Monthly Archives: May 2016

Staying lean when training for an endurance event

One of my mini goals that I set, when I decided to run Tarawera, was to not gain weight while training. To stay lean (and to look lean).  To look and perform like an athlete. Other mini goals included (the most important one of) not getting injured and also to be a ‘better’ vegan, to recommit to cutting out dairy and eggs, and to also 100% commit to no meat.

I’m really happy to say that I achieved all of those mini goals. I worked really hard last year on my running technique, my lower body strength and transitioning from a heel striker to a fore foot runner.  I progressed gradually, listened to my body and have spent a lot of time with my foam roller and in the yoga studio.  As a result, I have not been injured or had to see a physiotherapist at all in the past year and a half.

I have also returned to veganism at home and 95% of the time while I am out – which in turn has helped with the first mini goal – to not gain weight/to lose fat and gain lean body mass – because it is so difficult to eat out and socialize as a vegan, I socialize less, drink less, snack less (I used to be so guilty of mindless nibbling at cheese plates!) and in turn that means less temptation, and more chance for cooking nutritious wholesome meals at home.

I also saw a nutritionist when I decided to run Tarawera – to talk about this goal of not gaining weight, of decreasing fat, increasing lean body mass, and ensuring a ate well given the hard work I was going to be doing. I saw Becky Jones at Food Savvy – she specializes in sports nutrition so understood my needs, my questions and was very vegetarian/vegan friendly.

Two great things came out of my nutritionist appointment:

  1. I learned to constantly consider how much protein I am getting each meal, and to ensure I eat enough.  I learned how much protein was in each serving of food, and found I actually was not eating enough! So every day, particularly after a run or hard workout, I made sure I ate enough protein.  This actually meant decreasing the vegetables, rice and pasta I was otherwise eating – I originally thought I would still be hungry after, but vegetarian forms of protein (chickpeas, lentils, tofu, quinoa) fill me up so much that since eating more protein, I feel fuller without feeling heavy or like I overate.
  2. I learned to think of food as nutrients.  As building blocks and a foundation for my training.  Everything I eat needs to have a purpose – candy, alcohol, chocolate – not only are those full of calories but they are empty calories – they don’t give you protein or good fat – they just add up without any benefit.  So I learned to think of my food as fuel, both to help me have enough energy and fuel to get through a workout, but also so that I was not consuming unnecessary and empty calories that would lead to fat gain, or fat retention.

After focusing on the above two, it became (relatively) easy to make sure I did not put on weight during training.  I also found the MyFitnessPal iPhone app to be incredibly helpful in ensuring my intake did not exceed my output – making sure I did not eat too much during or after a workout, that I was actually taking in more calories than I was burning in any day. MyFitnessPal, plus the above two lessons from Becky, and a strong focus on this mini goal – I was away!

Now, why this goal of mine?

To be honest, I’ve never been ‘fat’ or large, but like many people (men and women) I’ve never felt truly happy with my body. In high school and university, I was somewhat active, and was generally a size 10 (US 6). I’ve always been that, even after I started really getting into exercise and gyming lots, I always kind of stayed that size, and a similar weight. I would ‘lose weight’ (fat) when training intensely, but the minute I started training for a marathon I would seem to put it back on again. I was training more, so I was eating more.  I was putting all my energy into running, so I was doing less strength and resistance work, and not very much high intensity interval/metabolic work.  I always thought ‘I am running 30km today, surely I will go down a dress size this week’. But it never happened.

I also got injured during training, for both of my marathons, so of course I then exercised less (due to injury) and probably put my energy into eating instead.  I also was not thinking too much about getting sufficient protein, fats, carbs etc. I wasn’t thinking of food as building blocks, as fuel for my exercise.

I never thought I was fat or overweight or not happy, I just knew I was not loving my body, always wished I could tuck a bit in here and there, and I hated wearing jeans. Weird fact about me – I never wore jeans in university, or even my first year of working. I didn’t own a pair of dress pants/suit pants.  I owned several pairs of jeans – I don’t know why though.  I never weared them. I HATED them. Hated how I felt in them and how I looked in them. I just never felt thin enough. And post-Sydney marathon in 2014, looking at the photos of me before the race, during the race and after – I didn’t like how untoned I was.  In my mind, didn’t look like I actually was an athlete. I at least didn’t look like the athlete I saw in my head – my view of me wasn’t reality.  To me, I didn’t look like I was someone who could run 42.2 kilometers in a good time. I put so much work and effort into training for a marathon – why didn’t I look like it!!

Back to my mini goal – wanting to stay lean or become more lean while training for Tarawera – it honestly wasn’t about having a flat stomach or a small waist or getting down to55 or 58 kg. It was about looking like an athlete and feeling like an athlete. Performing well on the day and not carrying any unnecessary fat with me over the finish line. The number on the scales don’t matter, but the fat and lean body mass percentages do. The more fat you have and the less LBM, the less muscle you have to utilize to help propel you forward. The slower you are. The longer it will take to cross the finish line. Just because you have more fat on your body. I wanted to run as fast as possible and become as much of a machine as possible – so that meant trying to get rid of unnecessary fat and build more LBM – more muscles to make me stronger, faster and better.

Of course, I also wanted to look good in the post-run photos, to not be worrying afterwards about the angle I was standing, whether I need to hold my hand against my hip so my arms look more lean, to suck my stomach in…all those things play some part. I wanted to look like I worked out, like I gymed, like I could run 60km in a heartbeat.  I wanted my training to be reflected in my day to day life.

But really, at the heart of it, I just wanted to run the 60km the best I could. And push my body to see what it really could achieve. Could I get lean while training for an ultra marathon? Could I do that on a vegan diet? Could I do that while working a (sometimes crazy) full time job? Could I also get through the holiday season with self-control – watching my cake, candy and alcohol intake? All of it was a challenge.

And my results?

A challenge that I overcame. And won at. I went from a size 10 to a size 6-8 (US 2-4).  I went from 20% body fat to 12% in 14 months (10-15% is what many professional female long distance runners have…men will have below 10%).  And I own three pairs of jeans, three pairs of pants, and I love to wear them.  And honestly, besides the gains (or, losses really) in my body measurements and skin fold measurements, I felt so much happier and healthier mentally.  Happy, inside and  out.  Because while I am happy with my body, I am happy because I got there, I achieved it, I got there through hard work, through eating and living a healthy life, through improving and watching my nutrition, through sweat and tears – not starvation.  I feel strong, lean and like a real athlete.

How did I do it?

  • I cut back on alcohol – I had one or two at Friday night drinks, and one or two on the weekend.  I didn’t have any alcohol during the week and even over Christmas and New Years I refrained.  I offered to sober drive, and I made a lot of iced tea and drank sparkling water.  It was hard to start with, but after two months, I stopped really craving or wanting a drink.  Once a glass of wine after a long week no longer became my reward, I didn’t need it as much.
  • I also stopped going to Friday night drinks – so I could avoid the chips, the cheese and crackers, the other nibbles that I didn’t need and didn’t do my body or muscles any good.
  • I made sure I always had a good breakfast:
    • During the week = Oatmeal with 1/2 scoop of protein powder, soy milk and a banana
    • Pre-long run = Two pieces of Burgen toast, peanut butter and banana (or jam)
    • Sunday = I would no longer treat myself to a scone, to dumplings, to pancakes or brunch out – I started eating brunch/breakfast at home – a smoothie, eggs on toast (before I cut out eggs again), scrambled tofu, baked oatmeal
  • I made sure I didn’t over eat following a long run.  My go to meal post-run would be one of the following:
    • Scrambled tofu with mushrooms, avocado and toast
    • Green smoothie with protein powder added in
  • I kept up my resistance and strength work at the gym – two upper body/ab sessions per week, on top of my running program.
  • I tried to avoid processed carbs such as pasta, pizza, bread (except for Burgen bread, before or after a long run only), scones, muffins, croissants, cookies, cake, etc.
  • I kept an eye on the scales and how my clothes fit, how my muscles felt, how much energy I had.  I found that if I ‘fell off the wagon’ – I would feel worse the next day. So I just focused on the fact that every day was a training day, every day I needed to feel good.  And that it was three months – three months and then I could go back to eating and doing whatever I wanted…if I wanted to.

Before the run, I did semi deprive myself of food (processed foods, alcohol, snacks etc) but as a result, I no longer want the foods I used to crave.  I don’t feel bad about a beer, wine or piece of chocolate every so often, but I no longer binge or feel the need to.  I often have sparkling water instead of beer or wine.  I cook and eat delicious meals at home on a daily basis.  I have experimented with a range of different recipes and ingredients.  I’ve proved my old personal trainer wrong (he was adamant I would have to eat meat to get any muscle definition or to get ‘lean’).  I love how I look, how I feel and how my body moves and functions.  And I love feeling so strong and knowing that my sheer determination and willpower got me here.  Apart from this blog post, and several conversations with my PT, and with my partner, it has been a personal journey, an internal challenge, to learn to love myself and to feel happy in my own skin.  And to get to a point where not only do I love my body, but I do not have anxiety about losing it, about having a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine – I don’t freak out that doing so will undo all my hard work.  I have learned to let go a bit more – something I have always struggled with in the past.

And now that Tarawera is behind me, and my next goals are a wee way away, I am trying to keep it up.  It is of course a struggle now I am no longer doing 50+ km a week.  But it just means that I can focus on the gym, on healthy eating but also healthy living.  We went paddle boarding recently, something I wanted to do while training for Tarawera, but it was an ‘after Tarawera’ activity.  Seeing friends more often.  Having a piece of cake every so often.  Sleeping in and watching Game of Thrones.  Going on slower more social runs and not caring about time or distance.  Travelling, doing winery tours without any guilt.  I can’t say that I have found the perfect balance – finding that balance is always going to be a struggle for me.

I am an all or nothing kind of person – I struggle with balance.  If I have chocolate, I will eat an entire block, but if I focus too much on dieting or healthy eating, I become dangerously focused in that area too.  But do not fear, I am not about to go on a juice or smoothie diet, and am not about to eat lettuce and tomato and nothing else.  My nutritionist taught me better, and my experiences have proved better too.  It will always be a struggle, but that is part of the fun – who wants to be one shape or size or ability forever – we need change and strive for change in order to measure our success.  Whether it is to bench press a certain amount, perform one unassisted pull up, run 5km, 50km or fit into a sleek dress for an event – working towards and achieving that goal is part of the journey.  The sacrifices become worth it.  Or at least that is what we tell ourselves!

Advertisements

Aqua jogging dates

For runners, aqua jogging is often associated with injury. You are injured and unable to run, so you become confined to the pool, joining the elderly women wearing the blue buoyancy belts having a yarn with their friend.  However, aqua jogging can be, and is, hard work.  In 2014, when I was training for Sydney, I was required to do all my ‘running’ in the pool for about a month.  I initially despised it and eventually I only relented because I had no other choice.  I could not run more than 500 meters without pain.  So I had to swim.  And after a while, I took to it.  I had a friend who joined me on several occasions, and despite being in the water, not going very far, I found that I got my heart rate up and I worked up quite a sweat.  Dare I say it, I even enjoyed it.  But after my marathon and after three months of rest to recover, I was able to run again.  As a result, I didn’t set foot inside a swimming pool for some time.

However this past Saturday, I once again ventured into the pool to jog.  Not because I am injured.  But because I wanted to.  And gosh I forgot how hard work it was!

https://jenhowes.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/c62d5-freyberg-pool-3.jpg?w=960&h=540

Freyberg Pool – the building looks much nicer than this photo than it does in real life!

When I was instructed to aqua jog in 2014, I was very skeptical.  I was also nervous – what do I do!? My coach told me to treat it as the equivalent of a run – 60 minutes aqua jogging = 60 minutes running.  Just over a much shorter distance and with much less impact on the body.  Most pools have the flotation belts – and while you can use those, I never did.  If you don’t use the belt, you have to work so much harder to stay afloat and to push yourself forward.  You also are more likely to jog in a more natural manner, which is important if you are injured or have tight or tired muslces (such as a tight IT band).  It also forces you to drive your knees upwards, stay upright and use your arms to help propel yourself.  It is also much more tiring to jog without a belt – so it becomes more of a workout than a leisurely jog.

You can also do a range of different ‘workouts’ in the pool – focusing on differing levels of intensity, just as if you were running on the road or in the trails.  You can do intervals, where you do 2 minutes on, 1 minute off, or 30 seconds at 95%, 15 seconds rest.  Alternatively, you can do your ‘long run’ in the pool, jogging between one and three hours at a conversational pace (a pace where your heart rate and breathing is maintained at such a pace you can easily hold a conversation with a friend – ie. you aren’t out of breathe and you don’t get tired too soon).  I also did a mix – longer ‘intervals’ of a tempo type – Doing 30 minutes at 80%, then 10 minutes slow, and another 20 minutes at 80%.

And it sounds silly – aqua jogging being hard work – but it is.  You use your entire body, and you actually feel your arms.  After aqua jogging yesterday, I woke up this morning and my pecks and biceps hurt – they were sore! Not because I went to the gym and did weights, but from the action of using my arms pumping them back and forth for 60 minutes straight.  And while I was a bit skeptical even this time, before getting in the pool, I felt wonderful after.  Refreshed, energized and tired, but without any actual pain or fear of pain.  And while initially you feel silly being that person in the aqua jogging lane who is 50 years younger than anyone else, you get over that.  When done right, it is an extremely effective cross-training option. It is zero impact, and it  closely mimics the natural running form, so it provides an alternative workout that helps keep your running specific muscles active.

https://i1.wp.com/runnersfeed.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Water-Running.jpg

And what a wonderful way to extend the concept of running to people who aren’t runners – or those who can’t run or can’t run for long distances.  And to socialize with friends you would not normally exercise with.  One of my friends hates running – yet loves aqua jogging.  The other friend that joined us yesterday can’t run very far due to back issues.  But 60 minutes in the pool – no issues at all.  In saying that, running out of the pool still offers something that running in the pool can’t – distance.  There is something about running a far distance that is extremely satisfying.  Spending 2 hours running in the pool, I’m lucky to reach 2 kilometers.  2 hours on the road, I would run about 20 to 25 kilometers.  So while I enjoyed Saturday, I am not going to be rushing back to the pool anytime soon.  In saying that, however, the mere act of aqua jogging for one hour really did help me mentally and physically get back into running itself. I’ve had such a long time off, it is scary getting back into it again.  I am sure I can run 60 minutes non stop, but what if I can’t? I don’t want to try in case it’s impossible.  But now, after 60 minutes in the pool, I’m ready to get back into it.  Ready to put on my running shoes and give it a go – push myself, explore, and see what happens.  Because what is the worst that could happen? I get tired, I stop, I rest.  I keep going.  It’s a process.  And I should love the act of running, and not put pressure on myself to be the best.  So that is what I need to remember – to just do it, just run, and just love it again.

If you haven’t aqua jogged before, I definitely recommend giving it a go. And structure it – don’t just jog aimlessly, challenge yourself. Jog at 90% intensity for 2 minutes, then stop or jog lightly for 20 seconds, and resume. Repeat four times and then have a longer rest. Or just go at an easy pace building up stamina – focus on moving your arms forward and backwards, and drive with your knee. Otherwise you end up kicking and it isn’t as efficient or helpful in staying afloat. This is a great website setting out the proper technique for aqua jogging and things to think about.  Think of 90 degree angles in your legs and arms, as if you are marching. It feels weird but it helps simulate ‘running’ and also helps maintain/improve technique. Most of all, it keeps your above the water!

Vegan tempeh and bean chili 

I rarely ever get sick – and when I do I am often in denial, trying to work through it and continue with work, training and other activities. It always seems as if I get sick during my busiest times as well – in December 2015 I got sick right before my birthday and around the time of a planned training run up Mt Climbie (not one for the faint hearted). Last week, I got sick during a very stressful and busy time at work, working to a court deadline to file evidence for a case. It was also the week I had planned to ‘get back into it’ – I had a training schedule sorted out, and was FINALLY going to get back into Monday night intervals and run group.

That didn’t quite go to plan. Instead I woke up with a terrible cough, a sore throat and a fuzzy brain. I went to work but by 4pm I knew that running was going to be one of the worst ideas ever. So I finished at 5, headed home and felt sorry for myself. I also spent that last hour at work day dreaming about what comforting meal I would cook for dinner, to work magic on my immune system and make everything better. I settled on chili – in NZ it is ‘chili con carne’, though mine is a vegetarian version so without the ‘carne’.


Growing up, chili was one of my favorite meals. Mom would make a huge amount of it at the start of the week, we would have it as is, on white rice or on a baked potato (just like at Wendy’s!). I have never been able to do it the same – not only because of the lack of ground beef, but I just never get the flavors the same. Part of that is probably due to my lack of patience – mom would let hers simmer for over an hour – I struggle to let it simmer for 20 minutes! But honestly that wait is worth it, giving the flavors time to truly develop and also giving it time so that the broth can thicken.

As a vegetarian, bean chili can be a bit boring – so I like to make it a bit more exciting and add a different texture by adding tempeh. Tempeh is an awesome source of protein, used mainly in Asian cuisines and stir fries (being of Indonesian origin), but I love using it as a mince substitute. There is only one brand in NZ – Tonzu – a local organic non-GMO company. Tempeh is fermented and less processed than tofu, and also packs much more fiber than tofu. It has a chewy texture that I love, and marinated in BBQ sauce then put on the grill it is much more of a crowd pleaser than tofu. But I’m getting side tracked…back to dinner.


Because I wasn’t well, left work at 5 and got home at about 5:10 (thanks to recently moving back to the city and living very close to work!) I managed to get onto dinner early enough that I had time for the chili to simmer for a full hour! And it was worth it – it ended up being less soupy and more suited for serving on rice, which was fine as we had cooked rice in any event.  But if you want it to remain soupy I would recommend adding some more water or stock to allow it to simmer without losing all the moisture.  I would generally use black beans in my chili, but we didn’t have any so used kidney beans instead. I love spice so often add more cumin than other people to their dishes and I also would add more chili to it than normal – but my other half can’t handle as much chili as me so I added Tabasco to my meal after we had plated up.  Again, adjust to your own preferences.  I love the flavor that liquid smoke adds to the chili, particularly as it is a vegan version that needs some extra oomph.  In NZ, you can buy it from most organic stores, or online.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 package of Tonzu tempeh (1 package = 250g/8 oz, so 125g/4 oz), finely chopped or crumbled (*see note below on crumbling/chopping)
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (we like our garlic!)
  • 1/2 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp chilli powder (I add more personally)
  • 3 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 can kidney or black beans (400g/15 oz)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/2 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp chilli powder (I add more personally)
  • 3 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp liquid smoke (to taste)
  • Handful of fresh cilantro/coriander – chopped
  • Rice or baked potato to serve, if want

Preparation:
In a large pot, cook the onion and garlic cloves over medium high heat until starting to brown (about 5 minutes).  Add the tempeh and continue to cook until the tempeh is also browned (another 10 to 15).  Lower the temperature to medium, add the spices, the bell pepper and the carrot and stir a bit more so that it becomes fragrant.  Add the beans, tomatoes and vegetable stock.  If you want it to be quite liquidy at the end, add more stock or water so you have about 1 1/2-2 inches of liquid on top.


Bring to a boil and then simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.  Add the liquid smoke, taste it and add more salt and pepper or any other spices necessary.  Partially cover and simmer for another 30 minutes.


This can cook for as long or short as you’d like. The longer it cooks, the more the flavors absorb, so add more cumin & chili powder to taste. Once done, add cilantro as garnish and serve! We had it with short grain brown rice, topped with cilantro – nice and simple. You can also top it with cheese, sour cream and chives and also on a baked potato.


Note: For the tempeh, I like to chop it finely rather than crumb it, because the NZ tempeh we get doesn’t crumb very nicely. I will slice it into smaller strips then chop into pieces about the size of an eraser at the end of a pencil. You don’t want them too small, but also not too big. See below!

Also – feel free to mix in different beans, add more tempeh, more beans, different veges (corn is a good addition to chili).  This made 3 to 4 servings for us – so if you are feeding more, definitely up the ingredients!

Untitled copy.jpg