Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I Need Your Advice: Should I Run a Spring Marathon?

I’ve been mulling something for a while now, and I haven’t gotten any closer to an answer: Should I commit to running a spring marathon?

Dan and I would finally do 26.2 together!
At least one friend is running the New Jersey Marathon, which is the race I ran in 2014. It’s near my house, it’s a reasonably well-organized race, and it’s neither too big nor too small. It’s also very scenic, with most of the course along the Jersey Shore. And running close to home means my friends and family can come out and cheer me on.

In all, I had a positive experience last year, and if I'm going to do it, this is the race for me.

But I can't make up my mind. And there are a few reasons why. Maybe you can help me out.

The Time Commitment
The big lesson I took away from training for the marathon last time is that running is the easiest part of the whole shebang. It's all the other stuff that's hard:
  • There were many nights when I was so tired I was in bed before 9:00.
  • At least one full day of the weekend was consumed by a long run and then recovering from the long run.
  • I didn't get to see enough friends and family -- partly because I was so busy, and partly because I needed to make sure I was getting enough rest and not screwing up with late nights out drinking.
  • Some chores just went by the wayside. There just wasn't enough time and energy for everything.
The flip side is that, having one marathon under my belt, I should have a better idea of how I need to manage my time. I've gotten ruthlessly efficient in preparing my gear for morning runs. I have a better sense of how to schedule the rest of my life around running. And I'm hoping that now that I don't have to get any kids onto the school bus, I have a little more flexibility.

The Mental Drain
When you're training for a marathon, you're doing one of three things:
  • Sleeping
  • Running
  • Thinking about running
It's hard to focus on work, family life, chores, etc. And you really get to be a drag with the people in your life, because it's all you want to talk about. "I hope that twinge in my knee isn't serious." "I ran negative splits the last four miles." "I have 400 repeats planned for tomorrow." God, what a bore.

But again, there's a flip side that comes with experience: I should be better able to compartmentalize. Training for a first marathon is a journey of discovery. But many of those lessons are already learned. I know a lot more about my body and the signs of injury or illness. I have a stronger sense of pacing and what I'm capable of, so I don't need to obsess over that. And probably biggest of all, I know I can do it, which will save me a lot of tossing and turning in bed.

Is a Marathon My Goal Right Now?

This is the aspect of the issue that's weighing heaviest on me. In the past six months, I've started making some real progress in the gym. I feel stronger, I look leaner and I've actually lost some very stubborn weight.

But I know that if I commit to marathon training, I'm going to have to scale back my resistance training.
  • There's just not enough time to fit everything in.
  • Even on days when I have time for lifting, I may not have the energy.
  • As a runner, I definitely want to avoid hypertrophy -- in other words, marathon training and bulking up don't mix.
With the winter months arriving, many lifters are going into bulking mode. They're eating more in an effort to put on size. But if I'm going to race, I don't want to do that. With a May 1st race date, I've probably passed the point at which I can unring the bell. So I have to choose.

So What Do You Think?
There is no question that completing a marathon is the single most challenging physical accomplishment of my life, and the feeling of pride I still get from having done it is huge. And I would love to see if I can improve on my time. 

On the other hand, I've gotten to a really good place with my fitness regimen, and I'm not sure I want to give that up right now to commit to four months of arduous, specific training. I will have to sacrifice some of my strength goals to get ready for the race, because I just won't have the time and energy to focus on both.

Also, I didn't mention the weather. Training for a spring marathon means a lot of winter miles -- which can mean a lot of treadmill work. Total drag.

And of course, I can't discount the strain -- on both me and the people around me. It's a big commitment, and not something you can take lightly. Am I really willing to sign on for that?

So I'm asking all you Regular Guys out there your opinion. Should I do it? Should I sign up for the marathon?

Let me know what you think in the comments, on Twitter or on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Winter Is Coming... 5 Obstacles to Keeping Fit in the Cold Months

I'll confess, I'm not actually a Game of Thrones fan.

But when I woke up yesterday, it was 35 degrees out. Frost covered the windshields of the cars. The dog didn't want to go out to pee. A far cry from the balmy weather we had in New Jersey last week.

Let's face it: Winter's coming, like it or not.

And that can put a real damper on your whole fitness and nutrition regimen. The most obvious problem is that you can't -- or won't -- go outside to exercise. But that's not the only obstacle. It's harder to get out of your warm bed in the winter months. It's dark when you get up and dark when you leave work. You're less likely to eat healthy options. And that doesn't even account for the holidays.

Problem One: It's Too Cold to Go Outside
Every Regular Guy has his own breaking point here. Roughly speaking, I won't run outdoors if it's below 25 degrees. But really, the issue is gear. You have to wear the right stuff to keep warm.

  • Layers: Your mom was right about this one. Multiple layers keep the warm in. I'll go with a long-sleeve shirt plus a heavy sweatshirt, and long pants plus a base layer of long johns. 
  • Hat: On a day like today, starting at 35 and headed upward, I'll use an '80s-style headband to keep my ears warm. But when it's really cold, I opt for a regular old winter cap.
  • Gloves: If your hands are cold, you'll never feel warm. It's worth springing for moisture-wicking athletic gloves, and a bonus if they have the smartphone fingertip so you don't ever have to take them off.
Be particularly wary of "breathable" fabrics such as fleece. They're two-way streets, and if it's windy, you're going to freeze. And understand that the added weight plus reduced range of motion is going to impact your performance.

Problem Two: The Bed's Nice and Cozy
For most Regular Guys, getting that seven to eight hours' of sleep is tough no matter what. And when it's cold out, all you want to do is hit snooze, pull up the blankets and enjoy a few more precious minutes of shut-eye. But that makes it easy to get into a rut where it's been days or even weeks without exercise.

  • Get Your Gear Ready the Night Before: Yeah, it's cold out there, but at least if your gym clothes are right by the bed, you won't be fumbling around for 10 minutes in the cold.
  • Set Your Thermostat's Timer: Make sure the heat comes on at least a few minutes before you need to get up. It's at least a little easier to put your feet on the floor if it's not 58 degrees.
  • Have Your Coffee Ready to Go: I enjoy a few ounces of Joe before a workout -- enough to warm me and perk me up, but not so much it sloshes around. Don't stand there tired and shivering while you're scooping the grounds into the basket. Get it ready the night before.
  • Get to Bed at a Decent Hour: You really need at least seven hours' sleep a night. Count back from when you need to get up. That's when you need to go to bed. It's hard enough to get out of bed in the cold -- don't make it harder. That's what DVRs are for.

Problem Three: It's Always Dark
Even if it's not frigid out, another problem with winter is the lack of daylight. Not only is it a safety issue, there are mental and physical issues to deal with.

  • Safety: There are many reflective and lighted products out there. If you're going to be on the streets in the dark, get something to make yourself more visible. I wear a reflective vest, but there are also lightweight lights you can wear. Avoid trails and uneven footing in the dark, too.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder Is Real: It's not as easy in the winter, but make a point of getting a little daylight. Go out for a walk at lunch if you can. Get that vitamin D!

Problem Four: Limited Food Options
Gone are those warm summer nights cooking on the grill. Those lean chicken breasts and steaks have given way to stews, casseroles and heavy sauces. But it doesn't have to be all bad.

  • Good Cookware Helps: There's nothing wrong with using a little oil to sautee your food. But use a good, heavy-gauge skillet that you can get good and hot.
  • Embrace Winter Veggies: Now's a great time to cook with squash and potatoes.
  • Stew and Chili Are Healthy: Lean protein, veggies and beans, all in a pot. Season it the way you love! Yum!
  • Breakfast Is Breakfast: Do you normally eat a healthy breakfast? Your healthy cereal is still there. Eggs are available year-round. Start the day right, at least.

Problem Five: The Holidays
The holiday season is festive. There are parties and gatherings all over the place. That's a great thing. The year is winding down, and it's time to enjoy a little bit. But all that jolly can get in the way of your fitness goals.

  • You're Going to Be Busy: Start planning now for when you're going to be tied up with family gatherings, cooking and cleaning, travel, or whatever. There's room in your schedule, but you have to map it out a little more.
  • All. That. Turkey.: Accept it now: You're going to overeat. It's a celebration. It's OK. It's good, even. Go ahead, enjoy. Just factor it into your overall plan. Try and shave a few calories earlier in the week. See if you can't fit in a little more cardio. But remember, family and friends are always more important.
  • Hangovers: Hangover workouts suck. But they are restorative. Make sure you get yourself rehydrated before you head out, and go into it with reasonable expectations. You're not going to set PRs. But you'll be glad you made the effort -- even though you really didn't want to.

But There Are Some Great Parts of Winter
Come on, the winter isn't all bad! Here are some great things about keeping fit when it gets cold out.

  • Your aerobic systems work best when it's around 40 degrees, or even a little cooler.
  • You don't have to worry about what to wear -- you need it all!
  • Snow runs are fun -- if you're careful.
  • The gym is empty. Those other cats are staying snug in their beds.
  • If you have a canine running partner like I do, you can actually go more than a couple miles.
  • No bugs.

I Want to Hear From You!
What's the toughest part of keeping fit in winter for you? How do you cope? What strategies do you use to get past the obstacles? What advice would you give me about my hatred of cold weather? Comment below, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter!

And please, if you find this article helpful, funny, entertaining or even a little educational, pass it along to a friend!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

6 Reasons to Share Your Fitness Journey Online

You know those people who get annoyed when you post your workouts to Facebook or Twitter? They're not interested in mile splits, or reps, or whatever -- they want to hear about what's going on in your life. Or they think you're showing off. Or maybe they just see your Map My Run share as just clutter in their feeds.

Screw 'em.

You should keep right on posting that stuff on your social media accounts. It's a good thing.

It's a Motivator: When your fitness-minded friends and family get used to seeing your workout posts, you'll start getting likes and comments. And when you don't work out for a while, you may even get a query asking if everything's OK. Even though it's no big deal for someone to click an icon or tap out a few words, you can feed on that encouragement. Hey, we all like a pat on the back for our hard work.

You Might Learn Something: When you discuss fitness online -- especially if you're looking for a solution to a problem -- you engage a whole universe of people with knowledge and experience. They might just have the idea that gives you the boost you need. If there's one thing I've learned in the past few years, people love to pass along wisdom. Don't shy away from it!

It Can Calm You Down: For a Regular Guy in the middle of a training regimen, it can feel like an injury or a string of bad workouts is the end of the world. You have goals, you've been working so hard to achieve them, and now this. Ugh! Well, we've all been there, and we've all managed to bounce back. Just hearing that from someone else can give you some perspective and help put your mind at ease. Deep breaths.

You Might Find an Exercise Partner: If you're talking about fitness with friends who live in your area, one of them might suggest a run, ride, swim or trip to the gym together. Even if you usually work out on your own, having another Regular Guy (or Gal) to talk to once in a while is a nice change and an opportunity to socialize. And if you're competitive like I am, it might even push you to work harder than you would on your own.

You Could Inspire Someone: The biggest compliment I've received on my fitness journey isn't about how I've transformed my body, or about how I finished a marathon. I've had a few people tell me that seeing the changes I've made in my life has inspired them to give it a shot, too. To know that I've been even a tiny bit of help in getting someone else going is really just the best feeling. It feels like I'm making a difference in the world.

At Least It's Not Politics: I'm sort of joking, but it can be nice to have online conversations that don't devolve into petty arguments. Sure, there are disagreements in the fitness world, too, but they don't erupt into full-scale battles very often. Fitness and nutrition are often common ground for folks who otherwise wouldn't have much to talk about.

Well, you've made it this far! Let's hear about your most recent awesome workout! C'mon, go ahead and brag! Post in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What the Heck Does That Mean? Some Basic Fitness and Nutrition Terms Defined

Do you ever get confused by all the fitness and nutrition jargon out there?

I was corresponding with a Regular Guy the other day who remarked that he likes the blog because it's approachable and not intimidating. And that got me thinking: I do throw around a lot of terminology that I assume everybody is comfortable with.

Maybe you are -- and I don't mean to insult your intelligence. But maybe you don't know what VO2 max, or fartlek, or HIIT means.

You won't find many of these terms here!

So I thought I'd lay out some definitions, at least to the best of my ability and knowledge. Here goes!

1RM: Short for one-rep-max, or the heaviest weight you could possibly lift in a given exercise, if you had to do it just once. Good for calculating how much you should be lifting in general.

BMR: Basal metabolic rate is your body's minimum amount of caloric output to continue your existence -- in other words, how many calories you'd burn sitting on the couch all day.

Bodyweight: Using your own mass as resistance for strength training. Pushups, squats, planks, etc.

Bro Science: Wisdom straight from the pages of Men's Fitness, T-Nation and various other non-Regular Guy sites. It's easy to spot -- lots of specific advice without any scientific citation. If you can imagine the Planet Fitness "lunkhead" from those old ads saying it, it's Bro Science.

Cardio: Cardio, or cardiovascular exercise, is shorthand for a workout that doesn't involve resistance training and is intended primarily to tax your aerobic systems. Running, biking, swimming, the elliptical, etc. are all cardio.

CICO: That's an acronym for calories in, calories out. Your body burns X number of calories. If you are trying to lose weight, you have to consume less than that.

Core: I wrote a full post on this back in March. People differ on exactly which muscles make up your core, but everyone agrees that it is the base of your body, the part that provides stability -- akin to the foundation of a house. I think of the core as everything from the top of your abs to about where your boxers fall on your legs, all the way around (and through) your body.

EPOC: You'll hear advocates of HIIT talk about EPOC, or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. The slang term is afterburn. When you exercise, your metabolism doesn't return to its BMR immediately -- you continue to burn more calories. You know, because your heart rate is still elevated.

Fartlek: Swedish for "run-play," fartleks are an easy way to work interval training into your running without a track or treadmill. You simply pick up your pace multiple times throughout a run, hold it for a minute or two, then slow back down to a comfortable pace. The time, distance and frequency is more or less up to you.

Foot Strike: What part of your foot hits the ground when you run? Most beginning runners are heel strikers -- meaning they land heel first with each stride. Many remain so their whole lives. Others -- including most elites -- are mid-foot strikers, meaning the whole foot lands pretty much flat. There is much disagreement on how important foot strike is. My opinion is that heel striking is likely a symptom of a problem, not a problem itself.

HIIT: An acronym for High Intensity Interval Training. This is a specific exercise routine that involves short bursts of energy followed by periods of rest. Often, though not always, it involves a bodyweight routine.

Macros: Food falls into three basic macronutrients: Protein, fat and carbohydrates. That's all. How much of each one you consume depends on your goals and your activity level. If you're looking to build muscle, you need more protein. If you're looking to fuel endurance training, carbs are the way to go. And fat helps your body regulate your metabolism.

Micros: These are what you think of when you think of vitamins -- vitamin C, calcium, riboflavin, etc. Even if you're getting your macros right, you still need to get your micros on target.

Resistance Training: In short, muscle building. Generally, we're talking about lifting weights -- even if that means using a machine. But it also includes bodyweight exercises designed to strengthen muscles.

TDEE: Total daily energy expenditure is not quite the same as BMR. This is how many calories you burn in an average day without any additional exercise. It accounts for stuff like walking around the office, standing at the stove cooking dinner, and so forth. Because it provides a more accurate picture of your actual metabolism, many experts prefer it when working out a fitness and nutrition plan.

Thermic Effect: You burn calories by digesting food -- this is called the thermic effect. You'll burn about four percent of your carb calories, 9 percent of your fat calories and 20 percent of your protein calories. A little extra good news: You'll burn 13 percent of the calories from alcohol.

VO2 Max: Short for volume of oxygen, this is the maximum amount of oxygen your muscles can use in one minute. It corresponds closely with your heart rate. It's not the fastest you can possibly go, but the fastest you can go without sucking wind. Once you surpass the amount of oxygen your muscles can use, you are exercising anaerobically and will tire quickly.

What fitness jargon leaves your head spinning? Get the conversation going in the comments below, on Twitter or on Facebook!