Many thanks to those who commented on my “time out” post.  Indeed, there is much wisdom in honoring the body’s signals, and my recent short break from running just underscored that message (a good thing, because I can have amnesia about these things).

What’s interesting is how naturally the red carpet unraveled for my resumed running.  No formal plans, no strategies, no pressure.  It was as simple as, hmmm, nice weather, I think I might go for a run.  And that was it.  I had a nice, easy outing (really, all of my post-break runs thus far have been on the “easy” end of the scale), followed a couple of days later by a 4-miler on the treadmill (due to rain), and a few days after that, another treadmill trot, this time in Las Vegas, as I was competing in the Fitness America competition there and needed to get the blood flowing.  A few days later — Thanksgiving week — I was out for a long walk and decided to throw in about 10-12 jog intervals, admittedly with some Christmas tunes ringing in my ear from my ipod.

It was as delightfully nonchalant as can be, and so totally different from the manner in which I usually approach my fitness training.  I’m normally very much a list person, charting out in advance where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing at which time.  This was a gift, a chance to experience running as spontaneous play, not unlike the glee of being released for recess on an astonishingly summery day.

Ah, but short-lived, or so it appears.  Although my go-with-the-flow approach continued through the Thanksgiving weekend (due in part to an unforseen bout of laryngitis — ever hear a runner with no voice try to give you the time?  That’s right, no you haven’t!), I can feel my factory-installed default settings slowly re-emerging.  Right now it’s “just” in the form of tearing out interesting plans and exercises I’ve stumbled upon in magazines, and a little more attention paid to articles divulging the latest research on various training trends, but I know what that means.  My days of unscripted outings are coming to a close.  Soon there will be graphs and charts, sunrise/sunset checks, schedule shuffles and calendar coordinations where there is currently just “workout on a whim” improvisation.  It’s okay.  It’s been nice to see that underlying those fancy-shmancy plans and designs is still that organic love of movement that inspired me to fitness in the first place!

 

Posted by: thehungryrunner | October 31, 2011

Trusting in the value of taking time off from running

Sometimes I think the Universe is having a good cosmic laugh at the fact that my calling should be that of fitness professional; so often, the very wisdom I advocate in my work is the very lesson that then plays out in my personal fitness life!  Taking time off of running is just the latest example of this.  I have to assume these life-imitating-theory moments only serve to help my effectiveness as a fitness leader.  After all, it’s one thing for me to have the book knowledge, it’s one thing for me to have the experience of witnessing certain phenomena and patterns in others I have helped over the years.  But for me to also then experience it first-hand?  There’s nothing more compelling than that level of testimony, especially on top of that academic and experiential foundation!

In any event, due in part to my training for an upcoming fitness competition, circumstances have led to workouts other than running for me lately, mostly bike rides and use of the cross trainer (along with the usual litany of strength training, acrobatic drills, and yoga, but those are part of my week even when I’m running).  And as nervous as this made me — I’m still convinced that there’s nothing more powerful than running when it comes time to keeping up my cardiovascular stamina, I must admit, the break from the usual routine has been a good one for me.  Hard to put my finger on any one reason, but my body feels like it’s been rebooted, for lack of a better description.  Certain muscles that seemed to tighten up more often are now quiet and back to their normal selves, and yet I’ve noticed a change in stamina and intensity in these alternate workouts since the shift, that suggests I’ve progressed even within these curent cardio activities.  And just to ease my worries that the change would cause my running to unravel completely, I’ve thrown in the occasional Friday jog or Monday walk/run outing….and contrary to my fears, my strides are flowing quite smoothly.  Not to say my body is instantly back to where I left off, but it seems as long as I keep one running foot in the door, the muscles are retaining enough memory for when I’m ready to resume “full steam ahead.”

So let my experience be a lesson to you:  If your body seems to be in need of a change of routine, pay attention!  My current experience is only supporting what I’d witnessed time and time again with my clients and students:  As long as you stay active in some way, shape or form, you won’t backslide and in fact will often break through a frustrating plateau.  The body is both resilient and adaptable — constant change is the name of the game!

Posted by: thehungryrunner | October 1, 2011

Tour di Fragrances: The ultimate workout for the senses!

Heading out on my usual Saturday morning run, I’m beginning to think my “Hungry” badge isn’t just limited to cravings of the culinary kind.  Whether I’m running or taking a leisurely bike ride around my community, I’m increasingly noticing a peculiar pavlovian stimulation of my olfactory nerves.  In intervals as regular as any good speed drills, I find myself eagerly smelling the air; what am I detecting as I head through this neighborhood?  Around that park?  Past that restaurant?  Near that festival?  It’s as if my run has taken on a purpose beyond mere cardiovascular conditioning, granting me this luxuriously long feast of the senses, my nose constantly breathing in the next “course” as I meander through the miles.

Amused by this development, I paid closer attention to the various “scents-ory mileposts” provided by today’s outing:  There was the initial bombardment of earthy fragrances — the smell of the morning dew as it bakes away, carrying with it a perfume cocktail of leaves, dirt and flowers.  Then there are the household breakfasts.  I imagine many of these are families with children, bustling about before the day’s sporting or other events.  Whatever the case, I find myself enjoying the aromatic “helpings” of some unseen kitchen cooking sausage, another one toast and jelly, another, pancakes, and still another, something that contains cinnamon.  Drooling, I decide another circle through that subdivision is in order.  Hey, whatever motivates you!

Hooking onto the creekside trail, I’m now passing by the natural flora:  stands of trees and shrubs and a colorful mixture of tall grasses, steeping in the sun and nearly bowling me over with alternating scents of onion, licorice, and sweetgrass.  Later, as I sideswipe the local campground on the shores of Newport Bay, I catch the distinct allure of chocolate chip cookies, just out of the oven.   Mmmmm.  It seems even the smell of carbs is enough to boost my energy (or is it delirium?)!  As if to one-up the Tollhouse delight, the smell of a nearby campfire brings to mind that wonderful carefree feeling of being on vacation, with the most pressing item on the agenda the question of whether s’mores taste better with milk or dark chocolate.

Returning to earth (yes, the smell of food does levitate me, why do you ask?), I’m reminded that the lovely bay I’m looking out at feeds into the ocean — the smell of fish and brine hangs in the air (it seems the seagulls are just as aware of this as I).  Reaching one of the more frequented park areas, my nose wrinkles as the Ode to the Ocean is interrupted by that unmistakable “p.u.” of dog poop — late-summer dog poop, no less.  Blech.  No one said it would be all roses and coffee!

Speaking of, seems I’m not far from a local coffee shop at this point.  How do I know?  Do I need to tell you?  When it comes to freshly brewed caffeine, the nose knows!  Detouring to the weekly farmer’s market, I grind to a trance-like stroll, drifting past the stands in a sea of aromatic apples, peppery heirloom tomatoes, spicy soups, fresh bread and pungent goat’s milk cheese.  I mentally construct a dozen recipes I’m sure to forget about by the time I next use my kitchen and head back out, one final “whiff” for the road.

Back on course, I’m on the return trip now, whizzing past those same trees and grasses and enjoying another round of “Eau di Herbs and Dry Leaves,” though this time I’m also detecting eucalyptus and even citronella.  The most exquisite aromatherapy spas only wish they could capture this experience!  My final corner before hitting our driveway seals the deal:  some wonderful smoked something or other coming from the nearby Stonefire Grill restaurant.  If the caloric output of my workout wasn’t enough to stimulate my appetite, that “final hurrah” inhale does the trick every time!  Time for my post-run (or bike) snack.  Yay!

My only dilemma:  How to get cottage cheese and whey protein to taste like toast with jelly?  Or wood-fired pizza?  Until then, I’ll have to content myself with that preceding All-You-Can-Smell Buffet as my appetizer, and let this snack simply be the fuel that powers tomorrow’s Tour di Fragrances!

Posted by: thehungryrunner | August 19, 2011

Creative Toppings for High-Protein Pancakes

Sure, you COULD go the safe route and spoon some low-fat yogurt or drizzle sugar-free pancake syrup on your healthy hotcakes (for recipes, see my 2009 post, The Great High-protein Pancake Experiment).  But why limit yourself?  At least, that’s the rationale I use for my endless experimentation with this dish’s equivalent of the “frosting on the cake.”  And while some of my….um…concoctions…have proven more disappointing than delectable (“calorie-free fruit spread” really needs the word “spread” to be changed to “watery chunks”), there have been plenty of home runs to counter the foul balls.

So here is my top ten list.  Well, of the moment, anyway.  Catch me next week, and you’ll probably have another ten items to choose from.  Such is the musical-chair mind I live in.  But at least for today….

Ten Tempting Toppings for High-Protein Pancakes   (Note: These are amounts that I use for one serving of high-protein pancakes; feel free to multiply or divide the amounts if you prefere a larger or smaller yield.)

  1. Cinnamon Cream Cheese Spread:  Cream together 1/4 cup fat-free cream cheese, 4 packets of Sweet-n-Low (or your favorite low-calorie sweetner), and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon.  I prefer Philadelphia brand for this one, as the generic brands can sometimes have a funkier flavor.
  2. Berry Blueberry Pancake Syrup:  Microwave 1/4 cup frozen blueberries for 1-2 minutes to thaw.  Mix in 2-3 Tablespoons calorie-free blueberry syrup.  The syrup alone has a thinner texture, but “beefed up” with the blueberries offers a more satisfying (and healthy) texture.
  3. Nuttier-Than-Thou Honey/Nut Butter:  Mix together 2 tablespoons of  almond butter with 1 tablespoon finely chopped pistachios and 1 tablespoon honey.  Yes, it’s thick but soooo good as a spread on the pancakes.
  4. Cheery Cherry Yogurt Topping:  Get ready!  Mix 1/4 cup cherry yogurt with 1 tablespoon cherry jam, 4-5 chopped fresh cherries AND….a tablespoon of dried cherries.  Can you tell I love cherries?
  5. Savory Cheesy Cottage Cheese:  Mix 1/3 cup cottage cheese with an ounce of shredded lowfat cheddar cheese, 2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  A nice change from just the sweet toppings!
  6. Pineapple-Orange-Banana Delight:  If it’s good enough to be a juice, it’s good enough to top my high-protein pancakes!  Mix 1/4 cup crushed canned pineapple, 1/2 finely chopped ripe banana, and 1 tablespoon orange marmalade.  I’m drooling just typing this (sorry, overshare).
  7. Even More Protein Peanut Butter Yogurt:  If the protein in the pancakes isn’t enough for you, mix 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt with a half a scoop of whey protein and a tablespoon natural peanut butter.  Good enough to eat all by itself or on top of the pancakes!
  8. Creamy Strawberries:  Mix 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream with 1 tsp. brown sugar and 1/4 cup sliced fresh strawberries.  So simple and so good!
  9. Just Sinful Enough Dark Chocolate:  FIRST top the pancakes with your choice of yogurt — vanilla, cherry, and even mango are the ones I usually choose for this.  THEN sprinkle about an ounce of either chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate morsels.  Either enjoy as is or pop into the microwave for 20 seconds to melt the chocolate.
  10. Warm and Spicy Stewed Dried Fruit:  Entails a little more work, but oh so WORTH it!  My favorite recipe is from LetHerBakeCake.com.  How much do I use for a serving?  I usually just make up a batch of whatever I have on hand, use what I need for the pancakes, and refrigerate the rest as an equally wonderful addition to yogurt, cottage cheese, or oatmeal.

So there you go!  I hope this has stimulated your creative juices and whet your high-protein appetite.  And please do share your own ideas for toppings in the comments, as the possibilities are clearly endless!

Evamarie Pilipuf is a yoga instructor and stretching consultant based in southern California, and the owner/operator of www.TheFlexibilityCoach.com, a membership site where athletes stretch and do yoga online via Evamarie’s audio and video guidance.

Posted by: thehungryrunner | July 25, 2011

On hot days, consider this “back-up plan” run/stretch workout

As much as I tend to become a one-woman complaining machine in those final winter/quasi-spring months, when all I can think of is how “nice” it will be to battle heat in lieu of windchill for my runs, I inevitably change my “bring it on!” tune when reality hits and the temperature soars into the 80’s and 90’s.  Throw in that unrelenting (if still very welcomed) summer sun and some skin-sticking humidity, and you have a trifecta of barriers to getting in a decent run without risking catastrophic organ shutdown.

So what to do?  Well, sure, you COULD set that alarm for those cool, tranquil pre-dawn hours, but the word “tranquil” is one of the synonyms for “sleepy” in my world, and try as I may to make this seemingly simple fix happen on a regular basis, 9 times out of 10, I’m loathe to get up any earlier than my body is accustomed, which is usually only after sunlight is streaming into the room.  So Plan B is usually a no-go.  Anyone up for a Plan C?

It turns out, Plan C is the charm for me.  Plan C is what I call my “50/50 Run/Stretch Workout.”  Not the most glamorous of names; I realize I should probably choose something far sexier, like “Lean R-S Extreme” or “HotRun Five-O.”  But luckily, the results are the same regardless of what you call it:  A nice dose of cardio, awakened muscles, and a delicious boost in flexibility, paving the way for strong, injury-free runs in the future.

The idea is, you shorten your run and increase the duration of your stretches, so that the time spent with each is the same.  So, a ten-minute run and a 10-minute stretch workout.  Or 15 and 15.  20 and 20.  You get the idea.  Or do you?  Because an idea such as this runs totally contrary to runners’ inclinations.  Who wants to take that much time out to stretch?  But here’s the benefit:  Number one, by shortening your run outing, you can ensure good quality to your run, sometimes better quality than when you’re pushing much longer durations or distances.  (By the way, as an important aside, please make sure you stay hydrated even with these short-duration jaunts.)  And by keeping your run brief, you leave enough juice in your muscles so that you can put more honest EFFORT and FOCUS into your stretches.

Yes, I capitalize those two words for a reason.  One of the biggest mistakes I see as a flexibility coach is that people don’t stretch with nearly the honest effort and serious focus they give to the rest of their workout.  If anything, they plod through their stretches with about as much enthusiasm as they give to filling their car at the gas pump:  looking around, sneaking glances at the clock (or the pump register), counting down the moments until they can move on from this boring task.  Mistake!  Part of the very reason stretching is so challenging and, let’s face it, at times not the most comfortable, is because your muscles need it, and they especially need that stretch to be performed to its fullest in order to reap the intended result!  Only when that initial, “Yikes, that’s tight!” reaction is followed by the “Mmmm, that feels better” (or, as I often see in my classes, that transition from a cringe to a relaxed face) is your muscle truly done with a stretch.  Think of that the next time you find yourself cutting corners or skipping your stretches altogether….AND especially think of that the next time you feel any muscle aches or tightness, because I promise you, 99% of those can be reduced or eliminated with consistent stretching or yoga.  I know, I continue to see it happen with my clients and long-distance students, not to mention myself personally!

With that in mind, why not take advantage of these hot, run-unfriendly days, and give yourself a “Plan C”?  If you’ve never experienced the relief that comes from a truly thorough stretch or yoga session, you’re in for a real treat.  In fact, you may find yourself upgrading “Plan C” to “Plan A.”  Who needs to wait for woeful weather to give the body the kind of workout that makes it go “Ahhhhhh”?

Evamarie Pilipuf is a yoga instructor and stretching consultant based in southern California, and the owner/operator of www.TheFlexibilityCoach.com, a membership site where athletes stretch and do yoga online via Evamarie’s audio and video guidance.

I love lists.  To-do lists, project lists, itineraries…..my everything-in-its-place mind somehow feels much more empowered when I’m armed with my own hand-scribbled instructions than when I’m just “winging it.”

And no other list trumps the others like my almighty grocery list, which is always up and running in The Hungry Runner household.  It’s either being built vis-a-vis my handy countertop memo pad or it’s tucked away in my purse, ready to give purpose and direction to my next shopping excursion.  And if I must be honest, it’s also the only way I know of to keep me from spontaneously thinking, “Ooh, special-edition chocolate-covered raisins, excellent,” or, “Crunchy dessert that thinks it’s breakfast cereal, great idea!”  T’aint on the list, t’aint going in the cart.  DONE.  Move along.

Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice that one particular item keeps popping up on my magic list, at an accelerated rate from before.  No, it’s not carrots or apples.  OK, it’s that too, but that’s nothing new — I love those foods and am gnawing constantly on one or the other.  It’s not tuna, though that’s a close runner up (my middle name really should be Charlie).  It’s fat-free cream cheese.

Huh.  Fat-free cream cheese.  Who’da thunk?  And trust me, it’s not because Mr. Hungry Runner is suddenly draining my stash (by now I know better than to offer him fat-free anything, short of using it as a threat in heated argument).  So I decided to take a look at all of its occurrences over the last month alone.  Here we go, in no particular order:

Evamarie’s Fat-free Cream Cheese Log,  June 2011:

  • Mixed in (along with the mayo, pickle and other seasonings) my tuna salad
  • As a “binder” for my chicken-apple salad
  • Sweetened with non -caloric sweetener, flavored with cinnamon and spread on rice cakes
  • Stirred into hot oatmeal (with or without whey protein powder) to add thickness and creaminess
  • Mixed in (at the end, along with fresh mozzarella and chopped fresh basil) a sun-dried tomato-based risotto
  • Sweetenened with non-caloric sweetener, flavored with vanilla extract, and served in a bowl with fresh strawberries as a stand-in for “strawberry cheesecake”
  • Blended with frozen banana, yogurt, honey and peanut butter for a dense, high-protein smoothie
  • Mixed with cottage cheese and fresh ground pepper and served over baked (OK, microwaved) potato
  • Spread on wide strips of bell pepper, topped with smoked salmon

And since I’m the kind of person who tends to eat the same thing over and over….it’s increasingly clear to me, why suddenly, mysteriously, I’ve found this one ingredient to be migrating to the top of la lista per Von’s.  If WD-40 is the “if all else fails, use this” tool in everyone’s junk drawer, I dare declare fat-free cream cheese to be the Official WD-40 of The Hungry Runner!

And because I’m sure you’re all pondering the obvious, riveting, next question, “Well so which is it, generic brand or good ol’ Philadelphia?”  Not to worry, I won’t leave you in suspense:  For most savory and blended recipes, I find no need to be fussy:  go with the sales item.  But for recipes that are sweet, particularly those in which there are few other ingredients besides the fat-free cream cheese (or “ff cc” as I charmingly refer to it), then Philadelphia is the choice for mellow sweetness.

So there you have it!  I hope my inadvertant obsession with what admittedly starts out looking a bit like kid’s paste but thankfully can be So Much More is offering you some ideas on making good use of this (kind of) food for yourself!

When not Running (and not Hungry), Evamarie Pilipuf is a stretching consultant based in southern California, and the owner/operator of www.TheFlexibilityCoach.com, a membership site where athletes stretch and do yoga online via Evamarie’s audio and video courses.

Posted by: thehungryrunner | June 9, 2011

“Downshifting” into jogging….and becoming more fit?

I’m going to start this entry by saying, I never know how to define “jogging.”  I know for some people, running is running is running.  If you’re not walking, you’re “running,” even if your pace is extremely slow (what I would call “jogging”).  Yet when I hear others talking about running paces, they seem to delineate rather firmly between that light, breezy, somewhat bouncy stride (for me it’s only slightly faster than when I’m running in place at a traffic light) and something more ambitious, bold, aggressive, even if the actual pace isn’t much faster.

I suppose it comes down to, I know I’m not a fast runner, and I yet know there are those who still run slower than me, so I don’t really worry too much about the semantics of what I’m doing.  If you want to call me a runner, great, if you want to call me a jogger, great.  All I know is, I’m leaping forward from one foot to the next, and I like the rhythm it produces in my body. 

That said, there was a point in time in which I was much more mission-oriented with my runs, definitely more ambitious, and unquestionably faster.  I haven’t yet tested myself in a race this year, so it would be interesting to see if my “potential” pace remains more or less the same, but for sure, my running log of the recent years looked decidedly different than my log of the moment.  And the result is somewhat surprising!

We recently moved across the country, to southern California.  Maybe it’s the omnipresence of the fitness and active lifestyle here, but immediately I’m aware of wanting to keep my running going for the long haul.  I’ve always wanted this, but suddenly it’s become a more conscious priority.  Or maybe it’s the fact that the area we’re living is very pedestrian-friendly, in that the traffic lights all have walk buttons, and a traffic law that favors a pedestrian in the crosswalk over a car that wishes to enter said crosswalk.  Suddenly my world of running courses has opened ten-fold; I can run any direction, anywhere I want, and explore my new community on foot, which has proven to be a wonderful adventure.  But in so doing, it also means constant starts-and-stops along my course.  Now it’s true, I am one of those “jog in place” runners at stoplights (it’s easier for me to keep going than to stop and restart), so my rhythm can be kept unbroken, but of course, my actual forward movement grinds to a halt regularly, keeping my average pace down.  So…perhaps I’m just surrendering to the reality of never having that unbroken forward momentum again, and letting go of pushing my pace as a result.

Whatever the reason, I have found it a suprisingly pleasant relief to just downshift into more a “jog” mode for most of my runs, just bouncing along happily, and enjoying the view as I go along.  Consequences be damned, I like just coasting along, going with the flow.  Not suprisingly, it’s made for easier stretching before and afterward, and less need for muscle recovery.  I feel energized after my runs, no matter what the distance (though I must fully disclose, this has almost always been the case anyway).

But here’s what’s truly surprising me!  My body seems to have “fallen” into better fitness in spite of (or is it because of?) this downshifted pacing!  I realize this is far from scientific, there are many other factors to consider, but I’m leaner and stronger than I normally am for this particular running and workout schedule.  So much for the assumption that backing off of intensity would equal a backing off of fitness!

At the very least, it’s a reminder to truly work at the pace your body is comfortable with right now.  You’ll enjoy more running longevity and just might be delighted at the more immediate gifts as well!

Evamarie Pilipuf is a stretching consultant based in southern California, and the owner/operator of www.TheFlexibilityCoach.com, a membership site where athletes stretch and do yoga online via Evamarie’s audio and video guidance.

Posted by: thehungryrunner | June 6, 2011

Luscious Mango-Cashew Wraps: Can you say, “Oh my God”?

Every now and then I stumble upon a recipe that is just a little bit dangerous, where the ingredients, while healthy, offer tastes and textures that, put together, are almost too good for my own good.  You know those foods that suddenly make your eyes bigger than your stomach?  This is one of them for me!

But that’s not stopping me from enjoying this, my latest creation:  Mango-Cashew Wraps.  This must be a plum year for mangoes, for the ones I’ve been taking home from any grocery store have all been ripe, sweet, and very juicy.  And while peanut and even almond butter have worked well for these wraps (well come on, I had to experiment to make sure I got it just right!), I find the more mellow flavor of the cashew butter to be the perfect foil to the tropical intensity of the mango.

Give it a try after your next run and see if it doesn’t help the recovery of your palate as much as it does the recovery of your muscles!

Luscious Mango-Cashew Wraps

  • 1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced into bite-size pieces
  • 2-3 low-carb tortillas
  • crunchy cashew butter, about 2 Tablespoons per tortilla
  • Option:  sprinkle of cinnamon

Spread each tortilla with a generous layer of cashew butter.  Top with the fresh mango, on just the one half.  Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired.  Fold the tortilla in half and press gently to “glue” with the cashew butter.  Can be eaten as is or after a 10-second warm-up in the microwave (as if it wasn’t to die for already).

Enjoy!  But be aware, one may not be enough!

Evamarie Pilipuf is a stretching consultant based in southern California, and the owner/operator of www.TheFlexibilityCoach.com, a membership site where athletes stretch and do yoga online via Evamarie’s audio and video guidance.

Posted by: thehungryrunner | May 31, 2011

Additional tight calf and hamstring help: Pre-run stretches

It doesn’t take long, if you peruse this blog, to see a frequent theme of stretching and dealing with tight muscles.  There’s a reason for that, besides the obvious that it’s my business to help people stay active through regular stretching.  I fight muscle tightness just like everyone else, especially when it comes to my running!  I must tell you, I still sometimes feel cranky about this.  After all, I’m the Flexibility Coach, and a contortionist at that!  I shouldn’t have to deal with such mortal struggles as tight hammies, right?

Ha!  Nice try, stretch girl!  But the good news about my own personal flexibility hurdles, is that they keep me experimenting, to find and tweak those methods and stretches that prove the most effective, then pass them along to my members, clients, and readers of this blog.  So at least my struggles are not for naught.  At least, that’s what I tell myself on those days when I find myself confronting yet another reminder that I’m not just a Hungry Runner, I’m an Over 40 Runner — and my muscles did get the memo, bleh!

Anyway, my latest experiment has been to take up that ultimate alleged no-no of stretching BEFORE my run, and not just afterward.  Now mind you, I’ve been advocating for this strategy for years, albeit acknowledging that stretching before vigorous exercise can be tricky, as it serves a different purpose than the stretches that come after the vigorous exercise.  When you stretch afterward, you’re primary seeking to help your muscles recover and regain their full length (and possibly even improve upon it), whereas stretching before a workout is more about establishing the full range you already have, but without causing the muscles and their nerves to relax too much.  Relaxation of nerve stimulation is not what you want before a workout; on the contrary, you want the opposite, to get those nerves and muscles all fired up and ready to go, especially since maximum recruitment and readiness will reduce the chance of over-depending on an incomplete range of muscles, which could put them under undo duress.  But you also want your muscles to be ready to move through their full range, for the same reason:  If you’re going into the workout without waking up that range, you’ll be more apt to move in an altered, compensated fashion, putting excess stress on certain muscles and joints, and affecting the quality of your performance.

With that need in mind, I’ve been determined to find that balance:  get some stretches going beforehand, yet in a way that doesn’t leave my body and mind feeling more ready for zen meditation than an energetic 4-miler.  In particular, my goal has centered around my hamstrings and calf muscles, since these are usually the muscles that are screaming the loudest for stretches by the end of my longer runs.

So here’s what seems to be working:  Just as I’ve been advocating, dynamic stretches that aren’t held for very long are better than long-held static stretches.  But here’s what I’ve added that I want to pass along:  I start with a few light stretches and movements at the stairs, such as cat stretches, foot-on-stairs lunges, easy forward bends (using the railings to help keep the stretches light), and single-leg heel drops to stretch my calves.  I then do some light jogs in a small area, maybe 50 feet or so back and forth, but more like a spring:  boing, boing boing.  A runner friend of mine would call this a “pogo” jog, i.e. like you’re jumping on a pogo stick.  I also do some high-knee jogs in place, and then a few bounding jogs.  The idea, obviously, is to exaggerate my run gait in every way so as to wake up all the circuits and get the full range of motion going.  I THEN return to those initial stretches, holding for just a tiny bit longer and trying to relax my muscles just enough to feel them open up from before.

I still stretch at the end of my run, but I can’t tell you what a difference this has made!  Something about that added jog warm-up and the repeated round of stretches really seems to relax and set my form; I run with much better quality in those initial 10-15 minutes than I normally do, and by the end of the run, my legs feel less tight and fatigued.  The end-of-run stretches go better, too. 

So if you’ve added stretches to your running program and are still struggling with muscle tightness, consider those opening stretches and warm-up.  Yes, it takes more time and frankly annoys me as when I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go.  But I’m finding it well worth the added time and effort.

Evamarie Pilipuf is a stretching consultant based in southern California, and the owner/operator of www.TheFlexibilityCoach.com, a membership site featuring her collection of online audio and video instruction.  

Posted by: thehungryrunner | May 13, 2011

Light Lemon-Lime Cheesecake Cups

I’ve been getting a lot of mileage (literally and figurtively) out of this one lately.  Easy, no baking required, delicious and nutritious.  What’s not to love?

Light Lemon-Lime Cheesecake Cups

  • 1 6-oz. cup lemon-flavored low-fat yogurt
  • 1 6-oz. cup lime-flavored low-fat yogurt
  • 1 cup low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • Splenda or sweetener of your choice, to taste (I usually use about 2-3 Tablespoons)
  • 2 vanilla cookies, crumbled

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the softened cream cheese until creamy.  Add the cottage cheese and sweetener and blend until very well combined.  Stir in the lemon and lime yogurt and mix well.  Spoon into 2 dessert bowls or cups and sprinkle each with a crumbled cookie.  Serve at once.

Makes 2 servings.

Evamarie Pilipuf is a stretching consultant based in southern California, and the owner/operator of TheFlexibilityCoach.com, a paid membership site featuring her collection of online audios and videos.  

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