Recovering from Big Training Blocks

When I was training for my first marathon, I ran practically all my runs on the treadmill. I’d get to my local Gold’s Gym in Bozeman first thing in the morning, right around 630am, and hit it hard for an hour or so. I’d bring along my hand towel (to wipe the sweat off my face), a bottle of water, and my iPod. I’d set the speed to 7.5mph and just go. Sometimes I’d score a treadmill that let me run more than 60min without stopping. Six days a week, I’d be on the ‘mill, sometimes hitting up Gold’s in the evening, too. Since all I did during that phase of racing was run, there were weeks when I’d run 70-80 miles a week, all on the mill. Yes, that meant I was running a 2.5hour run at 8:15min/mile. But I got it done, and marathons of America’s Next Top Model helped.

So I did all my training on the treadmill, big deal. But, the cool thing was, I ran my first marathon (on four months of training) in 3:22. I don’t know if it was the elevation that Bozeman sat at (around 4500ft) and the fact that my marathon was at sea level, or that I ran a consistent pace on my regular runs and still included hills and intervals, but whatever the case may be, my training worked.

After my run, usually two days a week, I’d do pull-ups to failure to increase my max pull-up count. During my first-mary training, I made it up to 14 pull-ups in one go. Sweet!*

I luckily didn’t succumb to any injuries during my training, and nixed any weight lifting I had been doing (other than the pull-ups and occasional sit-ups). I’d take recovery days, have long-run days, and really looked forward to my intensity days. I had a lot of fun (believe it or not) with the treadmill that season.

One of the most important things I included with my training was my recovery. This took all shapes and sizes. I worked part-time as a nanny at the time, so I’d spend my evenings with my feet propped up reading a book to my boys, or watching a Felicity episode (or three) with my roommates. After most workouts, especially evening ones (some ending as late as 11pm), I’d have the smoothie bar at Gold’s make me a protein shake. I practically became addicted to vanilla Champion Ultramet made with ice, water, and peanut-butter. So much so, that my roommate bought me a smoothie-punch card for my birthday. I had recovery days, I never had two hard workouts in a row, and the time after my long runs was usually spent at the Daily or Rockford Coffee Shops (for some serious rehydration, of course).

Ok, so you may be asking youself: why would an endurance geek even want to take a protein shake after running? Well, there is recent evidence to suggest that protein and carbohydrate ingestion reduces protein breakdown following exercise [1]. Similarly, ingestion of calories in liquid form acutely during and after exercise likely increases nutrient absorption and enhances muscle glycogen resynthesis [2,3]. Plus, it left me feeling really satisfied and ready to tackle the day (since I did my runs in the morning, of course).

If you think about it, your body is going through a whole mess of changes when you ramp up your training for the first time (or after a break from training). Training works by forcing your muscles to do things they aren’t used to doing. Neurological and musculoskeletal adaptations take place, but if you don’t allow your body to recover from your training adaptations, your body won’t have such an easy time adapting. Your muscles will break down their protein backbone, they won’t have an easy time rebuilding because they aren’t given any rest, and they’ll become weak and susceptible to injury. So, in other words, recovery = good.

Training for my first marathon, I had to let my body adapt. In fact, I still have to let my body adapt. That’s what training is all about. Although I had trained with high mileage during my collegiate cross-country and track seasons, I had taken a year and a half practically completely off to “recover” from my previous racing days and big training blocks. Sure, I ran a few 10Ks and even threw down (and threw up) at the Bridger Ridge Run, but I was really fit throughout the training for my first marathon, and it was dedication and diet that got me there. Now, I’m pushing through a big block that includes some high mileage and big hours. I don’t run all my runs indoors, thanks to the well-maintained sidewalks of Houghton, but I do follow a lot of the same rules as I did three years ago…

“Big” Training Blocks: One of the ways to encourage your body to adapt is to incorporate big blocks in your training (after you’ve provided ample time to get to the period of building your miles.. see below). So what is a big block? Big blocks are periods in your training plan that incorporate increased time spend on your feet, in the saddle, and/or in the pool. It’s getting your body ready for the race-focusing periods ahead. Your big blocks don’t necessarily have much intensity involved in them (they do incorporate some threshold paces, usually once or twice a week, but definitely not any max-effort speeds), and they teach your body to build its endurance so when the time comes for hammerfests, you’re ready (and can hang on for the long haul). You’re teaching your body to adapt to longer training days, so when it comes time to fine tune your race strategy and race day performance, you’ll be ready (and your lungs, legs and feet won’t be holding you back).

Recovering during big training blocks can be hard. During the big weeks, you might not find time in the day to find peace. During the recovery weeks, you might feel like you’re losing ground, that pulling back on your training isn’t what you’re “supposed” to be doing. But, its absolutely essential to get in some good recovery time. Here are some tips I have as you ramp up your training:

  • Get to bed early. I have a bad habit of sitting at my computer catching up on bloggy/facebook/twitter worlds until as late as 11:30 at night. So, I’ve made a vow to shut my computer at 9pm and get ready for bed. Nine o’clock too early? Well, how about 9:30? This is important to follow throughout the big endurance-blocks of training, whether its the biggest volume week of the season or simply a recovery week. [P.S. Sleeping in on Saturdays definitely warrants a late(r) night curfew on Friday!]
  • Get up early, consistently. I set my alarm for 5:45am. That’s not really that early compared to a lot of my endurojunkie friends, but I seriously love sleeping. I need a good 8 hours. And I make sure that I get it!  Once I get into a rhythm of waking up regularly at 5:45am, I set my “internal clock”, and end up waking up without the alarm sometimes. Getting up early allows me to have time in the morning to get some training in, as well as eat a decent breakfast and ease into the day.
  • Ease into your Big Block. Don’t just go from couch potato to marathon in a few weeks. In fact, big blocks shouldn’t begin until you have a good base. That being said, the general rule of thumb, to preventing injury, is to not increase your training by more than 10% a week. This may seem daunting when you start off-the-couch, but hopefully your off-season training has some structure to it. If not, don’t fret! You’ll get there.
    • Periodize your training.
      • Break your big training blocks into 4 week periods. Each season might have 2-3 of these consecutively. Depending on what you want as your maximum volume in any one week during the season, you can calculate the volumes of the weeks in your big training blocks.
    • Don’t forget to take recovery periods. If you ramp up your training for three weeks, increasing mileage each time, take the fourth week to recovery. If you don’t allow yourself that week of recovery, your body might not see any gains in your ramped-up training.
      • Ahh, but here’s where it gets tricky. Recovery weeks don’t mean “off” weeks. You still gotta do something. So instead of continuing to ramp your training up 10%, maybe decrease your volume by 20-30% of the largest week’s volume. In other words, follow this type of plan:
        • Week 1– 65-80% volume
        • Week 2– 75-90% volume
        • Week 3– 85-100% volume
        • Week 4– 55-70% volume
        • (volume being a general term for either the max training you’ll want to do in one week for a given season, and/or the max training you’ll want to do for a given period).
  • Eat a good breakfast. My go-to food during my first marathon training (other than protein shake) was oatmeal. I now eat steel cut oats because they are cheaper, and safer, for my gluten free diet. I mix in a spoonful of brown sugar and a scoop of peanut butter, and I have a meal that will hold me over until lunchtime… usually.
  • Snack! I try to avoid ever feeling hungry, so I keep Larabars in my desk. Breakfast is usually one of the bigger meals of the day for me.
  • Take a day off. I’m not a proponent of the Weekend Warrior^, but your body needs rest. Mondays are usually my off days. That means I sleep in a little later, I don’t dare put on my running shoes, and I get a “get out of jail free” card. This gets tricky when training for triathlon, because a lot of people think that if they take a day off from running, they should still go bike and swim. Try to plan your training so that your off day is completely off from any kind of training. Can’t handle that because you’re too OCD to not spend an hour a day working out? Pick up a different activity, like yoga, or just spend the time you’d normally put towards training on something your body will appreciate, like a massage (yessss), trigger point therapy, or stretching. Your body will thank you.
  • Eat right. Not everything you need to ingest needs to come preformulated for premium performance. I have a terrible habit of not taking vitamins. But (knock on wood), I don’t really want to take vitamins. I’d much rather try to eat good, wholesome foods, full of really good calories and nutrients, and get my vitamins that way. Plus, I’m lazy. This morning, I looked at my row of vitamin bottles and didn’t feel like opening them, so I didn’t take any pills this morning. Oops.
    • If you’re vegetarian (like I was when I was training for my first half), try to get your protein in. Nuts are a great source. So is tofu and soy. Bragg’s Aminos is a good product to sprinkle on your rice and noodles (tastes like soy sauce). And of course, there’s always the premium performance blends of protein shakes if you need ’em. Eat whole foods, like brown rice and beans, to get the most out of your meals. I found some mung bean pasta noodles at my local co-op that have a crap-ton of protein (we’re talking 20g of protein per serving!). Other good foods? Lentils, falafel, potatoes, and cheese.
    • Follow the mentality of moderation. Too much of anything can’t be good for you. Too much exercise, too much protein shake, whatever.
    • Have a craving? Indulge it! You’re working hard, why not have some ice cream if you have a craving for mint chocolate chip. I don’t condone eating the entire half gallon in one sitting, but I won’t rat you out if you do.

  • Listen to your body. Have a 15mile run scheduled, but feeling like crap? It’s ok to move things around. Get in an easy run, or change your off day for the week, and throw down the 15miler the next day. Your body isn’t necessarily meant to be synced with an Excel spreadsheet.
    • This is especially important if you are feeling joint or muscle pain. The last thing you want to do in a big training block is get injured. If you are feeling that the stress of training is taking a toll on your musculoskeletal system, back off!
    • Invest in a La-Z-Boy. Seriously, best invention ever for endurance athletes.
    • Don’t procrastinate. It’s a bad idea to keep pushing off your long runs until you get to the next long run. Consistency is key.

Any other tips for training recovery?


[1]  Howarth, K.R., et al. Coingestion of protein with carbohydrate during recovery from endurance exercise stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2009 – 106 – 1394-1402

[2] Millard-Stafford, M., et al. Recovery Nutrition: Timing and Composition after Endurance Exercise. Current Sports Medicine Reports, July/August 2008 – 7 (4) – 193-201

[3]  Zaryski, C., et al., Training Principles and Issues for Ultra-endurance Athletes. Current Sports Medicine Reports, June 2005 – 4 (3) – 165-170

*my current pull-up challenge is to get to 20 this spring. Hoofta!

^A Weekend Warrior is someone who doesn’t really train during the week, comes home after work and watches sports/reality TV, eats dinner, and goes to bed, but on the weekend goes mega-blaster all over training. Three hour run + 50mile bike and several hundred meter swimming in the pool… on Saturday. Sunday is a whole ‘nother megablock of training extravaganza. I don’t recommend this style of training.

Warning: Don’t just jump into any Big Block that your buddy is doing. Seriously. You could get injured. Big Blocks are specific to the training you’ve been doing and the goals you wish to accomplish. [Having reasonable goals is incredibly important, too.] Build build build, prepare your body for it. Anyway, “Big” is all relative, right?

More Humm Time and Free LÄRABARS!

Raise your hand if you have taken time to Humm in the last few days. Although I’ve been beyond stressed at work, I found myself actually smiling after my swim at the pool this afternoon- my first swim in a few months. Maybe it was the recently-cleaned-and-clear pool water (our pool has been closed for a month!), or maybe it was feeling fast even though I haven’t put two strokes together since the fall. Could it really have been the crowded lanes and sloppy swimmers in the fast lane!? (probably not) My guess? I knew what I had waiting for me after the swim: a chocolate hazelnut Jocalat LÄRABAR on the top shelf of my locker. All the crowded lanes and bumping and water-up-the-nose and itchy eyes from the over-brominated pool were erased when I sunk my teeth into that delicious bar.

Want to win a box of these?

Alright, now raise your hand if you’re doing a good job at being gluten-free on a budget. No? Hmm… Well, now’s your chance. What’s better for a budget than FREE? A few weeks ago, I asked LÄRABAR if they’d be interested in sponsoring a blog giveaway on my site. Since they are my go-to snack food as it is, I wanted to share the love with my fellow training peeps and inter-web friends. Lucky for me (and- well – I guess you!), they said yes! Today arrived the big brown box from Denver, Colorado, adorned with stickers and filled with tasty treats. But before we get to that… here’s some info about the company, their products, and why I love them so!

You may be asking yourself: Why does she think LÄRABAR is such an awesome food? Well, even before I went gluten free, it was my go-to mid-day snack when I’m at the office (Jim’s Foodmart in Houghton has boxes of ’em and its just a few blocks from campus). My mom stocks me up every time she sees me (bonus!). And they don’t give me crazy stomach problems when I have one within an hour before working out (double bonus!). They are as satisfying as a Snickers (maybe even moreso) with just a quarter of the ingredients list. Aside from the fact that all I ate at Ironman Madison this year were peanut butter and jelly LÄRABARs (my #1 favorite flavor, made with dates, peanuts, unsweetened cherries, and salt) and Honeystinger Chews [and the fact that I didn’t have any GI issues whatsoever on race day], the food is, well… it’s food. It’s real, wholesome ingredients, and most of the bars are made from three or four ingredients. I like to call it my brain food.

Brain food

LÄRABAR is gluten free, but that’s easy enough for them to do when their product is made out of dates, unsweetened cherries, and almonds (Cherry Pie, my #2 fave). Want to have a healthy snack, but craving something sweet? Try a Jocalat bar (German chocolate cake, anyone? All organic ingredients, made with dates, pecans, almonds, unsweetened chocolate, coconut, EV Coconut Oil, and cocoa powder). Beats ice cream every night for dinner (at least, that’s what your jeans will tell you).

Never had a LÄRABAR ? Along the same whole-food-health-nut lines I follow, LÄRABAR believes that what we eat is healthiest and most satisfying when it’s in a whole, natural state. Since LÄRABAR is truly a Humm food (says so on their website!), they are perfect for my first blog giveaway.

More cool lil’ facts about LÄRABAR products:

  • All their products are gluten free. Every single one. I said that already.
  • All their products are dairy free, too.
  • Soy free. Ditto!
  • All products are vegan and kosher.
  • No GMOs here. Nep. Nada.
  • Jocalat bars are made peanut-free in a peanut-free facility (although they can’t guarantee their products didn’t come in contact with peanuts before they came to the factory)

Jocalat comes in six delicious flavors

So now that you have a good idea of what these real-food food-bars are all about, let’s get to the fruit and nuts of this dish (pun totally intended).

The challenge: Tell me about your last great humm time or your favorite humm food (give me a shout-out in the form of a comment on this blog post).

The reward: You’ll get entered into a raffle to win a box (16 delicious bars!) of a variety pack of LÄRABAR Jocalat. FOUR lucky winners will be chosen at random. Perfect time for training builds, mid-afternoon-snacking, and (OH YEAH) Valentine’s Day (betcha forgot that holiday is fast approaching, yeah?).

Want to chat about this contest on your own blog (because that would be awesome)? Well, if you do, you get a bonus entry (use this link to direct people back here, or else I won’t know you talked about it). Tweet about it (and let me know using @megankillian in your tweet), and you’ve got another shot at winning. In other words, you could get yourself three entries into this awesomely sweet (and nutritious) contest.

What is your favorite flavor?

Since I want the winners to get these delicious treats before V-Day (just in case you want to share them with your sweet-heart with a healthy heart), I’m going to draw winners on February 1st during my mid-morning LÄRABAR snack time.

Each person to enter will be assigned a number. I’ll use to pick the four winners!

Ready to win some sweet treats? Start humming!

FTC Disclaimer: LÄRABAR provided me these boxes, full of free Jocalat bars, to give away on my blog

Gluten Free on a Budget

When I first started following a gluten free diet, I realized quickly that my graduate student stipend was not really going to get me far. But instead of depleting my body of nutrients and losing fifteen pounds from starvation, I quickly learned how to keep my 3500-calorie-a-day diet steady while not depleting my bank account (at least, not with grocery bills!).

Here’s some more tips for newbie-gluten-free folks to watch the wallet and the ingredient labels.

  • Learn how to cook with rice. I can’t say this enough. It’s so cheap. But other than the fact that rice is cheap, it’s typically fortified. Food fortication was set in place by the government to make sure that our food has “minimum dietary requirements”. Adding micronutrients, like Vitamin B and iron, to rice is common and is especially important for developing countries where food stuffs are not very varietal or come with a high cost. The US mandates that all fortified rice contain folic acid, which was adopted due to “public health concern over low folate levels in the diets of young women and related increased risk of neural tube defects in infants born to folate deficient mothers.” [1]
    • Making rice is pretty easy, and if you make a lot of it, it can last the whole week.
    • Brown rice has more fiber and protein than its white counterpart, but comes with a slightly higher price. If you buy in bulk and store it well, it’s not much of a problem.
  • Use coupons. General Mills does a great job of labeling their cereals gluten free if they are. General Mills also has coupons in the Sunday paper (usually!). Just like you’d be frugal with your grocery shopping if you weren’t gluten free, it helps to do the same when you’re on the diet. Hard to find coupons for gluten free foods? Send an email to the company you buy your stuff from or check out their website to see if they have a mailing list. I am on the Bakery on Main’s e-newsletter “club”, and every month or so get one email from them with a $1.50 off coupon for their granola. Definitely helps! Bob’s Red Mill has product giveaways on Twitter (today their giving away hemp seeds!), as do many other companies. Put your feelers out! You might even score some free samples from companies you’re hesitant to try out. Nothing is worse than spending $10 on a loaf of bread that tastes like cat food (trust me, it happens).
  • Plan your meals for the week. You’ll spend less time at the grocery store if you make a list, and you are less likely to get stuff that isn’t on there if you have a plan.
    • I like to plan meals that turn into other meals (and make good leftovers)
    • I also like to make enough of something that can last a few meals (rice or potatoes that will carry-over to being the base of another meal)
    • Making lasagna is a lot of work, but its something that can be enjoyed for a few days (lunch or reheated at dinner). You can make two batches of ‘zag and freeze one, too. Same with spaghetti sauce, chili, and meatloaf!
  • Get involved with a CSA. I spent $350 on vegetables from June-October. I basically went to the grocery store for milk, rice, eggs, and meat. Every week from my farmer, I got more than enough spinach to not want to eat any more spinach between October and New Years (or even longer). Plus, I knew where my veggies were coming from, another one of those eco-friendly yet-still-being-cost-conscious things I LOVE about where I live. No CSA (that you know of)? Visit the farmer’s market. Winter usually shuts down markets, but hit the ground running at the first one this spring. Who knows, you might even find a local farmer that can slide you into their CSA for the summer. It’s worth a shot.
  • Make hearty (and heart healthy) soups. Especially in the winter, I really like soup. We often make a big stock-pot of soup that will make dinner for a few nights. The bonus part is, starting with water and vegetables, making a really hearty soup is not difficult (it just takes a little extra time). Add some sausage for a protein boost, or egg whites for an egg-drop-soup rendition of veggie soup. Watch the labels on premade chicken/beef stock, though. Sometimes that darned gluten will sneak in there. When in doubt, it’s best to buy stock labeled gluten free (cheap version: Steiner Foods Kitchen Basics chicken stock! Cheapest at the grocery store and labeled Gluten Free).
  • Get a crock-pot. Chili = 1 can kidney beans, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1/4 can tomato paste, and 1lb cooked meat (if you like). Add salt, pepper, and cayenne, and let it cook on low all day.  Miss eating chicken wings? Make them yourself. Chicken parts are cheap compared to chicken breasts, and you know what your getting is gluten free because you’re making it yourself (if you didn’t know this already, most chicken wings at “wing night” aren’t gluten free. Nor are they actually wings… but lets not go there).
  • Like meat? Get a chest freezer… and buy yourself a side of beef. Heck, when I was growing up, my parents had an entire cow processed each year to feed the five of us. Not only will it be cheaper by the pound (imagine a T-Bone steak that costs $2.50/lb…), but you have a seemingly-limitless supply, and there’s a good chance that the cow is from a local farm. You can do the same with pig, too. Knowing your farmer and getting meat processed greatly reduces the chance that the meat is injected with any “tenderizing” chemicals, which could be just a word for ‘gluten-pumping garbage.’ Another option: Contact your local 4H chapter and see if they’ll put you on the list for chicken, pork, or beef after their shows. What cow has better TLC than one raised by kids?
  • Buy in bulk. I love Larabars, but at $1.89 a pop, it adds up. So, I go online and order a box of them. Brings the price down to $1.50. With a membership to Costco or Sam’s Club, the cost is closer to $1/bar. I know I’m going to eat them, so why not buy them in bulk?
    • Other things to buy in bulk:
      • gluten free flours– rice, sorghum flours from Bob’s Red Mill are some of the best priced gfree items on the market
      • granola– I LOVE Bakery on Main, but its hard to pay $7 for a bag of granola that I can eat in two days…), mixes (Chebe, Gluten-Free Pantry
      • rice!
      • pasta– if you’re an endurance athlete, you know you’re going to eat it, and pasta doesn’t really go bad, does it?
      • pretzels– but only if you take the time to package the pretzels into single-serving bags after you buy the big bag. Don’t want those million-dollar pretzels going stale!
      • Peanut butter- I buy a big tub of it sometimes from my local Co-op. $3/lb is a pretty good deal for organic stuff, and it has no chance of expiring in my house (I eat it on just about everything)
    • Things to you don’t necessarily need to buy in bulk:
      • xanthan gum– unless you are planning on baking a boatload of bread. A little goes a long way in g-free baking, and the shelf life of xanthan gum is about 1 yr.
      • bread-unless you have a chest freezer and you have room for it! Bread in the kitchen’s freezer doesn’t last super-long, unless you have a non-frost-free freezer – one that is snowy on the inside and doesn’t have go through a defrost cycle. Once the bread goes through a few freeze-thaw cycles, it starts to get dry and ends up having a worse texture than it started with… which isn’t very good.
        • That being said… We were recently stocked up on a bunch of pre-made gluten free goodies from the Silly Yak Bakery in Madison, Wisconsin, thanks to Baberaham’s mom. Luckily, the stuff didn’t last more than a month or two in our freezer, so we weren’t worried about it getting freezer burned. Their stuff is by and large the best ready-to-eat gluten free baked goods I’ve ever tried. They will ship fresh-baked goods directly to your door, which is uber-convenient for the busy-as-a-bee-grad student like me. They offer special Bakery Bundles for quick orders and a reasonable price.
  • Explore the interwebs.

[1] Dexter, P.B.,  “Rice Fortification for Developing Countries.” Opportunities for Micronutrient Intervention, Aug 1998.

Ten things that make me happy

My teammie Joel just tagged me to write about 10 things that make me happy.  This should be easy! There are lots of things that make me happy. As an extension to my previous blog about spending some quality Humm Time, here goes, in no particular order, my favorite things in life:

  1. Good coffee. Freshly roasted, smooth, dark coffee. No sugar, no milk. Just straight up deliciousness that gives me a zing of caffeine and a smile. My favorite, of course, is Peace Coffee.  I love their Sumatran organic Italian roast. My new favorite: BlueOx Blend. A hot bit of the Midwest in a cup.
  2. Long runs with Margot. There’s something about being able to run for three hours with your best girl friend that makes the entire week’s woes just disappear! Sometimes we’re just unloading all our frazzle on each other, but neither of us mind. Sometimes we have discussions with disclosures, but neither of us are going to say anything to anyone else.
  3. Watching sci-fi movies with Baberaham. He’s been on a kick lately of finding really awesome flicks that are thought provoking, different, and just make you feel like a better person after watching. These include Ink and The Fountain. On tap? The film, Moon.
  4. Eating food. Fresh. real. whole food. Where you have to wash it and cut it and cook it before you can eat it. It doesn’t enter the microwave (unless its bacon), it doesn’t dare go near the freezer (unless its ice cream. I absolutely love homemade ice cream). My favorite days are when my CSA farmer brings us fresh produce. It’s always a surprise what we’ll be getting, and its always fun trying to figure out what to make next. Finding good recipes or trying something from scratch is fun. Being creative, enjoying a delicious meal.
  5. Sleeping in and making Saturday breakfasts. We get our bacon from a local farm (through our co-op) and it is by far the best bacon I’ve ever tasted. I like my eggs over-easy, with a side of hashbrowns. The bright orange yolks always taste so good smeared on gluten-free toast or potatoes. Also included in this… Having breakfast at the Erie Restaurant. A favorite past-time of mine. When I am visiting my parents, I try to make it a point to have breakfast there at least once during my stay.  Great food, even better people. Always a familiar face.
  6. Good whiskey. I don’t drink a lot. I like to enjoy a glass of scotch every once in a while, and have a whiskey and coke to calm my nerves sometimes. A bottle of good scotch will last use about six months. That’s why its not such a big deal to spend $50 on a bottle.
  7. Doing good work. I know it seems silly, but it is really something that makes me happy. When I do histology and see that my slices look great and my stain looks bright and beautiful. When I do qPCR and the data curves look like they’re supposed to. When I can figure something out on my own without the help of someone else.
  8. Being outside. Some days I just want to sit inside and be lazy. but as soon as I walk outside to do something, whether its go for a run or walk to the Bike Shop, I feel refreshed and want to do stuff. True, not everyday is a go-outside-day. When it’s -30, I usually pass on leaving the apartment. But there’s something about soaking up vitamin D that puts a smile on my face. Hiking. Biking. Snowshoeing. Running. Sitting on the KBC deck in the summer. Whatever. Being outdoors is a luxury.
  9. Being able to do what I love. This in an obvious one, but for so many people, I don’t think its the norm. I am blessed with a job that gives me freedom of flexibility. Sure, there are weeks (like last week) when I work 70 hours. There’s other weeks where I don’t have as much going on. I can train. I can race. I can have a life. I get to travel, meet exciting people, talk about my research with other people who are just as geeked about it as me, and share what I learn. I get to teach others, mentor others, learn from others. I get to try new things, solve problems. Sure, I feel dumb sometimes. I screw up. But that’s ok. I quite like not being perfect!
  10. Training right. This includes feeling ready to go for a run when I’m supposed to get out there and go for a run. Eating right. Hitting my training paces effortlessly. Running a smart race and reaping the rewards of a patient and strategic plan. Knowing when I need to cool it and when I need to ramp it up. Feeling fresh. Sleeping well.

Now, since I was tagged, I am supposed to tag 10 more bloggy-bloggers to create their own favorite-things list. Some of my buds have already done this, some have already been tagged… but not all of them! So here’s hoping that the following bloggers throw down their goods and tell me (and you) about ten things that make them happy!

Coach Kati (gluten-free teammie!)

Kara (ol’ rival and newfound friend)

Amy R. (award winning writer and running bud)

Meredith (Runner girl teammie!)

Chris T (Midwest homeboy)

Thomas (biochemist extraordinaire)

Adam (my favorite aspiring MD/PhD)

Mel at Tall Mom! (the infamous blogger)

Velma at Running with Boys (and fellow academia-ite)

FemNAEnv (newbie blogger, Megatough teammie, and best bud)

Save some time for Humm time

Ever have one of those moments where you just stop moving and the puzzle of the world around you just comes together? Like when you hike all day and are tired when you reach the top of a big hill, but you look around and what do you see? A perfect 360 degree panorama that simply takes your breath away… so you sit and stay for a few lingering minutes just feeling like you want to humm…

(open this image in a new window to see it's full effect)

Beautiful trees in the UP, fall (Porcupine Mountains). Serious humm time.

Humm time at Lake of the Clouds

Hiking through the woods is one of my favorite things to do. In the UP, there are so many amazing places to explore, whether its winter or summer. Two years ago, Baberaham and I went on what I call an epic hike (and I really don’t like to overuse that word like a lot of people do). The month before our hike brought nearly 10inches of rain, yet we thought it would be a good idea to head out on a 30mile backpacking trip in the Porkies. Things started out alright, but then the mud got thicker and thicker, and before we knew it, our trail turned into a stream, and then turned into a river. Regardless, at the end of the day, I didn’t feel the weight of the world on my shoulders (just the weight of my backpack… oofta!), the stress of my first semester of grad school had disappeared into thin air (high altitude?), and I just felt calm. Sure, my feet were wet, but that wasn’t a concern for me. We made it to the end of the hike over Lake of the Clouds, and we just basked in some serious feel-good, humm time.

on Isle Royale, humming

It took me 24 years to get to Isle Royale. I lived just a three-hour boat-ride away for four years, but I never made it there. I traveled around the world, and never got there. So when I returned to Michigan after finishing my master’s degree in Montana, I made a special trip with a new-found friend and old college acquaintance. It was a splendid week of backpacking, running, and exploring. I spent a lot of time thinking, listening, being quiet. I would sit for hours listening to the waves pitter-patter on the rocky shoreline. I met new people, ate fresh thimbleberries along the trail and ate freshly caught fish from the lake. I ran on our off-days and got lost and found the right trail again. I’d sit by the campfire and stare into the fire, just watching the flame flicker and climb and fall and spark and pop. There’s something so meditating about a campfire… I spent a lot of time Humming.

Campfires on Isle Royale are a sureshot for hummfests

Finding peace on the beaches of Lake Superior

Humming on the beaches of Lake Superior

Long run humm time to Todd Harbor on Isle Royale

There are so many times and places where I can find my center. Sometimes it’s when I am feeling light as a feather coming back into Houghton from a run on the Maasto Hiihto trails. The wind is to my back and my legs are just floating me home. Humm…  Sometimes its right after a long ski, when I come back into my warm apartment and bite into a healthy, delicious snack. As soon as my teeth sink in, I just want to humm. It’s when I just sit down on a bench on the lakeshore with an ice cream cone and watch the sunset over the hills. Humm

There are so many opportunities to find humm time. Don’t miss the next one. Just bask in it.

Taking a dip/humm in Bete Gris

P.S. Stay tuned for an upcoming giveaway on my blog from my favorite humm-worthy company!! Any guesses?

Boy, do I feel like a grad student.

It’s time to have a little bit of a distraction from the crazy week I just had. Even though I submitted my American Society of Mechanical Engineers Summer Bioengineering Conference abstract on the 11th (due date 15th at midnight), I was not going to leave the dudes in my lab to the wolves. So, I stuck around the lab on Thursday night/Fri morning until 4am when they called it a wrap. I was also the go-getter, saving them from skipping dinner by making a TBell/DQ run (oh, boy, did I ever feel like a grad student). We took a break to watch some Top Gear before getting back to the grind. Along the way, I processed some histology and realized I might be able to get another abstract out the door… Might. With less than 24 hours, I pondered and outlined and highlighted the sh*t out of my stack of papers and data. Things were coming together nicely on all fronts, and our undergrad researcher had his abstract pretty much complete before taking off at 4am. As soon as the dudes hit the submit button at 3pm on Friday, we all got an email explaining that the deadline for submission was extended until Sunday at midnight. So, we were happy and annoyed (and, deep-down inside, just knew that was going to happen).

Here’s the week by the numbers:

  • 62 hours on campus
  • 6 hours working on my abstract from home
  • 3 hours running
  • 1 all-nighter (almost)
  • 5 energy drinks
  • Probably four gallons of coffee

I am one tired girl. A lot has happened aside from so much work. I sold my tri bike and shipped it to Canada. I bought a new bike (ok, two new bikes). I drank a lot of coffee. And I worked my tail off. I also got some sweet mail that brightened my day.

Thank you, Team Trakkers! 😀

The visors helped. Now (especially since this week is almost over), I am looking forward the upcoming race season. I am looking forward to my spring marathon in Salt Lake, training outside, pounding the trails in the mud and the dust, and hammering away on my bike on the winding Keweenaw roads. It will be a good year.

L to R: Lake Champlain Chocolates unsweetened cocoa, handthrown mug in fieldstone/gray, and a tin of Zhena's Fireside Chai (22 bags)

I also got my i-need-to-go-online-shopping-distraction-please-help-me shipment from Peace Coffee only two business days after I ordered it; talk about customer service. I even twittered them to see if they’d change the color of the mug, and it didn’t delay a thing. The box-o-goodies was a much needed reward to myself. I bought some Fireside Chai tea (which I am actually sipping right now), because I feel like I need to cool it on the caffeine (at least in the afternoons!), and it’s delicious. I wasn’t going to get any, but my friend Margot wanted to throw some in my cart, and shipping would cost the same whether I bought more or not… so I am glad I did. It’s not caffeinated, and has a Roibos base. Very flavorful, with a great wintery taste (Roibos, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, oranges, nutmeg, black pepper). I also bought a tin of unsweetened cocoa, because for whatever reason, we don’t have any in our kitchen! Who makes ice cream without cocoa? It’s from Lake Champlain Chocolates (sold through PC), which is my favorite chocolate company anyway, so it was a win-win. I also bought another pair of socks (can never have enough socks) and last but definitely not least, the best part of the whole package: a handthrown coffee mug. I swear its made to fit in my hand perfectly. But anyway, I digress.

Farewell, QRoo. I will miss you!

So even though this week was a dousy, it’s all good. I’m working tomorrow, but I’m not complaining. Seriously. Most of me really wants to get back in the lab and get this abstract out the door (or rather, uploaded. But out the door sounds better). There’s this really weird balance with graduate school. I didn’t really have to work so much last week, per se. I mean, I’m sure my advisor appreciated it, as well as my labmates, but when it comes down to it, I wasn’t forced to be there. I worked so much because I really liked what I was doing. I thought of something halfway through the day on Thursday and said: “I need to see if this works!” True, grad school takes a different type of person. I certainly hope we didn’t scare our undergrad off (he’s hoping to go to grad school after he graduates this semester), but again- he didn’t have to be in the lab so much this week either. He only gets paid 20hours a week, yet he was in there nearly as much as I was! It’s really hard to explain how we grad students think. Having a 9-to-5 job is not something I’ve ever wanted. I like being able to work independently and formulate a project or two and ask and answer questions. That’s not to say that can’t be done in a normal job… but I know what to expect in academia. It is really what makes me want to try harder. It’s not really all that rewarding. There’s rejection. Lots of rejection. There’s the whole “grad student stipend” thing. Being an academic is not a glamorous life by any means. Most students won’t appreciate me and the things I’ll teach. But, oh well.

This was probably one of the most disconjointed posts I’ve ever written. But ya know what? That’s kinda how I am feeling right now. I have a million synapses firing on a dozen different topics, but that’s ok. Time to get myself back to normal. Here’s hoping I can go for a long run in the morning before heading back into the lab for one last big push!

All work and no play?

Not quite, but pretty close… I will give ya a little rundown on the past month of work for us here in the ol’ STML (Soft Tissue Mechanics Laboratory).

We’ve got a abstract submission deadline this coming Friday for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Summer Bioengineering Conference. Translation: get yer ass in gear. Unfortunately, my newish project is far from being publishable by any measure, so I was thinking about foregoing the whole submission process (besides, who really wants to go to Florida in the summer?). But, overachievement may have got the better of me and I did end up submitting some of my recent work in gene related stuff, and am scrambling to get some really cool data from a separate (and  really awesome) study.  Last year, I presented a few posters, one of them including work from the first paper I published of which I was first author! Woogity.

So what’s the big deal about going to conferences? Well, for my first-ever conference, where I had a podium at the Northwest Biomechanics Symposium at the University of British Columbia, it was an opportunity to find out what was going on in the world of biomechanics. What other cool research were people doing? The biggest thing I got from going to the NWBS was meeting one of the biggest names in my field in person, Dr Walter Herzog. It was like meeting Robert DeNiro. You know the people exist but when you get to meet ’em, well, its pretty awesome. Anyway I digress, the bonus of going to a northwestern-located biomechanics conference was that it was small (only about ten schools were represented) but the big-wigs were still there. It offered a big more relaxed of an atmosphere… which encouraged students to present their work to other people in the field and get feed-back on their research methods and ideas.

My second conference was a much bigger one, the American Society of Biomechanics, at Virginia Tech. It was before the shootings, so the campus was very happy-go-lucky, but it was hot (and I am not a fan of hot and humid). Anyway, I got to chat with some of the peeps from my undergrad uni there, and got to thinking seriously about where I wanted to go for my doctorate.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers Summer Bioengineering Conference is probably the biomechanics conference with the most biomech big wigs per square mile. So, when Savio Woo patted me on the back last year and I got honorable mention in the PhD competition, I was excited. It’s a fun conference, and I’m looking forward to chatting with folks this year for future collaboration, post-doc positions, and the like.

So that’s why we nerds go to conferences. It has absolutely nothing to do with traveling to northern California (ASME SBC 2009) or potentially going abroad (Singapore for the 6th World Congress on Biomechanics). Not at all!

To do lists: #1 make a list.

Who keeps “to do” lists?

I try really hard to be organized. I do! I have folders that are labeled for each topic I study, and I stuff them with related journal articles and papers and course material and stuff. I will put stuff away, clear off a nice space on my desk, and fifteen minutes later its taken over again by stacks of manuscripts and engineering tablets and coffee cups. I have organizational A.D.D., and I can’t seem to do anything about it (I’m sure the coffee isn’t helping).

Fellow engineers (and great friends) Marg and Jilly are list-people. They write it down, check it off, and subsequently feel a sense of accomplishment. It is a great habit to create, but for some reason, I just can’t seem get into the swing of it. I start lists sometimes, but often fail at remembering where I last set the list down.

So one of my goals-for-this-semester is to start making lists and checking things off so that I know what I’ve done, what I need to do, and what I’ll have to start thinking about doing. Since I have to have some accountability, I decided to write the list for the first week of the semester and display it right next to my computer.

So, here’s to hoping that I get all the stuff on the list done. This is test #1. If I pass, then I will continue to make a list every week and maybe even break it down day-by-day. It seems like a lot of work to write a list of things to do per day; just another thing to do every day! But, if it helps me stay on top of things and be more accountable, well… maybe its worth it.

It’s important to point out that the picture of my nephew, the coffee cups, the energy drinks, and the cutout from Bicycling Magazine have been providing motivation for work and otherwise over the past year. I also have a really bad habit of not taking returnable cans back to the store and leaving them to collect dust on my desk (or for the custodial staff). Michigan’s 10cent deposit and my incessant need to be supercharged on caffeine is robbing my graduate student stipend. Can you tell I have had three cups of coffee already today??

Stabil-ICERS from 32North

A few weeks ago, the sweet folks at 32 North sent me a pair of the Sport StabilICERs to try out and review on my blog. As a disclaimer for FTC considerations, 32 North sent these shoe grippy things free to me.

I’ve worn them a few times, and love that I can keep up with people like my buddy Erik in the winter snow, even though he’s much faster than me. I have to start this post by saying I am not a fan of YakTraks and I was a little skeptical of the StabilICERs because I thought they were similar. Boy was I wrong.

What I don’t like about YakTraks: They have coils and when I transition from snow-covered road to pleasantly cleared road (which happens frequently in Houghton), I slip and slide all over what should be fast, pleasant traction. On ice, they’re great, but Houghton doesn’t usually have a whole lot of ice (unless its between Christmas and New Year’s and you’re on Michigan Tech’s campus).

The StabilICERs are different. They are basically the idea of the Screw Shoe, only not a permanent adaptation to your running shoe. I like this, because I don’t always need screws in my shoes in order to run around town. Plus, I can use the same pair of shoes on the treadmill and outside if I want to without having to worry about getting yelled at by the staff at the gym for running on their new ‘mills with metal sticking out of my shoe (besides, that probably isn’t comfortable). And LASTLY, the StabilICERs are an add-on to the shoe, and I don’t have to worry about the screws poking through to my feet, puncturing my insoles, or anything like that. Sure, they add a little extra weight, but they are really not all that heavy (I’ll weigh them tonight and let ya know).

Had I bought the StabilICERs myself, I’d have ordered online through Amazon’s online store:

$39.95 for the Sport (size medium)
$6.25 for shipping

That seems a little steep, for just a winter-running adaptation. But, if I had bought screws and put them in my brand new trail runners, I would be sacrificing a $120 pair of shoes for only winter mileage, outdoors, and wouldn’t use them in the spring/summer on dirt trails. Hmmm… And, since I have a few different shoes I like to rotate through during winter training, it’s an easy swap to just take the cleats off my shoe and put them on a different pair (I can even put them on my boots!). I can see these Sport StabilICERs lasting a long time, too, because the rubber material is pretty tough (but flexible) and the cleats are replaceable!! Nonetheless, it is a steeper price point than many are willing to shell out. After looking around a bit online, I found them for $32.83 through Outdoor Pros and $31.85 through Walk on Ice. I’ve never shopped at either of these online stores, though… so I don’t know if they’re trustworthy or not!

Another cheaper option (besides putting screws in yer shoes) is to get the Lite version of the StabilICERs. These cost right around $20. Bonus is the upfront cost is about half of the Sport version. The downside? The cleats aren’t replaceable (they are replaceable on the Sport version) and they are for “light” use (…’so it wasn’t just a clever name?‘).

So, since Marg and I have made a regular tradition of venturing out in the cold and snow covered Houghton at least once a week for a good run, I thought I’d throw ’em on for a longer run yesterday. Our runs often turn into a vent-fest and stress relief extravaganza, so it was good to have traction to take away some of the anxiety. The hills make getting the aggression out a little bit easier, too- but the slick roads don’t always do the job (in fact, sometimes they make things worse).

This was my fourth (or fifth?) time wearing my StabilICERS, but this time threw them on over my trail running shoes. On my stability road shoes, the toe box is wider and it gets smushed by the rubber forefoot of the StabilICERS and leads to rubbing on my first metatarsophalangeal joint (ie. the outside nub of big toe). Ick! Today was: SUCCESS! No rubbing, no discomfort, except in my lungs as I tried to race up the hill in fear of missing Miss Marg. Uh, that was a bad idea. The stabilICERs worked nice on the snow-covered roads, tho, and dug in to get traction when I would have otherwise had my feet sliding sideways.

We ran west than east, on trail and road, and eventually called it quits around an hour and a half (our route). I then decided to take the StabilICERS on their ultimate test: Yes, I ran all the way down Agate (Houghton’s longest, steep street)… without falling.

They were awesome. I had incredible traction all the way down, even when I had to run into the snow bank because a car was coming up the hill (things you learn in Houghton: never trust a car to stop that is trying to make it up a hill. You can guarantee that the driver’s gas pedal is all the way to the floor and they are just givin’ er with their fingers crossed).

A near-future interval day is going to include the following workout:

-warmup in StabilICERs
-1 Agate climb with StabilICERs
-full recovery jog/walk
-1 Agate climb without StabilICERs
-full recovery jog/walk
-1 Agate climb with StabilICERs
-full recovery jog/walk
-1 Agate climb without StabilICERs

…where I will compare the times with and without the traction control.

If you’re in Houghton/Hancock and want to try out my pair of StabilICERs, stop by the Tri Training Session tonight (6:30-8pm) at the Portage Health main campus in Hancock. I’ll bring ’em and you can take them for a spin around the block. B.Y.O. running shoes!

NOTE: Baberaham tried out the StabilICERs tonight, and the verdict is in: He loved ’em! He’s not too psyched on ‘gimmicky’ stuff, but I convinced him to wear the cleats on his run outside this afternoon. First: he isn’t a fan of running outside in the winter. With his knee (previous ligament tear and replacement), he has a helluva time enjoying himself on slick and uneven terrain. So when I walked in the door after the Tri Training Session and asked him how his run went, I was excited to hear that he was really impressed with how great of traction he had on his run. Although he said he did notice the cleats toward the end of his run (mile 5), he really enjoyed using them and now wants his own pair. SWEET!


The joys of having a Kitchenaid countertop mixer include:

  • avoiding sore arms from making fresh whipped cream
  • enjoying  fresh whipped cream more often
  • freshly churned ice cream

Best gifts of the century goes to: the parents. Last year I received a Kitchenaid Classic Plus stand mixer from B’s parents, and this year I received a Kitchenaid ice cream maker adapter for it. Certainly the best investment ever for a gluten free clan. I didn’t want to get all boring on my first batch of batter so I started with the double chocolate goodness! The first thing I did was clean the ice cream bowl and threw it in the freezer for a good 24hours.

What I used:

3 c whole milk
1 c whipping cream
8 egg yolks
1 c cane sugar
Madagascar Bourbon vanilla (3 tsp)
salt (1/8 tsp)
sliced almonds (1/2c)
3/4 of a bar of dark chocolate (Green Dream)
3/4 of a bar of milk chocolate (Lake Champlain chocolate)

Heat the whipping cream and dark chocolate (chopped up) in a saucepan on low heat until the chocolate is melted. It was speckly and sunk to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat 2c of the whole milk until VERY hot but not boiling. Take off heat and set aside.

Mix egg yolks in mixer with a wire wisk, and add in sugar in a steady stream. Mix until egg/sugar is one consistency. Slowly add in whipping cream mixture, then somewhat-cooled whole milk. Mix until the same consistency.

Return the mixture to the stovetop and heat, not to boiling, and heat through. Then, pour into a container, add almonds and stir. Cover, and place in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I bought a bar of Lake Champlain Milk Chocolate from Jim’s Foodmart and chopped it up, threw it in the batter, and put the frozen bowl on the kitchen aid. Easy enough. I put the frozen bowl on the stand…

set the mixer to the first (slowest) setting, and slowly poured in the batter. Twenty minutes later:

Gluten free ice cream with a gluten free cone to boot! Nothing is better than the fresh homemade ice cream, even if it takes a few days… 😀