthy swaps to make my recipe healthier than the original:

Original Buffalo Chicken Dip Healthier BUFFalo Chicken Dip
1 block of cream cheese ½ block of reduced-fat or fat-free cream cheese OR 2 cups of cottage cheese
Cheddar cheese Reduced-fat bleu cheese (lower in calories per ounce than cheddar)
Dressing Nonfat plain Greek yogurt and spices that mimic flavor of Ranch seasoning

With the Greek yogurt or cottage cheese and chicken, this is packed with protein – hence the “buff”! I love this recipe, because it’s so full of healthy swaps without compromising taste or texture.

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. (half a block) reduced-fat or fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup hot sauce
  • ½ cup crumbled reduced-fat bleu cheese
  • 1 pound or 3 cooked chicken breasts shredded or chopped
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. onion powder
  • Carrots and celery, crackers or baked tortilla chips for dipping
  • Optional:
    • Swap out the cream cheese and Greek yogurt for 2 cups 2% milk fat, reduced-sodium cottage cheese
    • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

footballfoodI’ve tried a lot of buffalo chicken dip in my time, and there still isn’t a consensus on how best to make it. People argue about canned vs. real chicken and, for those who agree on real chicken, one person likes cubed, and the other person likes shredded. My husband’s friend from college [thinks he :)] makes the best recipe. It is very good. He shreds his chicken with a fork while I typically chop the chicken before cooking it in a skillet and pick it apart with a spatula, and he bakes his, while I make mine on the stove. I find that baking it in the oven tends to dry it out a little. However, in this recipe, I’m providing options to choose from based on the amount of time you have.

Instructions:

  • 15 minutes – on the stove: Stir all ingredients together in a medium nonstick saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes (cheese melted and dip simmering).
  • 30 minutes – in the oven: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, stir all ingredients together. Spray a small baking dish with oil, and place mixture in it. Bake for 30 minutes (cheese melted and edges light brown).
  • 4 hours – in the crockpot: Stir all ingredients together in a crockpot. Turn the crockpot on low for 4 hours or until the cheese is melted.

[Sweet] Potato Pigskins

Here’s how I use healthy swaps to make my recipe healthier than the original:

Original Potato Skins [Sweet] Potato Pigskins
White potatoes Sweet potatoes
Cheddar cheese Part-skim mozzarella (lower in calories per ounce than cheddar)
Bacon Reduced-sodium turkey bacon
Sour cream Nonfat plain Greek yogurt

Since this recipe calls for eating the skin (make sure you scrub the potatoes!), you get the added bonus of fiber.

footballfood1Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 sweet potatoes, scrubbed
  • Ground pepper to taste
  • ½ cup nonfat milk
  • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 6 strips turkey bacon, crisp
  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • Green onions and/or chives to taste

Directions:

  1. Poke holes in potatoes with a fork a few times (make sure skins stay in tact), and microwave for 3-4 minutes on one side and 3-4 minutes on the other. If baking the potatoes, rub them with extra-virgin olive oil, and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.
  2. Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise, and let cool.
  3. Once potatoes are cool, scrape the potato out of the skin, leaving a thin layer inside with the skin so that it keeps its form and can stand on its own. Mash the sweet potato, stir in the milk and mix in plenty of pepper.
  4. Coat potato skins with a drizzle of oil, and bake at 350 degrees F for about 5 minutes to make the outside crispier. Remove from oven, fill each skin with the sweet potato mixture and top with cheese.
  5. Bake again for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted.
  6. Cook bacon per package directions or in skillet until crispy. Set on paper towel to drain excess fat.
  7. Top with bacon, Greek yogurt, green onions and/or chives and ground pepper.

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