May 25: Prepare one huge salad to last several days

It occurred to me the other day that I haven’t eaten a respectable serving of vegetables in about two weeks. Yeah, not good I know. Since the oven is shut down for the summer and I have zero desire to eat anything warm, I thought salads would be a great alternative to my usual cereal and milk summer diet. The trouble is, I rarely eat salads, especially if I have to make them. But what is a girl to do? If I weren’t training for a race, then I would happily function on cereal, milk and the occasional bowl of ice cream (okay, more than occasional).

After realizing that buying a fix-it-myself salad from the cafeteria everyday was not in my budget, I bit the bullet and purchased salad fixings. I love spring mix, so I bought a pound of that along with sliced baby portabella mushrooms, grape tomatoes, carrot chips, cucumbers and bell peppers. I already had a red onion at home. I sliced the cucumber and onion and tossed a good amount into a huge Rubbermaid container I normally use for storing cookies and brownies. I added greens and the other ingredients (except the peppers which I somehow forgot about), sprinkled with salt and dried herbs before giving the container a good shake once the lid was securely on it. I then added peeled, whole boiled eggs.

So each morning, I just fill a 5-cup Rubbermaid container with salad and one or two eggs. I prepared some oil and balsamic vinegar for a healthy dressing. I made about a cup of the dressing and drizzed 2T onto my salad. It was delicious! I was pleasantly surprised at how flavorful a little oil-vinegar mix could be. Definitely did not feel like I was eating rabbit food, as I often do when I have salad with no meat protein.

All the salad produce cost about $12. Buying pre-sliced vegetable added some expense, but if I don’t have to invest time dicing and slicing I was more likely to choose a salad over a less healthy lunch option. The pound of salad greens is too much for me, but the other choice I had available was not enough. Consequently, I will be eating salads for lunch and dinner to avoid food waste. To keep things interesting over the summer, I will mix up the types of greens and toppings I use. Otherwise, I already know that I will become bored eating salads all summer.

In other news, I am officially no longer pre-hypertensive. My blood pressure (110/78) is solidly normal. Hurrah for a low sodium diet. I’m sure my healthy lunches this summer will help me maintain the optimal blood pressure.

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May 23: Pre-training for Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon Revisted

What a weekend! In hindsight, I probably did a bit too much so I have given myself a rest day today. On Saturday, my goal was to run 4.5 miles at a 10:15 – 11:30 minute/mile pace and see how my heart rate responded. I included a second zone in the program to run 1 mile at a slightly faster pace if I still had any energy left. Well, after 4.5 miles I felt good, so I ran the mile. After 5.5 miles, I still felt good and pushed myself to run 10 kilometers! I actually beat my 10K race pace and averaged 10:30 minutes per mile *smile* My average heart rate was 176 bpm or 92% of my maximum heart rate; I want it at least 10% lower.

Initially, it was challenging to maintain a steady pace. Even though I gave myself plenty of buffer room, I found myself running faster than 10:15 minute/mile quite often. After a couple of miles, I settled in to the pace, though. After running my own 10K, I ate breakfast and headed to step and sculpt. I enjoy the class too much to miss it. Surprisingly, I still had plenty of energy for my second workout of the day.

Then Sunday morning, I was up bright and early to begin hydrating. After Saturday’s run, I lost 1.4 pounds due to loss of water. I had a slice of whole wheat bread with peanut butter, sliced banana, honey and cinnamon for a pre-run snack. After 30 minutes, I laced up and hit the pavement toward the high school track to run 4 X 800m intervals at 9:30 – 10:45 minute/mile pace. Since I am new at training with a heart rate monitor, I like to give myself some leeway in sticking to a pace. After each 800m interval, I walked for 0.2 miles (the watch wouldn’t let me program 0.25 miles). In mentally preparing for the interval training, I wanted to jog in between each interval. I found that I needed real recovery time, so I walked. Maybe next week, I will be able to slow my running pace and not walk during the recovery period.

Late Sunday, I noticed my lower back was rather sore. I wasn’t sure if all the physical activity was the cause or if I overextended my back doing supermans in step and sculpt. I stretched throughout the day and feel much better this morning. I’m usually pretty vigilant about proper form during exercising, but I must be even more mindful in the future. I have a long road ahead in training for this half-marathon. I am not interested in being sidelined with a preventable injury.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I am back to training based on heart rate rather than pace. My goal is to develop enough patience so that I can do three or four days in June using heart rate training. As I practically sprinted around the track, I felts as though I was betraying the process of heart rate training even though learning to maintain a pace for an extended distance is an important part of training for any race. I’m not going to beat myself up too badly; I’m just taking heart rate training one run at a time!

Recap for 1st five days of pre-training:

  1. Wednesday: Ran 38 minutes. Average pace: 13:52 min/mi. Average HR: 144 bpm (75% MHR)
  2. Thursday: 45 minutes in total body tone group fitness class; 15 minutes May 2011 SHAPE abs workout
  3. Friday: 60 minutes in group fitness Pilates; 51 minutes ballet conditioning DVD
  4. Saturday: Ran 66 minutes. Average pace: 10:30 min/mi. Average HR: 176 bpm (92% MHR); 60 minutes step and sculpt group fitness
  5. Sunday: Ran 33 minutes: 4 X 800m intervals, walked 320 m recovery. Average pace per run-walk interval: 11:57 min/mi. Average HR. 166 bpm (86% MHR); May 2011 SHAPE abs workout

I am going to give the long, easy runs on Saturdays another shot next weekend. But I had the most insatiable appetite after running and attending step class. I did well and ate healthy carbohydrates, protein and fats. I really, really, really wanted some ice cream though! If my appetite goes haywire again, then I will just move my long run to Friday mornings and do ballet on Saturday.

May 19: Ritz Hint of Salt Crackers

As part of Kroger’s 10 for $10 promotion a few weeks ago, I purchased some Ritz Hint of Salt Crackers. Being pre-hypertensive has it’s challenges, so I was excited to see that one of my favorite brands had a low sodium version that wasn’t replaced with extra fat or sugar to compensate for lower sodium; you can view the nutrition label here. I wanted to use the crackers for peanut butter crackers to better control the nutrition factors compared to pre-packaged peanut butter crackers like Keebler or Austin; PB crackers make a really great, inexpensive post-workout snack.

*sigh* I will be honest: I was a little disappointed with the taste of the crackers not only naked (i.e., without a topper) but also with JIF creamy peanut butter. I can’t imagine how much I would have disliked my peanut butter crackers if I had used JIF creamy natural PB, which has less sugar. The crackers basically have no taste whatsoever.

For the last two weeks, my taste buds have grown accustomed to the crackers; I even find a hint of the buttery taste that makes original Ritz so yummy. I could be delusional, though. With only 7 mg of sodium per cracker, I really can’t beat the nutritional value Ritz Hint of Salt provides. I have 1.5 boxes of crackers left, so if I haven’t fully embraced them by then, I will search for other alternatives. In the meantime, I plan on mixing PB with honey or using low sodium cheese as fillings for the crackers. Fortunately for me, after a workout, I am starving and just about anything tastes halfway decent lol. Preparing the crackers in advance takes about 5 minutes per sleeve of Ritz. In the mornings, I toss a few into a sandwich bag for a pre-workout snack if I plan to go to group fitness from work. Otherwise, I just grab 3 or 4 after working out at home.

Bottom line, Ritz Hint of Salt could stand a little more sodium; just because I am pre-hypertensive doesn’t mean my taste buds died. Using the crackers to make peanut butter sandwiches is an easy, inexpensive way to make pre- or post-workout snacks. With a blend of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, they are filling and nutritiously balanced. If you do not need to watch your sodium for medical reasons, then I do not recommend you even bother with Hint of Salt; stick with the other varieties of Ritz crackers.

May 18: Pre-training for the Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon in Vegas

After posting on Facebook how excited I was to start training for races using my new Polar RS300X heart rate monitor, a friend from college invited me to join her and run the Rock ‘N Roll half marathon in Las Vegas during our birthday weekend. At first, I thought I would just go and cheer her on but I think it will be fun to challenge myself and run 13.1 miles. Besides, the trip will be a bundle of firsts: first time to Nevada (and by extension first time to Vegas); first half marathon; and first birthday trip. And I’m sure those three things are just the tip of the iceberg!

SoOoo, with exactly 28 weeks until my birthday, I thought I would make it official that I am pre-training for the half marathon. I have to wait until the end of the month when registration re-opens, so I’m hopeful that there are still spaces available. Why am I pre-training? Well, for one, the training program I am going to use is based on six weeks not six months. Second, I need to slowly build my distance up so that I can comfortably run at least 8 miles. I haven’t logged in more than 3 miles on a given run since my 10K a few weeks ago. And finally, I want to be able to maintain a 10 minute mile for the entire race, which is about 30s per mile faster than my 10K pace.

I’m really amped about running a half marathon, which is quite bizarre seeing as a few weeks ago 10K races were my only desires. I am going to take this training and reduce it to 3 week segments because 6 months just seems so daunting. I can stick with a plan for 21-days.

For the next 18 days, I will run four days a week slowly increasing total distance from 12 miles a week to 15 miles; cross-train two days a week (e.g., step and sculpt, spinning, bollywood); attend at least one yoga class and one Pilates class; and tone my entire body twice a week. I learned the hard way during my 10K training that I really need to incorporate flexibility training if I intend to run, so I will make that a priority this go-round.

To stay on track, I made a detailed schedule of what I plan to do each day. If I have to think about it, then chances are I will flake out on myself. I keep a copy of my calendar at work and on the refrigerator at home. I hope that by June 4, I can average a pace faster than 13:52 minute/mile while averaging 75% of my maximum heart rate, which is how well I did on this morning’s run.

May 17: Bike to work

Well, it’s the annual National Bike to Work Week! Since the shuttles have stopped running for the summer, I had to find a more efficient means to get to work than walking. I purchased a used Schwinn cruiser a few months ago for $40, but I didn’t get much use from it before wintry weather set in. I have never ridden a bicycle to work or school before. As a kid, I would take my lavender BMX or 10-speed up and down the street or around the block. In college and graduate school, I either lived on campus or a few blocks from campus so it was a quick walk. I live about 1.5 miles from my building, and that’s a lot of walking when it’s hot and humid outside.

I am super excited to ride my Schwinn to work everyday! I love having the wind at my face and coasting along the city streets. Fortunately with summer school, automobile traffic is quite thin so potential bike-car collisions are greatly reduced. I usually ride along the side of the streets for 1 mile until I reach campus; I then take the sidewalks through campus because  they are wide and relatively even compared to city sidewalks. In 10-15 minutes, I am at work and not too sweaty. It’s merely a bonus that I actually sneak in a little workout as a result of using my bicycle as transportation.

May 15: Heart rate training

My new Polar RS300X heart rate monitor to help improve my aerobic capacity

I bit the bullet and purchased a Polar RS300X heart rate monitor with S1 foot pod from amazon.com last week. It arrived on Friday, but I waited until my long run day to test it out. The RS300X is more like a computer than a typical fitness watch. I purchased the bundle for $150 since the items sold separately cost nearly $300. After considerable research on the Polar website, I opted for the foot pod instead of the GPS because I wanted more instantaneous data about my pace and distance.

I set up the watch with my personal information Saturday night. The program asks typical vitals like height, weight and birth date as well as how frequently I work out. Sunday morning, I strapped on the transmitter and completed the Polar Fit Test to calculate a value similar to a VO2 max, which is the amount of oxygen my body can uptake at maximum capacity. Ironically, the Fit Test required that I be at rest for five minutes to compute my value. According to the chart that comes in the user manual, my VO2 max of 52 makes me “elite” lol. I was quite shocked by this information.

Following the Fit Test, which I plan to do every Sunday morning, I dressed in my workout clothes and hit the pavement toward the track at the nearby high school so I could calibrate the foot pod. As I suspected, with very little effort, my heart rate was 85-100% of my maximum heart rate; such a result is exactly why I wanted to incorporate heart rate training into my fitness plans.

I botched the foot pod calibration because I went under the wrong “settings” menu. I was still able to determine pace and distance, though how accurately I am not sure. Since it was great weather to run, I played around with different pre-programmed workouts on the RS300X. I tried interval training. For the first zone, I was to keep my heart rate about 60% of my maximum heart rate while in zone two I could go up to 85% of MHR. I had to walk for the five minutes of zone 1 to keep my heart rate within range, and I slogged along at an 11 minute mile for the second zone. Over time, as my aerobic training improves, I will be able to run faster while still keeping my heart rate within the two ranges of interval training.

Overall, I am really pleased with the RS300X and foot pod. It will take some time to become fully accustomed to the features, but it has everything I need for what I want to do. When I am not doing cardio, I switch the watch to “Free” mode so that no pre-defined heart rate range limits are set. I can train in my Ownzone™ meaning that the program is tailored specifically to my vitals and fitness level. I can even make up my own routine, but we’ll wait until I fully exploit the pre-set programs before I go tinkering.

I think the main features that I appreciate after just a two days of using it are that I have an accurate number of calories burned, that I can monitor how my fitness level and efficiency improves, and that I can aerobically train my heart rather than anaerobically train it as I have been doing probably my entire life. I am going to be SO ready for my next race *smile* Sub-10 minute pace, here I come!

May 14: Ballet Conditioning fitness DVD

I have been wanting to take dance classes for many years since my African dance class for non-majors during my junior year at Howard. The only dance experience I had prior to college was a few lessons when I was four. I do not move gracefully and my body is not the slender form of a typical dancer, so I was not particularly motivated to ask my mother to pay for dance lessons when I was in grade school. The only reason I took the dance class in college was because it was for non-majors. Interestingly, the class was filled with non-majors who had considerable dance training. Only Nadia and I had limited training, or in my case, practically no training.

A great strength workout that is challenging but fun!

So, when I saw Ballet Conditioning on amazon.com, I knew that I wanted to try it. For $8, I figured if I didn’t like it that I wouldn’t be out a lot of money. Many of the other ballet-inspired DVDs either cost more than $15 or looked low-budget.

When I began the DVD, I was quite pleased to see the instructor, Elise Gulan, was rather muscular. Her thighs looked like my thighs! Elise explained most of the exercises very clearly. While you don’t need any background in ballet, some familiarity would have been helpful as she doesn’t explain proper form very well. The workout was really challenging. I expected a workout with an intensity similar to Pilates or even a Vinyasa yoga class. It was probably a step above the Vinyasa yoga class I participate in at the gym but with the control of Pilates.

The small isolation of muscles really confused my muscles and made them work harder. My thighs were on fire before the halfway point of the DVD. Elise refers to the burn as “energy”; a cute euphemism but make no mistake, that’s some intense “energy” lol.

As the workout continues, I felt myself becoming more graceful; I stood taller each time my arms changed position. I was quite surprised at the upper body workout ballet entails. I seems like mostly leg work, but my upper back was quite sore after the 51 minute workout. Elise interspersed some higher intensity speed work into the routine, so I did have a light sheen of sweat on my body. The workout concluded with Pilate-style abdominal work. So in 51 minutes, I had a total body strength workout that was quite fun and engaging.

I’m excited to place Ballet Conditioning into my fitness rotation. It is definitely a different workout than any other I have tried to date. The more variety of exercises, the more toned and defined my muscles will become over time. Yay for ballet!

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