Wednesday, December 11, 2013

5 Ways to Stay Healthy this Running Season

Lauren Leonard is back for this month's guest blog!  She is giving us some very timely and wise advice as we stare down the holiday season with good intentions... 

Running is the key to surviving the holiday season for many us. There is nothing like a good run to help escape the holiday hustle and bustle, manage stress, prevent weight gain, and help boost one’s immune system.  And while running wards off many of the health hazards that arise this time of year, any benefits are thrown out the window if we are sidelined by a cold or worse – the flu! Here are a few preventative tips to keep you healthy and pounding the pavement well through holiday season:

       1.  Tis’ the Season to Breathe Fresh Air - When conditions allow, opt to exercise outdoors. There is no question exercise will help build a strong immune system but try to do so in the fresh air. Indoor gyms and classes that share equipment can be a Pertri dish for germs. Since most people are contagious before they realize they are sick, magazines, treadmills buttons, and free weights are likely already infested with germs.  By the way, if you are already feeling sick, the general rule of thumb is that when symptoms are above the neck (sneezing and sniffles) go ahead and workout. If you have a fever over 100, a cough or chills, hold off for a couple of days.

      2.  Ho Ho Hold the Sugar! - Did you know that most colds and illnesses start on Halloween? That is when the “sugar season” begins and consumption of sweets goes rampant. Sugar is lurking everywhere from gyms, hair salons, office parties and is a favorite gift among friends and family making it hard to resist. However, consuming refined sugar in excess depresses the immune system and GREATLY increases your chances of getting sick. Instead curb your sweet tooth with naturally sweet foods such as blueberries and sweet potatoes, which are loaded with antioxidants. If you struggle with strong sugar cravings contact Lauren to discuss how you can feel empowered to stop them for good!
      3. Happy Gut, Happy Holidays! -Your gut is ground zero for the immune system. Make sure you are getting ample probiotics through your food in order to maintain healthy levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut and intestines. Good sources include yogurt, kefir, miso, and other fermented foods and beverage such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha. Check out this recipe for Asian Style Miso Pasta.

      4.  Festive Seasonings - Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Many foods provide powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits that help optimize the immune system.  When used regularly tasty foods like garlic, turmeric, and ginger can help ward off colds and even the flu. Meanwhile spicy foods like horseradish can help clean out the sinuses -- so bring on the shrimp and cocktail sauce and check out these disease-fighting recipes.  

      5. Holiday Drinking Rules - Drink lots of water to flush germs out of the body. Research suggests that drinking plenty of non-alcoholic liquids may actually wash cold and flu viruses from your throat into your stomach where they can’t survive. Just as staying hydrated is essential to running your best, so too does the immune system need water for peak performance!

Bottom line - Prevention is the key. Support your immune system by doing the basics -- eat right, sleep right, exercise, get fresh air, and wash your hands. Here’s to a Happy and Healthy Holiday!  

Lauren Leonard is a certified yoga instructor, nutrition counselor, running coach and fitness instructor committed to helping runner’s achieve their goals. By incorporating nutrition, fitness and mindfulness, Lauren offers a holistic approach to health that is both gradual and sustainable. Learn more at Lauren Leonard Health. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

News Flash--Real snacks made from actual food!

No, this isn't a headline from the Onion.  It's the November blog post from Charles River Running.  This month we a featuring a nice article from health coach and yoga instructor  Lauren Leonard.  We love her!!  Why, well for many reasons, but this month we love her because she is so happy to share with us her awesome, healthy and great tasting recipes.  Lauren brought a sample of these goodies to an in-store event last month and I was hooked!  I brought the recipe home to my teen daughter who has a wicked sweet tooth but also is very motivated to continue eating a healthy, vegetarian diet.  We made the LaraBar  recipe together and enjoyed these snacks after school, before working out or just when we needed to satisfy a sweet craving.  Energy from whole, non processed foods---yes!

Homemade Energy Bars Perfect for those Running on Empty

In order for athletes to perform at their best, it is critical to fuel the body properly. Unfortunately, the world of sports nutrition has become as confounded as other areas in this field. With conflicting research and advice coming out every day, people are left confused by food’s important role in their exercise or sports regimes. My hope is to help start unraveling this mystery for you, one step at time, starting with the pre-exercise, pre-run meal.

If you want to get the most out of each training session, run, game, etc. you must have fuel in the tank. Think about it…you’d never leave your driveway for a trip without filling the gas tank, right? So why do you set off to workout in the same state?

For optimum performance and energy, you should try and eat 200-300 calories 2-3 hours before any workout. This habit is most difficult to implement for those who exercise first thing in the morning due to time constraints. However, morning exercisers have been fasting all night, thus have depleted energy stores and are more likely to drag through a workout. Simply by adding milk into your coffee, or grabbing a piece of banana, you will immediately benefit from added energy, so that you feel better, and get more out of that 5:45am boot camp class!!!! 

Lucky for us, marketers have come up with the perfect solution for the pre-run meal – energy bars! Not coincidentally these bars offer the right amount of calories that not only taste like dessert but also offer you the necessary energy needed to make your workout worthwhile. But let’s face it; prepackaged energy bars are both expensive and well…processed. Instead, why not try making your own energy bars with some of these “copycat” recipes!? It is fun and easy. All you need is a food processor. And I can guarantee both your wallet, and body will be happy you did!!!

Note: I prefer to convert these bars into energy balls that are bite size. Just pop one or two into your mouth before a workout, during a long run, or stash for a snack.

Girl Scout Cookie (Nut Free)

Kind Bars

Cliff Bars

For more energy bar recipes and other foods to fuel your workouts, go to the Lauren Leonard Health Recipe Box. And check out her Facebook posts at Lauren Leonard Health.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Race Report: Wapak Trail Race, New Ipswich NH

And the story begins like this:  It's a sleepy Saturday afternoon during a holiday weekend.  No one is shopping-- attending cook outs and lounging on the beach, but definitely not dropping the cash in Norwood Center on this day.  I  hear the door bell jingle from my back office perch and the customer is greeted by the awesome Saturday staff member at CRR.  The next thing I hear is "Wow--that's a lot of GU.  Do you have a race in the future?".  Yes, the customer answers "18 mile trail race in NH tomorrow."  And now I am interested, off my seat and walking towards the register to hear more.

Flash forward 16 hours.  Somehow I've convinced my better half that it's a great idea to drive me to New Ipswich NH, watch me disappear into the woods and wait for my eventual reappearance out of said woods in I'm not sure how many hours.  It's 6am and I'm busily gulping down coffee, scrambling eggs and wondering just how I get the black mold out of my CamelBak tubing and mouthpiece.  I needed to run 18 miles regardless this day as the nagging marathon training schedule told me.  Why not spend those miles in the woods, running through fields of wild flowers and song birds?  What the heck does "3000 feet of climbing over 18 miles" really mean anyway?  And what exactly did the race director mean when he wrote "must be in excellent physical condition to enter this race"?  And why is New Hampshire called the granite state?  Not really sure at 6 am and not really caring to give these statements a whole lot of thought.  Denial is a powerful human tool!

So on the way to New Ipswich I am counting the ice cream stands that I will hitting on the way home.  My companion is driving and being such a good sport about this last minute, hair brained idea it almost makes me cry.  And I would cry but I'm getting that feeling in my stomach--that I've made a choice to try something that's way out of my comfort zone.  It's sickening and thrilling at the same time.  It's exhilarating and terrifying and apparently what I need a dose of every six months or so.  All I do know is that endurance events test me in ways that other situations can't.  Maybe I want to see how I will react in a situation where "me" is all I have to rely on.  If I can't figure this out in 18 miles of trail where can I answer the question?  We drive on and we laugh at this silly situation.

Registration is running on my favorite race scale:  completely home-spun, small and friendly.  Twenty dollars gets me a race bib, some used safety pins and two water stops.  Everything else is all me.  I make a visit to at an outhouse, lube up my feet and don the shoes.  I miss the pre-race instructions because I'm chatting with the back on the pack crew that I met just hours ago at the store.  They're packing GU, CamelBaks and pickle juice.  I'm not even kidding.  We are maybe a field of 100 runners, lots of whom are not wearing shirts, bling, or any fancy gear.  Here we go!

Within the first 3 miles of this trail run, I realize that my legs are not in shape for 18 miles of squats.  Three miles into the run, I've only been able to run 1/2 a mile.  The rest has been fast hiking:  steep up and steep down.  Who the freak can run this, I'm thinking to myself.  But the leaders are, like billy goats, leaping from rock to bolder to root to mud.  Amazing, humbling and like nothing I've ever done before. 
At the half way point is a table of water, electrolytes, bananas and really nice, friendly faces.  I love these strangers.  I tell them that and they receive my comments as if it's the most normal thing they've ever heard.  I'm a bit whacked at this point, but I still have wherewith all to realize that I must do an about face and run 9 miles back to the starting point.  Yes, over the 4 peaks who's names I care not to know and over the countless mounds of granite.  It says 2:14 on my watch and I'm wondering if I will need to call a cab to get back home.  I mean, who would wait this long for someone to come out of the woods?

The trip back was what you would think it would be---beautiful, lonely, painful, happy, conflicting, a 2 and 1/2 hour argument with the voice in my head.  I made a silent plea with my better half and a promise to never make him wait this long to see me reappear from the woods.  I made a list of things I am thankful for:  toe bumpers on trail shoes, the fact that your ankles can twist and turn many times before they quit entirely, bright orange salamanders who cheered me up along the way, fellow trail runners who are gracious, kind, oh so humble and supportive, my GPS watch that told me how many miles I had to go with gentle beeps, and life giving WATER!

At 4:44 I emerged from said woods, barely running, to see my better half waiting with a smile, water and potato chips.  No blasting music, no flags, no explosions.  Just the finishers lounging in the grass, a handy water hose, and coolers of WATER :). 
So what's to take away from almost 5 hours on a Sunday in the woods?  It was a test, pure and simple.  We all do this.  We all set ourselves up for a possible failure.  We sign up for a 5K when we haven't exercised since HS gym class.  We enter a 1/2 marathon because our friend talks us into it.  We pledge to complete a charity 26 mile walk to honor a loved one when we haven't recently walked a mile.  We have this in common.  We are willing to take a chance on ourselves.  So if you've gone a while since your last test, I ask you this:  What are you waiting for?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Guest Blogger Lauren Leonard: The Perfect Marriage – Running & Yoga

At a race the other night, I was sharing with a friend that running is my passion. It is just in me, I run in snowstorms, I run pregnant, I run in stifling heat and humidity, I run in my sleep. But YOGA is truly what I crave. While running will always be my first love, yoga is what helps me maintain my physical and mental strength.

So how did my love for running morph into a love for yoga? Well, after ten years of pounding the pavement, my body was feeling the adverse effects of running’s repetitive, high-impact motion. My muscles and joints ached and I was starting to get minor injuries. The backs of my legs were so tight that I could hardly reach my knees when I folded forward. Trying to avoid disaster, I turned to yoga to loosen up my muscles. What I received from a regular yoga practice, however, not only improved my flexibility, it increased my overall athletic performance, and made me more vital in ALL aspects of life.

Yoga offers runners a number of benefits. Whether you are a diehard ultra-marathoner, a beginner doing a couch to 5K program, or a recreational runner never looking to race, yoga can help you:

  • ·         Reduce risk of injury
  • ·         Eliminate nagging aches and pains
  • ·         Shorten recovery times post-races
  • ·         Increase strength and flexibility
  • ·         Improve daily postural habits
  • ·         Correct and strengthen muscular imbalances
  • ·         Improve breathing patterns and increase VO2 max levels

Not a bad list for some simple stretching, right? An easy way to integrate yoga into your current exercise routine is to perform short session pre- or post- run. Below are my favorite poses that target the lower back, hamstrings and hips. Try them out for yourself!

Intense Side Stretch or Pyramid
This pose is excellent for opening up tight hamstrings, the illiotibial bands and promotes balance.

Stand in Mountain pose with your feet together. Step your left foot back about three feet and angle the back foot out slightly. Keep both hips facing front, squaring the hips. Draw your hands behind your back, bending the arms and clasping the elbows. Inhale as you look up, opening the chest, exhale, hinging from the hips, keeping your spine long as you fold forward over your straight right leg. To modify, slightly bend the front leg, working toward straight. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on second side.
This pose is probably the best hip opener in yoga, opening the deep muscles of the hip and the hip flexors.

Start in Downward Dog. Lift your right leg up and sweep it through to your mat, folding it and placing it on the mat. Keep your right foot flexed to protect the knee. Your left leg is straight behind you with the toes pointed. Keep your hips square and level, with the left hipbone pressing toward your right foot. Inhale and press your hands into the mat, getting as much length in the spine as possible.

Exhale as you walk your hands forward on the mat, coming out to your edge. This might be on the elbows, with the arms extended all the way out or right where you started. Hold this pose for one minute. Remember to breath! Switch sides.

Seated Forward Fold
This pose stretches everything down from the spine to the hamstrings and has the added bonus of calming the mind.

Sit down with your legs extended out in front of you, heels pushing outward. Extend arms overhead by your ears, inhale and life the ribcage out of your waist drawing length in your spine.
As you exhale, begin to come forward, hinging at the hips, keeping back straight as possible. On each inhale, extend the spine, and on each exhale, come a bit farther into the forward bend. Keep the neck at the natural extension of the spine and do not round the back. Take hold of the ankles or shins, whichever you can reach.

To learn more yoga poses for runners, check out my upcoming fall class Strike a Balance. Using my first hand insights into the physical and emotional demands of running, I will walk students through poses that neutralize the impact running has on the body. This class is the perfect morning workout, offering a thirty-minute group runs followed by a thirty-minute yoga class and is open to all abilities.

Strike a Balance - Running and Yoga Come Together
Wednesdays, 6:15am, 9/4 – 10/23
Pool Lobby, Westwood High School

Register on-line today as space is limited and the class is expected to fill-up fast!!!! E-mail with questions.