Monday, August 29, 2011

The End of Summer

Today marks the end of summer for me, and it was a great one. I spent 5 glorious weeks as a camp chaplain and then…didn’t really do much. I thrive on a routine, and my post-camp routine basically consisted of running, blogging, and watching Mad Men/Friday Night Lights/Netflix Instant Stream show-of-choice. But now I’m starting a year-long chaplaincy residency. And in a few weeks, I’ll also start as a deacon/youth minister. And wave good-bye to unscheduled runs and lots of free time. So, for my last weekend, Joe and I decided that we needed to do something awesome. At least, we needed to do something awesome after getting the kitties vaccinated and my teeth cleaned. Like canoeing!


Canoeing is totally cross-training. My back and shoulders and forearms are killing me after 9 miles on the Harpeth River. We had a great time just enjoying the beautiful low-humidity weather and the scenery. Running skirts, appropriate for way more than running.


Due to the canoeing (and the late night traditional Russian dinner at our friends’ house on Friday night), I shifted my long run to Sunday even though it meant I would have to go it alone. 10 miles by myself in time to get back home for church. Going to bed early was not a problem since I was tuckered out from sun and paddling, so I woke up two minutes before my alarm went off and headed to the stone gates at Percy Warner Park, one of Nashville’s greatest assets.


PWP is like a giant playground for adults. Hiking trails, horse-riding trails, and miles and miles of paved road with practically no cars. Even on the hottest summer days, PWP is cool and shady. As evidenced in the picture above, it’s a popular meeting spot for running groups and cycling groups and just people out to walk their dogs. So what keeps me running there every day? The massively brutal hills.


I ran miles 1-4 on the flattish road leading up to the park and then entered the park, where I immediately started climbing. Those first climbs are not the worst of it though. You see how from mile 7-8 it’s pretty much all uphill? That’s the infamous 3-mile hill, a hill that has you thinking that surely it will flatten out just beyond this next curve, but it keeps going onward and upward. Another one of my goals is to make it up 3-mile hill without walking. I thought it might happen today, but with 7 miles already under my fuel belt, my legs weren’t feeling it.

Running in Percy Warner is like my personal version of the Presidential Fitness Test we had to do in elementary school. It serves as a benchmark to test my strength and mental fortitude. And today, I passed with flying colors. I felt better on this run than I’ve felt on a long run in a while, and I did it all by myself without any company. My pace wasn’t half-bad considering the hills either. I got home with plenty of time to eat some pancakes and get ready for church.

Thus ends my long summer. I’m looking forward to getting back into a routine, even if it means early, early morning runs!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It IS Easy Being Green

Lately, I’ve found myself attracted to the color green, though I’m not sure why. Usually green is a spring color, not a late summer color. Coming from Texas, where late summer is characterized by brown, I’m very thankful that the Nashville area is still quite green.

Even my favorite recovery meal/breakfast is green: a Green Monster, to be exact. The green color comes from spinach blended into the smoothie. It sounds bizarre, but I promise you can hardly taste it. My Green Monster this morning wasn’t terribly green because I was a little low on spinach. After a weekend with relatives in town and a lot more eating than running, it felt good to run a few miles, lift some weights, and start off the week right with a Green Monster, appropriately in a pint glass.


My current favorite mix:

  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1-2 big handfuls of spinach or another leafy green
  • 1 medium banana, frozen and cut into chunks
  • 4-5 frozen strawberries

I whirl it up in the blender, and it keeps me full until lunchtime.

Friday morning, I had a couple of miles planned, but every fiber in my body was begging me not to run, so I moved the miles to Saturday and took a rest day. Now that we’re moving into the end of summer, kids are back in school, and summer fun is over, I decided to treat myself to a little present, as much to reward myself for running through the heat of summer as to motivate myself until the weather cools down. I purchased this little guy (with credit card reward points!) to accompany on my runs:


Isn’t he cute? I love listening to music on my runs because it motivates me and distracts me, but I’m not terribly picky as long as it has a good beat and is at least a medium tempo song. So I loaded my little iPod shuffle with everything from Jay-Z to Miranda Lambert, hit shuffle, and it surprises me while I’m out there. I can just clip it to my shorts or my sports bra instead of carrying around its older sibling on my arm.


It feels so much lighter, and I love that I don’t know which song is going to come on. Like yesterday, I was going to bail at a certain distance, but when a song I love to run to came on, I kept going to finish out the workout.

I’m not very good at rewarding myself in the middle of training. I’ll usually splurge on a nice pedicure or a massage after a big race, but little things like a new sports bra or running shorts in the midst of a training cycle make my daily runs just a little more exciting.

How do you reward yourself?

Thursday, August 18, 2011


You might notice that most training plans specify cross-training (XT) days. SmartCoach gives you the option of taking a Rest/XT day. This is a little misleading to me because sometimes my XT days are pretty intense. Anyway, cross-training is important, particularly if you’re like me and aren’t built to run 100 (or even 50) miles a week. I’m looking at you, Meb.


Physically, cross-training helps prevent injuries and correct imbalances in your body. Cross-training is also good for you mentally since it force you to switch things up. Again, I don’t know about you, but running the same 4 mile loop around my neighborhood greenway day after day is the quickest way for me to hate running. I love that 4-mile loop, but I also need a change of scenery.

Cross-training can take a variety of forms: swimming, cycling, walking, hiking, yoga, elliptical, home exercise videos, etc. I’ve developed a predilection for group exercise classes like spin and Bodypump with the occasional yoga class thrown in. If it’s a nice day, I might go on a hike with Joe. A gym certainly isn’t necessary, but since I do most of my running outside, I don’t mind heading inside for my cross-training.


Spin: I love spin class. It works my legs without the pounding of running, and I’ve even found my runs the morning after spin classes to be particularly speedy. Most spin classes will be based on an interval format set to music with sprints, climbs, and jumps over the span of about 45 minutes, varying the intensity and difficulty both through speed and with putting more resistance on the wheel. It challenges me because I have strong legs (good for climbs when I pretend I’m in the Tour de France climbing the Pyrenees) but forces me to work those fast-twitch muscle fibers during sprints. It will take your butt a few weeks to get used to the seat, but once it is, you won’t notice it.


BodyPump: Strength-training is extremely important for women, not only as part of a well-rounded exercise plan and a way to get that toned look but also promotes bone density to fight osteoporosis. I like the way I look (leaner and more “cut”) and feel (strong) when I lift weights regularly, but I had stopped doing it regularly. BodyPump is the best way for me to get my strength-training in as well as getting a cardiovascular workout. Each release has a choreographed track targeting every area of your body. Jen teaches BodyPump and noted that the squat track on the current release (78) has over 130 squats! Now that’s a workout. It’s also encouraging to see my fitness improve in ways that aren’t measured by pace or heart rate like being able to hold my plank through the whole sequence or increasing my weights for the back track. I think about how the strength I’m building in my legs will help carry me up hills and power through to the finish line.

What are your favorite ways to cross-train?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Tale of Two Long Runs

I was very excited about sharing my 9-mile long run from this past Saturday with you, but I got a little cocky and completely crashed and burned due to a number of factors. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to tell you all about it, but then I figured that you could learn from my mistakes.

The long run is like the dress rehearsal for the race. You build your endurance and confidence by preparing your body to go the distance. It’s really important to get your long runs in during your training, even if you skip some of the other workouts.

DO eat healthy, filling meals the day before your long run. It might take some experimenting to figure out what you need to avoid. Some people don’t do well with spicy foods, dairy, or foods that are high in fiber. My lunch the day before was a whole wheat tortilla with marinated tofu and veggies, tortilla chips, and a peach.


However, my dinner was a veggie sandwich on whole wheat, greasy kettle chips, and a cookie.

DON’T overdo it on alcohol the night before your long run. It had been a long week, and I was looking forward to the bluegrass concert we had tickets to. Well, the tickets also included 4 (small) beers, which I had over the course of the 4-hour time span we were there. I didn’t think it would affect me much, but drinking beer left me dehydrated the next morning before I even started. Next time, I’ll alternate beer and water.

DO get enough sleep. It can be hard when you have a 5:00 AM wake-up call on Saturday morning to head to bed early on a Friday night. We didn’t get home from the concert until after 11 pm and didn’t get to sleep until after midnight. I’m an 8-hour per night kind of person, so that alarm at 6:30 AM was not welcome.


DO lay out your clothes & running accessories the night before. Particularly if someone else is sleeping, it can be difficult to tiptoe around in the dark trying to find the socks that don’t give you blisters. For me, the quicker I can get out the door, the less time I have to try to talk myself out of my run.

DO eat and drink something before you head out the door. Mistake #2. I don’t usually eat before my normal weekday runs, which are always less than an hour, so I thought I would be okay this go-round.  Obviously I was too busy taking self-portraits of myself. I’m not hungry that early in the morning, but I usually make myself eat a half of a banana before heading out on my long runs and then plan on fueling along the way. If I’m driving to a different trail or to meet up with a group, that usually gives me enough time for the food to settle in my stomach.


DO make it social. I can do my normal weekday runs on my own with no problem, but spending 9-12 miles inside my own head is not exactly my cup of tea. I’m an extrovert, and if I can talk to someone during my long runs, I know that I’m not going too fast. Saturday’s plan was to run 5 miles by myself and then pick up my husband, Joe, for the last 4. The first five miles were so awful (cramps! stomach issues! too fast of a pace!) that there was no way I would’ve gotten back out there if it weren’t for the company. Sometimes I do long runs with my mom, the Nashville Striders, or other groups that have scheduled runs.

DO fuel in the middle of your long run. Again, it might take a few tries to figure out what works for you. At mile 5, I went inside to get Joe, went to the bathroom, ate half a pack of CLIF Shot Bloks, and drank some water. From that point on, I was as good as new. In fact, I was half-considering going for 10 miles. Depending on the distance and the weather conditions, sometimes I’m just fine with Gatorade, but I’ve also fueled with fruit leathers and Gu. So far, I haven’t had a bad reaction to anything I’ve tried, but other people might have more sensitive stomachs.


DO eat a good meal after your long run. You’ll probably find that you’re hungrier than normal a day or two after your long run, particularly until your body gets used to it. Usually I have breakfast plans after a long run, but Saturday, Joe and I spent a while trying to figure out what we were going to do, and I never really got around to eating breakfast. By the time lunch rolled around, I was ravenous, and peanut noodles with vegetables and tofu sounded like a great plan. Even though this was a totally normal-sized meal for me, my stomach was starting to rumble just three hours later. A long run doesn’t give you carte blanche to eat everything you want, but do make sure you get enough food and water.

Where are you in your training plan? How far was your long run this past weekend?

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Favorite Running Accessories

At its most basic, running doesn’t require a lot of “stuff.” With some comfortable clothes and some decent shoes, you can walk out your door and do a lot. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get in shape. But nowadays, there are all kinds of gadgets and fancy shoes and water bottles and what-not, so I thought I would write a post about my favorite running accessories.

1. Garmin Forerunner 305


Hello, my name is Kira, and I’m a Garmin addict. I love, love, love my Garmin. I also happen to be a little Type A and obsessive about my numbers. But I like the freedom it gives me to wander, to add on to my run without worrying about which street I’m on so I can remember to map it later, to run on trails and still know how far I’ve gone. It’s just as handy for making sure I’m going fast enough on tempo runs as it is for making sure my easy runs are slow enough. This model retails for $200, but you can frequently find it for much cheaper, even as low as $100. It has a heart rate monitor, but if you don’t care about that, the Forerunner 205 might be a good option.

2. Bondi Bands


I have chin-length hair, so even when I can put my hair in a ponytail or pigtails, there are still pieces falling in my face. Enter my Bondi Band. Its primary function is to wick away sweat so it doesn’t get in your eyes, and they have both solid colors and ones with fun sayings and patterns. I’ve never had a problem with it slipping forward or backward either. The one I wear most says, “Run now, wine later.” I wear it almost every time I’m going to be breaking a sweat. It’s seriously a great product.

3. Nathan Speedbelt 2


I resisted getting a fuel belt because they struck me as being uncomfortable and bulky, but when summer came, I knew I would need something to help me stay hydrated so I didn’t have to plan runs around water fountains. After polling people via Twitter, I decided on the Nathan Speedbelt 2. The two flasks carry up to 20 oz of fluids, so for longer runs, I usually fill one with Gatorade or coconut water and the other with straight water. When it’s going to be really warm, I freeze the bottles with the liquid the night before. The pockets are big enough to carry everything I need, and it’s easy to grab the bottles for a quick sip while I’m running. As a bigger-hipped individual, I’ve found it’s best to fasten it closer to my natural waist. It took about one eight-mile run to get used to, but now I love it for my longer training runs.

4. Brooks Running Shoes


Everyone’s feet are different, but eventually, it seems that most people figure out a brand that works best for them. Brooks running shoes are that for me. I first fell in love with the Glycerin 8’s and then moved onto the Ghost 3’s. Now, both the Glycerins and Ghosts are in a new generation, and the Ghost 4’s were named an Editor’s Choice by Runner’s World. So apparently, it’s not just me. Plus, I love their “Run happy” slogan.

5. Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves


I don’t know if these actually improve recovery or help you run faster or anything like that. What I love about them is that they make your calves feel really good after a long or hard run. Like Brie said, it’s like they’re giving your calves a hug. At $40 a pop, you might be tempted to get a cheaper model of compression sleeves, but these are the best and Zensah has fabulous customer service. They should be tight, like any fat on your lower leg will be squeezing out the top tight. Another bonus, I can instantly fluster my husband by threatening to go out in public with regular clothes plus my compression sleeves on.

My favorite place to purchase running attire and accessories is Running Warehouse. Shipping is free, even to make returns, and they have the best prices I’ve found. You can usually Google or “Like” them on Facebook to find a 10% off coupon. I also encourage you to visit your local running store (NOT a chain sporting goods store like Dick’s or Academy) for advice and a shoe-fitting if you’re new to running.

Disclaimer: I was in no way compensated by any of the companies mentioned (Garmin, Bondi Band, Nathan, Brooks, Zensah, or Running Warehouse). Like my friend Abby said, I’m not one of those big fancy blogs. These are just products I believe in and that work for me.

What are your must-have running accessories?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Picking a Training Plan

Choosing a half marathon training plan can be a little daunting. A quick Google search for “half marathon training plan” produces 268,000 results, not all of them good or beneficial. To start with, many experts suggest that someone who has decided to train for a half marathon should be able to run 3-5 miles 3-5 times a week for 4-6 months. Not only does this prepare you for the cardiovascular and aerobic demands of training for a half marathon, it also conditions your joints, bones, and ligaments to the impact of running in order to prevent injury. Most half marathon training programs are about 12 weeks long, so be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to prepare before your race.

A good training plan will work with your schedule to help you achieve your goals and prepare you to “peak” just in time for your race. I think that an important step in picking a training plan that is frequently overlooked is to identify your own goals. Someone who is just trying to finish their first half marathon and someone who is trying for a personal record (PR) are going to have different training plans. Because Women’s Half Marathon Nashville is a hilly course with potentially warm weather, I don’t plan to all-out race it. My goal for WHM Nashville is to have fun and finish comfortably while enjoying the camaraderie and beautiful scenery throughout Nashville.


Many people have been successful running their first half marathon after training with Hal Higdon’s Novice Half Marathon Training Program, pictured above. This is a basic but good training program. As you can see, it doesn’t call for any speed work or hills, just running and cross-training. The long run peaks at 10 miles, so this plan relies on the adrenaline and motivation that comes from being at a race to get you through the last 3.1 miles.


When I trained for the Oak Barrel Half Marathon, I used the beginner training program pictured above from Having completed a HM before, I wanted to work on feeling stronger and getting faster. With this plan, the long run peaks at 12 miles, 2 weeks before the race. While I didn’t do every run exactly as scheduled, this training program definitely helped me achieve those goals.


This go-round, I am devising my own training plan with help from Runner’s World SmartCoach. For free, you can enter in a recent race time and other variables, and SmartCoach will spit out a training plan, complete with paces, that will help you reach your goals. Above is a snippet of my first couple of weeks of the training plan. For the first time, I am actually doing the speed work and tempo runs, and it is really building my confidence and helping me to run faster.

As you can see, there is no need to pay for a training plan. With a few resources and some common sense, you can design a training plan that works for your life and your goals.

More Resources:

  • Marathon Training Academy – another simple plan that relies heavily on cross-training with only 3 runs per week
  • Jeff Galloway – A longer plan (17 weeks) for those who are interested in Galloway’s run-walk method

Have you picked a training plan yet? How did you decide?

Monday, August 8, 2011


Is it just me or does anyone else feel like they are constantly being asked to label themselves? You have to fit neatly into some box with a label on it: liberal, conservative, wife, sister, Christian, student, foodie, athlete, etc. It’s why writing an introductory blog post was so difficult for me. How can I tell you everything you need to know about me in just a few words? And besides, you probably bring your own connotations to terms.


I have struggled with the label “runner”. I run, yes, but I don’t often feel like a “real” runner. I don’t have the body shape of a “real” runner. Running is not easy for me, even at a pace that “real” runners would consider a crawl. But one of my favorite Bart Yasso quotes is: 

“I often hear someone say ‘I'm not a real runner’. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner."


I have the same problem with telling people about what I eat. I dabbled with not eating meat in high school but didn’t have the knowledge or means to eat a well-balanced diet so I went back to eating meat. Then a few years ago, I began giving up meat during Lent. While my husband was initially dismayed, we both learned that making tasty and filling meals without meat was definitely possible. I also noticed that I felt better when I didn’t eat meat. So last October, I started to reduce my meat consumption with an eye towards giving up meat at the beginning of the new year.

I still eat fish and seafood, so I’m not really vegetarian so much as pescetarian. I’m also not terribly picky about broths for soups in restaurants. And occasionally, I’ll eat meat if it’s local and ethically raised. I also find it difficult to refuse someone’s hospitality if they make me a meal with meat in it. I’ll pick around it as much as possible, but for me, the bigger sin would be to waste a perfectly good meal when other people go hungry than to let a morsel of meat pass my lips.


So when people ask, I usually just tell them that I am not eating meat right now. For whatever reason, it’s easier for me to say that than to label myself as a lacto-ovo vegetarian who occasionally eats fish. I don’t prepare any meat in my own house, but I don’t always have control over what food I have access to.

I am planning on doing a few posts on how to train for an endurance event without eating meat, but if you don’t want to wait on me, you can check out No Meat Athlete for an excellent resource. You can also visit my food blog, Cook Pray Love, for some ideas of the foods that I make and eat.

Do you follow a certain type of diet? Do you consider yourself a runner?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Oak Barrel Half Marathon

After running a half marathon without really training, I wanted to pick a spring half marathon that I would actually train for. While the Country Music Marathon and 1/2 are very popular in Nashville, I didn’t particularly feel like dealing with that kind of a crowd. Besides, Country Music was scheduled for the weekend smack dab in the middle of my exams for my final semester of graduate school. My mother had run the Oak Barrel Half Marathon previously, a much smaller rural half marathon set in Lynchburg, TN, the home of Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Oak Barrel was a few weeks earlier, in early April, and I convinced my husband, Joe, to train with me.

This meant training through the dead of winter. I know the South doesn’t have it nearly as bad as much of the country, but I’m from Texas. On our first 8-mile run, it started sleeting on us, just as we were turning around. But we also had gorgeous runs, 10 miles in Fort Lauderdale and peaking with 12 miles on the most perfect running day I’ve ever had in Nashville.


By the time April 2nd rolled around, I was ready. Joe was not quite as ready. With his busy schedule, he wasn’t able to train as much or as frequently as I was. Being on-call two nights before didn’t help matters. The Oak Barrel Half course is not flat and boasts the infamous “Whiskey Hill”, a not insignificant rise up to the ridge that surrounds Lynchburg. As you can see below, quite a few people are walking. We didn’t run the whole hill, but we made it up without too much fuss. I’m in orange, and Joe is in green.


My initial goal was to finish under 2:30 with Joe, but after our 12 mile training run, I amended it to sub-2:15. At mile 10, I knew I could do it, but Joe wasn’t feeling it, so he let me go. I ran the last 5K with everything I had left, passing people right and left. Running the first 10 miles conservatively had left me with plenty in my tank while many others were running out of gas.


I saw my dad, who rode his bike to Lynchburg, right before the last long mile along the highway into town. As much as I wanted to walk, I just concentrated on picking off people in front of me. I turned that last corner and kicked it in, blowing away my goal with a finishing time of 2:11:50.

2011-04-02 10.59.35

My mom finished a few minutes later, and as soon as I gathered enough energy to head back on the course to find Joe, he turned the corner. I started screaming for him, and he came over and high-fived me before finishing.

It was a great feeling and a great race. After Oak Barrel, I officially had the half marathon bug.

What was your best race? Do you run with any family members?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My First Half Marathon

I ran my very first half marathon, the inaugural Women’s Half Marathon Nashville, completely on accident.

KarenKira Womens Half 9-25-10

My mom had signed up to run the race but was injured, so she invited me to walk it with her. Did you catch that? We were going to WALK it. Except things didn’t quite go as planned. I had just completed Week 5 Day 3 of Couch to 5K, the 20 minute run with no walk breaks. I was even nervous about walking the half marathon. A lot can go wrong in that long amount of time – stomach problems, blisters, chafing, etc.

Fortunately, it was a beautiful day, and Jo Dee Messina sang the National Anthem as we lined up in our corral. Then, we were off. In order to get in front of a few people, we jogged for a bit, weaving past some slower walkers. But instead of slowing to a walk, we just kept running at a sustainable pace, stopping every now and again to walk up a hill. Thinking we would come in around 3:30, we were shocked to pass the 3:15 pacer and then the 3:00 pacer. At mile 5, I felt great. At mile 10, I couldn’t believe I was still moving. It was the most I had ever run in my life. My knees were creaky and tired. When we hit the last bridge, I made the misguided decision to try to run the rest of the way to the finish line. The uphill plus my tired legs quickly put a stop to that, but we crossed the line in 2:32, nearly an hour faster than we thought we would be.


So even though I have *run* the Women’s Half Marathon Nashville before, this is my first time to actually train for it.

Next up: The half marathon I actually *did* train for

Have you run a Women’s Half Marathon before?