To race or not to race

    People keep asking themselves this question: "Am I a runner?" Or better yet a series of questions.

    • Am I a runner if I only run two (or X) times a week?
    • Am I a runer if I've never participated in a race?
    • Am I a runner if I've never ran a (half) marathon?

    I've never asked myself any of these questions. As soon as I started running regularly I started identifying as a runner even though I still had many things to learn, many challenges to tackle and many things to try. So for the record I think the answers to the above questions are yes, yes and yes.

    But going back to question number two...even though I felt I was a runner the thought of participating in a race hadn't even crossed my mind until just a couple of years ago. At that point I had been running for more than five years and I only went because a friend of mine, totally new to running by the way, made me.

    Race

    So let me tell you a little bit about this experience of mine.

    It was a 10k, end of May, sunny warm weather. I went to collect both our numbers a couple of days before and instead got served with two giant bags full of goodies. Instead of paper numbers there were actual t-shirts with numbers printed on them, an infinity of beauty products, protein bars, laundry detergent samples, discount coupons and so on. Did I mention it was a women's only race?
    Then finally it came. Race day. Fantastic weather. A sea of women in yellow tees, music resounding everywhere, the start and finish line in the middle of a park. The atmosphere was light and jolly, no nerves, just smiles all around and lots and lots of energy. There was quite a crowd on the starting line so the start was a little bit slow. Soon I passed a woman that must have been in her 70s. Such an inspiration. I probably started too fast once the path got cleared but once I saw that lady she inspired me to keep the tempo going. After that I passed a blind woman. She had a chaperone and a label on her back so people would watch out for her. But still it must have taken such courage to run on a race with so many people and where half the length is basically trail. Again such an inspiration. And then the hill came. It was quite steep and it really discouraged me since I had to walk most of the path uphill. To be honest I didn't expect it to go differently, I never ran a course with such difference in altitude before but it still discouraged me. But then I reached the top and after an even steeper descent I had just about 1km to go and I basically sprinted through the finish line. It was such a glorious feeling! My boys were waiting for me there and the little one kept waving behind the stands and I felt so proud of myself.  I can't even remember my exact time, something around 1:12 and it wasn't so important to me. It also wasn't my first distance of this kind. But somehow it being a race changed everything.

    That season I finished another 10K and shaved 10 minutes of my time. This season my plans consists of 1 6K race, 3 10Ks and 1 half marathon. I may not manage all of these in the end but that is fine as well.

    So no, racing does not make you a runner. You can be a runner without competing. But please, just try one anyway. It is soooo worth it and it will have you seeing this wonderful sport in a totally different light.

    XOXO

    N

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    Why not try pole dancing?

    Pole dancingHave you noticed that pole dancing is everywhere these days? It has become a legitimate and truly popular fitness form and studios are popping up all around. As a retired dancer I got influenced pretty quickly by all the pole dance mentions I started encountering so I've been meaning to try it for a while. But you know how that goes...no time, no partner in crime to take the plunge with and you keep putting it off. But then I saw there was an offer on one of those groupon sites for one of the studios in my city and the time being really convenient I quickly wrote a letter to Santa asking him for a month long introductory course. Of course he indulged me and immediately I signed up for it but then promptly missed the first lesson due to a business trip.

    Finally two weeks ago it happened. My first pole swirls.

    I managed to make up for my missed lesson fairly quickly but I attribute that to my dancing background. Having said that pole dancing has a quite steep learning curve in my opinion. Which makes it a challenge and thus much more exciting. Also for the following two days I could barely dress myself. Every bit of my upper body hurt. Not just the arms but my whole torso and the shoulders as well. There are parts of my stomach and back I never knew I had.

    But it is soooo worth it. It's fun and something new and makes you feel strong and sexy at the same time. It completely turned my mood around and made me look at my body in a way I haven't done in a while. And yes, I got all that in one hour. We learned three figures, did a ton of strength training and a really really good stretch, which felt incredible. My muscles used to be quite flexible once upon a time but the last few years my training hasn't been focused on that as much so I lost quite a bit of flexibility. Going back to that feels really good.

    This week I was supposed to sign up for the next stage of lessons but my Monday evening slot wasn't relisted and the remaining two just didn't fit into my schedule. My heart sank when I found out which made me realise just how much I enjoyed this first month. But then thankfully I managed to move things around and enlisted in the Friday afternoon slot so I'm not hanging my pole just yet.

    Bottom line: I highly recommend trying out pole dancing. I promise you it is going to be a delightful experience regardless of your background. I've seen people of all shapes and sizes do it and as far as I can tell it has this amazing psychological effect on everybody. The fact that it's also a great workout both cardio and strength doesn't hurt either.

    Let me know how it goes!

    N

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    How to train for a run indoors

    Running training

    Let's say you're following a training plan for running. Maybe you even signed in for a race so you really want to follow through. But then life gets in your way. There's no way around illnesses for example but there are steps you can take in order not to lose your progress when you can't go out.

    Personally i have two major enemies when it comes to completing my scheduled runs: rain and the absence of a nanny. I do go out and run when it's drizzling but actual pouring rain is an obstacle for me. I also have a child and no nanny so when my partner is around the globe for work (which is often) i just cancel my running plans. But there may be a million other reasons for you why you can't go out when you were supposed to. So what to do then?

    Run indoors

    The most obvious and simple solution would be to run on a treadmill. Of course not everybody owns one and if your reason for not running outside is for example rain you can always go to a gym. This is not a solution however for the child care problem.

    Cross-train

    The other option is to cross-train. For best results You're supposed to do this anyway so if you're going to miss a run here and there a good solution would be to use those occasions for cross-training. Let's go over some options you can do at home with no equipment so they're available to everybody.

    According to some studies plyometric training helps improving running pace not just in sprints but at basically all distances. Some examples of plyometric exercises are:

    • Squat jump: squat down then jump in the air
    • Lateral jumps: jump side to side
    • Power skipping: while skipping lift the upper leg as high as possible
    • Tuck jumps: jump, tuck the legs in, extend them, and land
    • Box Jumps: jump onto and off of a large box or step preferably high as much as your knees are
    • Plyometric push-up: do a push up, but lift the hands and body off the ground (for example by clapping on the top position)
    • One leg jumps and/or squats: since in running you have to depend on one leg at a time and there is no concurrent motion, try incorporating some plyo moves that isolate leg per leg

    Do any combination of those in sets of as many repetitions as you manage but for no less then 30 seconds with about a minute of rest between them.

    Very important! Always warm up before doing any of these exercises. Of course this goes for any kind of training but plyometrics are called "the shock method" for a reason. Doing this kind of explosive movements with no warm up is a sure fire way to get injuries. So the first 5 minutes of your 30 minute workout should feature some basic stretching and easier but still dynamic drills like hip circles, butt kicks and running in place.

    Run at home

    • Do running in place: run on the balls of your feet. Since this exercise can be excruciatingly boring i recommend doing it while watching television just to get through it. Also vary the intensity throughout the session and/or use different running stances.
    • Do forward/backward running: if space permits, run for just a couple of steps, stop abruptly and do the same distance backwards. Be careful while running backwards though, specially if space is tight.
    • Add lateral movement: do the same as above but moving right and left. This is specially useful since we don't usually develop our leg muscles for sideway movement with classic outdoor running.

    I usually choose the second option. But take your pick! I hope this helps.

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    The new Nike+ Run Club

    Nike+ Run ClubNike+ Running has evolved into Nike+Run Club. This used to be my favourite running app and it just got updated to a whole new level.

    But let's start at the beginning.

    I probably mentioned at some point that I started running when I bought a Nike+ sensor and attached it to the first generation iPod Nano. Yes, those were the times. So this naturally leads you to using the whole Nike+ ecosystem and when I moved to using the iPhone+GPS+app combination instead of the sensor I just naturally went with the same app since it also had all my previous data.

    Since then I tried many others, mainly out of curiosity, but somehow I always find myself coming back to Nike+. The main reason is that I love having a schedule and this is one of the few apps that offers a coach/training program for free.

    Now the old version gave you the option of 3 levels (beginner, intermediate, expert) and four distances (walk to run, 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon). But with the new version one of the biggest changes is in the coach section itself and it now gives you three options:

    • get started
    • get more fit
    • get ready for race day

    Whichever you choose you will be asked to set up your plan with additional data to customise it. But even so plans include benchmark runs that are used to evaluate your current status and progress so that the plan gets customised even further as you go along.

    So I've just finished up the first two benchmarks and I'm really excited to see what it does. This is not the only change in the app but definitely the most significant one and definitely one worth trying out. I know I will :)

    N

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    5 tips for running in the summer

    Running in the summer

    If you don't want to pause your running efforts during the summer months, you're training for a fall race or like me you just miss it and want to start again, there are certain modifications you need to do in order to adapt to training in higher temperatures. They might seem obvious at first but we forget about them way too often and they make such a difference that i feel like thy must be repeated every once in a while.

    1. wear sunglasses and a hat

    Unless you don't mind running after dark, these two items are crucial. Personally I like to wear sunglasses almost all year round since I usually run during sundown and they also protect against the wind, but they are specially important in the summer when the sun is the strongest. Our eyes need protection too after all and not seeing the road in front of us is not good either, right?

    2. invest in dry fit clothing

    Workout clothes in general can be expensive, which is why a lot of people wear regular, mostly cotton sweats and t-shirts for their workouts. And this is fine for more casual exercise regimens and ideal temperatures but both winter and summer workouts and also regular, intensive exercise require something tailored for this specific activity. In case of intensive exercise types and high temperatures this is light, dry fit clothing. This term is actually Nike's name for its microfibre fabric but most fitness brands use similar variations. This kind of fabric moves sweat away from the body and to the fabric surface, where it evaporates. As a result it keeps you dry and comfortable.

    3. don't forget SPF

    When we think summer+workout we immediately think heat. But there are other less visible threats, like sunburn. With the sun being closer to us and thus stronger and with clothing with less coverage, wearing SPF on all exposed surfaces is a must. Choose a waterproof formula so that it doesn't just slide off with sweat but pay special attention to your face cream. Sweat can cause the cream to melt an go into your eyes which is uncomfortable to say the least. There are special formulations tailored for workouts, some even in refreshing sprays. If you opt for one of these, spray some formula in your hand and apply it to your face from there.

    4. hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

    Needless to say there is no workout without hydration. But with extra heat comes extra sweating since the body needs even more fluids than usual in order to be able to regulate its temperature. Even if you're not thirsty, make the effort and consciously drink the extra glass before and after your workout.

    5. timing is everything

    Do not, i repeat, do not go running around at midday! Very early in the morning is by far the best choice but if this doesn't work for you, evenings are also good. Just try to avoid times between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. or even better 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

    Keeping in mind this 5 points and there is no need to give up running when temperatures start rising.

    Happy racing!

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