Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Iron Maiden

Are you training hard and  experiencing poor or mediocre race results? Do you feel sluggish or tired even a few kilometers/miles into your run?  Low iron levels could be a possible culprit. 

Iron levels and running is a hot topic for runners. IMO,  it is an important issue for all runners, but especially important for female runners. 

I have personally been plagued with low iron stores before. As a mostly vegetarian runner (no red meat or pork and only the occasional taste of chicken, turkey, and fish),  I am at risk for having my iron levels drop again.   In fact, I always start to worry about my iron levels when I am mid marathon training cycle.  This constant awareness caused me to stumble across this good article here about low iron levels and the impact it has on running.

Why is Iron Important?

As runners, iron is vital as it is a key component to our oxygen transporting molecule, hemoglobin.  It also has several metabolic roles in our body.  It is also cited as the largest nutrient deficiency amongst Americans (I couldn't find a statistic about Canada,  but I am sure it is a similar issue).
Reasons for Iron Deficiencies in Runners

1. Foot Strike Hemolysis
This basically means that as your foot strikes the ground,  the impact can cause hemolysis (damage or death) to your red blood cells.  You do regenerate your blood cells,  but excessive hemolysis can cause your iron level (hemoglobin) and iron stores (ferritin) to drop.

2. Sweat and Urine
Iron is lost is sweat and urine,  this loss is compounded by athletes that sweat alot.  Interestingly, iron is lost through the GI track in runners that train in hot humid climates (definitely not Ontario at the moment -22C tonight during my hill workout!!)  Still even in the cold, I tend to sweat alot, and often come home with soaked clothes.

3. Low levels of iron in your diet
Red meat and dark poultry tend to be good sources of iron (however, I believe you do not need to eat meat to have sufficient iron levels, you just need to be more conscious). Many endurance athletes eat carbohydrate rich diets that have lower levels of meat or other iron sources.

4. Poor iron absorption
Iron is a finicky mineral.  Certain substances such as coffee impede iron absorption, so although you consume the iron,  you are not absorbing it.

5. Blood volume
Endurance athletes have a higher blood level,  making the iron a more dilute concentration in our bloodstream.

6. Menstrual Cycle
This one is pretty self explanatory for us ladies!

Tips for combating/preventing low iron levels:

a) Get your iron checked.
 This involves two measurements:
i) Hemoglobin:  Normal hemoglobin concentration ranges from 14 to 18 grams per 100 ml of blood for men, and 12 to 16 grams per 100 ml of blood for women.
ii) Iron stores (ferritin): Normal ferritin levels are 10-200 ng/ml for women and 10-300 ng/ml for men. Training is seriously affected when ferritin levels drop below 20 ng/ml (ask your doctor for your lab results)!

b) Eat more iron containing foods
 Meat, oysters, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, enriched breads and cereals are example of foods that are rich in iron.  You can also cook your food with cast iron pans to help with iron levels (I use my cast iron pan all the time!!)

c) Eat foods that help iron absorption
Foods high in vitamin C such as orange juice help iron absorption.

d) Avoid foods that impede iron absorption
Caffeine is a culprit for impeding iron absorption. Anyone know of some others?

e) Take an iron supplement
Note of caution: It is best to have your levels checked before taking a supplement,  as excessive iron levels can be toxic to your liver. 

I don't really want to resort to excessive meat in my diet,  and having not eaten red meat or pork for seven years,  I can't see myself returning to it.  However the article mentions elite marathoner Deena Castor. She eats alot of red meat in her diet,  and has really good iron levels,  which she attributes to her excellent performance. Interesting food for thought.

Are low iron levels a concern for you?  How do you keep your iron levels normal? 

Thanks for reading!!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Week in Workout Clothes, Part I

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in getting out the door for a run can be all of the pre-run preparations required! Proper nutrition, hydration, and clothing requirements can be a real challenge especially during the winter season,  when several layers of clothing are required to run outdoors.  I thought it may be fun to document my preparations for the past week of my training.
I normally follow a Monday to Sunday training schedule,  so I usually begin my preparations for the upcoming week on Sunday afternoon after my long run (active recovery).  I usually come home from my long run, shower, have a little nap,  and then begin the preparations for the following training week.  

The weekly preparation begins Sunday afternoon with grocery shopping for the week.  Moe and I often joke that we would make good prisoners because we can eat the same dish several days in a row without getting sick of it. Three cheers for leftovers!! I will often prepare two or three dishes on Sunday afternoon to eat for lunches and dinners for  most of the week.  I find this saves us money,  dishes, and most importantly time!

This past week I opted for two dishes:

Mixed Vegetable and Chickpea Coucous

Homemade Bolangnese Spaghetti Sauce (I have been making this sauce since I was sixteen, only now I make a much healthier version!)

(If you want the recipes, click on the links above, I am trying to catalogue my recipes online)


I also wash and prep my fluid bottles so that I can just grab and go throughout the week.

eLoad and Nathan canisters


 I start by finishing the laundry.. the only time my laundry room is neat is on Sunday evening!

Once I have cooked and cleaned up the kitchen,  and got a handle on the laundry, I start prepping my clothes for Monday.

Monday (Workouts planned: Hot Yoga and Triathlon Swimming)

Clothes (tank, sports bra, capris)

Towel (From last year's Robbie Burns Race)

Fluids (e-discs, coconut water, Sigg Bottle)

 All packed in my trusty lululemon gym bag! + yoga mat (not pictured)

I go straight from work to hot yoga,  so I bring my yoga stuff to work,  and get home, eat dinner, and then head out to swimming:

Swim "stuff" - Flippers, goggles, cap, towel, suit and fluids

Phew! That is just for Monday! Stay tuned for the rest of week in Part II of the post. 

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Basement Brick Workout

During the Christmas holidays Moe and I slowly began finishing the basement in our house. We are completing the project in stages. Moe had insulated and drywalled the exterior walls, and framed our recreation room when we moved, but we had left alone since then.

The Basement

We are fortunate to have a bright walkout basement in our home.  The area where the gym is located is a large rectangular room (approximately 14.5 ft by 34 ft) and has two large windows and a patio door.  I think when it is completely finished, it will be a nice bright spot to go and workout. For now though,  we achieved a rather basic but still functional set up that I think we will both enjoy working out in.

The Gym
We began by cleaning up our basement to make room for a gym.  We took 4 car loads to the Salvation Army and two loads to the dump and gave away various items to friends and family.  I do not keep much clutter, its amazing how easy it is to accumulate stuff!

 Our big splurge for the gym was a large 60 inch LED TV (Sharp Quattron) flat screen TV.  I Love it!  Now I can watch my bike videos or the Biggest Loser, or even the Bachelor while working out!  No more excuses!

We lined up our treadmill and my bike on the trainer to face our tv ofcourse.

Hubs even put a step stool for me to get on my bike... its really high when its on the trainer!

I bought Hubs this incline bench for Christmas, its not fully assembled yet,  but we can do ab work and chest press etc using the bench.  We can also eventually add to it to.  We also have some free weights.

Stretching and ab work out area. (sorry for the blurry picture)

I am going to pick up a large inexpensive area rug this week for this area,  and a large wall clock for timing plank, intervals, etc.

The Workout

I had my first brick workout in my home gym  this week.  Here's what I did:

 -Thirty minutes on the bike
*practice bike to run transition*
 -5K tempo run
-Ab work (leg lifts, 4 x 1 min plank, toe touches)
-Upper body weights (bicep curls, tricep extensions, and 10 push ups). 

It was an amazing time efficient workout,  and it was so nice to do it in the comfort of my home,  especially when the weather is so cold and yucky! 

I made a spinach smoothie after the workout (3 handful of spinach, 1 cup frozen organic mixed berries, 1 cup almond milk, 2 scoops chocolate amazing grass protein, 1 scoop hemp protein, 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, 1/2 banana, and a few ice cubes).  It was yummy,  unfortunately I forgot to take a picture.

Do you have a home gym?  If so,  what equipment do you have in your home gym?

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Race Report: Robbie Burns 8K

This is the 3rd year in a row I have participated in the Robbie Burns 8K. This fun race is sponsored by the Burlington Running Club, and is one of my favourite winter running events.  I enjoy running it because it is a great value chip-timed race, has  great swag,  and being in the 3rd week of January,  it helps beat the winter dull drums and get me motivated for the upcoming spring races. The Scottish theme of the event is really fun:

This year did not disappoint.  The race registration was 30 dollars,  and for that fee every runner received a dri-fit running vest:

It's unisex, and a little boxy,  but cute!  I love when race directors think outside of the box and provide participants with unique useful swag!  The two previous years were fleece pajama pants, and a cotton plaid towel.

Unfortunately leading up to race day, the side of my left foot had been bothering me all week. I sat out my long run scheduled for Saturday,  and I iced and took ibuprofen like crazy in hopes of being able to participate in the race.

Race morning was freezing cold,  and I am not joking. Yes,  I live in Canada, and yes it can be cold,  but it was abnormally frigid race morning.  It was -17C/1.4F but with the wind chill -27C/-17F!!!  Brr!! (insert explicits)
Wanting to roll over and go back to bed,  I instead decided to assess my foot.  It was much better and there was no pain either, so I was ready to run!  My friends M and M came over to my house,  and Hubs drove us about an hour to Burlington to the race.

We picked up our race kits,  and enjoyed a little pre-race entertainment.  Thankfully, the runners are able to keep warm inside a local high school gym,  complete with flushing toilets.  There is not a porta potty in sight for this race!!

There is a bag-pipe procession outside to the start line signalling that it is time for runners to line up at the start.  We decided that since it was a cold day,  and my foot was iffy, to line up towards the back and treat the race as a harder training run rather than a race.

I was happy when we started running that I felt no pain, and we settled into a comfortably uncomfortable pace.  The race sold out in November, so the field was crowded,  and although we were trying to take it easy,  we had to weave around many runners,  so we were speeding along faster than anticipated.

Surprisingly we all felt quite warm.  I had worn two layers on the bottom (long johns and fleece tights) and four layers on top (tank, base layer top, fleece top, and running jacket).  I also had a double layer of mitts,  hat, and a neck warmer!  (I don't mess around with -30C)

The Sun came out when we turned South and ran towards Lake Ontario. It was absolutely gorgeous out!  As much as winter running can be tough to get out the door when its cold,  once you are out there, there is nothing like it,  it really is beautiful.  I enjoyed the beautiful homes along the lake shore and tried to take my mind off of the pain of a shorter faster run.

Before we knew it,  we were crossing the finish,  done! (can you see the icicles on my hat?)

Time:  44:04 -5.31km/min (8:52mil/min).  It was a course PW,  I ran this course last year in 41:xx,  but I was happy with the result,  considering the temperature, my foot, and my current fitness level.  Thanks to my fast friends M and M for running with me!

After the race,  there was a full breakfast - oatmeal, bagels and cream cheese, cookies, bananas, hot chocolate, coffee.  They also have the awards in the school auditorium with door prizes. There are some serious fast runners for this small race.  The top three females in my age group finished under 34 minutes,  and the winning female finished in about 27 minutes!

The race has me ready to up the intensity of training for the spring,  and I am so glad I did it.  Hope you all had a great weekend too!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 21, 2011


Thanks to MCM mama for the stylish blogger award:

Here's how the award works:

  • Post and link back to the person who gave you the award
  • Share 7 things about yourself
  • Award 15 recently discovered great bloggers so we can share the love
  • Contact these bloggers and tell them they've won
1.  I am a middle child. I have an older brother,  younger brother and a younger sister.  I think I may suffer occasionally from middle child syndrome, but I love having a "big" (by today's standards) family.  I am an aunt to 3 nieces and 3 nephews on my side alone. The Hubs has 5 other siblings!

2.  I don't know why or how,  but I lose my and re find my keys at least once a week.  

3.  Because of number 2,  my husband tunes me out if I panic when I lose my keys.  He just stands there with his  coat on waiting patiently for the calm after the storm.  We are a perfect match!

4. I am a high school biology teacher,  and I have taught for 12 years.  I absolutely love the challenge of working with teenagers. 

5. When I was growing up,  I wanted to be an interior decorator. To gain early experience I moved to the basement of my parents house when I was 10 so I could decorate my own room (independently of my sister),  albeit I decorated it with two lawn chaises pushed together for a bed, a cooler for an end table and a purple bean bag chair.  I donned the concrete walls with posters of my childhood crushes (Cory Hart and George Michael). 

6.  I lived on a crop farm from the age of 5-12.  My dad used to pay us an allowance of 2 dollars an hour to rock pick from  the wheat field.  Strangely, the memories of this are fond.

7.  I haven't eaten red meat or pork for over seven years.  I still eat poultry and seafood,  so I am neither vegetarian or a complete meat eater.  Suggestions for the name of that diet?!

I am supposed to tag 15 people,  but being away from the blog sphere so long,  I am not sure I can tag that many people and I am not sure who has been tagged already.  Here are a few of my (and I'm sure many peoples) favourites:

Aron at Runners Rambles
Laurel at Lily on the Road
Marlene at Mission to a(nother) Marathon
Mel at 2nd Chances
JoLynn at Single Track Junkie

Ofcourse if you want to play along,  consider yourself tagged!

Happy Friday and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Marathon Training in Progress

Since my return to the blog sphere I haven't yet blogged about running.  Don't worry,  the running addict in me is still alive and well!

You may have noticed the races listed for 2011 on the right hand side bar,  an 8K (this weekend!),  a half, a 30K, and the spring culminates with the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon.  With vigour, I made my training plan,  set out, registered and began running!

Sounds great, right?!

Except although I am amped up to train,  I want more.

More marathons that is.

I usually run a marathon on the March break,  and then another in the May, sometimes two.

But I am often told, Marci you should focus on a specific race,  you would run so much faster...

Well I will be honest,  I do want to run faster,  what runner doesn't?  But I also love running marathons,  and I also tend to run well when I run multiples.

So I have been casually shopping for a March marathon.


LA Marathon - I ran this last year,  and it kicked my butt!!  Seriously this course was a downhill quad killer,  but incredibly fun!!  I also want to go back and tour around LA a little more.  It was the only marathon I have ran where there were volunteer drag queens at the water stations,  and soy milk was given out on the course. (hilarious- who can stomach soy milk while running a marathon?)

Georgia Marathon - This would be another state for me (state number 9).  I'll admit I am not that excited by this race,  but maybe someone from the area or who has run it before can change my mind.

Or maybe I should just stick with the plan,  and train hard for Cincinnati.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy Blue Monday!

Thanks for your responses about social media.  I have decided for now to get back to posting and commenting on a regular basis and then maybe dive more into twitter and daily mile if my time/energy/desire allows for it.  I get a little overwhelmed easily with all that is out there!

So its Monday...  Its the middle of January...  and in many areas of North America,  its fah fah freezzzzing cold.  (This morning in Southern Ontario it was -23C/-9.4F when I was driving to work!!).  And according health researchers, today, January 17th,  its the most depressing day of the year (otherwise known as Blue Monday)!

We are lucky as athletes that we run/swim/bike..  it definitely helps any sort of seasonal depression.  Still,  I find myself falling victim to less motivation when temperature dips,  and the days are so short.  Here are some tips I find helpful to keep me happy and motivated this time of year:

1)  Connect with family and friends. 
Its a great time of year to get together for coffee and a little social time with family and friends,  especially the ones you may have been unable to connect with over the holiday season.  I find reconnecting and having a few laughs helps alot.

2) Spend time with someone over 70 and under 6
I read this tip at this very excellent site and I think its true.  Older and younger people see the world through a different lens that we do.

3) Drink lots of fluids
For me,  I drink a ton of Herbal teas in the winter,  and its a ritual that I find very soothing and comforting and even uplifting.

4) Try a new Activity
For date night this past month,  Hubs took me to rock climbing and dinner.  I had never been rock climbing before,  and although I was initially terrified (I am a little afraid of heights),  I absolutely loved it!!  We had a great night and laughed more than we had in a long time. It was a great spirit-lifting feeling to try something brand new.

5) Cross Train
We can get in ruts so trying other sports/mixing it up is important and can help us from facing boredom.  I really love going to hot yoga especially in the Winter.  The warm air feels so good living when its cold out,  I get a good stretch,  and I feel more connected with my overall health.  Its a great strength training workout to boot too!

This is just a hodge podge of ideas for staving off the depression.  I am sure there are many others. Heck if all else fails,  eat chocolate and drink wine!!

What do you find helps to prevent the winter blues?

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Running and Social Media

Thanks for the warm welcome back and the great feedback on weight loss and sleep.  I have decided to keep a sleep log until I get a regular sleep schedule under wraps. 

Now that I am back trying to keep my blog more updated,  I thought I would ask your opinion about social media and running.

I find it very motivating to read all of your blogs.  You all inspire me daily with your great posts, helpful tips and race recaps.  I am exclusively a blogger and I have a facebook account.  Although I have a twitter and daily mile account,  I have yet to use them.  I still find it most comforting and time effective to use a spreadsheet to track my workouts.   In fact in case you are interested there is there is a fabulous running spreadsheet download here.  Old school, I know...

I do find that sometimes social media can leave me feeling a little exposed,  but I know so many of you use other forms of social media for information and inspiration for your training.

So knowing that I am very late to the party on this one,  which forms of social media do you embrace or shy away from?  Twitter?  Daily Mile?  Others?    Have these helped motivate you with your training and connect with other runners?

Any recommendations? 

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sleep and Weight Loss

Hello?!! Is anyone still out there?!

Its been a long time.... A really long time!  I kept thinking I would write a really grand post re-entering the blog sphere but it never seemed to happen,  so I will just pick up blogging where I left off.  I have reasons for not blogging at all in 2010,  but I'll save that for another post.   I have been reading your blogs,  and have missed posting, so I am hoping this is the start of a regular posting routine again.
This post I wanted to talk about sleep and its relation to body weight (an important topic for us runners!).

I am historically a yo-yo dieter (+/- 10 lbs).  I lose weight, then I gain weight. I was always able to lose the excess weight easily,  until the last year or so I have noticed it to be much more of a challenge forcing me to take a closer look at exactly what I was putting into my body.

Careful calorie counting,  healthy eating,  lots of cross training later,  I felt frustrated that the weight wasn't budging.  At first I blamed hitting my mid-thirties.  I was always hungry.  I would eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner. I would even blend spinach into shake and my work colleagues thought I was nuts!

 Even with the healthy, six small meals per day,  I would have these INSANE nighttime cravings.  Red wine, cheese, crackers= yum.  Nacho chips + guacamole + wine = double yum.   Cookies + wine =.... you get the idea.

I thought,  this is what getting older meant - loss of muscle, increase of body fat....increase in cravings...

But then I thought of all the fabulously fit people I know,  some who are decades older than me,  and I realized that blaming my weight gain on aging was a cop-out.  What are they doing differently?

In an attempt to tune into reasons for my weight gain/insane appetite a little closer,  I started evaluate my health checklist a little more closely and realized,  I was depriving myself of a basic physiological need:


I have always been a short-sleeper.  In fact, it wasn't atypical for me to get 5-6 hours. With further research,  I discovered that sleep deprivation (sleeping less than 7 hours a night) can cause:
  • An increase in the hormone Ghrelin which is released to increase appetite.  This explains my late night snacking habits!
  • A decrease in the hormone Leptin,  which basically tells you to control the amount of food you shove in your mouth at any given time.
Basically this results in stuffing yourself with high calorie food and still not feeling very full.  A huge ah ha moment for me...

Also not sleeping can  (source)

• disrupt your metabolism of carbs, causing high blood levels of glucose, which leads to higher insulin levels and greater body-fat storage.

•reduces levels of growth hormone - a protein that helps regulate the body's proportions of fat and muscle.

• increase your risk of diabetes

•can increase blood pressure
•can increase the risk of heart disease

So I have been trying to sleep better since mid-December,  and I have noticed a huge difference in my energy level,  and control of my appetite.  I've lost a bit of weight in the process too (although its a work in progress!).  My workouts have also been better since I have been sleeping more. 

So I have moved sleep to the top of my priority list,  even above working out!

Do you sleep enough?  Do you notice a change in your appetite/weight/energy with more or less sleep?

Thanks for reading!