Fitness Lessons for Back to School

“You’re off to great places. Today is the day. Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!”

Yesterday I had an experience from hell. I went to Target. It was a Saturday so that should have been bad enough but it’s also the weekend before local colleges and most elementary schools begin. I shouldn’t have gone in, I should have just kept driving – but it all happened so fast. Ugh. Never again.

Drinking-Wine-Is-Good-For-You

My relief from yesterday’s madness. Ahhh wine!

In addition to giving me a reason to finish off a bottle of wine at 3:30 in the afternoon, it got me thinking about this time of year at the gym. Late summer is kind of the new New Years at the gym. Summer lifestyles are coming to an end, everyone’s getting back into routines and, with that, the gym perks back up to the craziness that’s second only to the first week of January.

With back-to-school, I thought it a perfect time to offer some lessons on fitness. A refresher for some, new advice for those just getting into the fit lifestyle. Here are my 5 lessons for back-to-school / back-to-fitness:

Lesson #1 – You Can’t Spot Train
“What do you mean I can’t choose exactly where I want to lose weight? You’re saying we can’t work out in a way so I’ll lose weight specifically from my lower stomach area? WTF, Joe?!”

Now that I’m reading that, it sounds really silly. But when I first started working out, I was convinced I could pick certain areas of my body and that’s where I’d focus my efforts – then the fat would just melt right off. I mean, there were infomercials about your perfect body makeover, where you could pick and choose the exact spots you wanted the pounds to peel off. You’re telling me that infomercial was a lie?

My friend and personal trainer I worked with at the time, @joefitness, had the unpleasant task of shattering this dream for me. While you can focus lifting exercises on certain muscles (Joe then proceeded to put me through a lower ab workout so intense I couldn’t do core work for two weeks) you can’t pick a spot on your body and exercise it away. I’ve learned it’s the combo of cardio, weight training, diet and good old genetics that all add up to a person’s overall body composition and appearance. Coincidentally, why I still have a gut. Eh, that’s life.
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Lesson #2 – You Can’t “Out-Exercise” a Bad Diet
While Lesson #1 may have been the hardest one for me to hear, #2 has taken the longest for me to learn. In my early 20s, when I first began running and doing a shitload of cardio, I lost a good 20+ pounds within just a few months. And I never felt like I had to worry about what I ate.

As I continued to keep fitness as part of my lifestyle, I maintained my new, happy weight pretty well – again, without having to restrict eating or worry too much about what I was putting into my body. But it wasn’t until I wanted to start performing better in the gym and exceling as a runner outside of it did I start to comprehend how important diet is, not only to performance but my appearance. The changes have been positive and pushed me further than I thought possible. And overall, I feel better when I’m eating well vs. not.
Lesson #3 – To Lose Weight, It’s Not All Cardio, Cardio, CARDIO
This is probably the toughest lesson to hammer home, especially to workout newbs. Shows like the Biggest Loser really mindfuck people into thinking hours of cardio is the only way to achieve weight loss goals. I’ve been there too; it’s easy to get caught up in the concept of burning calories and imaging that the fat is just burning right off the body too. And with new exercise machines that show you exactly how many calories you’re burning through cardio (most of which aren’t really accurate so don’t put too much stock in them), it seems that cardio is the way to go.

Lifting weights, while it may not give that mental and physical feeling of calorie burn, pays off more in the long run. It does burn calories during plus you get a longer “after-burn” you don’t get with cardio. And muscle mass perks up the metabolism; the more muscle you have, the more your body burns while at rest. Plus, you can’t get that toned, fit look without weights. There’s an old saying, “People who do cardio look good in clothes. People who lift weights look good naked.”

No matter your motivation, whether it’s to look good, feel good or perform better, make weights part of the routine. Personally, I like to remember that lifting weights makes me stronger and a better athlete – and allows me to eat a little (okay, a lot) more.
Lesson #4 – You Won’t Get Huge By Lifting Weights
Anyone who has ever tried to build muscle and make significant gains in the weight room would likely agree – it’s not easy. In fact, building muscle is hard; I’d say it’s probably harder to build significant muscle mass than it is to lose weight (that’s mostly me speaking as a vegetarian but I think most would agree). It takes a ton of work and effort, both inside the gym and outside.

And getting “huge”, like bodybuilder huge – that’s a process all its own and it’s not going to happen to you by accident if you start lifting one or two days a week. Bodybuilders follow an extra-special, extra-strict combination of diet, hard workouts, more diet and a full lifestyle change. It’s a science, really. And if that’s not the look you’re going for, don’t worry. It’s not going to happen.

Workout-In-The-Gym

For real, take a rest day. Your body needs it.

Lesson #5 – You Don’t Need To Work Out Every Day
Once you start getting into the swing of fitness, it can become addicting – in a good way. It becomes less and less of a chore or something you “have to do” and becomes just another part of the day, your lifestyle and something you want to do. That’s a good thing, just don’t forget to build in a rest day or worry if you have to miss a workout day.

Rest days can be tough. I myself struggle with them, especially when I’m training hard for an event. All I think about is what I could be doing to further my training. But then I remember that rest days DO further my training and I happily put on sweats and enjoy some couch time.
Are you looking forward to back-to-school/back-to-fitness? Do you have any basic lessons or refreshers you’d like to offer? As always, please comment or tweet them to me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.

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What I Learned From This Year’s Triathlon

“Never stop learning because life never stops teaching”

It was a hot, humid, swassy morning. I was up before the sun, prepping all my gear for what would be my fourth triathlon. Everything went smoothly, from getting to the race to setting up my gear to packet pickup – then, the actual race. All in all, it went pretty well. Not great but I pushed my ass hard and feel really good about how I did. On another note, I’ve had some time now to reflect and collect my thoughts and learnings. Wait, learnings? I’ve done this race a few times, I know it well. What could I have learned?

I try to walk away from every race with something new. Something I can use to get better – or, share with others. So here are three quick takeaways I learned from this year’s triathlon.

Doing-A-Triathlon

That face your man makes when he smells you after a hot, sweaty and humid triathlon finish – or when he wasn’t ready for the pic to be taken.

I’m Not A Triathlete – I’m A Runner
Yes, I guess I’ve always known this. Not that I expected to place in this event or really trained hard enough to truly compete, but I still always give my best, put up a good showing against the competition. Naturally, I had to check out my results – 13th overall. Not bad! Then I drilled into each portion of the race and made a discovery. Not a surprising one, rather something I already knew: I’m not a triathlete. I’m a runner.

In each the swim and bike portion, I placed in the mid-20s overall. In the run portion, fourth. And considering the ridiculous heat and humidity, the run I put up was even that much more awesome.

I’m not a fan of biking. At all. I love lap swimming but I do it as more of a relaxing workout, not a tough, speed-intense one. Running on the other hand? I love it and I love pushing myself as hard as I can. During triathlon training, and just in general, I focus the majority of my time and energy on running workouts above all else.

While I love the challenge of a triathlon and the variety it forces into my cardio, deep down, I’m 100% a runner. What can I say?
If I Want To Improve, I Need A To Invest In The Bike
The biking portion of a triathlon is 50/50 training and the quality of bike. For real, the type of bike a rider has is a major factor on his or her performance. I trained pretty well for the bike portion of this race; lots of mileage outside and speed work in the gym, and good leg lifts to keep the tree trunks strong. I pushed myself really hard during the bike portion of the race but my overall time wasn’t much different than it had been in previous years where I took it easier.

Conclusion: If I want to improve this portion, I could train really REALLY hard for the bike portion. Or, invest in a new, expensive bike.

Again, something that I already knew but this year really cemented it.
Volunteers Are The Most Wonderful People
Okay, this isn’t new. I’ve known this before I ever signed up for a race, and I think everyone who races knows and greatly appreciates the time and efforts of volunteers at races. But oftentimes, I think people don’t realize just how much extra time and effort volunteers put into races.

A good friend and former colleague heads up the volunteer committee at the Young Life triathlon. The first year I participated, I mentioned to him that I was nervous for the swim, mostly because Detroit Lake is known for being weedy and I didn’t want to get tangled up in them! He smiled and assured me I would be fine – then casually mentioned he and the staff had been out a few days prior, pulling weeds from the lake.

I was floored. Seriously? It’s incredible that people donate their time on race day for packet pickup, directing traffic and handing out water – it’s quite another story that they put in hours ahead of time doing stuff like this. All in the name of bettering the experience for racers.

I love the volunteers at every race; this is just one of many reasons why I love the volunteers at the Young Life triathlon.

So really, I didn’t so much “learn” anything as I did realize and make some larger conclusions. But I think that’s part of learning; sometimes it’s more so just confirming what you already knew and understanding it.

Do you try to learn something from every race? If you’re not a racer, how about from your workouts? Post a comment or tweet me, @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.

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Thank You For Reading

“Be thankful for what you have and you’ll end up having more”

As much as I enjoy writing this blog for myself, today I was reminded that, occasionally, it actually gets read by people – real people, you know, other than my mother and Chris. And there was no better time than today for me to be reminded of that.

#LikeAGirl

Burton and I love you all – thanks for reading our adventures and shenanigans!

I was having a tough day at work, odd for me because I usually don’t mind Mondays. Upon returning to my desk from a meeting, I noticed a Facebook notification on my phone. Not so much curious to see what the notification was as much as the anal side of me needed to have it cleared off my home screen, I quickly logged in to check it. A simple message from my good friend and lady who always inspires, @kjsfitmomma: “Just got caught up on your blog – #DAYMADE I love you!”

She had no idea that small gesture – actually, two small gestures: 1) reading my blog and 2) taking the time to leave a little note – absolutely absolutely made my day. I seriously almost started crying right there in the middle of my unopened pile of mail and protein bar wrapper I had yet to throw away from lunch. It would have meant a lot to me no matter what but it just came at the absolute perfect time. It’s like she and I are connected (we totally are, I’m not even joking).

Anyway, I started thinking about showing gratitude, and how even the smallest things can mean the world to someone else. This likely won’t mean much to anyone out there in the worldwide web world, but I just wanted to thank all of you reading. Whether it’s your first time perusing Run Like A Girl 311 and you’re wondering what the 311 means, or you regularly enjoy reading about my random shenanigans, gross humor and actual bits of solid advice, THANK YOU! As much as I enjoy writing this blog for myself, I do love knowing it’s enjoyed by even one other person. You know, other than my mother. Hi, mom!

As always, if you have something to throw my way, comment here or tweet me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.

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Why Your Body Type Matters – Ectomorph, Endomorph, Mesomorph

“You’re damned if you’re too thin, you’re damned if you’re too heavy. So just say fuck it and be what’s natural for you.”

Ectomorph. Endomorph. Mesomorph. Are you familiar with these words? If not, and you’re looking to better understand your response to workouts and eating, you should read on. If you are and you’re looking to better understand your response to workout and eating habits, I welcome you to also read on.

Body-Type

Ectomorph, Mesomorph, Endomorph – which are you?

Ectomorph, Endomorph and Mesomorph are the three common categories of natural body types. Without going into a long-winded speech to explain each, think of it in this most simple way: An Ectomorph is a naturally lean body type; an Endomorph a naturally heavier or thick body type, a Mesomorph, more in the middle – think broader shoulders and narrower waist or even somewhat of an hourglass figure. I’ve also included this nifty drawing to illustrate.

Beyond giving you insight into your natural body type, identifying the one in which you most predominantly fit can help you to better understand workouts and eating.

I’ll use myself as an example. I was recently doing some research to find benchmarks for what a woman my height and weight should be able to squat, deadlift, bench press, those types of things. What I ended up doing was getting a bit off track and researching more about body types and how they affect performance. I found out things like Endomorphs (especially taller, leggier ones) have a harder time putting up bigger squat numbers. I also found out Ectomorphs should lift heavier weights with fewer reps for best results. These are things I admit, I didn’t really know, but helped open my eyes to how much more than genetics factors into athletic performance and nutrient, body type itself does too.

I’m an Endomorph. I have a naturally thicker, more muscular build. I have an out-of-control appetite (always have, even before I was a runner) and have always struggled to lose weight or have a slimmer appearance. After college, when I really started to take control of my health, lose some excess weight and become fitter, I had a very hard time with where my body was heading. No matter how much I ran and how little I ate, I never could quite achieve that “thin” body I so badly wanted. I always assumed I was doing something wrong but, taking a few steps back from it (and speaking to trusted fitness experts like my pal, JoeFitness) I began to understand that everyone’s body is programmed to be a certain way, a certain shape, a certain build. You can fight it to an extent but it’s going to be that – a fight. So, if that’s the route you want to go, you have to decide how much and what sacrifices you’re willing to make.

As an Endomorph, I’m not someone who can have that slim, lean look without major sacrifice. I would have to give up lifting, do nothing but steady cardio and drastically reduce my calorie intake. It has taken me several years, horrible bouts with crash dieting and periods of cardio upon cardio upon cardio to finally come to terms with this – and, more importantly, truly be okay with it.

I’ve okay with the fact I’m never going to be able to pull off skinny jeans (it’s hard enough fitting these quads into regular jeans).
I’ve accepted I’m never going to have a delicate, adorable body like Anna Kendrick (hopefully my fiancé has too, he LOVES her).
I don’t mind that, in order to achieve peak racing performance, I have to push my workouts hard and my body has to be thicker and more muscular; I can’t get away with being a “lean” runner while also racking up the distance and mile times I want.

Body-Types

We know I’m the Endomorph – can you spot the Ectomorph and Mesomorph?

Now that I’ve gotten older and my goals are different, I no longer curse my Endomorph body type – I embrace it. This body type, though some days I know it works against me (Endomorphs aren’t known for their stellar endurance), helps me perform like the athlete I want to be. I’m strong. I’m fast. I’m capable of major bouts of endurance – I just have to work harder for it.

Yes, I may never have a body that makes clothes shopping easy and fun. I’ll never be able to get by with just a couple, easy days of cardio to keep my weight under control. I will always be hungry. All the time. Always.

But, on the flip side, lifting heavy weights works well for me. My big legs and butt help me to run both run sub-7 minute miles for speed training, as well as average just over an 8-minute mile for a full marathon. And my metabolism and muscle mass really helps out the constant need for food. So I’d say this Endomorph thing is working out pretty well.

Do you train to fight your natural body type or have you embraced it and used it to your advantage? Or, are you planning to look further into your own body type and how if affects your workouts, nutrition and goals? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.

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The Secret To Gains and Great Lifts Is Tougher Than The Workout

“Rest day = I sit at home and think about working out”
“Deload week = Rest day on steroids” 

One of my favorite parts about the start of a new week is – surprise – planning my workouts for the week. This week, in addition to figuring out my swim, bike and run combos for my upcoming triathlon, I’m super excited about my leg workout. Why this week? I’m coming off a deload week.

I’ve read about deloading plenty of times (the concept of scaling back the intensity of lifts for a week to let muscles recover and encourage gains) and I’ve done it with my upper body lifting routine and had great results. But because of the cycles I follow with my running training (intensity and speed) I hadn’t really ever actively deloaded my lower body workouts. Then I recently read an article on the Eat to Perform website, which came at perfect timing.

Side note: if you’re not familiar with Eat to Perform, do yourself a favor and check it out on Twitter and Facebook.

Back to the article; the timing was good for me because it forced me to think about the last time I took a week off from hard leg workouts. Not since the two weeks leading up to my last marathon, which itself was about 10 weeks ago, had I done so. And, let’s face it, running 26.2 miles isn’t exactly taking it easy on the legs. I trust what I read on this site so I decided last week would be a deload week for my lower half. And, as much as I hated to do it, I decided I would skip leg day altogether.

There is a degree of deloading that states a person can simply do lower weight and intensity on his/her leg workout. But I know myself well enough to know that strategy wouldn’t work for me (I would end up trying to add another plate to the squat rack or do “just one more” set of weighted walking lunges) so I made up my mind that I was going to forgo it completely. No cheating!

Minnesota-Vacation

As much as I hate rest days, they are easier in the summer

Let me just say this – it sucked. You know that feeling you get on rest day? That guilty feeling of being a slacker and nearly convincing yourself you probably should go to the gym? I can’t be the only one…right? Anyway, deloading is rest day times 10. Just about every day during my deload week, I was thisclose to saying screw it and loading up the leg press machine. I had to fight the little voices in my head that said, “Don’t be a baby, you can handle a heavy lift,” and, “Just a short lift, squats only,” to, “Why are you doing this?! You know you shouldn’t skip leg day!” But I’m glad I didn’t cave because now I’m really excited to see how my leg workout goes this week and, bonus, how good my body feels during running and biking.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? Some people dread going to the gym and lifting – I dread not doing it.

In the spirit of coming off deload week, here are a few older blogs all dedicated to my love of #legday:

Favorite Lower Body Exercises

No Weights, No Equipment, No Excuses Leg Workout

My Ode To Squats

Do you believe in deloading? Why or why not? If you do, how often do you work it into your regime? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.

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Gluten-Free – It’s Not A Diet, It’s How Some People Don’t Die

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Last week, something happened to my friend, Hannah that infuriated me. Hannah has Celiac disease, which means she’s allergic to gluten. Upon visiting one of her favorite restaurants, one that offers completely gluten-free options, she was left feeling shamed and angry. Had I been there with her, my big mouth may have gone loose and words would have flown. Bad words. I may have been banned from said establishment for life but it would have totally been worth it.

Two members of this restaurant’s staff were beyond rude. Not realizing Hannah had just ordered a gluten-free sandwich, their comments ranged from the unnecessary, “Ugh, this person who needs gluten-free food is so annoying,” to the uneducated, “It’s not like this diet does anything,” to the downright dangerous, “Oh, I guess I better change my gloves now, “ (laden with sarcasm).

Not only did these two employees make complete asses of themselves, they disrespected a customer and their employer. A company that touts itself as a provider of gluten-free food has a major responsibility to uphold that. One, people on gluten-free diets deserve it and two, people who need gluten-free diets could get horribly sick from eating contaminated food. Think of a child with a peanut allergy who, maybe doesn’t even eat peanuts, but eats food prepared in the same area as peanuts. Celiac sufferers have that same degree of sensitivity to gluten.

This brings me to a slight problem I have with gluten-free diets – not people who have Celiac disease and who’s lives depend on eating this way, but people who think gluten-free is the hippest new weight loss diet like low-carb or low-fat. And they just have to jump on the bandwagon.

Gluten-Free-Food

This is what the world has come to – gluten-free cherries.

I have nothing against people who choose a gluten-free lifestyle for personal reasons. I mean, come on, I’m a vegetarian. Not because meat makes me sick or I’m allergic to it; I just don’t like it and I choose not to eat it. What I have a problem with is people who have no clue what gluten even is and, therefore, have de-sensitized people to its actual significance. The people who insist they need it (and really don’t) and have made it an annoying request that almost always results in an eye roll from the server. The people who have contributed to it being nothing more than a buzzword, a marketing term food companies can use to jack up prices, and make themselves seem “healthier.” That image of cherries? That’s real. I didn’t Photoshop that. I’ve also seen proud “gluten-free” packaging on products like milk and eggs.

To understand my frustration, here’s a little lesson: Gluten is a combo of two proteins; it essentially acts as a “glue” that holds together products like wheat bread, rye crackers and flour tortillas. As a rule of thumb, it’s typically found in more carb-rich foods and, also, barley-based beers (which is partly why gluten-free and cider beers have become so popular). So, will cutting it out of your diet lead to weight loss? It could. Now, does gluten sound like something you’d find in beef jerky or fruit?

Educate yourselves, people. If you need or choose to be on a gluten-free diet, know what it is and where it’s found. Don’t let yourself to be up-charged for gluten-free rice cakes and coffee. Don’t pay more for gluten-free versions of breads, cupcakes and cookies unless you have Celiac disease and can’t live without them (I’ve read research that cautions people who don’t have Celiac disease to avoid these types of foods, as they’re processed differently and not necessarily good for you). And please don’t call it a diet.

Finally, for the love of all things good, if you work in a food establishment that proudly promotes gluten-free options, please learn why that’s important. Understand that not everyone is trying out “the new gluten-free diet” – know that some people will legitimately get sick if they eat it. Respect that and treat them like a small child with a peanut allergy. You wouldn’t roll your eyes at a kid with a peanut allergy – would you?

How many of you live a gluten-free lifestyle? Is it due to Celiac disease or for personal reasons? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.

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Triathlon Training Tips for First-Timers

“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

This week marked the official start to triathlon training for me. And I’m not alone; it’s that time of year for a lot of athletes, including two of my friends who are trying their first triathlon this summer (good luck Jess and Kate!!).

In the spirit of them and all others trying a tri for the first time, I thought I’d dig into the archives and share a blog with some training tips for newbs. I added in a couple new nuggets of advice too. Happy training!

Lap-Swimming

This is me, excited to swim laps yesterday.

1. The Swim
This is typically the really intimidating part of a triathlon for most, especially if it’s an open-water swim. But don’t stress, the swim isn’t bad! It’s all about training then, more importantly, trusting your training on race day.

If you’re not a strong swimmer, now is the time to jump in the pool and start lap swimming. This will give you a chance to learn technique, practice breathing, even ensure your goggles fit properly. If you are a strong swimmer, brushing up a few weeks before the event never hurts.

Word of warning: An open water swim is totally different from a pool. It’s like doing all your marathon training on a treadmill, then finally hitting the road for the first time during the race. It’s gonna be a shock and much harder – that technique you’ve spent weeks, months or years perfecting will likely go right out the window. But by practicing in the pool, you’ll have a great foundation to help you through the first part of the race.

2. The Bike
More than the actual training, the type of bike you have matters. A lot! A road or hybrid bike is a great investment, as they’re lighter and go faster with less effort than mountain bikes or cheaper versions. You’ll really notice this during the race, when you’re putting a ton of effort into pedaling and someone on a road bike flies by with minimal effort.

If you can’t afford a new bike, try to borrow one from a friend – and be sure to take really good care of it. I borrowed a nice road bike from Chris last year and it made a huge difference. Another option? Go used. Bikes are like cars; you can get a perfectly good used one for much less than brand-new. Scope out local bike shops for sales or scour the paper for a used model.

3. The Run
The swim might be the most intimidating part of a tri but the run is the toughest part for many.

If you’ve never run a road race, try to find a small one prior to the tri. Not only is it a great way to experience the race-day atmosphere, it will get you mentally psyched.

If you’re a running pro, train like you would for any other race. With one additional component…

Triathlon-Training

Practice your transitions now – you’ll be glad you did on race day.

Bringing It All Together
The final tip I have, and really the key to overall triathlon training is brick workouts: doing two or more different workouts, one right after another. For example, a bike ride followed by a run. Triathletes often incorporate this style of training to prepare themselves for the multiple disciplines and transitions from one to the next.

Brick workouts are especially important for the bike-to-run transition. You’ll notice your legs feel much different post-bike than they do when you run with fresh legs. I’d also recommend a few swim-to-bike or swim-to-run workouts. Not as much for getting used to the transition but for practicing putting on a tank top and socks when you’re wet. FYI, that’s not easy and you don’t want to look super-awkward trying on your first race day (I did).

Good luck this triathlon season! Train hard now and trust your training on race day. You got this.

Need additional tips? Or have others to share? Comment below or tweet me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.

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