The Importance of Stretching

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Happy Friday, everyone!! Whether you are a runner, hockey player, rock climber, etc, you probably already know what a vital role stretching plays before and after you complete your run, workout, or practice. Stretching is a great way to relax but it also helps with recovery, injury prevention, and flexibility. By definition, to stretch means to deliberately strengthen a muscle. For example, a hamstring stretch would be to lengthen your hamstring by leaning forward, reaching down towards the ground and touching your toes, if possible. This lengthens the back of your leg that is your hamstrings.

Stretching is a commonly overlooked, but very useful aspect of training. Whether you’re a full time athlete, beginner, or anywhere in between, the long list of benefits associated with stretching can have a positive impact on your training. In my experience the benefits of stretching include, but are not limited to, increased flexibility, better muscle condition, burning calories, releasing toxins, and preventing injury. I have found, stretching can certainly take your health and fitness to the next level in a short amount of time. Through better muscle condition and greater flexibility, an individual can expect greater ranges of movement, more efficient muscle contraction and greater recovery as a result of a small amount of extra stretching.

If you are a sedentary individual, meaning you never or rarely train, this can mean your muscles are deconditioned. The term “deconditioned” means a lot of things. One of them is that your muscle fibers do not stretch or contract as efficiently or effectively as someone who works out. It is only too common that a new fitness enthusiast – shortly after embarking on a new healthy lifestyle – has had to stop due to a crunchy knee or an aching shoulder or neck. This can be quite easily avoided with stretching the right muscles, providing the individual is not predisposed to a chronic injury or unseen biomechanical dysfunction.

You can stretch any and all muscles of your choice depending on what you are trying to achieve. Of course, for injury rehabilitation you will usually stretch the damaged or weak muscle tissue as well as the surrounding support group. For general flexibility you can stretch any and all muscles as you feel you need. Here is a list of tips I like to use when stretching:

1. Start at the lowest muscle. For example, if stretching legs, start from your feet and calves.
2. Ease into the stretched position, do not rush into it, and slowly apply more pressure to get a nice stretch. Remember, you are not trying to tear it.
3. Do not push too hard. If you are stretching yourself to tears you may be doing more harm than good.
4. Always stretch both sides of your body, not one, and hold for an even amount of time (20-30 seconds each position)

 

Have a wonderful weekend, friends! 🙂

Number Three

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May 7, 2017. What an incredible, emotional, cold, windy May morning in Pittsburgh. I will never ever forget this day. #3 is in the books. First of all, I am just going to take a moment and openly admit that I did not train properly for my first two marathons and I paid the price, BUT, a rookie learns from her mistakes… 16 weeks of training and enduring all 4 seasons in Chicago prepared me well for #3 as I hit my marathon PR by over TWO hours. Training actually can be beneficial folks, who knew? I ran my third marathon in my home city finishing with my best time at 3:28:16 – actual time and 3:40:24 – clock time.

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I never thought I could ever run 1 whole marathon, let alone 3, break under 4 hours, or in my wildest dreams actually qualify for the Boston Marathon – it was only a dream to me. Today, my dream became real. I never could have hit this milestone alone. Thank you to my daddy, mum, Aunt Maggie, Aunt Jane, and Uncle Ed who found me at Mile 25 – huge momentum changers and they made my last mile a cake run.

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Huge shout out and endless congratulations goes to my cousin Maggie for crushing her first whole marathon this morning and nailing the Boston qualifying time on her first attempt – I am so proud of you!! Another shout out and huge congratulations goes out to my lifelong inspiring and amazing cousin Heather for running #124 – I don’t know how she manages to juggle all that she does but it does not go unnoticed and she is an inspiration to so many including me.

IMG_3674.jpgTo the city of Pittsburgh, you all rock all the time – I have ran in Philly, DC, Indianapolis, Sea Isle, and Chicago thus far and I don’t care if I sound biased because I am not wrong, yinz are by far the best crowd to run in (even in the cold). This was my fourth year in a row participating in a Pittsburgh Marathon event… you never disappoint and make me proud to be from here every year. I love running with you guys – keep the spirits up, all of the runners of steel are beyond appreciative.

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[Cue all of the emotions] I am not crying writing this, you’re crying reading this. Today was even more meaningful than ever because as most of you know, I solely dedicated this marathon in special honor of my beloved uncle and Godfather, John Terrence Brady. Though he was unable to be anywhere along the course physically, I felt his presence at every mile and when I felt like stopping for a brief rest (aka Mile 21 – I was ready to give up), I looked down at my bib “4UncleTer,” thought of him and all of the unjust pain he has endured the last year and a half and only ran faster. Thanks to all my generous family and friends, I was able to make a donation of $500 in his name to the American Brain Tumor Association as I pledged to do when I started training in January. I will be volunteering with this organization every weekend in Chicago beginning two weeks from today. These contributions go an incredibly long way and I am so blessed to be surrounded by the most gracious and kindhearted people. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to each and every person who has reached out and/or sent me a donation for Uncle Terry, I am eternally grateful for your generosity, continuous prayers, thoughts, and kind words you have given to me and my family during this difficult time. We are beyond grateful. God bless.

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‘Twas the Night Before Marathon

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Race Day is just about here. I can hardly believe it – training has become a lifestyle for me and four months of hard work, strength, and discipline will be revealed tomorrow. My daddy made me an awesome dinner tonight – grilled salmon, asparagus, and potatoes. Mmmm, my ultimate favorite.

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I feel prepared and very sleepy right now but I found this poem on the Fleet Fleet Sports St. Louis website and wanted to share before I fall asleep tonight. Here it is:

‘Twas the night before the marathon, and all through the house,
not a person was stirring, not even a mouse.
The runners were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of race morning danced in their heads.

Their Fitbits were plugged in and charging with care,
and arranged on the floor was what they would wear.
Tanks, split shorts, and throwaway shirts;
compression socks, running shoes, and black running skirts.

They dreamed about Boston in their slumber;
they dreamed about PRs and flapping bib numbers.
For twenty-six miles makes it all right,
to fall asleep at eight-thirty on a Saturday night.

After loading with carbs and foam rolling with zest,
I settled in for a night full of sweet… blissful… rest.
When all of a sudden there arose such a racket:
I jumped out of bed to dump out my race packet.

What time does the race start? Seven or eight?
Which corral am I in? What if I’m late?

I sifted the swag with growing frustration,
there was nothing but lotion and race registrations.
Where are the safety pins? There should be four!
I got down on my knees and started searching the floor.
There were arm sleeves, plastic trash bags, and throwaway gloves
For hot, cold, or rainy—
or all of the above.

I set my alarm—actually, I set three—
five, five-ten, and five-fifteen.

I spoke not a word and climbed back into bed,
and pulled the covers up over my head.
I closed my eyes, but my stomach was in knots,
and my brain was churning with worries and thoughts.

What if I cramp? What if I’m slow? What if I’m running and I have to go?
What if it’s hard? What if it’s hilly? What if I’m hot? What if I’m chilly?

What if it rains? What if it snows?
What if I’m stuffy and cannot breathe through my nose?

Oh! How the doubts crept into my head!
Oh! All those doubts! How they filled me with dread!
But then I remembered: those doubts were all wrong!

The doubts were a lie, for my body was STRONG.
I had followed my training. I was fit—lean and mean.
I’d had good runs and bad runs and everything in between.
I had experience to gain and nothing to lose;
All that was left was to strap on my shoes.

A race is a challenge. It’s hard. So what?
Everyone needs a little kick in the butt.
And—finally—I fell asleep, with a smile on my face.
Happy racing to all and to all a good race!

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Looking forward to sharing my results for #3 with you all tomorrow 🙂 Have a good night!

What to Eat the Week of a Marathon

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I have been training for Marathon #3 for four months. Nerves are starting to set in. Things are becoming real. Pittsburgh is right around the corner; I am one of the thousands that will be stepping up to the starting line to run 26.2 miles on May 7, 2017. As I get closer to race day, I am double-checking to make sure I have all of my race necessities packed (running shorts, sports bra, running tank, iPod holder, ear phones, tennies, etc), get my final miles logged, and finalize travel arrangements. One of the most difficult parts about the final week is meal preparation. I am home for part of the week, but then I will be back at my parents’ house, seeing family and old friends, and not thinking too much about what to eat during that time, but I NEED to.

It is so incredibly important to rest and feed the body the right nutrients during the final days leading up to a complex race like a marathon. It is important to start planning what foods are needed to pack or pick up at Trader Joe’s to prepare for the final few days. These are the helpful tips I have read/applied to my daily routine during previous Race Weeks including this week:

1 WEEK BEFORE RACE DAY

  • Loading your body with adequate nutrition is a critical part of Race Week. Base your diet on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Avoid ALL fried and processed foods, fast food, junk food, refined sugars, and excess oils. Your emphasis should be on carb loading – with at least 70% of the total calories coming from carbohydrates. This will ensure that your glycogen stores are fully replenished for competition.
  • Weight gain is a possibility during Race Week, but do not be alarmed. For every gram of stored glycogen, the body stores 3 grams of water, which gives you energy on race day.
  • Drink plenty of water. This is so obvious but always a struggle for me – I get dehydrated very easily. Monitor your urine to make sure that it is pale to light yellow without a strong odor. This ensures you are well-hydrated and ready to run.
  • Load up on nitrates. Nitrates are found in plant foods, such as spinach, beets, celery, broccoli etc. When consumed, they are converted into the potent vasodilator, nitric oxide, which, in english, increases blood flow to the heart and working muscles. It also increases the efficiency by which our muscles produce energy from oxygen. This means you will be able to race faster and longer. 

NIGHT BEFORE RACE DAY

  • Your last dinner before race morning should be planned well in advance. I already have mine planned out: I will be eating grilled salmon, roasted sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli, and a whole wheat dinner roll. Be sure to eat an early high-carb, low-fat meal to ensure your body has enough time to digest everything. Dine on something you know you can handle so you do not wake up race morning with an upset stomach. Do NOT try anything new.
  • Avoid a late dinner. You do not want that food sitting in your stomach come race morning. I typically eat around 6:00 pm and in bed and asleep by 8:30.
  • Foods to skip: spicy foods, high-fat foods, deep-fried foods, and highly acidic foods, (ex: tomatoes or chocolate).
  • Consume foods low in fiber to prevent diarrhea, intestinal cramping, and bloating. For example, choose regular spaghetti instead of whole-grain spaghetti. If you get hungry before bedtime, go ahead and snack on some high-carb foods, such as a banana.

RACE MORNING

  • The biggest rule of thumb for race-day nutrition is: do NOT try anything new (for the second time)!
  • Eat a breakfast that you have eaten several times in the past before a complex run. I usually eat a small bowl of Special K and a banana before 6 am (race starts at 7). You do not want to test your stomach and have an emergency mid-race bathroom stop.
  • I personally do not, but if you normally consume coffee in the morning, then do so on race day. Hot tea or coffee can help clean out your bowels before the start, which can help settle any race-day nerves.
  • About 2 to 3 hours before the race, drink 2 to 3 cups of fluids. I switch off between Gatorade and water. This will ensure you are properly hydrated.
  • To top off your energy stores, you can consume 15 to 20 grams of carbs within 30 minutes of the start. I only fuel on sports drinks but if you fuel on gels or chews, go for it – just make sure it is the kind you have been training with for the past month to avoid any stomach issues.