Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Short Days and Frozen Snot: Surviving Running Through the Winter

by Dan Young

Winter has arrived! It’s cold, and it feels windy, there is never any light, and when there is light, the glare burns your eyes out of their sockets. Maybe I just have sensitive eyes. In any case, it’s time to find what makes us runners. Running isn’t fun this time of year, and it’s not easy either. Let’s tackle the problems one at a time.

First of all, it’s cold (not really the defining winter thing, but it’s first anyway). Your fingertips hurt, the wind cuts through your soul, your ears may be covered by a hat, but your nose is going to have problems, your legs itch when warming up after your run or else you wore pants (who wears pants?), and you feel bulky wearing enough to not die. So, solutions: gloves, a windproof jacket, a hat, there is no solution (you are doomed to a cold nose every winter), depends on your attitude on pants, and finally I suppose you could move south. Or run on a treadmill (hint: this is not a solution to anything). Let’s face it, I just named three pieces of clothing and then doomed you to eternal misery. Nobody wants to wear the same thing over and over and over again for a whole season, so really there are no solutions here at all. Moral of the story: you need to decide what makes you a runner.

Second, the days are short (this is the defining winter thing, in case you were wondering). 
So, you could run early, but then you run into the “it’s really really really really really really really cold” issue. And it’s dark. You could run in the middle of the day, except you probably have other obligations then, so that is a no go. Finally you could run at night. When it’s dark. And cold again. This is another lovely picture I have painted for you. Moral of the story: you need to decide what makes you a runner.

Next problem: your nose runs (this is pretty much unrelated to winter, except that it happens a lot during winter) all the time. When you are running, and still when you have finished running. I’m not even going to pretend this time. This is always going to be a problem. We can jump straight to the moral of the story: you need to decide what makes you a runner.

The final problem (ha, that’s funny, this is just the last one I’m going to mention) is the weather/clothes relationship being very finicky (also not really winter specific, but let’s face it, you wear shorts and a t-shirt in the summer and are good to go). If you wear the wrong clothes, which were the right clothes when you decided to run, then you get all sweaty and freeze your butt off. Or if your clothes are now to light, you just freeze your butt off from the start. Woo! It’s about time to get to the point now, so moral of the story: you need to decide what makes you a runner.

Now is the bit where I am supposed to wrap this up for you all, but I think everyone has a pretty good idea where this is going. There is some reason, or set of reasons, for each of us that gets us out the door. That reason is your best friend this time of year, and there is no such thing as a bad reason. I have a pair of things motivating me, my goals for next year and the changes running makes in my life. My winter will have two parts, first, running because all I can think about is running next year, and second, thinking about running next year which makes me want to run. This is going to be a fun time. I hope to see you all out there over the winter. Stay warm, and always have tissues at your run’s end.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

10 Ways to Keep Off the Holiday Pounds (While Still Having Fun!)

It's that time of year again!  Those days between our Thanksgiving feasting and our New Year's binging that are full of delicious holiday treats, perhaps alcohol-laden beverages and holiday parties with lots of snacks.  This is the time of year when most of us put on a nice layer of padding that, while it may keep us warmer in the winter months ahead, none of us are too happy to see.  Who wants to give up our holiday fun and festivities when it really comes down to it, right?  So many of us rationalize our way into a bigger pants size every year.  Well, not this year!  Here's your guide to make it through this holiday season in the same pants size, while still having fun!

10.Plan Christmas Activities That Don't Revolve Around Eating

Cookie-making is an obvious and fun activity for Christmas, but the temptation is there to eat as many as you possibly can, especially during busy days where it's hard to find the time to cook healthy meals. Instead of spending days baking all kinds of calorie-heavy treats, consider doing some holiday crafts instead!  A hand-made ornament for the tree or hand-made Christmas cards are lovely holiday gifts that can be made in place of the traditional cookie plates.  Pinterest is a great resource for all kinds of holiday craft ideas and many are very simple and fun to do! Here are some craft ideas for your family to try together:

9.  Take Advantage of the Snowy Weather

Despite the groans and complaints when the snow starts to fly, those of us living in areas that are lucky enough to get snow have the advantage of variety in our outdoor environment. Since variety is the spice of life, let's take advantage of it!  Whether it's going downhill or cross country skiing, winter hiking or snowshoeing, making a snowman or just taking a walk out there in our winter wonderland, getting out there in the snow to be active will not only burn calories from the act of doing whatever activity you've chosen, but just being out in the cold can burn calories simply by way of the body needing to heat itself.  Beyond that, being cold can increase your metabolism overall!  So go ahead, get out there and take advantage of the natural metabolism boost that you can gain from cold climates. 

8.  Go Caroling!

Taking a walk with a group of friends and singing Christmas carols is a quintessential Christmas activity that has mostly been lost in this day and age.  It not only gets you outside, which as we've already discussed is great for burning calories and boosting your metabolism, but walking is a great calorie burner, as well.  According to About Health

"A rule of thumb is 100 calories per mile are burned for a 180-pound person and 65 calories per mile for a 120-pound person"  

They also have a handy calculator for figuring out exactly how many calories you could be burning on your walk.  Most of all, you're creating fun holiday memories with your family and friends.

7.  Take a Walk (or Run) to Enjoy the Christmas Lights Instead of Driving

During this time of year, most of us venture out at least once to take a look at the Christmas light displays our neighbors have provided.  Why not take the opportunity to walk or run to see the Christmas lights instead?  In the Binghamton area, we have a group run planned to go enjoy Christmas lights as a group, but there's no reason you have to wait for someone else to plan this.  Don't forget that you'll want to dress in bright colors and reflective gear so that you're visible to drivers at night.

6.  Start Your New Year's Resolutions Early

There's no reason to wait that extra couple weeks to start in on your New Year's resolutions.  In fact, starting them immediately and then boosting your resolve when they New Year rolls around will encourage you to have at least a month of consistency with your resolution and more likelihood of keeping it up, long term.  It takes about a month of consistency to make a lifestyle change become a normal part of your life, but make sure to set reasonable goals.  Instead of broad or vague resolutions like "stop eating sugar" or "lose 10 lbs", try creating positive and smaller goal steps like "eat 5 kinds of vegetables per day".  It can also help to have a progressive plan where you add additional small goals over time to progress to your goal instead of trying to dive in headfirst.

Most areas also have a "Resolution Run": a 5k race planned on New Year's day (or sometimes New Year's Eve).  Starting a couple weeks ahead can give you a head start on being able to complete or compete in such an event.  Why not sign up now to keep you motivated to keep the calories down and the exercise up through the coming weeks?

5.  Sign up for That Event NOW, Not Later

I know, I know, most of us are a little short on cash this time of year.  Despite that fact, signing up for a spring event, whether it be your first 5k or half marathon, a triathlon, or a relay with your friends, it can be enough to motivate you to be mindful of your eating and exercise over the coming weeks and bring you through the New Year without a lot of weight gain. Remaining healthy is always an excellent use of your money.

4.  Think "Less" not "None"

It's a huge bummer to get to a holiday party and think "I'm not allowed to eat any of this."  Holiday willpower is hard enough, but add in an alcoholic drink or two and and suddenly it's completely out the window.  Instead, at that Christmas party buffet, consider just taking half a spoonful of the things you would normally want to eat and then mindfully savor every bite.  According to Mireille Guillano, author of the book French Women Don't Get Fat, the key is not to avoid the delights that life brings along, but to take a small amount and savor it slowly and fully.  Where we Americans tend to just shovel delicious things into our mouths faster, Guillano suggests taking tiny spoonfuls and focusing on really enjoying the flavor while it's in your mouth instead of immediately swallowing it in order to shovel in the next mouthful.  Mindfulness in eating can really slow you down and keep your calorie intake lower while still enjoying all your favorites this season.

3.  Eat a Healthy Snack Before Heading to That Holiday Party

This is really standard but great advice that we all need to remember during the holidays.  Arriving to a holiday party hungry is just inviting overindulgence.  The best way to combat this is to fill your stomach with some healthy alternatives before you go.  It doesn't need to consist of a full meal, but a healthy snack before you go can go a long way to help you wait a while before starting in on the buffet, while also making you more capable of serving yourself smaller portions. 

2.  Alternate Calorie-laden Drinks with Water

Most of us forget that calories taken in liquid form are still calories, but they can really pack a "punch".  Alcohol, itself, has 7 calories per gram.  That's more than carbohydrate or protein have, and nearly as many calories per gram as fat!  Most favorite holiday beverages, like egg nog or punch, include fat AND sugar in them, as well as alcohol.  Instead of continuously enjoying your favorite beverages at the holiday party, start with a tall glass of water, and then alternate a glass of your favorite calorie-laden drink with a glass of water.  Not only will this help you cut back on your calorie-intake, but it'll stave off the holiday-hangover, while still allowing you to enjoy your Christmas favorites.

1.  Use Exercise to Reduce Holiday Stress 

We all have it, this time of year: Holiday Stress!  With so many holiday preparations and parties, many of us become stressed out and exhausted by what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.  We forget that we need to take time for ourselves.  It's important to carve out time in your busy schedules to de-stress.  Whether it be a scheduled yoga class, a consistent group run, or just some time by yourself out in nature, it's important to think of yourself so that you can be relaxed and present for everyone else this time of year.

Your turn to share: What are your tips and tricks for keeping off the holiday pounds?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Best Christmas Gift Ideas for Runners

'Tis the season to be looking for gifts for family and friends!  You know you want to get them something special that they'll enjoy, but what?  Well, here's some ideas for that special runner in your life.

Winter Running Gear 
If you have a loved one who runs in the winter weather, consider getting them some cold-weather running gear to keep them comfortable while they run in the ice and snow.  It's important to remember that when running, we do warm up after the first few minutes, so layers may be thinner than you  might expect, even into temperatures in the single digits.  Look for  moisture-wicking materials instead of cotton because pulling the moisture from sweat away from the skin will keep the runner from becoming chilled.  Wool is a cozy option for winter running because even if it gets wet, it still keeps in warmth. 
  • Gloves are a great gift for any runner who spends their winters braving the weather.  It's important to look for a wicking fabric so that sweaty hands don't make you colder over time.  Another helpful trait for gloves is to have some wind resistance.  Wind-chill makes a huge difference in how runners experience the temperature, so having something blocking the wind from our hands is the best bet to keep fingers toasty warm.  Manzella Windstopper Touch Tip Gloves are a great option for a nice cozy wind-resistant running glove.
  • Running Jackets tend to be thinner than most people would expect for winter running.  The idea is to keep the wind off, possibly be water proof and be only slightly warm.  These are not jackets that you would wear to run to the store in cold weather, but closer to something you might wear on a cool spring or fall day.  Jackets with reflective details are particularly nice if your loved one is stuck running in the dark this time of year.  Staying visible to cars while on the run is paramount for the safety of the runner.  Check out the Saucony Nomad Jacket or the Nike Shield Jacket for an example of a perfect gift for the runner in your life.

    See the Saucony Nomad Jacket in person at Confluence Running!
  • Hats are also essential for a runner running in cold weather.  Again, you want to look for a hat that wicks moisture, but for runners with long hair, consider finding a hat with an opening in the back for a pony tail to go through.  Saucony's Swift Skull Cap is a perfect example of a comfortable and stylish option. 
  • Wool socks.  What?  Really?  Yes!  Wool socks are wonderful for runners.  Wool is great at keeping moisture away from us while keeping us warm.  Wool socks are especially useful when a runner is running through slush and snow that might splash water into his shoes.  Feetures Elite Merino+ socks are a wonderfully soft and long lasting option for wool running socks.
Accessories  Here are some ideas for accessories for runners that are useful all year long and keep us safe or provide a convenience while on the run.

  • GPS watches have become wildly popular in recent years.  Whether we just like to have a metric on  how well we're doing, or we use it to optimize our training, we runners love to have specific data on our distance and pace, as well as whatever other data we can gather.  GPS watches can do that for us.  Not only does it give us information during our run on how far we've gone and how fast we're going, but the model with a heart rate monitor can also tell us how hard our bodies are working and where our weaknesses are.  This is a useful training tool and lets us geek out over our progress.  Check out the Garmin Forerunner 15 as an example of a solid GPS watch, or take the data-gathering a step further and get the Garmin Vivofit and have data on everything you do, all day long.
  • Reflective gear is important for safety in these winter months when short daylight hours leave runners stuck running in the dark, but can come in handy in the summer when you just want a beautiful summer night run!  Either way, it's important to stay visible to cars when running the streets.  Check out Amphipod's line of lights and reflective gear for some great options to keep runners visible to traffic.
  • Fitness belts are slim-to-the-body belts that you can use to keep a cell phone and maybe your id or some cash in while running.  They usually have a stretchy pouch on an elastic belt that expands to hold a few items you might need while running.  These not only come in handy if you have a few things that you can't fit into the [tiny!!] pockets in running shorts or tights, but they can also are useful for stashing stuff when you travel.  Spibelt is a popular brand that holds up really well to consistent use and is a good size to hold even some of the larger smart phones on the market, a nice feature when many of the phone-holding devices (like armbands) are typically not large enough to handle anything bigger than an i-phone. They also come in a variety of colors.
Runners all have their preference on race nutrition, and a lot of us forget to branch out and try something new when we find something that we are happy with.  It's always fun to be given a variety of new types to try out when on the run.  Instead of candy or treats in the christmas stocking, why not give the runner in your life something new to try out on the run? 
  • Gels are a type of race nutrition that is in a semi liquid form and easy to squeeze into your mouth to get some fuel while running long distances.  They come in a wide variety of flavors including some that may be more holiday-treat-like.  Look for GU in Salted Caramel, Espresso, Chocolate, and Peanut Butter Chocolate and add a little indulgence to your loved one's race or long run.
  • Nutrition bars are a favorite for before or after a run when a runner is ready to take on some recovery calories.  Check out Picky Bars for a variety of different flavors that might appeal to your loved one.
  • Even if a runner doesn't want to take in fuel in the form of carbohydrate during a run, they'll still need to replace electrolytes as they sweat.  Yes, even in the cold winter weather. There's a variety of ways to do this, whether it's via the typical sports drink type fuel that is so ubiquitous or even electrolyte pills, but a fun and tasty way to get electrolytes while avoiding the sugar in typical sports drinks is with Nuun tablets.  They go into a bottle of water and fizz while they dissolve creating a tasty drink and replenishing electrolytes after a workout.  Nuun is sold in tubes that make perfect stocking stuffers, or if you're not sure which flavor your favorite runner would prefer, you can also buy them individually wrapped.
Consider looking beyond physical "stuff" as a gift this year and give your loved one the gift of experiences this year!  Whether the runner in your life already has one of everything or they are just difficult to buy for because they have strong preferences that you're not sure of, buying experiences for that person can be a great gift!
  • Race entries!  Any runner who likes to race would love to have some of their race fees covered for them.  Not only are you getting them a Christmas gift that will be appreciated, but you're giving them the gift of wonderful memories and a sense of accomplishment that comes with having completed a race.  If you know what they would like their next challenge will be, consider buying them a race entry for their preferred race distance.  The Greater Binghamton Bridge Run is a wonderful local race that offers both 5k and half marathon distances.  Perfect for a newer runner or one who is just looking to challenge themselves to a new personal record.
  • Along with race entries, consider buying the runner in your life a training program. Many local gyms and running stores offer training programs and they can be very motivating.  Running with a group, having peers going through the same things you are, and having a coach not only writing your own personalized training plan, but to check in with and get advice on whatever questions or problems you run into can be invaluable.  If the runner in your life is planning to run the Greater Binghamton Bridge Run, you can check out Confluence Running's Bridge Run Training Program.  With options for the 5k or half marathon level, our coach will get you results, whether it's for a new or returning runner or someone who just wants to finally snag that PR.
  • Private Training or Coaching is another great way to show your favorite runner how much you love them.  Not only will it help advance their training to the next level, but a trainer or coach can help make sure a runner is doing what's necessary to avoid injury and just improve overall health and wellness.  We all know how miserable runners are when they can't run because they're injured, so this is a pretty amazing gift.  Check out Confluence Running's coaching and training options available for the Binghamton area.
What gifts have you gotten in the past that were a hit with your favorite runner?  We'd love to hear about it!  Please leave a comment below.  Runners, what would you like to see under the Christmas tree?

Monday, December 1, 2014

You can run on snow? Winter Snowshoe Running Guide

As the weather begins to get colder by the second, the clocks have fallen back an hour, and snow soon becomes a word in our vocabulary again, it means its time to prepare your running snowshoes for another season of fun races, festivals and events.

What I am referencing is the wonderful winter activity of "Snowshoe Running".  As a relatively new sport in terms of national recognition, snowshoe running is actually the fastest growing endurance sport in America. Why is that?

1. It's fun
2. It breaks up the monotony of winter
3. It is by far one of the best workouts you ever had
4. Races are cheap: 10-25 dollars for a 10k with royal amenities such as hot chocolate and embroidered give-aways.
5. It's different than road running and a little more adventurous than trail running
6. It is a great way to achieve a beach body by April (okay not proven science but many would argue this statement's validity as fact)

So you are interested in snowshoe running. Where to start?

1. Look Into the USA Snowshoe Association.

The website provides all the information needed for snowshoe racing across the country. Every year there is a National Championship held in a different region of the country each year and the race weekend usually at the beginning of March is more like a running festival than just a race site. In order to run at nationals, you need to be a USA snowshoe member: a price of $30 gets you a ticket to qualify for nationals and a top age-graded performance at a regional qualifier. Most people can qualify for nationals as the sport is still growing and qualification standards are not outrageous like other running divisions.

2. Check out your local running store.

They may have all staff that love to snowshoe run and have connections and maybe even sell running snowshoes so that you can try them out.

3. Ask around your community.

A lot of endurance athletes such as triathletes, ultra runners, and road racers have gained the benefitsof snowshoe running and so should you!

The Running Snowshoe!

There are a lot of questions going into the running snowshoe. Here is my tutorial on them.

Running snowshoes are light: made of airplane grade aluminum and come either with a binding system or are direct mount. They come in all different shapes and sizes: running snowshoes usually come in at 21-24 inches in length and there are some now even smaller yet fit the USA Snowshoe Association Regulations of 120 Square Cubic Inches of Surface Area.

Here is the link to the applicable snowshoes: http://www.snowshoeracing.com/legal_size.htm

As you can see my Dion Snowshoes have a strap system or binding that holds my foot in place. The snowshoes have an articulated ankle suspension so your foot is not directly stuck to the snowshoe itself so the snowshoe flops  up and down and allows for a natural running stride. Know that running in snowshoes is a demanding physical activity and is extremely snow condition dependent. Add at least a minute to your overall road running training per mile pace is a good rule of thumb for running in snowshoes. When dealing with deeper powder....time goes out the window.

Running in snowshoes is very easy to get used to. Your running gait will be slower and you will naturally have a winder stance when running in snowshoes because of the shoes on your feet and the drag associated with snow.  It takes a couple times of testing out snowshoes to get used to them. Once you have practiced in snowshoes a little, running in them will be second-nature.

There is nothing like strapping on some snowshoes for a brisk winter run. It allows for you to connect with winter in such a way where winter becomes FUN AGAIN!

Most of these top-of-the-line racing snowshoes are going to set you back about $250 but you do not need a new pair every season. I have had my snowshoes for going on 3+ years and they are still looking good. They are a great investment to your health and for you to try out something new and refreshing.

Putting snowshoes on are as simple as unstrapping the binding and then placing your foot into the bindings and then tightening around your foot. Taking the snowshoe off is just the opposite fashion. Everything is very easy to do with minimal time wasted.



Apparel for Running:

Dress how you would if you were going for a standard cold winter run: Hat, Gloves, Tights, Baselayer(s), Midlayer, Jacket, Vest, etc. The interesting notion about the activity is once you begin to start moving, you warm-up extremely quick and those extra layer you started out with are left only to a baselayer and tights. I try to shoot for water resistant gear as the snow will melt with your body heat on you and usually refreeze on your garments so having a thermal running jacket with wind-proofing and water repellent properties is highly recommended or even a running vest can give you those properties with a full-on jacket without all the extra restriction.

Here are a bunch of companies that offer great snowshoe running products:

Atlas Snowshoes is based in Colorado, USA and offer a very nice light frame with a very nice binding system.  The two models you would be looking for would be the "Race" or the "Run".

Made from Bennington, Vermont by Bob Dion himself; these snowshoes offer a full-on customization from selecting the Frame, Bindings, and Cleat which no other company out there does. They hold up great and are the most trusted pair of snowshoes in the Northeast.  You would be looking for the 121 Racing Frame or the 132 (Yellow) which is cheaper.

WHoOOO Green!  Redfeather is based out of La Crosse, Wisconsin and has been making performance snowshoes for a LONG TIME!  They have this really cool bird tail design for better flotation and offer great characteristics similar to DIONS and Northern Lites. Popular in the Midwest! The model you want to look for is the Vapor 21.

WHoOOOO More Green!

Big following in the Midwest and Northeast, Northern Lites based in Wisconsin as a family business have produced some of the lightest and most durable snowshoes out there. They also give you the best option for bolting your shoes into a pair of them (Direct Mount) for a more race-oriented light weight experience. They have one if not the best decking system around. Great Value!

Course 721 is a new snowshoe to the market, extremely light weight but from what I have heard from testers in the Upstate NY area, they do not provide the best traction in powder but are solid for nice groomed trails. For those product techies, this one is for you.

Another Colorado-based company in Boulder, they make some really cool looking snowshoes that have won awards for the best bindings on the market. They do provide direct mount but why miss out on the binding. The Gold 12 is the Race model and offers a unique tear-drop shape and at 24 inches long, this is longer than other racing snowshoe products yet gives great movement and seamless flotation

Concluding:  Snowshoe Running is a great winter endeavor for anyone looking to "trail run" through snow-covered trails or is looking for getting the fitness edge during the winter season. Snowshoe Running provides participants light impact that is almost at a contact point near zero. I have never heard of any stories of snowshoe runners getting injured from too much running in snowshoes. The activity itself requires more effort than regular running and even trail running but it is a great way to stay fit in the doldrums of winter and to enjoy what nature has to offer. Snowshoe running builds immense aerobic strength, coordination/balance, and strengthens your stabilizing core (abs, glutes, ankles) unlike anything I have ever come into contact with.

Once you try snowshoe running, you are going to be hooked.  

For any additional questions or for snowshoe running/winter running coaching, you can email me at colecrosby88@gmail.com.

I would love to help in any way I can. Stay warm and see you out on the trails this winter!

About the author: Cole Crosby is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and has been running ever since the gym class mile. He hopes to be a great mountain runner and make the USA mountain team as well as the USA Snowshoe Team. His running has taken him to Cortland,NY for his graduate degree in Park Management as he hones my skills in snow, trail, mountain and road racing. One day he hopes to also compete in the 4 Deserts Race Series which pits competitors in the toughest of environments such as the Sahara Desert.