Pumpkin Mug Cake

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It may be December, but I still have enough pumpkin puree to get me through the new year. Pumpkin doesn’t have to come in the sweet and spiced form. It is actually a very versatile squash, full of nutritional benefits.

Pumpkin packs:

Fiber: With three grams per cup and less than 50 calories per serving to ward off hunger

Vitamin A: Your eyesight will benefit

Beta Carotene: To fight cancer causing free radicals

Potassium: To replenish electrolytes after a tough workout

Vitamin C: To boost your immunity

Carotenoids: Fighting off free radicals to give you wrinkle free skin (or as close as you can get…)

So as you all know I am a mug cake fanatic. I find a way with what I have in the kitchen when a craving strikes, which is often. This mug cake is full of fiber and very light. You could even have it for breakfast!

So here is what you will need:

¼ cup pumpkin puree
2 tbsp all purpose flour (I used Bob’s Redmill Gluten Free)
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp ground flaxseed
1 splash of almond or coconut milk
2 tsp agave nectar or honey
1-2 tbsp of mini chocolate chip (I use enjoy life dairy free)
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)

Combine everything adding the milk of your choice last. Add as much “milk” as necessary to create a cake batter consistency. You wont need much. Place your mug in the microwave for 1 minute, if the cake is still not done in the middle continue in 30 second increments until it lacks gooey batter spots.

I recommend using a mug with a larger circumference or even a small glass bowl/baking dish. I standard mug will take longer to cook through leaving the outsides slightly overcooked. If you want to split the serving between two standard mugs to make two mini mug cakes, that will work, as long as you are willing to share.

This healthy little cake does not taste much like pumpkin, so enjoy all year round!

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Why Should You Learn About the Psoas Today?

The Psoas muscle is often left tight and shortened after a post workout stretch. My goal today is to change that. And even if you don’t have a formal exercise routine, you are going to want to listen up because chances are you have a tight Psoas too.

The Psoas, pronounced “So-Az” is located in the pelvic region. It connects your lower back to your upper thigh (femur). It is responsible to hip flexion. Running, walking, stairs, and sitting all shorten the Psoas. Anyone from an endurance runner to the most sedentary couch potato can suffer from overly tight Psoas muscles. A tight Psoas can cause lower back pain, hip pain, leg pain and IT issues. A strong and lengthened Psoas promotes good posture and allows for a strong core.

Most americans spend a lot of their day in the seated position. In this position your Psoas is shortened and weakens overtime. A muscular tightness or weakness of the Psoas can cause an overarching of the lumbar spine, unhealthy anterior pelvic tilt (think Steve Urkle) as well has hunching of the shoulders.

If you spend a lot of the day sitting at work or driving in the car, stand up and stretch regularly. Try and break up your sedentary sessions. If possible, work from a standing desk. If you are a runner you need length to create power. When the Psoas is very short, it is unable to lengthen to then contract during your stride. This lengthening and shortening is what creates power. If you do in fact have a short Psoas muscle avoid hills for a while and engage in Psoas stretches daily.

So how do you know if you have a shortened Psoas? Lay on the floor with both legs straight out in front of you. Draw your right knee into your chest pulling it towards you, if your left hip is lifting up off the ground your right Psoas is tight and vice versa.

If you failed the test, do not fret, there is hope! First, take my tips above about avoiding extended periods of sitting and lay off hill work while running. In addition, ditch the crunches. When we do sit ups and crunches we almost always engage our Psoas and Hip Flexors. This goes for many other abdominal exercises that are done in the supine position. Just pay attention to your body and if you feel engagement in the pelvic region, lay off temporarily.

Start with these stretches:

Supine Bridge with Pelvic Tilt: Lay on your back with your feet on the floor hip distance apart. You want your heels to be in hands reach while your hands lay by your sides. Lift your hips off the floor while tucking your pelvis. Squeeze your Glutes together and continue pushing the hips high. You want your Glutes to be contracted. You may also feel a stretch in the low back (bonus!).

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Low Crescent Lunge with Pelvic Tilt: From a kneeling position bring your right foot up between your hands to create a right angle with your right knee. Lift the chest up creating a neutral posture. Tuck the pelvis under, tilting your hip bones toward the ceiling. If your Psoas is really tight you will feel a stretch here in the front of the left leg. If you need a little more stretch you can shift some weight into the front foot while maintaining the pelvic tilt. Switch Sides!

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Heat, Humidity and How to Deal

1341339466645_3598161Virginia is hot.  Virginia is humid.  I wait all year for summer only to remember how brutal workouts can be in this climate.  So many of us struggle through our our workouts during summer months, but do you know what exactly makes heat such a stress on the body? Let me shed some light.

  • As a cooling mechanism, your body sends more blood to circulate through the body.  The blood moves away from your hot core to cool down your system.  That flush you quickly experience during hot workouts is the appearance of blood being pumped to the surface of the body.  This leaves less blood available to your muscles.
  • The excess blood being pumped throughout your body increases your heart rate.
  • Since the blood is being circulated to cool the body, the heart and lungs are forced to work harder in hot conditions to deliver oxygen to the muscles.
  • Sweat evaporates at a slower rate in humid weather.  The extra coat of moisture on your skin raises your body temperature even higher.

When your body is not adapted to hot conditions, the weather can cause enough stress to make your average run a brutal one.  We have all experienced this.  I remember the torture of summer lacrosse camp like it was yesterday. Ninety plus degree weather on turf fields  would leave me feeling like a slug. Luckily, the human body can and will adapt well if you are physically fit.  In less than two weeks of dealing with hot humid weather you will begin to exercise with a bit more ease:

  • Your body’s cooling system will kick in faster, meaning you will begin to sweat earlier in your workout
  • Your body will begin to make more blood, which will put less stress on your heart and lungs
  • Your overall heart rate will slow down when exercising in heat due to the extra blood being produced
  • The body will begin to work more efficiently, needing less energy to do the same amount of work

This doesn’t mean you can go run 6 miles at the height of the day on a sunny street. That would be plain stupid. Don’t be stupid.  Work around the heat!

  • Try two a days: do 30 minutes  in the morning and 30 minutes in the late afternoon or evening–the down side is two showers.
  • Get up with the sun: it’s the coolest part of the day in the summer
  • Seek shade: make an extra effort to find a shaded trail or street while running.
  • Replace what you lose in sweat: weigh yourself before your outdoor workout and again after.  For every pound you lose, drink 16 ounces of water.  Be sure to drink that amount before your next outdoor workout as a preventative measure.
  • Wear sunscreen: sunburn is an added stress on your body that will affect your performance
  • Dress for the heat: wear lightweight and light colored clothing. In reality, wear minimal clothing. You will never see me running with a shirt on in weather above 75 degrees.
  • Don’t go overboard: especially when first adapting to heat.  Take breaks when you are feeling over heated. There is nothing worse or more scary than heat exhaustion!

Now go get acclimated!

The Best Detox: Exercise

This past weekend I went to Las Vegas to “celebrate life” with my best friends.  After two full days of ongoing alcohol consumption, very little sleep and no exercise (dancing excluded) our bodies were wrecked.  Our raspy voices, under eye bags and off kilter digestive systems proved it.  Today I am feeling a little inspired by our distressed physical state and would like to share how I rid my body of toxins after vacation or in our case a bender…a juice cleanse is not the answer.

detox)Lately cleanses and detoxes are everywhere: “Drink this sugary green juice for three plus days and detoxify your body”.  Everyone who knows me has heard me rant about how pointless and counterproductive juice cleanses can be.  I have advised clients and friends against them.  But all the skinny celebrities do it and they look good, so I am ignored.  This leads them to go through with the cleanse; depriving themselves for a three to fourteen day period followed by a fat and carbohydrate binge.  In the end you are just putting more stress on your body and creating more toxins.

The thing is, your body is naturally designed to detoxify. It is in a constant state of detoxification (or ridding of waste).

  • Ever heard of poop? pee? I don’t mean to be vulgar, but your colon and kidneys do a pretty good job if you let them.
  • Our lungs serve as a  filter.  Debris and toxins are removed before delivering oxygen throughout the body.
  • The lymph system picks up any unwanted substances to filter through your lymph nodes.
  • Our skin rids our body of toxins through perspiration.

Did you know your body detoxes 8 times faster when in motion versus when sedentary? So why does exercise aid in detox?

  • You get your blood flowing, which prompts your organs to do work (liver, lymph nodes, digestive system).
  • You breath deeply and circulate oxygen to through the body, giving off carbon dioxide (a waste product).
  • You sweat, washing out waste and toxins in your perspiration.
  • You move and fire up lymph to circulate through the body.  The lymph system has no pump like the circulatory system, so to activate, you must be in motion.
  • You reduce stress, which has a toxic effect on the body.

In order to be successful in detoxifying you must be drinking plenty of water to help flush out  waste products.  So before you start your exercise, make sure your pee is clear.  When you are looking to rid the body of toxins engage in  aerobic exercise at a low to medium intensity.  This allows you to breath evenly, delivering oxygen to the body.  By getting your heart rate up, blood begins pumping through out the body, activating your detoxifying organs.  You don’t want to be gasping for air, instead you should try the talk test.  If you are able to talk comfortably while exercising, you are at the right intensity for detoxification.  Low Intensity Steady State (also known as LISS) exercise can be performed through briskly walking, running, cycling, swimming and yoga.

Do you exercise with a hang over? It’s sort of my M.O.  I usually roll and of bed, chug water until my pee is clear and get out the door on my run before the worst of it even hits.  It’s usually pretty miserable, but by the time I finish and rehydrate I am ready for my day.

So next time you wake up after a night of drinking or over eating, skip the fad cleanse.  Run long and slow, or engage in a Vinyasa flow.  Drink tons of water before and after to flush toxins.

Below is 30 minute detox flow yoga video. It will help to heat up the body and wring out toxins with twists.  The instructor Clara Roberts-Oss is one of my favorites. I hope enjoy!

For more information on exercise as detox click here.

Failing at the “Easy Run”, A Post on Recovery

I came up with the idea for today’s blog post when trudging up a steep hill on yesterday’s run.

Yesterday it was about 90 degrees and muggy. Miserably muggy.  It was overcast and I was due for a run so I decided to attempt a LISS workout.

LISS stands for Low Intensity Steady State, and it is basically any exercise that it performed at a low[er] intensity for an extended period.  We often hear how endurance work is  disadvantageous to weightless, this is where cult fitness has been lying to you.   After performing high intensity work consistently, our body needs to recover. LISS helps flush out the metabolic by-products from your previous intense workout.  When you get your blood pumping for an extended period you are able to deliver oxygen to  fatigued muscles. Taking part in a LISS and working your aerobic system after a high intensity session will help prep you for your next session by replacing ATP.  The takeaway here is that LISS workouts aid in recovery. 

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Snap Shots of My 6 Mile Loop

Back to my LISS workout.  I was going to do my usual 6 mile loop SLOWLY. It was hot and I was sore, so I thought it would be no problem. I started off channeling my inner chi runner and taking smaller strides, breathing deeply and easing into my run.  I was doing well with the LISS principal for about 1.5 miles when a hot shot (and shirtless) sweaty runner ran past me.  I grunted and made myself hold back, keeping my slow pace.  Then I approached my stairs (above).  I have to run down them to continue on the path, so I usually spend 1-2 minutes running stairs then continue on with my run.  I stayed strong and ran right down the stairs to continue around the lake.  As I came around a corner I approached another runner. She was decked out in expensive running gear and a fancy watch–that is where I snapped.  I had to race her and win and I knew my LISS workout ended at mile 2.  I caught up with her, said hello, and zoomed around the rest of the lake, heading for my first long hill and 4 more hilly miles under 07:30.  In my defense, it is really hard to do a low intensity run with the amount of hills I encounter. My heart is in my throat the whole run.

You don’t have to dedicate a whole workout to LISS if you don’t have the time or patience.  After you finish your HIIT workout, boot camp, or heart pumping run–go for a 20 minute slow run, walk or cycle.  It will allow you to cool down, circulate blood through your capillaries,  begin to deliver nutrient rich oxygen to fatigued muscles and replenish your supply of ATP.  After I workout I take my dog on a 15-30 minute walk to cool down.  It kills two birds with one stone and allows my neighbors to witness me at my sweatiest, which is terrifying.

Recovery is one of my weak spots, although I am much better than I used to be in regards to “listening to my body”. It is a weekly struggle. Every time I opt for a yoga class over a long run there is an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. In this case the angel is yoga or another form of low intensity exercise.   I recover to avoid injury and prepare myself for my next workout.  I plead with my clients to do the same.  When your body is exhausted, chose recovery or rest.  If it is a choice between sleeping in and getting those 7-8 hours or getting 5-6 hours and squeezing in a workout, chose sleep.  Working past exhaustion and foregoing sleep are two counterproductive approaches to health and fitness.

If you have had a crazy week of heart pumping workouts, go for an hour long cycle or run.  Maybe even a fast pace walk with a friend at dusk. Depending on the degree of intensity you are working at, you may want to alternate HIIT with LISS workouts.  I will take another stab at a LISS run next week, probably on the day I return from Las Vegas…recovery will be a necessity.

For more about LISS, check out this article from my favorite blog!

Toasty Coconut and Banana Oat Muffins

Toasty Coconut and Banana Oat Muffins

These muffins are a like a clean bowl of oatmeal you can take on the go, did I mention they are a healthy pre-workout carbohydrate and freeze  well?  Saturday morning I was out of greek yogurt and was in a … Continue reading

Product Review: Smart Bar

1001555_611192732307519_882851334_nIf you don’t live in the Virginia Beach area, you have probably never heard of Smart Bars.  I only came across these hand made bars while scanning through WordPress myself.

Being a personal trainer means I am always on the go,  my dinner often consists of protein bars, green smoothies or whole fruit.  Over the years I have become very picky when it comes to the protein and snack bars I chose.    Many products marketed as healthy are filled with sugar, chemicals, and non food ingredients with a name more than 3 syllables long.   I have my “go-to” snacks, but I am always looking for something new–for myself and to recommend to clients.

When I am looking for a nutritious snack, I look  at the ingredients first.  You want to make sure you can pronounce everything on the list.  In addition I like to keep sugar under 8 g when choosing a snack or protein bar.  If the sugar is relatively low and the bar is made with all natural ingredients, you are usually in a good place.  Protein is always a plus. One sneaky nutrition fact to be looking out for is Sodium, which fills so many “health” foods.  I don’t worry about the fat content. If the bar is filled with healthful and natural ingredients like almonds and walnuts, it’s good fat and will keep me full through all my evening sessions.

Lets talk about Smart Bar now.  Smart Bar is created by Matthew May, a chef in Virginia Beach.  He makes the all natural granola bar by hand with whole food ingredients.  The round granola bar uses only 9 ingredients and contains no preservatives.  It’s also gluten free! The snack bar is advertised as “perfect for breakfast”, “perfect for lunch”, for “before or after your workout” and as an “anytime” snack.  Take a look at the label here:

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I had half of a bar this morning and it is very tasty.  You can pick out all the ingredients as you nosh.  It is a chewy vs. crunchy granola bar, like a bowl of steel cut oats without the nuisance of dishes to clean.  I had a bowl of fruit around 8 am and half a Smart Bar around 9:30 am and I was full and satisfied until 1:00 pm.  All the ingredients in this product are things I enjoy on their own (dried fruit and chocolate are my weaknesses), so it is no surprise that I enjoyed the flavors and texture of Smart Bar.

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I love the round shape, you trick yourself into thinking it is a cookie

I was a little surprised by the sugar content.  This all natural snack bar has 2 g more sugar than a snickers bar.  I would like to see honey  further down on the list of ingredients.  However, dried fruit is pretty high in sugar as well, so that could be another culprit.  I would not recommend this bar for anyone who is watching their carbohydrate intake.  On the other hand, this is a great pre workout snack for endurance athletes.  I will probably save the rest of these bars for a snack prior to a 10 miler.

1510987_619496081477184_148302298_nOverall, this is a tasty all natural snack or meal replacement.  I love that you are not ingesting any sketchy hidden preservatives.   I would recommend Smart Bars to endurance athletes (runners, cyclist and triathletes), who have the need for the 45 g of carbohydrates that his product pacts.  While the bar is very wholesome and delicious, I don’t think I could recommend it to my everyday clients who are looking to lose and maintain weight.  I would love to see a lower glycemic version of this product with less honey and maybe some more nuts.

I absolutely love the packaging.  Each bar is individually hand wrapped in wax paper.  I can tell the labels have been put on by hand.  It is refreshing receive a quality product from a small business. If you are in the Virginia Beach area I recommend making an order for pick up, just to give them a try.

If you are interested in purchasing Smart Bars you can do so here.

In addition, I want to share with you my current “Go To” Bars.  You can find them all at most grocers.  Chia Bars by Health Warrior are a little new to the mainstream grocery market but I saw them at Harris Teeter recently and I know you can get them at Whole Foods.  Chia Bars are great for in between meals.  They contain just 5 g of sugar and only 100 calories.  This is great for anyone looking to lose or maintain weight.

A good tip is to avoid anything that tastes like dessert.  If it is low sugar and tastes like a snickers, it is probably packed with unnatural, non food ingredients.

What is your “Go To” snack/meal bar? Leave a comment, I am interested!

 

 

Take Your Workout Outside

In honor of Earth Day, today I am going to give you 5 reasons to take your exercise routine outside.

After a harsh winter we are all a little low on Vitamin D.  So why not get your tan on while you are shredding those abs and sculpting those glutes? On a beautiful day I take my body weight circuit to the soccer field across the street, along with my workout buddy when she is free.  Ordinarily I would be logging miles on these beautiful spring days, but a running injury has me wising up and trading my 8 milers into burpees while I heal.   If you are #blessed enough to live by a beach, take a body weight circuit to the sand.  This past Saturday I created a 45 minute plyometric circuit to complete with two friends on the beach.  By the time we were finished our quads were screaming, we had plenty of spectators and some sand in our pants.

As seen on my runs:

I can understand a long treadmill run (and sometimes engage in them) when we have 8 inches of snow,  ice storms and unbearably low temperatures. But why in the world would you choose a stagnant treadmill over the great outdoors this spring?  Unplug the headphones from your Netflix and go gadget free outside, it will leave you feeling revitalized and probably a little more exerted! Read on:

More Dynamic Workout

  • Studies have shown that running outside expends more energy than the treadmill when covering the same distance
  • Outdoor running requires you to battle hills, wind and the change in terrain (proprioceptive gains)
  • If running is not your thing, you better bet that squat jumps and lunges require more effort in grass, sand or other surfaces less predictable than your gym floor

Vitamin D Boost

  • Sunlight is a natural source of Vitamin D
  • Aids in preventing cancer, hormonal problems, obesity, and inflammation
  • Strengthens your immune system

Catch Quality ZzZz

  • Natural sunlight helps set your internal clock
  • It helps with normalizing hormones and tells us when to eat and when to snooze
  • Increases overall quality of sleep

Lower Stress Hormones

  • Studies have shown that blood levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) are significantly lower after outdoor exercise versus indoor exercise
  • Study participants score higher when measuring vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self esteem after outdoor exertion when compared to it’s indoor counterpart

Decrease Boredom

  • Florescent lights and dull walls sound miserable compared to a blue sky and birds chirping
  • Inclement weather creates an interesting challenge
  • Make it social by exercising with a buddy every now and again, or better yet on a regular basis

 

“Prehab”-How to Avoid Running Injuries

Being an injured runner this spring has not been easy on my spirit but it is probably doing wonders for my body.  On the first nice (warm) day of 2014 I decided to go out on my 8 mile loop.  It was a great run followed by a not so great stretch, dinner and bed.  The next day was beautiful so I decided to repeat the same 8  mile run.  Right around mile 6 I felt a twinge in my right knee (that was new), at about mile 7 it was a shooting pain.  As someone who has never had a knee injury, I panicked.  I shunned running for the next two weeks.  I was doing mostly HIIT, plyometrics, kettlebells and some yoga here and there.  My knee pain was almost gone until my friend called me on a gorgeous Monday and asked me to join her on a run.  I had just walked my dog three miles with zero pain so I accepted her offer and headed home to meet her.  About 3 miles in the pain was back. UGH.   Frustrated and desperate I made an appointment with my physical therapist that Wednesday.

Long story short, I have damaged the surface of my meniscus.  Apparently it is not bad, but It was 100% preventable.  I was NOT practicing what I preach to all my clients: RECOVER RECOVER RECOVER.

I have made myself a human experiment and I am using every means I can to rehab my knee.  So I am icing after use and applying heat during the day.  I am not running.  I am doing plyometrics sparingly.  I am having orthotic inserts made.  I am stretching thoroughly and I am participating in PREHAB exercises.

Pre-habilitation is the proactive way to prevent running injuries.  I know how a runner’s brain works.  We want to log miles and improve; not stretch, roll and do leg lifts with the time we allocate to our workouts.  It took me a long time to learn that in order to be a better runner, I have to take care of my body. When I am injured, I feel almost depressed.  Every race posting I see on Facebook has me disgruntled.  I am beyond jealous.

So here is how you can PREHAB your body as a runner

  1. Stretch well after every run:  When your IT band, hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves and quads are tight they are more prone to injury.  Don’t limit yourself, stretch whenever you have a free chance.  You may look like a weirdo in the grocery store line but at least your hamstrings will feel good.
  2. Buy a foam roller and actually use it:  A foam roller is like a massage at home.  Myofascial release is so key in recovery.  I try and dedicate time after almost every workout.  If I don’t have time I bring a lacrosse ball to work and roll it over tight muscles. Roll while you watch TV or during your evening downtime.  If you have time to get on Facebook and Pinterest, you have time to roll.
  3. Strengthen your glutes: Your Gluteus Maximus and Gluteus Medius are often weak in runners which can lead to injuries in other lower extremities (commonly the hamstring).  There are a number of exercises that can be performed to strengthen your Glutes.  This article from Runner’s World has some great exercises to try.
  4. Strengthen your hips: Your hips don’t lie.  They need to be strong and flexible when you are logging miles. See the video below for a 6 minute workout that activates your hips and glutes.  It requires no equipment.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lW6uFHrHbDU
  5. See a specialist:   If you have unusually high arches or flat feet you may benefit from seeing a podiatrist.  They will mold or scan your feet for orthotic inserts to place in your running shoes.  Over time high arches get higher and flat feet get flatter, so this is a great way to prevent any future muscle imbalances that could occur as compensation for your less than ideal foot physique.
  6. Attend a Clinic:  Running clinics are held all over the country to help runners fix their form and prevent injury.  I am yet to attend one myself, but It is my goal to complete one by the end of the summer! Find one near you here!
  7. Recover: Allow time for your body to heal weekly.  Plan to rest on a day that is already busy with errands.  This will give you less free time to think about your lack of exercise on that particular day.  I do gentle yoga on my off day.  Below is a short yoga recovery to try

 

Same Distance, Very Different Run

What is your “go to” run? If you are a runner I know you have a few of them.  I have my “go to” 5 miles that usually run at a comfortable pace and finish right around 40 minutes.  I know every stop light sequence, hill and where to watch out for a raccoon or fox.  Then of course you have your long runs, I have an 8 and a 10 I alternate with as well.  Sadly, the area where I live has few hills, so when I want the challenge I drive to my parent’s house where the hills are never ending.

This Friday I was JONESING to run.  Unfortunately, it was already pitch black when I got off work so I had to opt for the hamster wheel.  I don’t know about you, but for me the treadmill is only used in moments of desperation.  So I hoped on and ran my 5 miles and jumped right off to check it off my to do list.

Treadmill vs. 20 Degree Road Run

Treadmill vs. 20 Degree Road Run

On Saturday morning I trained a client in my parent’s town and decided to go home for a run.  If only it had been warmer. It was 20 degrees with atleast 15 mph winds.  My lungs where burning and I have never felt so slow.  Nonetheless, I was sore on Sunday.  It was the first time in a while that I felt completely exerted after a run.  I just felt wiped out from the cold weather and hills.  A lot of people worry that running in very cold weather is harmful, but honestly I will take 20 degrees over 90 degrees any day.  It is important to take precautions when you run in below freezing temperatures.  You want to be sure to warm up, since your muscles will be cold.  In addition, wear layers. I always need to strip about 10 minutes in.  Just because you are not spewing sweat like you do on the treadmill doesn’t mean you are not losing moisture.  Intense respiration in the cold will cause you to lose more moisture than you realize.  So make sure you are hydrated!

Sunday My sore butt and hamstrings took me on my “go to” 5 miler around Reston/Herndon.  It was about 20 degrees warmer and it made a huge difference. It always amazes me how much your environment can change your run.  I ran 5 miles three days in a row and each experience was completely different.  Did you have a good run this weekend?