Keeping pace

Tomorrow I’ll be doing my 13th half marathon as a walker.

This one will be a little different, though — I’m doing the race as a pacer.

It’s common in half and full marathons to have pacers for the runners. A pacer leads a group of runners to a specified finish time. Say you want to complete a full marathon in 3 hours. You’d align yourself with the 3-hour pace runner, who runs at a speed to fulfill that finish time.

It’s virtually unheard of to have pace groups for walkers. But the race I’m doing tomorrow — the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon Run/Walk — is pulling out all the stops to attract and support walkers. Registration categories asked if you would be running or walking, awards will be given to top walking finishers, and pace groups will be on the course for walkers specifically.

So I’ll be leading the 4-hour-finish time pace group, which translates to about an 18-minute mile. This might seem incredibly slow to some experienced half/full marathon runners and even walkers. But it’s accessible for beginners, and we all have to start somewhere and tackle our first race experience. It will be a bit of a challenge for me to pace myself at that speed — it can be difficult to walk slower than normal, and do so steadily. (My average race pace is between 13- and 14-minute miles.) It’s important to me, though, to help participants meet their goals and have a rewarding experience.

As I posted the other day, a 15-minute mile is just as far as a 7-minute mile. Ditto for an 18-minute mile. Walkers in races train just as much as runners do, and it’s no less an accomplishment to participate as a walker. We all cross the same finish line.

Happy walking!



That’s why it’s called “race bling”


Bragging rights aren’t the only reward for doing a race. Having a finisher’s medal draped around your neck at the end is a wonderful feeling. A medal is a celebration … validation … a form of proof, if you will, that you not only completed the distance but also (unless you’re a freak of nature) spent a lot of hours preparing to complete the distance. Wear them proudly!

Walking for a cause

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve done full marathons (four) and half marathons (12) as a walker. I’ve never done a 5K — until now.

A very worthy reason presented itself and that’s what prompted my registration. One of my oldest and dearest friends is battling lupus, for which there currently is no cure. I am joining her in a 5K walk with the Alliance for Lupus Research, from which 100 percent of the proceeds will go toward research into a cure for this debilitating illness. The event is Oct. 18, just two weeks away.

I want to see my dear friend (and others with this diagnosis) feel less pain and less restriction on her quality of life; I want her to regain her good health. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of and damage to the joints and other parts of the body, including organs. Learn more here.

Won’t you consider a donation, even a small one? It’s tax deductible and you’ll be helping fund research into a cure. You can find my fundraising page here.

Thank you so much!

Not so sweet

Pretty much anytime you read or hear about exercise as a means to a healthy life, nutrition is mentioned next. They certainly go hand in hand.

Mmmm ... brownies.

Mmmm … brownies.

And just as it’s not always easy to find the motivation to exercise, it can be difficult to always follow a healthy, nutritious diet. I sure can attest to both. In my adult years, I’ve lost a total of 50 pounds over time, but have battled with that last 10 pounds, back and forth.

And my exercise has ranged from a big fat load of nothing to a list of physical accomplishments that includes four full marathons, a dozen half marathons and a 10-mile race thrown in for good measure.

I know I’m not alone when I say that my best intentions don’t always win out. I never met a dish of ice cream or a brownie that I could easily turn down. On the flip side, I’ve been known to binge on fresh summer fruit, too. (Is it bad to eat two mangoes in one sitting? They’re just SO good.)

Boooo ... sugar.

Boooo … sugar.

I know many people who have tried a sugar-free diet, both as a constant way of living and as a way to reset their systems. In the latter approach, they spent several days with zero sugar — not even in natural forms, like fruit — and slowly reintroduced it to their diets. Ultimately the intention is to weed out as much added sugar as possible. Natural sugar is not a bad thing, the key word being natural. But added sugar has no nutritional value and no reason for being, other than making foods sweeter and setting us up for a lifetime of cravings.

It’s an understatement to say that there’s a boatload of research on how bad added sugar is for us. There’s a new study that not only links it to heart disease but to a higher risk for death. Another study found that fructose (a form of added sugar) can create a domino effect that causes our “I’m full” sensor to essentially malfunction. Yet another looked at the link between sugar consumption and decreased brainpower. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Research also shows that sugar consumption creates a vicious cycle. You consume it, you crave it, you consume more, you crave more… you get the idea.

So: How much sugar is OK? What kind of sugar is OK? The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories a day, or about 6 teaspoons’ worth, from added sugars. (For men, it’s 150 calories and 9 teaspoons.)

OK ... in moderation.

Way more than a daily allotment!

For mathematical purposes when you’re reading nutrition labels, 4 g of sugar = 1 teaspoon. So if you’re eating one granola bar that contains chocolate chips that has 12 g of sugar (as I saw on a label of one today), there’s 3 teaspoons, or half your allotment for the day. From one 4-inch granola bar!

It can be hard to determine what portion of the sugars listed on a label are natural and what portion is not. The AHA offers great information about this and much more, here.

Aside from information sharing, my purpose in posting this topic is to share my experience in going sugar-free. For the past 6 days, I’ve been participating in a sugar-free diet test panel. I spent the first 4 days with zero sugar, natural or otherwise. Yesterday, I was able to add fruit back in, along with one serving of refined whole grain.

I had previously scoffed quite seriously at friends who tried this diet. I believe in all things in moderation, I said. Cutting something out just sets you up to really crave the taboo item, I asserted.

So what changed? I read more of the research. I took into consideration my friends’ raves about how great they felt. I realized that I needed a reset of my own — a final piece of the puzzle, if you will, in trying to live as healthfully as possible and eat cleanly.

Yum ... natural sweetness! / Photo by Chris M. Junior

Yum … natural sweetness! / Photo credit: Chris M. Junior

Do I miss ice cream? Yes. Surprisingly, I’m really craving some pizza. (Tomato sauce is generally loaded with sugar, and the white dough ain’t so great, either.) But I’m finding that I can survive without my daily Diet Coke, and that I can pass up the doughnuts and M&M’s in the office. I still love fresh fruit and consider it a yummy treat. And the more days that go by on my “eating clean” calendar, the better and more revved-up I feel. (The weight loss is a welcome side effect too!)

I still believe in “all things in moderation” — but I don’t think I was eating sugars in moderation. I’ll revisit the topic at the end of the test panel time period and let you know how I’m feeling then. In the meantime, I welcome feedback and/or comments if you’ve tried this way of eating yourself.

Save $10!

Register for the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon by Sunday (Aug. 31) before the fee goes up by $10.

This half marathon, to be held on Sunday, Nov. 2 in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, is an ideal race for walkers — and in fact is focusing on walking participants. The time limit is 4.5 hours, which is very generous and takes a lot of stress out of the event for first-timers. That time limit translates to a 20-minute-mile pace. (Info on course under picture…)

Along the course of the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon, 2013

Along the course of the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon, 2013

The course is beautiful and flat — the first couple of miles are in the town of Northampton, Pa., and the rest is all along the Lehigh River, surrounded by colorful fall foliage.

Just like there are usually pace runners in most half and full marathons, this race will have pace walkers to help the walking participants keep a steady stride. In fact, I will be one of the pacers!

Check out the registration info here and consider joining in the walking fun. Space is limited, so don’t delay in signing up. I hope to see you there!

An 86th birthday half marathon

I promised in one of my earliest posts to tell the story about how my active grandmother (Gram) joined me on a race course. I’m happy to share one of my best memories.

What I didn’t mention was that the race — a half marathon — was on her 86th birthday. Not that I had any doubt she could do it.

Race bling!

Race bling!

The 2007 Philadelphia Marathon was on the list of events for a team I helped coach and coordinate. When I noticed that the race date happened to be Gram’s birthday, I knew I had to see if she might want to add a half marathon to her list of physical accomplishments. (You may recall from my earlier post that she took up skiing in her 50s, helped found a hiking club in her 60s and biked — more than once — across New Jersey.) Plus, because she had essentially inspired me to hit the race course in the first place, I loved the prospect of doing a race with her.

At that point, I’d completed three full marathons but no half marathons, and she was familiar with my participation. And I’d joined her on ski slopes and hiking and biking trails many times over the years. So I called her.

“Gram, there’s a half marathon in Philadelphia on your birthday. Do you think you’d like to do it together?”

“How far is a half marathon?” she asked.

“Thirteen-point-one miles,” I replied.

“Okay,” she agreed.

“Great!” I said. “When it comes time to start training officially, I’ll give you the details.”

“Oh,” she said, “I don’t think I need to train. I go hiking every week!”

Well … okay then!

But she was right. Her regular hiking prepared her just fine. (I wouldn’t recommend this for all beginners, but if you’ve met Gram, you know it was going to be okay.)

The race was on a Sunday. On Saturday evening, our team held a pasta dinner and gathering. I couldn’t have been more pleased to see my wishes about Gram come to fruition.

You see, our family would always tell Gram how terrific it was that she was so active; that she hiked regularly in her 80s; that she still liked to get out on her bike. But she would always respond dismissively, as if it were no big thing. She’s always been modest that way. I wanted her to hear the same accolades from strangers, believing it might give her more of an idea of how awesome and impressive she is.

When my coworkers eagerly approached us to meet her, and when so many other members of the team expressed their admiration to her, I think some of it did make an impression. By the end of the evening, she was reveling in her celebrated status. I was overjoyed.

Soon race morning dawned. We rose early, dressed in layers for the chilly race, and lined up with thousands of others near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She soon expressed her amused annoyance with repeated photo taking by my husband. When the “Rocky” theme music begin to blare from the PA — the race starts in front of the famous stairs Rocky ran up, after all — we were off!

Our pace was slow and steady, and in 3 or 4 miles we were with a small group of walkers who were shifted to the sidewalks as the streets were reopened to traffic. We went through Center City, past Independence Hall, near the Philadelphia Zoo and Drexel University. It drizzled on us, but Gram kept stating that she was fine in her wool sweater — tried and true on many a winter hike. She even gave me her gloves at one point!

As we were in the final mile, we saw some women coming toward us. Among our team was a group of sisters, each of whom wore a different large dressy hat. A few of the sisters had finished the race already and were backtracking to find their other sisters. When they spotted Gram, they expressed delight in seeing her on the course. Gram stopped in her tracks to gab with them. I had to gently urge her to keep going. “We’re almost at the finish!” I encouraged.

My husband waited just before mile 13 to get our photo, and my dad (Gram’s son) and stepmother found a spot right near the finish line to watch for us. We rounded Eakins Oval, saw the end approaching, grabbed hands and crossed the finish line, as her name was broadcast by the announcer.

We did it!

We did it!

We happily accepted our medals, wrapped ourselves in space blankets, and started to celebrate. Our family eagerly sought us out in the finisher area to offer hugs and congratulations. My dad announced that he was treating us to lunch, and we happily chowed on cheeseburgers as Gram talked about how she couldn’t wait to get in her jacuzzi tub at home.

Proud finishers.

Proud finishers.

Several weeks after the race, Gram called. In the mail she’d received a wooden plaque with a photo of us crossing the finish line and commemorating her third-place finish in her age group. (Which I dispute, by the way. Upon checking the race results, I noticed that the first and second-place finishers were listed as age 99, so I suspect they were people who didn’t input an age and that was a default.)

“Did you get one of these in the mail?” she asked.

“No, Gram — I didn’t exactly finish third in my age group,” I said, smiling. But that was okay. I wasn’t in the race for a PR.

Seven years later, she’s approaching 93 and most recently joined a croquet league. The half marathon plaque still hangs in a place of honor in her home. And the memory of sharing the experience with her holds a place of honor in my heart.

Welcome to the world of walking

Walking is a terrific form of exercise, and it also can lead you to rewarding personal achievements — did you know that you can participate in races, such as 5Ks, half marathons or full marathons, as a walker instead of a runner? Some walkers, in fact, have a faster pace than some runners!

But whether you wish to train for a race or just walk a few miles a few times a week for exercise, walking has all sorts of health benefits. It can help you lose weight, strengthen your bones, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, lower your risk for heart attack and stroke, fend off depression and anxiety, reduce your risk for some types of cancer, improve sleep, release “feel-good” chemicals in your brain and decrease stress hormones — in other words, any walk is good for your physical and mental health!

Few workouts are easier: Walking doesn’t require a gym membership or special equipment other than supportive shoes, and you can pretty much do it anywhere, anytime.

So… what are you waiting for?