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Browsing Tag: half marathon training

Sleep is the unsung hero of athletic performance

Sleep is an essential component of our lives, yet it remains one of the most enigmatic phenomena of human existence. We spend roughly one-third of our lives asleep, and the quality of our sleep profoundly impacts our physical health, mental well-being, and overall athletic capabilities. While many focus on the miles logged and the intensity of workouts, the often-overlooked pillars of recovery and sleep play pivotal roles in achieving peak performance. After a grueling training session or race, your muscles need time to repair and rebuild.

Recovery isn’t merely the period of time between runs; it’s an active process that allows your body to adapt and grow stronger. In Las Vegas, NV I had never practiced running a long run at night, despite signing up for “run the strip at night”! It never occurred to me that running 13.1 miles at 5pm would be any different than running 13.1 miles at 7am.

Let’s delve into the intricate workings of sleep, exploring its stages, the role of brain chemicals and how lifestyle choices, such as alcohol and caffeine consumption, can influence our rest cycle. Moreover, we’ll discuss practical tools and strategies to enhance sleep hygiene, promoting better sleep quality and overall endurance running performance.

Stages of Sleep

Sleep is a complex process characterized by distinct stages, each serving a unique function in the restoration and regulation of bodily functions. The sleep cycle consists of two main types: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.

NREM Sleep:

  • Stage 1: This is the transition phase between wakefulness and sleep, characterized by light sleep. Muscle activity decreases, and brain waves begin to slow down.
  • Stage 2: During this stage, eye movements cease, and brain wave activity further slows down. The body prepares for deep sleep.
  • Stages 3 and 4: Also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS) or deep sleep, these stages are crucial for physical restoration, growth, and repair. Brain waves exhibit slow, synchronized patterns, and it’s often challenging to awaken someone during this phase.

REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movements and vivid dreaming. The brain has increased activity, often more activity than when you’re awake! This stage is essential for cognitive function, memory consolidation, and emotional regulation. The brain uses dreams to try to solve problems that you otherwise can’t solve during logical, awake hours. This is why you may get a ‘polka-dotted elephant wearing a tie’, or some other unusual scenario as your brain tries to solve puzzle pieces. Consider REM sleep your overnight therapy.

the Circadian Rhythm

The regulation of sleep-wake cycles, also called your circadian rhythm, is influenced by various factors, including sleep pressure and brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) such as adenosine and melatonin.

  • Adenosine: Throughout the day, the build-up of adenosine, a byproduct of cellular metabolism, creates sleep pressure, signaling the body’s need for rest. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors, temporarily counteracting this sleep-inducing effect. That morning cup of coffee is crucial to many runners, but beware not to consume caffeine afternoon, otherwise you may disrupt your sleep pressure.
  • Melatonin: Often referred to as the “sleep hormone,” melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in response to darkness, helping to regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

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How to Improve your sleep nightly

Developing healthy sleep habits, also known as sleep hygiene, is essential for achieving restorative sleep. Here are some practical tools to improve your nightly sleep ritual.

  1. Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends, to regulate your body’s internal clock.
  2. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Engage in calming activities such as reading (on paper book if possible), meditation, or gentle stretching to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down.
  3. Optimize Your Sleep Environment: Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep by keeping it dark, quiet, and cool. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows to support restful sleep. Your body drops 1-2 degrees as you fall to sleep, so keeping a cool environment is crucial.
  4. Limit Screen Time Before Bed: The blue light emitted by electronic devices can suppress melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep. Try to avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime.
  5. Be Mindful of Dietary Choices: Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime, opting instead for light, sleep-promoting snacks like herbal tea or warm milk.

Improved recovery and sleep leads to faster adaptation, allowing you to increase training volume and intensity over time. So, the next time you lace up your running shoes, remember: the road to half marathon greatness is paved with equal parts sweat, rest, and rejuvenating sleep.

What To Do When Half Marathon Is Derailed With Unexpected Injury

Training for a half marathon is a commitment of time and energy to yourself. With 12-weeks of preparation, your training can be derailed with unexpected injury or illness and have such an impact on the outcome of the race. I’ve alway considered myself a particularly healthy individual. With an education in healthcare, I write about endurance running & form, clean eating, and how traveling the world improves your mental health and creativity. During my training for the Idaho potato half marathon, I was diagnosed with a new autoimmune disease that shocked my core to the very being.

How in the world did I end up being admitted to a hospital for a week with extreme gut pain? How could this happen to me? Then of course the subsequent self-doubt mind chatter follows. Did I cause this autoimmune disease? Did I eat too much sugar? Was this caused by recent stress during the pandemic and moving my family to a different state, or lack of sleep being a full-time mom and working?

According to national Institute for health, more than 7% of the American population suffers from Autoimmune disease and the prevalence is rising. Triggers of autoimmune disease include stress, diet, exercise, insufficient sleep, and yet again I’m angered with this diagnosis wondering,

‘I thought I was healthy, what the heck happened?

Moving forward, learning to control my symptoms of autoimmune disorder I appreciate the wealth of knowledge regarding clean eating and food to nourish my body. To gain perspective on the healing effects of clean eating for our bodies, let’s begin with the most underrated organ of our body, our gut. Here are a few facts that absolutely blew my mind about our gut’s amazing abilities.

  • One ounce of our stool (poop), has more microbes than there are people living on this entire planet! Wow! Each one of us holds our own ecosystem within our gut.
  • Your Genome has the potential to grow over 400 million different ecosystems. That translates to, if you’re not happy with your body‘s performance now, go and build one of the other 399 million options your genome has potential of. You’re microbiome changes every three days!

You can focus on changing your gut ecosystem from sedentary lifestyle to Elite athlete with proper clean eating nutrition.

Meaning, There’s Hope for you and me!

  • 95% of serotonin originates in your gut. Serotonin is a neurochemical in your brain that controls mood, which is why when you’re feeling loved you can get ‘butterfly’s in your tummy’. Also the use of an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) is the mainstay medication used to treat anxiety and depression. This means what you eat determines whether you have anxiety, depression, fatigue, fear, guilt.

With building entirely unique gut ecosystems, we literally become the phrase “you are what you eat!”

With more knowledge on gut health, let’s begin to provoke change. Finding a problem is liberating as it helps lead to a solution. The walls our our digestive tract are extremely thin, less than one cell in diameter. With certain foods the lining will become porous letting “bad bacteria” slip through the lining causing chronic inflammation.

Signs of chronic inflammation include:

  • Fatigue
  • abdominal or chest pain
  • mouth sores
  • fever
  • rashes
  • joint pain

(I have definitely experienced ALL of these symptoms personally, *and if you have, you should speak with your primary care provider*)

So what do we do about the rise of autoimmune disease, and how does this affect my running?

I had been training for a half marathon in Idaho. I highly considered cancelling my race after two separate admissions to the hospital to control my gut pain. Life had thrown me a curveball; just as it had done at the Grand Teton half marathon, when I unexpectedly had to push a double stroller for 13.1 miles.

But running a half marathon in each state is a journey within itself. The road trip across states with my best friends was be pivotal to my soul, and laughter I desperately need. Traveling to different states gives my body exposure to different microbiomes. And people with the ‘healthiest guts’ tend to have the greatest diversity of bacteria in their microbiome.

Plus, I have now given myself permission to walk the entire race with rest and bathroom stops as often as I need to.

This upcoming race will challenge me, even if I only walk the course. and that’s ok.

I can create one of the other 399 million potential microbiomes my genome is capable of creating. So I continue upon this clean eating lifestyle, and continue to learn and share my knowledge with you in hopes you can excel to your athletic potential as well.

For additional knowledge, I recommend taking Outside’s Learn “the gut health fix”, with Seamus Mullen. This master class has been pivotal in my understanding, and I highly recommend this course.

I write to you as a running coach to make suggestions to improve your performance. But YOU get to make the decisions. Choose options that honor your body and your practice.

I went on to start the famous Idaho potato Half marathon as planned, and I FINISHED the RACE STRONG!

we run the states

Marin Endurance Sprint triathlon on the beautiful coast of california

This year has been my biggest racing season yet. Four half marathons, two of which were back to back in different states, and my first attempt at a sprint triathlon on the beautiful coast of California.

Disclaimer: I received a free race entry to review this run as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

sprint triathlon, the Swim

I have an aversion to cold water. Ironic, because I voluntarily signed up for competitive swim in high school. I recall sitting on the stoop of the pool every practice convincing my mind, “just do it. Just jump in the pool. Everybody else is already in”. My mind would twirl around the thought of getting cold in the water and continue to escalate how much, I didn’t want to get in. My coach would nearly have to push me in the water. I hate cold water, and the spiteful pain it immerses you in instantly. However I loved swimming.

After the initial shock of cold, my skin would go numb. I would feel almost euphoric, like I was the best (junior varsity) swimmer to ever be! Unbeknownst to my 16 year old mind, cold water immersion increases the blood dopamine level by 250%, and dopamine is the Neurochemical that allows you to feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. Hence, after discovering endurance exercise, such as running a half marathon in each state, releases similar escalated levels of dopamine, I’ve always considered the challenge of completing a triathlon.

When BibRave offered a local triathlon on the beautiful coast of California, I literally jumped out of my seat for the opportunity. This was it. This was my chance to really challenge my fitness. I signed up for the Sprint triathlon. I was tempted to go straight for the Olympic Tri, however luckily I thought better to start where I belonged, as a novice. After much preparation, The day before the race I had woken up at 2 am, as I usually do, and checked my email.

“Important Update Regarding Marin Triathlon”

“Attention fellow Triathletes,

We have been informed by Marin County Parks that McNears Beach Park has failed the water quality test executed by Marin County Environmental Health Services. Your health and safety are our utmost priority and the water for our swim portion has not been deemed a safe environment for our athletes.

Therefore, the swim portion of the Marin Triathlon cannot take place on Saturday.”

“YES, I DON’T HAVE TO GET IN THAT COLD PACIFIC OCEAN!” the cold water aspect of me cheered. Of course immediately followed by the disappointment of, “This means I technically failed my first triathlon”. My 2am brain started overflowing, “Gosh, if I don’t compete in the swim portion of the Tri, should I even compete at all? I could save my energy and do a long run in preparation for my half marathon in two weeks instead”.

Marin Endurance Festival sprint Triathlon

marin sprint triathlon

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is based on the premise of having a thought, followed by an emotion, which creates an action. I weighed my options. I could have easily not participated, but what would that have taught me? The thought presented: the swim portion was cancelled. My emotion was both relief and disappointment. My action was not quitting. I got to Choose my action. I chose to try my best at a bike and run event and be thankful for the opportunity.

The Marin Endurance festival was still epic and my very first competition on a bike. The course was still challenging, and I am ready to take on the swim portion, in addition to the bike and run next year. Plus I am extremely grateful the race director did not let us swim in unsafe waters. On to the bike!

Training for the sprint triathlon in open water lake

the Bike

“It’s just like riding a bike”. The expression itself refers to how easy it is to remember how to ride a bike, even after a long time of absence. So I may have undertrained for this aspect of the event. I was fortunate enough to borrow a road bike from a friend; and my first thirty minutes on the bike in training was exhilarating! I even went so far as to say, I enjoyed riding a bike more than running. And although, yes, it was ‘just like riding a bike’, my thighs and ankles were not accustomed to the endurance cycling put on them.

The Marin Endurance triathlon is up and down hills. The very entrance of the course is a challenging upslope to get to the main road. I was not quite prepared for the competitive aspect of this race. I can’t tell you how many times I heard fellow cyclists warn me, “On your left!”. Sometimes I wanted to shout back, “I know guys, I get the point.” I was slow AF. Although I was far below par shifting gears between uphill easy gears and downhill thick gears to push forward, the race was still exhilarating. The scenery was unbeatable with the pacific ocean waves crashing softly on the shore.

The air was stagnant with humidity, yet comforting, almost sour from the ocean salt.

It reminded me constantly of baking homemade sourdough bread on Sundays. The bike course is 4 miles out and back. It seemed almost like the first 4 miles was solely downhill, so I feared the return would be mainly uphill. Oddly, the return had a fair amount of up and downs as well. On to the Run aspect of the sprint triathlon!

bike part of the sprint triathlon

the Run

The Run, this was my jive. I’m by no means a superior athlete of running. But I was pretty confident I could run a 5K in my sleep. After the smooth transition beside the ocean, I dropped my bike and tied my running shoes on. Running was familiar. All I had to do was finish at this point, a 5K. Like I said ‘I could do a 5k in my sleep’. And then my realization, Holy thighs! What a narcissist ideation that I could jump from a bike to a run without ever previously trying it before! My grandiose ideation of myself meant I could complete a 5k without ever trying the transition. silly me. I ran passed my sister after 0.1 miles of the run and recall whimpering, “ouch! this hurts!” Duh, Laura, it’s going to hurt. So I sought out to endure the 5K.

Again, the start was straight uphill to get to the road. What a cruel way to start a course, and yet Marin Endurance knew exactly what they were doing. Us athlete’s love this challenge. After that initial uphill there was a downhill along the coast. There was a soft mist caressing the left side of my face for most of the run. So much so, I couldn’t tell if it was a breeze from the ocean or actually raining. There was a small sign with a hand written ‘5k turn here’ sign on the road. There were many runners continuing beyond the sign with ease (perhaps for the olympic tri), which of course had me questioning myself,

“do I turn here, am I cheating off the course?”

Luckily I stumbled upon a man in short shorts with bright red hair for direction. He was confident. He was supporting other runners. I realized he was merely a runner, just like me, yet with confidence. He easily told me, “my watch says we’re at 1.7 miles, we’re past half way, it’s ok to turn around”. Thank you short shorts red hair man, I definitely needed that reassurance.

The water continually beat my face, only from the right side this time. This wasn’t just a pass of the ocean, it was raining from the heaven’s above. My thighs hurt, my chest hurt, my mind hurt. I saw the expressions of all those around me, we were struggling with the wind and rain beating us. At no point did I consider I couldn’t make it. My mind was humbled, gracious, appreciative. This Triathlon hurt, and that’s exactly what I had anticipated. I passed the finish line with Katrina, my sister, cheering me on. My first Triathlon, technically a Biathlon. I still felt very accomplished and cannot wait to participate in this event again next year.

Next up, Hilton Head half marathon in South Carolina next weekend. Where is your next event, (let me know in the comments) I’d love to cheer you on!

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