Not yet dead

There’s no way to hide that any more: The last two months I have been struggling with running. Greatly. Partly because of how busy I was at work and during my amazing holiday in Portugal and Switzerland.

However, the half marathon in Amsterdam is in just 5 weeks, and I have 2 more races before that. It is about time to get back on track.

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Hereby I am making a promise to myself, taking you all as witnesses, to follow and complete my training plan and get ready for the big event. Maybe that’s going to help me keep myself accountable.

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At the same time, I have some holiday experience and recaps to share with you. Here is what you can expect the following weeks:

  • My subjective guide to running in Lisbon, Portugal
  • Tips on running while on holiday
  • Recap from my holiday
  • Product reviews of some of my running gear
  • Going back to my beloved tribal fusion bellydance
  • The recipe for the best pizza crust you have ever made (stolen from MRB)

In meantime, I would like to invite you to my instagram for a sneak peek of what’s to come and more frequent updates!

What have you been doing this summer?
Any plans for races coming up soon?

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How to survive the bad times

Recently, I haven’t been writing much. The last weeks are difficult for me, and for some time, I couldn’t even get myself to do any serious running. But I am still running and I find it important to keep myself running. I think most runners will encounter a period when it’s difficult to run, due to external or internal reasons.

Therefore, I compiled a list of tips and tricks that have helped me to survive so far.

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How to run when you don’t feel like it

  1. Be prepared.
    Make sure you have clean running clothes, and that you know exactly what distance and what sort of run you want to do (or your training plan asks for). This helps me keep running more or less on schedule.
  2. Ditch expectations.
    Even though you or your training plan expects a 7km progressive run, you might end up doing a slow 10k or a fast 5k instead. And that’s OK. It is more important to run than it is to run exactly what’s in the plan. Even a bad run is better than no run at all.
  3. Entertain yourself.
    Run your usual route the opposite direction. Find a new one. Try to take in the surroundings and look for changes. Count all the people walking their dogs. Check out a new playlist, maybe a new music style. If you run by distance, try to run by time, or vice versa. Try running completely without any tracking device whatsoever. Try a type of run you didn’t before, like a fartlek or a hill run.
    For me, even the simplest changes can make the difference to actually enjoy my run even when initially I didn’t feel it at all.
  4. Keep your eyes on the goal.
    While some runners are lucky enough to just run without the need for training plans or goals, most of us have some sort of expectations from our running. It might be an upcoming race, weight loss, or experiencing the runner’s high on a sucky day. I find it easier to get my feet out of the door when I think about the big picture.
  5. Treat running as a hobby.
    Let’s face it, very few of us here can consider themselves professional athletes. Of course it’s fun and games to get faster, better, set PRs, etc. However, in the end, whether you finish as the runner #90 or #99 in a race really only matters to you and maybe the few of your close ones.
    There will be another chance, another race. Maybe your weight will drop slower than you expected. But don’t worry: you’ll get there, eventually. If you need some slack, give it to yourself. I know that runners spend majority of their time either running or thinking about running (I’m guilty as charged!), but it is still just a hobby of ours. We take it very seriously and that’s OK, but it’s also fine to let the priorities go somewhere else when necessary.

JustRunWhat are your tricks to keep yourself in the game even when you totally don’t feel like it?

How to wake up in the morning to avoid the heat

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As I mentioned last time, it is extremely hot right now and us runners, we have to be very careful to stay safe and hydrated in such weather.
Therefore, if you want to keep running the great outdoors, the recommended running times are early morning and late evening, when the temperatures are manageable. Both times have their advantages and disadvantages, but there are several benefits of running in the morning:

  • you strengthen your discipline
  • by the time you arrive at work, you’ll be fully awake and your brain will be well oxygenated, what may improve your work performance
  • if you drive a car to work, being well awake makes you drive safer
  • your afternoons and evenings are free, so you can do whatever you like… even run again!
  • running improves your mood, making the whole day more pleasant and can help you cope with stressful situations
  • you get to enjoy the sunrises
  • you feel like a badass!

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However, waking up early to get your run can be a struggle, especially when you’re a night owl. I know I am, and, so far, I find it very difficult to wake up in the morning for my runs. I used to run in the morning around January/February, and I enjoyed it a lot. I hope I can do that again, in my opinion – it is worth it!

Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks one can use to join the Early Morning Crew. Here’s what I’m going to do to help myself wake up early enough.

  1. Make sure you prepare your run before, so you don’t need much effort in the morning. Lay out your running gear. If you follow a training plan, check your schedule in the evening so you know what run type and distance you need to do. Prepare your route beforehand, if you need that. Watch an inspirational video. Rise and Shine is a great one!
  2. Start small and do only your short runs in the mornings, so you do not need that much time.
  3. Take small steps. By moving your alarm clock backwards 20-30 minutes each week, you help a gradual transition.
  4. Move your phone/alarm clock out of your reach so you have to actually stand up to turn it off, and set up the most annoying sound for the alarm.
  5. Remember: There was a reason you set that alarm clock in the first place.
  6. Keep waking up earlier even on rest days, or if you run in the evening. You can use the extra time do some cross-training or maybe you can show up early for work and leave early, too.
  7. Don’t forget to warm up before running!
  8. If you need to, eat something small. Bananas and peanut butter toasts are great.
  9. Drink a glass of water with few drops of lemon juice after you wake up.
  10. Go to sleep early.

There is one more thing you can do, which is out of my reach, but it might help you. It is to find a running buddy or group to keep you determined to show up for training.

I hope this weekend I can write here a summary of my beautiful morning runs!

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Do you struggle with early mornings?
What are your tips and tricks for early morning runs?

Day 213: Summer is here! & general recap

Hello-happiness-hello-summer

We are officially past the summer solstice!

That means the days are going to get shorter, and my runs are going to get longer. The last two weeks I was on holiday (yay!) and then completely out of time, and my run schedule suffered a bit, but there are still some highlights I want to share.

First of all, the weather was great during my short stay in Switzerland, it was warm and sunny most of the time. Here back in the Netherlands, it is cold and rainy… what is not particularly surprising, but still kind of a bummer. It is supposed to get a bit better the coming weeks, so hopefully we will get some more summer-ish weather, after all.

Anyway, it was great to have some runs together with MRB again. We visited the beautiful city of Maastricht:

And we went to Pinkpop to see Muse again and some other bands, and it was awesome:

After these events, we ran together through the park here where I live, and that was really, really fun.
The my asics plan we are following told us to do something called a build-up run, which is a progressive run where you increase the pace twice during the distance and maintain it. We had a wonderful 7k with negative splits that day, and I think it was one of the best runs recently. I really like the idea of the build-up runs, and I am glad I will get them more often in my training schedule, even though they are much more difficult to do on my own as I don’t have a handy sportswatch on my wrist to monitor my pace.

Today, however, I was out on a simple, comfortable 7k in the afternoon and it felt so good! My feet were carrying me forward and everything was just right: the sun, the slight rain, the wind (yes, I even enjoyed the wind!), the pace, the environment… simply a great run in itself. Not to mention this cutie I spotted on the way back home:

Next week the balanced training phase of the plan is starting, so the runs will become overall quicker and longer. I am especially looking forward to those build-up runs. They make me feel that if I learn how to pace myself slower at the beginning of the run, I could go much farther and feel so much better!

What is your experience with progressive runs?
Did you do anything fun while I was away?

On eating/fuelling/nutrition

Nutrition is very personal. Some people believe in one type of diet over another, some people have ethical or moral reasons for excluding meat or animal products, others need to take care in what they eat due to illnesses or allergies. I want to show you my way of thinking about food and nutrition.

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My private take on dieting: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (I don’t agree with Mr. Pollan in everything he preaches, but this quote is right on spot). As long as you keep things in balance, there is no “good food” or “bad food”. I eat everything; I lost significant amounts of weight that way, too. But, what works for me, doesn’t have to work for you. I was writing about “fuelling” before, mainly in the categories of “I don’t eat enough” or “I should have more protein”. Lately, I was constantly hungry and full of cravings (mostly sugar, trying to satisfy them with fresh fruit), and it came to a point where I didn’t know any more what and how much I am eating, so I went back to my old friend, MyFitnessPal. It’s simple: you can’t change your food habits if you don’t know what your food habits are in the first place.

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The previous time I have been using MFP was when I had gained a lot of weight because of an illness, and simply had to lose the extra kilos. That was greatly successful (I am healthy now and my weight is back to normal). Now I have a different goal: to keep my body in balance, make sure I eat just right, make sure my calorie intake doesn’t vary hugely day to day, and get enough of protein to fuel my growing muscles (or at least my hopes for them).

For those unfamiliar with MFP:

It is not just a calorie counter, but, if used right, it also gives a good idea on the balance of macronutrients in the food you eat, as well as the distribution of calories within the day, with up to six meals a day which you can name to your liking (you can personalise the diary this way). The added convenience is the ability to scan barcodes with the phone app, making adding food to the diary very easy. A large database of food is already available, and you can always add new items if you can’t find anything that matches what you eat. However, some foods only have their calories listed and lack the distribution of nutrients; many foods do not list their sodium content, for example. Always use your brain when evaluating your numbers! Whenever I find something largely missing, I look up the contents on the package or the internet and add the food myself. This way, my food tracking is complete and others can benefit from a good database. One very good source of information is the USDA database.

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What did it show me?

After just three-four days, I can see I can already observe some points on which I could improve:

  • Firstly, I do not eat regularly enough, so let’s start those make-ahead salad lunches already!
  • Secondly, I tend to have a high fat and fiber intake while my protein is always under the goal amount. That is directly connected to my food habits: lots of fruit, veggies, yoghurt, nuts, cheese, and an occasional fish or meatballs (I love meatballs). One might say that’s not half a bad a diet, and I agree, but I could swap some fat for protein. Even though I eat a lot of “healthy fats” (fish, avocados, etc), I think my body needs more amino acids to sustain my physical activity needs. I guess it’s time to start making my meatballs from turkey instead of beef, and add some beans in place of cheese. Conveniently, MFP just published a handy Beginner’s guide to protein!
  • Also, my calorie intake can vary by 600kcal from day to day. That’s a whole meal! I should be more consistent, so more effort will go into meal planning from next week on, to try to level out the amount of energy I am consuming.
  • I need to drink more water! I already started a change on that, bringing infused water (just some mint and lemon) with me to work. It looks great, tastes good, makes me hydrate better, and can be refilled during the day.

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  • Lastly, I am doing well on the carbs front! With all the fruit I eat, I am still always below the daily limit.
How I deal with cravings

Eat fruit. Eat carrots. I never buy and do not have any candy or cookies at home. If I want cookies, I have to bake them. If I want ice cream, I have to go out to the town and buy a cone. And yes, I will do that from time to time, because rewarding yourself is a part of good and healthy habits, keeping your moods up. Just don’t reward every pushup with a cupcake. Stay mindful of what you are eating and what you are rewarding, and how. Find alternative rewards. Go out of the city for a trip. Visit a museum. Buy a book. Go to a concert. Splurge on new gear or a race. For a big accomplishment, do something BIG you dreamed of for a while; it can be bungee jumping or skydiving or a trip to a distant country.

The important part

Not to get crazy. To be able to stay on a diet, I need to be able to eat the things I like (especially that I have to cook for myself!). On top of that, there is always the trade-off: if you lower the carbs and fats, something else has to increase to fill in the calorie gap, and that thing must be protein, as there’s basically no other choice. Too much of anything won’t be good (including too much of protein), and the goal is to find a balance that fits my body’s needs.

Do you track your food? Do you use MFP or any other solution?
What’s your take on making sure you get enough protein?

Day 181: First post-race run and future plans

The weather is not spoiling us here in the Netherlands at the moment; even if it’s sunny, the temperatures barely resemble what I am used to in May. It’s a month till summer, and it’s difficult to leave your house without a sweater and a jacket, not to mention an umbrella… wpid-better-in-running-shoes.png

It’s been a couple of days since the Amsterdam 10K race. I know I have mentioned it a couple of times before, but I really love my asics training plan, and one additional reason for it (on top of its flexibility and diversity) is that the plan does not end at the race day. It also guides me through the recovery period, and, last Wednesday, I went for my first post-race run. And it was amazing.

One of the few moments when it did not look like autumn…

First of all, I had two sessions of yoga, netting a total whopping 2.5h of yoga (with a break) before I set off for my evening trot. It wasn’t very warm, but it was sunny and running felt so effortless, free and natural.

I am transitioning away from the heel strike, and I can feel that in my Achilles/calves, what means that I am not doing it properly, yet. But I am trying, and I’ll get there. I just need to find a good middle ground for a nice mid-foot strike.

Would be good to have it covered before the Amsterdam Half-Marathon in October! Yup, MRB and I registered for our first half, so from June on a long half-marathon training will start. I plan to stick to the asics plan again. I know June to October is a long time and one could get well prepared with a much shorter training plan, but I don’t mind adding a few extra weeks. Moreover, we also signed up for a local 4 mile run where I live, a week before the half. It might be less impressive distance-wise, but it is one of the biggest running events in the country.

It is a lot of time till October. Will there be some other races in meantime? Maybe, but I will certainly try volunteering at some local events, too.

Distance: 5.2km
Time:       32:56

What are your plans for the races in the near and far future?
Is there a particular race you have on your bucket list?
Do you have advice on transitioning away from heel strike?

366 marathons in 366 days: Ryszard Kałaczyński

And what have you done to reach your goal? Photo credit: Ryszard Kałaczyński

There is a Marathon Man you have never hear of.
Because he’s Polish.

His name is Ryszard Kałaczyński. He’s a farmer and he is running marathons.
Every. Single. Day.
His goal is to run 366 marathons in 366 days. He’s on 267 now, making it less than 100 to reach his goal.

Everyone can join him and his route – or part of it, however they please. For 50PLN (about $14) you get a bib, a tshirt, and a medal. If you come from far, he provides you with a place to sleep. If you don’t want the bling, the start price drops to $3.

I have a great respect for this man. He is a father, he works a heavy job and has incredible endurance.
I know many of you can’t follow his challenge as it is mostly in Polish, but if you want, show him your support! I am sure he’ll appreciate it.

https://www.facebook.com/366maratonow

Day 152: Ultra Boost, baby! And An Army of Girls!

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ultra boost!

By the courtesy of Girls Love 2 Run I had the opportunity to try out the new Adidas Ultra Boost during a short interval training tonight. The training itself was not extremely intensive and the total run time/distance was not very long, but I am happy to let you know what I think about the shoes!

Disclaimer: I was not given the shoes (they were lent to me for the duration of the training) and I was not asked for a review nor received any financial or otherwise compensation for it. All the opinions expressed are my own.

The Plus Side

The Ultra Boosts I was trying out were a very comfortable pair of shoes. They have a nice structure where the tongue is part of the shoe, so it doesn’t move around or to the side, what I really appreciate. The other girls were commenting that they feel a bit like a pair of slippers, and yes you have to slip into them first.
I like how the laces are attached to the side-stripes which are separate from the upper shoe and attached to the sole and the plastic heel counter.

The sole feels thin, but is very soft with surprising amount of cushioning in this amount of material; also, despite how thin it is, it doesn’t make me feel every single stick or pebble on the trail. I have not run with them on the road, only natural trail, therefore I cannot say anything about the cushioning on harder surfaces.

The shoe fits very snugly and the long flap on the heel side protecting the Achilles tendon is actually extremely nice for people like me who often experience chafing at this part of the shoe.

The Cons
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The toebox is relatively narrow and very flat

There were three things which I did not love about these shoes. First was the sizing – my normal shoes are size 40, my running shoes are size 41. These were 41 + 1/3 and they still felt on the small side. The toebox is quite thin and very flat, therefore even though they were fine length-wise, I still felt like I did not have much space. On the other hand, that might mean that gives them the very snug fit and makes them stay in place. Second thing which I didn’t like very much was that the shoelaces were a bit too short. If I ever buy these, I will certainly need longer shoelaces. I tried to tuck them into the sides of my shoes like I do normally, but they kept escaping and getting untied.

The most important problem with these for me was that they felt very warm – much warmer than the shoes I use now (Saucony Jazz). They look like they should have enough ventilation, but the back/middle part of my feet felt really too warm in them.

How did they run?

Very well and comfy. I think these hardly need any breaking in, but I was not wearing them for long enough to experience how to they adjust to the foot. They also have very good traction and even running uphill or on my toes, I did not slip an inch. I did slip a bit on the grass, though, but that was expected.

Just before squatting. Can you find me?

Just before squatting, Can you find me?

It was very nice to participate in the training with 120 other girls! Look at that army in matching shirts! Even though the training itself was a bit too short for me, it was great to meet the running girls again and have some fun together. After the training we received some delicious yoghurt.

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yum

And I am really happy we got to keep the shirts. I love the colour!

Day 140: All the hard work paying off

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Life does not always treat us gentle. Even though I am lucky to be able to spend my Easter break back at my family home, there are personal things which made Thursday, April 9th 2015 not the best day ever for me (to say the least).

Our darkest moments are not the ones when everything goes wrong, but the ones when we fail to see the positive things that are still there for us if we only reach out and notice them. Therefore, I tried to do that: to see that not all is bad.

First positive thing: I got woken up by a cat and could stay in bed for a long time, playing with the little black furball.

Second positive thing: It was a warm, sunny spring day – 14°C (that’s 57 for you my imperial system friends) and I decided to wear my fancy new shorts. For the first time ever I did not layer multiple tops and wear long pants to go running. I also wore a brand new long-sleeve top I got from my mother, but no jacket was needed!

Third positive thing: I still had two legs, two eyes and a general health condition suitable for running. And I have friends and kind people around me who care enough to listen to my ramblings about that.

It took me a long time to get myself together, lace up and go. I did a short warm-up because everything felt like forever, and set off. It was supposed to be a fast run – above the comfortable threshold, and that it was for certain. I was huffing and puffing like a broken steam engine and had to slow down two or three times to catch some breath.

My legs felt heavy and weird at some points, like they did not belong to me any more. They hurt. They were red from the wind and running in shorts certainly feels different than long pants. My shoes felt strange. I had to remind myself that I am not a quitter and my mantra became the quote I heard and saw so many times before:

I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m done.

I was pushing it hard and I completely did not have the feeling that it was going to be a good run at all. But all the hard work is paying off. I got a 5k PR. I ran fast.

Distance: 5km
Time:       28:16

What are your positive thoughts you use to push back the gloomy mood?

Archive concert and a day in Amsterdam

Last week Friday, MRB and I went to see one of my favourite bands live in Amsterdam: Archive! I have seen them once before, many years ago (after the release of the album Noise), and since they came out with a beautiful new LP: Restriction, they are treating people all over Europe to concerts in the past and following weeks.

Archive is a large, 10 people band with a lot of diversity and dynamism in their music, toying with their approach to sound and composition, borrowing from diverse music genres to create a full-bodied sound where silence and music pay equal parts of importance. They played a multitude of newer and older songs, from You Make Me Feel of the 1999 album Take my Head to the newest releases, including the beautiful and extraordinary ballad End of Our Days. After the finished set they treated us to the most fantastic encore: Lights! I did not expect them to play an almost 20-minute song on this concert, so I was surprised and delighted to hear this live.

Archive

After the concert we went for a drink to a nearby Café-restaurant Stanislavski, part of the Stadsschouwburg – the municipal theatre of Amsterdam. It is located in a beautiful building from 1894, neo-Renaissance, very bright and tall inside, a complete opposite of what a typical Dutch ” brown bar” looks like. We had a great time before we headed off to sleep a bit before the next day.

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We stayed in Amsterdam for a couple of hours to take a stroll through the old town in the rain and a dash of sunshine. I like Amsterdam, it is a wonderful city to visit and it was great to walk around the place once again.

The coming weekend will be much more running and much less party, but I wish you everyone a great time!

What are your plans for the coming weekend?