Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Shoe Review: Salomon XR Mission

Sean again!  Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve shown up for something and you are just not prepared for what’s in front of you?  That’s what trail running can feel like when you try to go out wearing the wrong kind of shoe!  I usually run in a very lightweight trainer from New Balance that’s great for running on pavement through the streets of my hometown, but ends up with me slipping and sliding when I’m in the woods.  Therefore, I was pretty excited when Charlotte offered me the Salomon XR Mission shoe to test out.
            This wasn’t my first rodeo with Salomon products.  They produce a wide range of sports equipment, and their ski gear that I’ve used has served me well.  I had high expectations, then, when I put on the XR Mission’s.  After some getting used to, it met those expectations.  I decided to wear them to a group trail run in June that Charles River Running was doing in Adams Farm in Walpole.  It has a different feel than a lot of conventional running shoes commonly used by runners.  With a much wider base and a more even distribution across the foot, it felt heavier and slightly awkward when I put it on and warmed up in the parking lot.  Once I got on the trails though, things were completely different.  It was like all the rocks, branches, mud, and leaves on the ground weren’t there.  The shoe has amazing stability and I found myself able to focus more on the run, rather than avoiding an uneven patch on the ground.  The feeling of clumsiness went away within the first quarter mile, and it was smooth sailing the rest of the way.
            The XR Missions have a couple of great features that add to the solid foundation that they’re (literally) built upon.  The upper part of the shoe is made from a breathable material that never feels tight or harsh on your foot, no matter the kind of sock that you’re using.  Additionally, there are no regular laces on this shoe.  Instead, there’s a simple drawstring that slips back into the shoe when you’re done tightening up.  Nothing bugs me more than stopping to tie my shoe once I’ve hit my groove, so this was a huge relief.  Finally, the color scheme itself just feels right for trail running.  The shoe I tried, and that’s carried in store, is primarily green, with black and yellow trim.  In a time when shoes come in every shade of neon, it’s a refreshing return to normalcy.  Overall, the shoe is a great piece of equipment that’s sure to make a trail runner out of anyone.  Just run with it!

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Reluctant Vegetarian—still going strong 12 weeks later

While the majority of these Charles River Running blog posts will be highly factual and full of crucial “need to know” running info, some will not. Some will be posts like this one, where a blogger dives in to the personal and lets the blogosphere peer through a narrow window of real, non-running related issues.  For anyone who knows me well, they can attest to my absolute love of food and eating, food shopping and food growing (animal and vegetable), cookbooks, food magazines and eating out!  That is what makes this food chronicle of my last 12 weeks interesting.  You see—I’ve become a reluctant vegetarian.  I have not gone willingly to this strange dietary place, but I’m still here in veggie land and quite happy.  How on earth did I get here and why do I stay?   

It was several days after the Boston Marathon that my 14 year old daughter came home from school proclaiming herself at vegetarian.  Citing health reasons (I have a sneaking suspicion that this really means that she wants to look more like a supermodel) she pronounced a total strike on meat.  Just veggies she tells me.  NO more meat, Mom.  OK, I say to myself, we will try this one for a week but then I’m pretty sure we will happily go back to juicy steaks and chops, plump sausages, and steamed seafood in just 7 days’ time—you get the picture.  In the short term, I’m thinking that I can totally swing this---veggie burritos Monday, cheese pizza on Tuesday, pesto and ravioli Wednesday, scrambled eggs Thursday and  big salads for a couple of more nights.  I got this, I think to myself.  No need to give that just purchased bag of Kingsford charcoal to the neighbor.  No need to change things that much—this is so temporary!  

So here’s the confession:  Fast forward 12 weeks and we are still eating vegetarian for the most part.  Have I fallen off the wagon?  Sure, but it was worth it (a perfectly grilled Hebrew National brand hotdog-no bun, consumed in the kitchen while cleaning up post cookout).  Do I love the way I feel—yes.  Do I love finding new and interesting recipes—yes.  Has my backyard garden and flock of laying hens become some much more important to me-yes.  The positives just keep coming and I can’t think of a good reason to go back to the old ways.  It’s just so much easier to eat vegetarian than I thought it would be and that pleasantly surprises me.

Let me share with you what I’ve learned so far in just this short amount of time as a veggie:

  • Cooking new vegetarian things is fun!  The internet makes finding yummy and interesting meat-free dishes so easy.
  •  There’s some delicious, already prepared vegetarian food out there if you don’t want to cook. Wholefoods prepared meals—awesome!  Trader Joe’s frozen veggie entrees—also very good. Vegetarian meals in restaurants—more choices than ever!
  • Meat was making me feel bloated and gassy.  Not fun for me or those around me L  Digestion has become a non-event—who knew?
  • My summertime appetite is not as ravenous and the fall “feed bag” hunger pangs. For me, it’s just easier to eat lighter in the warmer temps.
  • I just don’t miss eating meat that much—really.

While I cannot say that this type of eating is for everyone, I can say that it’s working out pretty well for my daughter and me.  I don’t miss lamenting over the crappy, over-priced meat selection at the grocery store that I can afford to shop in.  I don’t spend a single minute investigating what package of meat was feed hormones, grass, or antibiotics.  We try new things to cook and eat.  We look to see where our plant or seafood based protein will come from.  In essence, I view this journey as an interesting, seasonal and delicious new hobby.  Check back in 2 months and I will let you know if we’ve gone back to the land of meat eaters.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

An interview with Daneille Vlahos--A balanced approach

Hey everyone!  Sean here, with a special feature on a truly inspiring runner!  Danielle Vlahos is a local runner who has countless years of running experience, has competed in ultramarathons, and has made fitness the cornerstone of her lifestyle.  She launched Solid Body Fitness with her business partner, and works tirelessly to improve the fitness level and overall quality of life of her clients.  She sat down with me to impart some of the nuggets of wisdom that have helped her get through miles of running and hours of training.  Take a look!

How did you get your start in distance running?

I’ve always done 5 or 10ks.  When my first son was born, he had a large vascular tumor.  We then linked up with the Vascular Birthmark Foundation.  He was in surgery for the first four years of his life.  We’re so thankful for the care he received through the foundation, and we wanted to give back.  I knew I could run, and his aftercare was mainly with Mass General, so I joined their fundraising team.  Anything I raised over $5000 went back to the foundation.  I ran Boston and raised $10,000, doubling my goal.  I valued that so deeply I decided to change careers and went into fitness, while continuing to do races for various worthy causes.

What goes through your mind during a race?

My mind goes in so many different directions.  Sometimes I think about problems and solutions, and sometimes I don’t think about anything at all.  Trail racing is a great opportunity to connect with interesting people as well.  I never think about the end, I just think about what’s around me.  Sometimes I even get bummed when it ends!

How do you prepare for races?

I used to overtrain a lot.  But more recently, wanting to avoid injury and being a mom, I’ve reduced that, doing tempo runs during the week and long runs on the weekend.  I listen to my body more, taking rest days when I need them.  Strength training has helped me a lot as well.  If I’m not feeling well, I don’t overly push myself.

What to you is the most important fitness goal someone can shoot for?

Everyone strives for weight loss, but I feel that if you develop strength on the inside, it will reflect on the outside.  Just being able to get through your daily life, without injury or illness should be everyone’s goal.  You feel better as a worker, parent, person.  Training for life is the most important thing.  Focus less on precise numbers and you’ll reach your goals in a healthier way.

What is some “wisdom” you could impart to runners of all ages and skill levels?

Nutrition and fueling takes practice, but in order to perform, you have to be fueled right.  Rest, too, is something that can fall by the wayside when people get really into their training.  It can lead to injury and a lack of productivity.  Rest days are just as important, if not more, as training day.  I’ve learned that the hard way myself, and I’ve had to stop and think to myself, “this isn’t working.”  I’ve never had faster mile times and more weight lifted than I do now, and that’s because of a balance of resting, fueling, and listening to my body.

Thanks so much Danielle for sharing your insights with us!  You’ve brought up a lot of great points that runners and all athletes everywhere tend to overlook when we’re fixated on a goal.  Thanks for reminding us to keep everything in perspective!  Everyone else, just run with it!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Guest blogger Lauren Leonard's take on hill workouts and why we should be doing them!

Most runners detest hills and avoid them at all costs. I love them and believe that when used correctly, hills can be the secret weapon to becoming a stronger, faster, more confident runner. - When running cross-country at Middlebury College, every Tuesday afternoon my coach would have the team run hills repeats up the backside of the Green Mountains. The “hill” workout was always one of the hardest but also the most beneficial. While perhaps, running up and down a mountain several times a week is not on your list of future workouts, here are my top five reasons why running short hill repeats near your house should be.

 Hill running Strengthens Essential Running Muscles: In general, hill running does a better job of building up the muscles in your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes than running on flat ground AND has the added benefit of strengthening your hip flexors and Achilles tendons. Additionally, running uphill forces you to drive your arms harder than usual, so you'll improve your upper body strength and form. 

 Improves Endurance and Speed: Running hills regularly helps the body adapt to stress and hence becomes more efficient at using glycogen. After a couple of weeks of hill workouts, you will notice you are less winded by the hills and likely able to do more repeats with the same amount of effort. Meanwhile the reactive nature of your muscles working against the hills builds power in your legs to improve speed. 

 Breaks Up Routine and Prevents Injury: Part of my coaches reasoning behind having us run up mountainous trails was to break up the monotony of mile upon mile of road running. Additionally, the softer surface helped reduce the pounding on our legs and the intensity of the workout kept our mileage down while keeping us in peak condition. 

Teaches Proper Form: One of the most common mistakes runners make is leaning too far forward and over-striding on the downhill. Instead practice proper form running downhill on the slow recovery “lap”. Focus on keeping your shoulders over your hips and reduce your stride so that your knees aren’t getting pounded. These steps will help conserve your energy for the hill workout, training runs, and races. 

Builds Confidence: Let’s face it, when training and racing in New England you are going to encounter more than your share of hills. Thus, the more you run hills, the less intimidating they'll seem. Furthermore, your improved strength and technique on the hills will give you the confidence boost you need when racing. 

Lauren hosts FREE track work outs on Tuesdays at 7pm  at the Westwood High School Track, 200 Nahatan Street, Westwood Ma, near the water fountains.  If you have any questions or would like to contact Lauren, here is her email: laurenleonardhealth@gmail.com