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Archive for December, 2012

Name That Fruit

You get a nutritional gold star (not to be confused with a nutritious gold star, which I’m pretty sure does not exist because even though the super-rich like to decorate their food with edible gold flakes, such flakes don’t provide any nutritive value), if you can name this fruit:

Mystery fruit #1

These beauties came in my CSA box from Tanaka Farms the other day. I had no idea what they were until I looked up the delivery list for the week. I thought they looked like some kind of pear, but some of them were more round than pear-shaped. My first clue should have been the yummy smell of the ones that were starting to ripen and turn yellow:

Mystery fruit #1 pic 2

Can you guess? (This reminds me of a story my mom tells of the time she gave her dad a present when she was a little girl. She was so excited when she handed him the gift, she said, “Guess, but don’t guess hankies!”)

So, guess, but don’t guess Asian guavas! Yup, these fragrant fruits are organic Asian guavas. My husband and my 4-year-old gobbled them up at dinner yesterday. According to Trethowan Organic Farm, here’s how to eat them, and the benefits they provide:

Don’t peel them, just remove the seeds. Not only do they possess an exotic flavor, they have a long list of health benefits: Guavas are low in calories and fats but contain several vital vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are an excellent source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and potassium. Guavas are also a good source of B Complex, Vitamin E and K.

What new fruit or vegetable have you tried lately? Have you ever tasted an Asian guava? I tried a bite of Asian guava but I’m not a huge fan of guavas. I would definitely remove the seeds and then blend these up in a smoothie. Or, you know, save them for Mike and my youngest girl, who devoured them like they are the nectar of the gods.

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If you are suffering from plantar fasciitis heel or arch pain, you might be considering buying a device to be worn at night to stretch the plantar fascia (the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes). The plantar fascia contracts overnight and it can be especially painful to take your first steps in the morning. I wore a Strassburg Sock to help me recover from plantar fasciitis and I highly recommend it. The only problem is that the Strassburg Sock and other such devices can be pricey and not everyone can afford them (or in my case, wants to buy two Strassburg Socks for two aching feet!)

I’m not going to teach you how to sew your own version of a Strassburg Sock because (a) patents and (b) laziness. There’s a crazy simple solution that costs nothing if you already have an appropriate pair of knee-high socks in your drawer. Find some that fit snugly around your upper calves. I used a pair of winter ski socks.

Step 1. Put one sock on the affected foot and pull it all the way up to cover your calf.

Step 2. Take the other sock and pull it onto the foot only as far as the arch of the foot (or over the heel if it doesn’t stay on in step 3).

Step 3. Grab the toes of the second sock and pull them back to tuck into the top of the first sock. The second sock should be pulled tight enough to gently bend back your toes. If it hurts, you’ve pulled the second sock too tight and you need to make adjustments.

See how the second sock gently pulls back on the toes?

See how the second sock gently pulls back on the toes?

You might have to experiment until you find socks that have the right level of elasticity in them. You want them snug but not so tight that they cut off your circulation in your calf. I found that this homemade solution worked nearly as well as the expensive store-bought Strassburg Sock. Only occasionally did I have to adjust the socks to keep the tension at the right level. If you can afford to invest in a Strassburg Sock then I say go for it. If you are looking for a simple, no-sew solution, then you have nothing to lose by giving this method a try. It worked for me!

Keep in mind that in addition to wearing a plantar fasciitis sock, you should be taking many other steps to relieve your plantar fasciitis pain. Check out my comprehensive list of stretches, exercises and gear to recover from plantar fasciitis. Good luck!

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I am proud of my race times. A lot of training (and a little luck) went into achieving those times, and I’m still constantly working to improve on them. They don’t define me though. I don’t hang my self-worth on whether or not I sub-4 in the marathon (I haven’t, but that is a goal of mine), or get a PR in a race. I strive for goal times, and I hope to achieve them, but I do not lose a piece of myself if I don’t hit that time. Why? Because a race time is just a number. It doesn’t come with a little asterisk that says*

*41-year-old female, 5’6.5″ and 133 pounds, running since March 2011, Graves’ Disease, three children, recovering from injury, raced some serious hills and fought the wind (does that sound like some Fit Fun Mom you know?), or

flooding at CIM

Typhoon running not highly recommended, CIM 2012

*dealt with typhoon-like rain in Sacramento for CIM 2012 (“365 days of awesome” blog), or

*was the victim of an unavoidable bike crash at IMAZ (“Cook Train Eat Race” blog), or

*got up with the baby three times during the night before the race (any new-ish mother, anywhere).

Those aren’t excuses. I’m saying that it’s useless to tie your self-worth to a race time because there’s never going to be another person out there just like you, racing under conditions just like yours.

marathon finishers

Finishers at the Chicago Marathon in 2005. Photo by rbackowski.

Think about it another way. Who is more “worthy” of admiration after completing a marathon?

1. The 23-year-old female who’s been running for 5 years and comes in at around 3 hours.
2. The 41-year-old female who’s been running for 1.5 years and comes in at around 4 hours (*cough cough*).
3. The 35-year-old with type 2 diabetes who’s lost 30 pounds in training and comes in around 5 hours.

I’d argue they are equally worthy of admiration. They each ran 26.2 miles. They each put in a tremendous amount of effort to achieve those times. They each faced different challenges on race day.

I race against me, myself and I, and sometimes it’s still not a fair race. When you sign up in November for a race in June, who knows what will happen in between now and then? Injury? Family crisis? Weather? Perfect conditions? Crash? Take your satisfaction from checking off each workout in the training plan. Consider any race finish the icing on the cake. And if you do happen to PR? We know it was hard-fought and well-earned and should be celebrated.

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When I signed up for my first marathon, it was a Big Deal and I wanted to make a Big Deal about the getaway weekend in Santa Barbara. It’s not easy for my husband and children to support me through these events and I wanted to make sure they got something out of the weekend too. That’s why I booked the Spanish Garden Inn as our hotel in Santa Barbara.

The view from the street hardly gives you an idea of the private getaway that awaits you around the internal central courtyard.

I first read about it in Sunset magazine’s 25 Best Hotels in the West list for 2011. I called up the hotel (sometimes also called the Inn of the Spanish Garden) and begged for a discount for the marathon. The manager kindly offered me 20% off each night, which brought the price to an average of about $300 per night. What made it worth it? The high ceilings in the rooms.

 

Peeking into the room from the private patio. Check out the beams on the high ceilings!

The gas fireplace. My 4-year-old could hardly believe she had the power to make fire with the flip of a switch. (Disclaimer: no small children, large children, or hotel rooms were harmed in the making of this review).

The private patio with the charming gate.

The workout equipment on a covered patio by the pool.

The breakfast buffet each morning that included fruit, pastries, cereal, toast and a special order of spinach or bacon quiche and a meat and cheese plate. (The breakfast was included with the room price and it is definitely a step up from a continental breakfast even though there wasn’t a full kitchen.)

And the gorgeous courtyard where you could eat outside next to the fountain by the lemon trees.

It felt like we were staying at a private apartment (sans kitchen). While I would even go so far as to say the hotel felt a little too nice to take young children to (not that that ever stops us), the kids loved it too. There were freshly-baked cookies at the check-in desk on arrival. There was pink lemonade in the dining area during the day in addition to iced tea for the adults. The front desk had a free copy of Rio for the kids to watch on the DVD player while I soaked in the tub after the marathon. When the kids were crazy enough to want to dip in the outdoor pool in mid-November, the staff brought out extra towels without a word.

While we stayed at the hotel we walked downtown rather than get in our car and hassle with parking. The inn is located in the historic Presidio District and it is just three blocks to State Street. There are a few restaurants that are even closer (I can recommend Julienne and Zaytoon).

I’d definitely stay again at the Spanish Garden Inn and I ain’t getting paid to say that (darn it).

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When Mike and I spent the weekend in La Quinta for his sprint triathlon, I took the opportunity to get out on a new-to-me bike trail. Bullet and I rode out of La Quinta Resort right onto Eisenhower Drive to the Bear Creek Path that starts on the corner of Eisenhower and Calle Tampico. I followed the trail through the suburban desert neighborhood to the path along the creek.

Gorgeous view of the Santa Rosa Mountains

Gorgeous view of the Santa Rosa Mountains

The path runs 4.75 miles through the desert homes and along Bear Creek.

That's the "creek" on the right.

That’s the “creek” on the right.

As you can see, Bear Creek was bone dry, just like the desert air on my ride. I swear it hardly felt like I was putting out any effort at all given that any sweat I generated instantly evaporated in the dry desert air. I had plenty of water with me and I passed a drinking fountain along the way.

It helped that the views were spectacular and new to me. I love getting out to explore new territory! While the “creek” and the Santa Rosa Mountains bordered my right, the Fred Wolff Nature Preserve bordered my left. It was like riding through a desert botanical garden complete with signs to identify the local flora. I even got treated to seeing a few roadrunners cross my path! I wasn’t fast enough to capture a photo of them but it’s no wonder — according to a local neighborhood association those birds run up to 18 miles per hour on feet that have four toes (two in front and two in back, making the tracks look like an “X”).

I rode a total of 18 miles in about 75 minutes. Not particularly fast but the slight grade was deceptive and it didn’t help that the path was concrete with lots of joint lines, which means it was not the best bike path but would be awesome for running. There was even a dirt/gravel/sand path that ran alongside the trail for much of the way if you’d prefer that as a runner.

One last thing I need to share about the trail and the bike lanes along the nearby roads. This made me giggle:

I guess we know who takes priority in the resort town of La Quinta!

I guess we know who takes priority in the resort town of La Quinta!

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I cornered my husband for an interview about his experience at HITS Palm Springs 2012 on Sunday. He did his first sprint triathlon and came in 6th of 12 in his 40-44 age group and 91st of 238 overall!

A newbie crosses the line to become a triathlete!

A newbie crosses the line to become a triathlete!

Swim: 00:19:12.982 (130th of 238)
T1: 00:03:18.792
Bike: 00:41:51.931 (105th of 238; 17.77 miles per hour)
T2: 00:02:07.115
Run: 00:26:03.499 (81 of 238 — best segment! 8:24 pace, 7.14 mph)
Finish: 01:32:34.319

1. Congratulations on your first triathlon! How do you feel 36 hours later?

Sore! Accomplished. Proud of wife because of her triathlon adventures and her super fast times!

2. What was the farthest race you had run before doing a triathlon? What was your experience with cycling and swimming? What did you work on most as you prepared for the tri?

I had done a few 5K races. The longest run for fun I’d ever done was 9 miles. I’d never competed before on the bike or swimming. At first I had to see if I could even do the swim — swim that half-mile distance. I did a couple of weeks of swim tryouts and I realized I could do it. Then I got out Your First Triathlon and started following one of the training plans from that.

3. What surprised you about the training?

Nothing really surprised me. I knew what to expect from watching you train. It turned out about like I expected — you have to commit to it, you have to prioritize the training over other things. It put a dent in some of my other activities like music, and I quit yoga and Pilates in order to spend the time on training.

4. What surprised you about the triathlon itself?

The swim. The swim start was unmanageable. I was on the verge of having to float for a while to catch my breath. In the pool it was no big deal. I could get my groove, I could push myself to the limit and back off when it got to be too much, and never break my stroke. But when you’ve got hundreds of bodies interfering with your kicking, and splashing you, and going out of the gate so fast, it interferes with your stroke and your breathing and it’s hard to get back to your pace. After about 100 or 200 yards I had a moment of worry that it might be the end of my race and I could not keep on going. So I flipped over on my back and did backstroke for a while, then I floated on my back while I kicked my legs to catch my breath. After a while I was able to flip back over and complete the swim at my normal pace.

My dead legs on the run surprised me too. I got a decent time for the run — 26:03 — but I would have estimated it was 30 minutes based on the way I felt.

5. Do you feel like just from doing this triathlon, you’ll be better prepared for the swim start next time?

Yes, for sure. There’s some nervousness at the start of the race that freaks you out a bit. Having all those people around you makes you freak out.

I think that there are a few other things that could help. Practicing a shore start at a lake. Also practicing swimming through surf waves would be a good way to try that out because you have to put out a lot of exertion right through the start and then come back and get your groove.

6. What did you learn from doing your first tri? What do you wish you had known before going into the race?

I wish I had had some more coping skills for the swim start. I also need a tri kit for the bike because I was the only shirtless bike rider out there, to the point that I worried that it was against the rules. [It wasn’t].

7. What did you think of the HITS Palm Springs organization? Would you do the race again?

I think they did a great job. They did a better job than last year [the first year of the series, when I did the Olympic distance race]. It’s a really great venue and the organizers are really nice people. They’re cool and they care a lot about the racers and the sport and it comes through in their attitude. I would definitely do the race again.

8. What’s your advice for someone considering signing up for a triathlon?

Try out each of the pieces to see how it feels. Try out running, try out swimming, try out biking and see how it goes. The likelihood is that will give you the confidence to do it. Then pick a training plan and stick to it. Be honest with yourself about the time commitment and the discipline it takes to stick to that plan. The success of the triathlon is in the training for the race; the race is just an indication that you trained well. [I totally agree!]

9. What are your goals now that you’ve successfully completed a sprint?

Don’t overeat. Keep up the training. Sign up for another one at some point!

Thanks Mike! I am very proud of you for challenging yourself with the training and race and I’m glad it went so well!

Any other triathletes out there? What was your first triathlon like? What advice would you give someone who is considering signing up for his or her first tri?

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The signs and symptoms of plantar fasciitis (plan-tur fashee-EYE-tiss) started out mild for me. About 10 weeks into marathon training, my feet started feeling sore after a run. I could run and walk fine, but a couple of hours after a workout they would feel sore in the arches. With rest they’d improve, but it would come back again after a run. Over a few days, the soreness progressed to a mild burning sensation that got worse the longer I stayed on my feet. Eventually after a week or so, I felt the heel pain most commonly associated with plantar fasciitis (PF). Upon waking in the morning, the inner corner of my heel, just below the ankle, felt sore when I walked. It looked like my chances of running the marathon in another 10 weeks were doomed. Continuing to run through PF can cause the plantar fascia to rupture painfully, requiring the wearing of a boot cast for up to six weeks and in some extreme cases, surgery. The good news is I was able to develop a successful treatment plan and after a couple weeks of cross-training, I was able to get back to running and go on to complete my first marathon in 4:02:39 without any PF pain during or after the race.

Please note that I am not a medical professional. I simply share my experience in the hope that it can help another person bounce back from PF. The other thing I want to make clear is that PF is a tricky injury to treat and it can take some experimentation to figure out what works. What worked for me might not work for you. You need to figure out both what the cause of your PF was (more on that in a minute) and which treatments help you.

For immediate pain relief:

1. Ice. Use an ice pack (frozen peas or corn works well because the packet molds to the foot) with a thin towel to protect the skin, and ice the foot for 15 minutes at a time a few times a day as needed. Just be careful and make sure to warm up the foot again and then do a gentle stretch of the foot (grabbing the toes and gently drawing them back toward you) before walking again. You can also freeze a plastic water bottle in the freezer (leaving room at the top for the ice to expand) and roll your foot on the frozen bottle. That does the double duty of icing and massaging at the same time.

2. Anti-inflammatory medications. There is debate about whether PF involves any inflammation at all (the pain stems from micro-tears in the connective tissue that runs from the heel to the toes) but there’s no doubt that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen help relieve the pain of PF. Personally I don’t think drugs like Advil treat the PF, they just mask the pain. That’s fine if you’re in a lot of pain but I quickly decided the meds were not necessary.

For further injury prevention:

3. Determine what caused your PF and take steps to mitigate further damage. For some people the key to what caused their PF is clear. It can come on from being overweight or from repetitive strain due to running or other athletic pursuits. Think about what recently changed for you. Have you added something new to your workouts? (For me the culprit was tight calves from running and the introduction of training on the indoor spinning bike. Standing up on the pedals repeatedly stretched and strained the ligament that runs under the foot.) Has it been too long since you bought new athletic shoes?

4. Switch to cross-training. If you want to stay active to lose weight or continue a running training plan without actually running, consider cross-training activities such as cycling, swimming, and aqua-jogging. I found that while spinning on an indoor bike aggravated my feet, I could cycle on my road bike without problems.

To treat the PF:

5. Do stretches for the feet and calves. Before you get out of bed in the morning (and a few other times throughout the day), do a toe stretch by gently pulling back on your toes. Perform a towel stretch by looping a bath towel under the ball of your foot and gently pulling the towel ends back toward you. For the ball stretch, roll a tennis or golf ball under your foot for up to half an hour a day (I know that sounds like a lot but it’s what’s billed as a “magic cure” for PF in Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running: How to Fix Injuries, Stay Active, and Run Pain-Free). Most important for the treatment of PF and prevention of it in the first place (in my opinion), are calf stretches. I don’t mean just stretching your calves after you run. This is so important I’m going to say it in bold: You need to do calf stretches several times a day throughout the day. First do the gastroc stretch, which involves leaning into a wall with your arms outstretched and the affected leg straight back behind you with the heel on the floor (the Running Doc says to turn the foot slightly outward). Lean in and feel the stretch in the upper calf. Do that for 20 seconds, then slightly bend the knee of the affected leg to perform the soleus stretch to stretch the lower calf for another 20 seconds. Alternate those stretches several times. One more note on stretches. I saw lots of recommendations for Achilles tendon stretches (standing on the edge of a stair step and lowering the heels, then raising the heels, and repeating). That absolutely aggravated the PF for me. Here’s a video I found on YouTube that demonstrates three appropriate stretches and then explains why that Achilles tendon stretch is inappropriate (he calls it the Negative Heel Stretch):

Gear that helps:

6. Wear a Strassburg sock or other device. The idea behind the Strassburg Sock is that you wear this sock at night while you sleep to stretch the plantar fascia.

Normally while you sleep the plantar fascia contracts and then when you wake up and stand up, the tight plantar fascia lengthens suddenly and that causes pain. I found that wearing the sock prevents that problem, and I do recommend purchasing the sock. It provided immediate relief of the sharp heel pain I had felt in the mornings. For a less expensive option, follow these directions to make your own no-sew plantar fasciitis sock.

7. Use KT Tape Pro. Without a doubt the one thing that allowed me to keep running as I recovered from PF is KT Tape Pro. Please make sure that you buy KT TAPE PRO rather than the older cotton version which does not stay on as long. If I followed the directions to apply the KT Tape Pro properly, it would stay on for 5 or more days (or until I soaked in a bath or went swimming. It stays on during short showers but I found it could not stand a long soak). The pre-cut kinesiology tape strips are expensive and you want to make them last. Many people apply two strips for the PF application (as directed on the package insert) but I went with three as demonstrated in the KT Tape website:

8. Consider orthotic insoles. Many people swear by insoles such as Superfeet Green Premium Insoles or professional orthotics from a podiatrist. Others argue that such insoles are a crutch that does not really fix the problem in the long term. (Personally I think it’s important for a runner like me to be able to get back into running ASAP and then work on the stretches and strengthening exercises and only then consider running in a more minimalist shoe or even barefoot). Because I had success with the Strassburg Sock and the KT Tape Pro, I never bought insoles so I cannot speak to this one way or the other. (Anyone care to comment?)

Another healing and preventative tip:

9. Do strengthening exercises for the plantar fascia ligament. Once you have reduced the pain of PF you can begin doing strengthening exercises. These include drawing the alphabet on the floor with your toes, picking up marbles with your toes, and scrunching up the end of a towel (pulling in the length of the towel toward you with your toes).

I wish you all the best in healing from plantar fasciitis!

What has your experience with plantar fasciitis been? Do you have any tips for recovering from plantar fasciitis?

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