I’m A Newbie: Fartlek Running

I will withhold from making the obvious jokes that come with saying the word “Fartlek” and just cut to the chase. Fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish and is a very useful workout for runners of all levels. It can help you find your race pace and get used to running fast. Plus, Fartleks are traditionally unstructured speed workouts and can be done anywhere.

So, how do you “do” a fabulous Fartlek workout? Simple. At our lululemon Run Club we use the light posts in Central Park, but you can use anything that’s ahead of you as your markers. Warm up for 5-10 minutes at a comfortable pace and then do 5-8 pickups (100 yard dashes) at race pace to get those fast-twitch muscle fibers firing. Here comes the Fartlek part.

Pick several markers (you get to pick the distance and how many markers you use) ahead of you and run towards them, speeding up as you pass each of them, and by your last marker you should be running your 5K race pace (not all out, but fast). When you’ve passed your last marker, jog approximately half the total distance of your Fartlek to recover. And then go again for that same distance at those same speeds. Start with four or so repeats of about 400 yards (.25 mile) total each time and build up to 8. Easy, right? Everyone really despises loves the challenge of this particular “Lamp Post” workout (if I say “Fartlek” we get too many snickers from the peanut gallery). Remember, it’s about speed, not distance. The distance will add up over time and, between your 10 minutes warm up and 10 minute jog after your Fartlek repeats, you’ll have logged a very respectable amount of miles in a relatively short period of time.

The benefits of doing an anaerobic workout are endless. Training your body to process oxygen and get it to your muscles faster is key in increasing speed. The other benefit is your slower runs seem soooooooo much easier once you’ve done a Fartlek workout! Just make sure you choose a relatively challenging distance and run at an honestly fast pace and you will have yourself an awesome workout.

Now what are you waiting for? Go out and run!

Food Is Fuel: What To Eat Before You Run

Mmmmm…I love food! As an athlete, I do my best to view the food I eat as fuel for my body. As an athlete with ulcerative colitis, this is not always the easiest road to take. My body rejects all things fiber and healthy goodness when I’m sick which makes eating a challenge for me. Recently, I’ve been finding my stride with the food I CAN eat while also fueling up for my runs.


There are a couple of key things to pay attention to when fueling up for a run. And yes, you will have to think ahead if you want to be properly prepared to kick butt during your workouts. Sorry, procrastinators (WHAT? Runners NEVER procrastinate…), you’ll have to make this one a priority.


1. When did you eat last?

2. What time are you running?

2. How long are you planning on running?


1. What did you eat last?

If it’s been more than three hours since you’ve had anything and you’re planning on hitting the pavement for a run, you should think about having a slice of toast or something. When your blood glucose level is low you might experience dizziness, nausea, low energy and a whole host of other not-so-fun symptoms that are rather counterproductive where running is concerned. You want to make sure you’ve eaten within 1-2 hours of your workout so that your stomach is empty, but your body knows there’s more fuel on the way and your glucose levels are stable.


2. What time are you running?

If you are running in an hour or less, you’ll want to stick with straight-up low fiber carbohydrates like crackers, pretzels, toast or the like. Carbs move faster through your system, out of your stomach and into your blood stream to raise glucose levels and help your body access glycogen during your workout. If it’s more than two hours, feel free to eat a regular ‘ol meal with protein or whatever. The reason you want to stay away from the protein right before physical activity is basic physiology: Rest and digest. When you are at rest, your digestive system gets busy breaking down all that food but when you’re diverting blood from your organs to your muscles during activity, digestion stops. Which means, if there’s something in that stomach of yours when you get going during your workout, it’s not moving downward and likely will try and go up. Yuck.


Sidebar: I learned this the hard way during cross country season when I was about 11 or 12. My favorite breakfast that Mrs. Obi-wan used to make us (and still is!) is poached eggs and toast. Well, we thought it’d be a good idea for me to have a decent breakfast before a race one morning. Oh boy, was THAT a bad idea. Let’s just say I never ever did that again.


3. How long are you planning on running?

If you’re going out for a relatively short, easy run, you may not need anything to get you through it. If it’s a speed workout or a likewise difficult run on your schedule for the day, have a good solid meal 2-3 hours before your run and then rock it out. In a pinch, I’ll grab some Shot Bloks just so that I have something to work with. If it’s a long run that’s in your near future, you’ll want to plan ahead the night before and eat smart for the following day. Easy on the protein (have a little bit so you’re not stuck in the bathroom during your run), eat good carbs (whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, etc.), and don’t go too bananas with the fruits and veggies at dinner (ha! bananas, get it?) so as to avoid the whole bathroom situation. That morning, stick to easy-to-digest carbs or whatever works for you pre-run.


Me? I have a Luna Bar and some toast about an hour before my long run and that works great. I don’t feel hungry during my run and am not relying on my Shot Bloks as much, which allows me to focus on my run, not my stomach.


You gotta find out what works for you but if you check in with your body and ask yourself these three questions, you’ll be able to narrow down your options and make good choices to fuel your run. Remember, in the end FOOD IS FUEL for your body. Acknowledge that you are an athlete and treat your body as such. Cookies are a sometimes food now. Even Cookie Monster says so.

Now go out and run!



Guest Blog: Kim’s Balancing Act

Happy weekend, everyone! In the spirit of learning and sharing other people’s fitness journeys, I’ve asked some fabulous people I know to share theirs with all of you. The first in the Guest Blog Series is Kim, a reformed obsessed runner. She wants to share her story and her new perspective on fitness with you. Hope you enjoy!


Hey, Runners!  I’m Kim; a runner, fitness fiend and mentee of our coach Abby. She’s kindly given me the mic for a day to talk about how I am learning from her and our vast NYC fitness community how to run stronger every day by mixing up my routine and finding fun, new outlets to become a fitter and more balanced runner.

Hi, I'm Kim!

Like Abby, I have been addicted to running since my ‘tween’ years when my best friend convinced me that cross country would be far more fun than field hockey.  Crazy as it sounded (moving from the desirable ‘girls-in-kilts who scored dates with upperclassman’ sport to the ‘girls who sported fartlek t-shirts and talked about the color of their urine’ team), I made the switch.  What started on a whim, has turned into thousands of miles of pavement pounding (I can count my treadmill runs on one hand) and time spent with running buddies but mostly myself – reflecting, planning, prioritizing my eternal to-do list and working through all of life’s challenges.

I like to run.

Like many of you, I love running – plain and simple.  I love it because it is plain and simple.  It is convenient (all I need are shoes, safe-footing and safe surroundings – though I’ve done a few without all of the above), efficient (I’m burning ~90 calories/ mile) and mindless (I completely zone OUT).


Though I love zoning out for an hour while outdoors, inaccessible to the world, I recently found myself in a big running rut.  I hadn’t done a crunch, lifted a weight, or stretched for years.  In typical type-A style, I thought I had found the most efficient form of exercise for my lifestyle and I had no reason to change.  That is until I found myself dreading my daily runs so much that I wouldn’t do them at all.  Work became more intense and my social life took precedence, and then I sunk to the point that, as a runner, I never thought I’d hit; the dreaded rut.

Pre-rut with Mars at the Boston Marathon

When the stress increased and my muscles softened, I decided I had to do something about it. I had gone from running nearly 50 miles a week during peak marathon training to nada.  I live in New York City, a virtual playground for exercisers – with everything from a Cirque du Soleil-inspired Jukari workout to an entire class centered on a hula hoop.  With unique classes offered at every hour of the day, there is really no excuse for physical inactivity or boredom!


So now that I’ve filled you in on my fitness journey to date, I welcome you to join me for the next chapter.  With motivation from my trainer Abby and an island full of fitness classes, I’m on a quest to try as many workouts as possible in order to find what works best for my body, mind and lifestyle. I will moonlight as a blogger when I can and will continue to run so long as it’s fun.  I will hope to share lessons and activities I will incorporate into my improved, sustainable fitness lifestyle (notice I did not say “routine”).


First stop:  Vinyasa Yoga at Yamuna with Nahdi Devi


I know I may be in the minority of runners, but I have not given yoga a fair chance. I used to think that if you weren’t dripping with sweat after an hour-long workout, it may not be worth it.  But with the amazing press that yoga receives in medical journals touting benefits like stress relief, improved strength and flexibility, and mood enhancement, and the fact that I haven’t stretched since high school, I decided to try it.


The instructor, Nahdi, greeted each of us, and took the time to ask our names and if we were new to yoga.  As a newbie, I appreciated her explanation of Vinyasa flow, which is the synchronization of breath with movement, and her assurance that she would always provide an option if a particular pose was challenging or uncomfortable.


Nahdi began the “practice” by playing a harmonium and using a melodic, low chant thanking us for attending and asking us to thank our body, which according to the principles of yoga, is the most important tool humans have & should be treated with the utmost care and respect. A perfect mantra since I have fallen out of touch with my body’s potential.


I wasn’t sweating yet but I felt good and not too awkward as I moved from downward dog into warrior one and back again (I quickly picked up these movements by keeping one eye on my fellow yogis or Nahdi).  Nahdi kept reminding us to take long, deep breaths (“fiiiill it up.. empty it ouuuut”) with each movement.  I wasn’t exactly moving gracefully from pose to pose, but I remained focused on my breath and didn’t draw too much attention to my amateur status. At one point we were in a triangle pose or “trikonasana” (legs wide, arms outstretched leaning to one side – see pic) and when Nahdi asked us to look up at our hand (toward the ceiling), I completely lost my balance and nearly face-planted right in the middle of the lovely, tranquil yoga class.  Trying to reign in my giggles and regain composure on my hands & knees, I returned to the triangle pose.

Trikonasana or "Triangle pose"

Awhile into the class (without a clock I wasn’t able to concern myself with the passing minutes), I started to sweat.  The sweat came from a place of focus; every bit of concentration I could muster to hold stretches for muscles that were only used to moving one way (pounding the pavement).  I had an idea of why my muscles felt strained because I did some research before class and found that most runners have very rigid muscles that yoga helps stretch and strengthen.  Muscle rigidity occurs when muscles perform the same action over and over again and then become brittle, hard, and inflexible.  Through consistent yoga, you can engage, strengthen, and place demands on all core muscle groups, which support and stabilize the entire skeletal system. So these are the muscles that I’ve neglected all these years??  They shook and as I grew tired, my motions became less fluid. By the end of class, when others were doing headstands, I was just chilling in downward dog, recognizing I have a long way to go to strengthen and stretch my poor neglected muscles (hips, abdominals, hamstrings, oh my).


Overall I enjoyed my Vinyasa yoga experience, and I definitely want to continue this practice. I can understand why these once-neglected muscles need some attention, and why yoga will be a good way to enhance them and treat my body like my most valuable tool.


As Abby says, “now go out and run” and I say “na-ma-ste!”


Beach Running

Ah, Summer! If you are like so many people I know, you are headed to the beach at least once this Summer. For some of you, a weeklong vacation at the shore is in store for you in August. What an awesome way to enjoy this heat wave! But guess what else you can do on the beach where the breeze is cool and the water is refreshing? Run!

What’s that you say? You’re intimidated by beach running? Don’t be. It’s an awesome pseudo-cross training exercise for your legs and a great alternative to hot pavement runs. I’ll fill you in on the tips that will help you get through those sandy runs feeling great.

First, hydrate and apply sunscreen liberally. There’s no shade at the beach and the same goes for water fountains. Bring your own hydration and make sure there are electrolytes in it. Ditto goes for shades or a hat. That beautiful ocean/lake/bay is a reflective body of water and you can burn your eyeballs if you’re not careful. Plus, you’ll look a lot more bad-ass if you are wearing shades running down the beach.

Wear your regular running clothes, not a swimsuit. Swimsuits are NOT designed to wick moisture, nor are they very supportive little garments. If you’re dying for a post-run swim, do it in your running clothes! THEY can double as sweet swim gear. Some of my favorite lululemon gear could definitely pass for cute beachwear.

For an easier run: wear your sneakers and run close to the water at low tide where the sand has been packed down by the waves. This will make for a harder surface on which to run and it’ll be much more comfortable for your feet. This also means that you will need to check the tide schedule at your beach. No biggie. Ask the lifeguards for information.

For a tougher run: run barefoot on the softer sand or near the water at high tide. This will be much more challenging, but that may be what you’re looking for, who knows? Since every single inch of your little feet will be coming into contact with the sand, there is one thing you should know: the skin under the knuckle-like portion of your toes is delicate and does not normally experience any friction. This is a prime spot for blisters. Apply Body Glide liberally to avoid said blisters. Trust me. They hurt.

Because beach running is so very different from road running, plan on going out and back for the same amount of time you would devote to a regular run that day. That way, you’re putting the time into your workout and not obsessing about the distance. Remember to enjoy yourself! If you’re dying out there, turn around and walk home. Jump in the water to cool off. Try again tomorrow.

Now you’re ready to run! Have fun! And maybe leave the iPod at home and run to the sounds of the ocean.

Now go out and run!

Runner’s Secret #23: Body Glide®

Let’s be clear about one thing from the beginning: every runner chafes a little bit sometimes. When tight fabric rubs on wet skin, there is the opportunity (if not inevitability) for chafe to happen. It’s not pretty, it’s not comfortable, it’s not sexy. But it’s a Very. Real. Problem.

Reasons for chafe or blisters:

-your clothing is rubbing against your skin

-your skin is rubbing against your skin

-your shoe is rubbing against some part of your foot

Chafing doesn’t just have to do with being a heavier runner or a slower runner, it has to do with the fact that our skin is moist and there is friction happening against that wet skin. It’s as simple as that but not always something we can fix just by sizing up in shorts or buying a moisture-wicking sports bra. I have had chafe since I started running at age 10. Mostly it was because I wore cotton (the only option at the time) or soccer shorts when I ran cross-country, but it’s also because I wear a sports bra and it has to, by definition, be fitted enough to reduce movement. Hence the chafe. I also do not look like Paula Radcliffe.

Paula is tiny and floats on the air. She probably does not chafe. (photo courtesy of http://www.paularadcliffe.com)

But chafing does not only happen for women, heavier runners, slower runners or in the summer months, it is a HUGE problem for male distance runners. Nipple chafe. Ouch. You guys get it bad because it sort of sneaks up on you. Any male marathoners out there know what I’m talking about and many of you spectators have probably seen the men with the blood-stained t-shirts at races. It’s not pretty.

Ouch. (photo courtesy of Kelly Johnson at Oregonlive.com)

So, how to you deal with chafe? The old wisdom was Vaseline. They still hand it out at around mile 20 during many marathons (it’s kind of weird, they scoop it on a stick and hold the sticks out for runners to grab as they go by…kinda like water stations). Problem with Vaseline is that it’s messy and, in my experience, it doesn’t last the amount of time I need it to. Enter my salvation: BODY GLIDE ®
I discovered this little gem at a marathon expo in 2006 and it has never let me down.

My BFF for every single long run

Recommended useage:

Prevent chafe: under the sports bra, between the arm and the armpit, between the thighs, wherever you have tags, around the waistband, and on those ever-so-sensitive nipples for you men

Prevent blisters: between your toes, around your Achilles Tendon, on the outside of your feet, at your sock line, when you’re wearing a new pair of shoes (non-running shoes, too!) that aren’t quite broken in yet…

Use it everywhere and anywhere you find your skin is irritated from friction. You may find that Body Glide® allows you to run a little faster or for a little longer. Less friction and less pain = faster leg turnover and more focus on your running. It could very well be the Runner’s Secret that takes you to the next level in your training. Or, at least, it will make it less painful.

What are you waiting for? Grab the Body Glide® and go out and run!

*Per usual, I was not compensated in any way for this post. I simply ♥ my Body Glide®*