Wednesday, September 30, 2009

News flash: women wear shoes that hurt!

"Some women love their shoes so much it hurts."...nah...really?
I only wear shoes that hurt at weddings, but even that's too much. I am sure in a few decades people will go to museums to stare at stilettos and think about them in the same way we think about corsets.

I remember my grandma cleaning the house in heels, and later in life, suffering of tremendous foot pain. To think that generations of women ruined (and continue to ruin) their later years just because they wanted that "sexy" look when younger. Not me. I'll continue to wear my "unfeminine" comfortable low to the ground and square toed shoes. Even with a skirt.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vitamin D

NYT has an interesting article on vitamin D and performance.

A few interesting facts are mentioned. One that surprised me is that in a study, long-distance runners from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had low levels of vitamin D. If they have low levels of vitaming D, then us Seattlelites have not hope :-)

Additionally, the articles says that athletes seem to be fittest in August, when ultraviolet light is strongest. So sign up for a race in August!

I am too worried about skin cancer to spend long hours exposed, but, just like in all things, it seems like a good balance of sunshine and protection is needed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

After a long time...

...of not blogging. I will give no excuses (like I changed jobs, trained, went to school, etc). Blogging can take only 10 minutes, right? So whom am I kidding. I just have not been disciplined about it, even though there have been plenty of topics and events to blog about.

Most recently (yesterday), Eric participated in the Grand Columbian Triathlon half Iron distance. He was very pleased with his performance (3rd in age group, 12th overall). His hardest event was the biking leg, since he didn't put in enough training miles on his bike. The run leg was a no brainer for him. And the swim, well, Eric is just good at swimming.

For the first time in 11 years Eric missed the Cle Elum Ridge 50K trail race. However, Iliana represented The Balanced Athlete by participating in the race and providing awards. The new race director (James Varner, a well known local ultra-marathoner and race organizer) changed the original course to a tougher and more scenic route. Most people added at least one hour to their previous time, mostly due to the additional elevation gain. Iliana finished 3rd woman, 1st in her age group, and 14th overall. Most importantly, she enjoyed the *whole run*, and for the first time, the last 6 miles of the 50K where not a suffer fest (probably due to actually eating solid food throughout instead of just gels: baked potatos + salt rock!).

Today we had a great recovery 8 mile run with the Sunday morning group at the store. Beautiful sunny morning, and tasty breakfast afterward. I am now ready to take a nap. Last night we were both so psyched about our races, that we chatted about our experiences until midnight, and then couldn't fall asleep (bodies still in race mode).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jeans of my teens

About 14 years ago I decided to start running. I wanted to fit into a pair of jeans I liked that didn't quite close all the way anymore. The jeans didn't fit anymore simply because my hips grew wider, and I eventually gave up on them. But I kept running.

Running on the streets of Mexico back then was not a comfortable experience for a young woman. Most women my age worked out within the safety of a gym. I liked the sense of freedom that running gave me, and I refused to relinquish my "right" to explore the city on my own wearing short spandex. I hear from friends that there are runners all over my home town now. I was a ahead of my times.

Just when I had gotten used to running on Mexico's streets, we moved to Seattle; more specifically, Kirkland. My first run in the USA started from our temporary hotel (La Quinta Inn) to the Kirkland library, where I would study for the TOEFL (a test for non-English speakers required for college applications). Running once more became uncomfortable. I could tell everyone knew I did not belong. Or at least I thought so. But once more, I refused to remain within my cocoon, and I slowly expanded my running territory. And so it was through running that I started to absorb American culture.

Among many other important lessons, I learned to say "on your left" when passing someone.

Running has given me the courage to explore, and the strength to overcome. And so what started as a childish desire to fit into the jeans of my teens, became the passion that allowed me to grow into who I am. Ironic.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


The New York Times has an article on the run-walk method (Better Running Through Walking). As the name implies, this method consists on taking walking breaks while running, whether during training or racing. Practitioners enjoy this method because it makes running less grueling and reduces the risk of injury. At the balanced athlete, we highly recommend this method to beginning runners. However, experienced runners can also see benefits and even improve their times at races. One of the reasons why this method works is because it helps to maintain an optimal heart-rate training zone (I am sure you have heard this before if you have talked to any of us at the store!).

Jeff Galloway's site offers lots of information on this method (Walk breaks?).

The NYT also has a new wellness blog focused on marathons: Marathon Well-Blog. It is worth a read during a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Causes of obesity, article review

The prestigious journal "Nature" just posted a very interesting interview entitled "Obesity: Causes and control of excess body fat."

In a nutshell, molecular geneticist Jeffrey Friedman argues that obesity is mostly caused by our genes (70-80%), and to a lesser extent, our lifestyle. However, he explains that even a small reduction in weight has large health benefits.

As individuals, we all come in different sizes, and it is difficult to modify our natural size significantly to achieve an unrealistic ideal, as proved by yo-yo dieting. This does NOT mean that we should not eat heart-healthy foods and exercise. All it means is, do not try to look like the model in the magazine; learn to accept your natural body size that results from eating healthily and getting moderate physical exercise.

The article also points out several gene mutations that predispose individuals to morbid obesity. In other words, morbid obesity, like many other illnesses, has a genetic cause, and those affected should not be blamed for their condition. In most cases, their lifestyle is not the cause of their being severely overweight. Just like there are lucky people who can eat and eat and stay lean (and I know a few!), there are those who gain weight disproportionally to what they actually eat.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Born to run long?

Almost all long-distance runners have heard it at some point: "Humans are not made to run that long." These words are usually uttered by concerned family members or even physicians.

I often respond that humans are not made to do many things, like climbing Everest, diving 1000 feet, swimming in Artic waters, or trekking across the Gobi desert. Our large brains help us figure out how to do things that our body is "not meant to do".

But it turns out that at least for running long distances, we may not be going against nature. Long distance running may be an evolutionary adaption that allowed us to run our prey to death.

According to Harvard scientists, Daniel Lieberman and Campbell Rolian, humans may have evolved to run for extended lengths of time, most likely for obtaining food, and was the catalyst that forced Homo erectus to evolve from its apelike ancestors. To learn more, read this (thanks Lorinda!).

Long gone are the days when running was considered to be detrimental to our health. I even remember reading that running a marathon shortens your life by a year! Nonsense. A long time ago, if you were not able to run for a long time, you may have starved. So there, I have given you ammunition to respond to the humans-are-not-made-for-running comment.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


As a runner, I tend to neglect my upper body. After I realized I could not easily push large doors open without leaning into them, I decided to start doing push ups every morning.

A co-worker pointed me to the 100 push ups website, which contains a 6 week training program to help you complete 100 push ups. Runners love training schedules, so this website quickly became one of our store's favorites.

I started with 3 push ups at a time (again, we are talking "girl" push ups). The next morning, my arms ached, but I stuck to the program. It was amazing how fast I gained strength (granted, there was a lot of room for improvement). I soon graduated to normal push ups, and I showed off my biceps "line" to Eric almost every day (I know, it's pathetic that I would be so proud of a line, not even a bump).

To encourage good push up form, we got a pair of rotating push up handles (sort of like these ones). They make a huge difference.

A welcome consequence of my push up routine is that my abs got stronger as well: you need to engage them to keep a straight back. And even better, I also noticed my posture improved.

The amazing thing is, you don't need a gym membership. All you need is 5-10 minutes every morning.

So, can I do 100 push ups? No. Not even close. But, I don't lean into doors anymore!

Saturday, March 7, 2009


When life gets busy, we tend to sacrifice our hobbies and exercise activities before anything else. I personally refuse to give up running. I simply go insane if I don't run. My work requires me to sit for long hours in front of the computer, so if I don't run, I pretty much become a hybrid beast: the human-chair.

But, how to keep running (walking, biking, etc) when our schedules are so full? Well, I think I have come up with a possible solution for many of us: run-commute. And I am not the only one. Increasingly, runners are joining cyclists on the road to get to work every morning (for example, see this Seattle Times article).

However, the logistics of running to work are not as straight forward as biking to work. You can't carry a change of clothes and shoes with you (not to mention, lunch, a laptop, etc).

So here are a few tips from my own experience:

- Once a week, drive to work and bring in a large gym bag with clothes and lunch food for 4 days. Hopefully your company offers a refrigerator and a safe place to store your belongings.

- If your company does not have showers it gets tricky. I have not tried it, but I hear some people use a damp towel to wipe sweat off their skin and this seems to work pretty well for them.

- On your running-commuting day, wake up early enough to have a light breakfast (my favorite all-time is bread with peanut butter and sliced bananas).

- Before going to bed, get everything ready. Look up the weather forecast, and prepare your clothes appropriately. Fill up your water bottles, etc. That way in the morning, it won't be so hard to get up and you will have a few extra minutes to relax before your run.

- If your commute is too long, find a Park and Ride where you can park your car and then run into work from there. Some Park and Rides fill up early, so make sure you check beforehand at about what time it gets full.

- When running, use a waist belt with a small bag to keep your keys, credit card, ID, cell phone, and a few dollars just in case.

- Use reflective clothing and flashing lights if you start running in the dark! Be very defensive. Caffeine has not kicked in for most drivers yet, and they are in autopilot.

- Going back home: here you have two options. Run back as well (hard core!), or, figure out a system by which you can drive back. I usually vanpool back to a Park and Ride, or take the bus back to the same Park and Ride. I actually quite enjoy riding the bus back home. It gives me a buffer between work and home to zone out.

So, does this really save me time? you ask. I think it depends. For me, it works quite well. Instead of driving my car into work for 25 minutes from home (times 2, that's 50 minutes a day of time spent commuting), I run in from a Park and Ride (about 1.5 hours total to get to work), and I only take one shower a day instead of two. So in the end, I save myself about 30 minutes.

But time savings are not the only benefit. You save gas, and parking if you have to pay for it at work. And (big AND), you are greener (the big trendy word these days).

It takes a few weeks to get a system working. You have to fine tune it for your own situation. I initially started only once a week, and as I learned more, I started doing it more frequently.

So there you go, another way of staying active.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Best foods for active people: sweet potato

One of my top 10 favorite foods are sweet potatoes. I eat them at least twice a week. When I am in a hurry, I just heat them in the microwave (I bake a bunch on the weekend, so they are ready to go on weekdays) and sprinkle some spices on them (ginger, cinnamon). If I have more time, I stew them with red beans, tomatoes, green bell peppers and curry. During the summer, we roast them on the BBQ. Mmmmm, my mouth is watering just writing this.

Sweet potatoes are one of the best foods for active people too. They have lots of carbs, zero fat (peanut butter on them is tasty!), rich in fiber, and plenty of vitamins A, C, iron, calcium, and decent amounts of protein. After a long run, they are filling and a real comfort-food treat.

It is always the simple things in life that make us smile. A beautiful orange colored steaming hot out-of-the-oven sweet potato is guaranteed to make my day. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Boook review: In Defense Of Food

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

I have been reading "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan. If you are confused with all the trendy diets and nutritional recommendations the media advertises, this is the book to read. It offers simple and practical advice, as well as an interesting analysis of the American culture around food.

"Eat food." Well, what else would you eat, you ask? Not everything we eat nowadays is real food. We eat highly packaged food-like substances with ingredients we cannot pronounce. "Eat food" means eating whole foods with recognizable ingredients and minimal packaging.

"Not too much." We have lost touch with our bodies. We eat when we receive external signals like commercials, times of the day, free donuts at the lunch room, stress...what happened to eating when you are hungry? And, stopping when you are satisfied? We don't need to count calories, all we need to do is listen to our body.

"Mostly plants." Chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer can be prevented by a simple change in our diets: eating less animal products, and more plants. Humans don't need as much protein as we consume in the Western diet.

If you don't wish to read the book, this site offers a a free excerpt and you can listen to an interview on NPR.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday runs are as diverse as it gets

We had 23 runners today for our Sunday morning group run! A diverse group of people (ages 10 through late 50s, all running abilities) ran a 10 mile loop including a couple of hill repeats. The early morning fog made for some beautiful scenery.

After our post-run stretching session, a group of 9 people went for brunch. We talked about gardening, identity theft, breast cancer, facebook, the Mt. Si relay, corn syrup, jelly beans, and football (I am sure I am missing a few).

We have the decaf group, and the black coffee group; we have the soy milk group and the half&half group; we have the vegetarians and the extra-side of sausage group. We have all sorts of occupations and professions.

But we all have one thing in common: we are all ready to go for a run at 8:00 AM on Sundays, regardless of the weather. And the thing is, as we get to know each other more, we realize that we are more alike than what we thought when we first met.

So, if you are looking for a group of people to run with, you know where and when to find us.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Still alive!

We apologize to all of you faithful who read this blog. We have been too distracted by other happenings in our life, but things have calmed down, and we are back in full swing for another year of running and blogging.

Several balanced athlete runners started the year at the Bridle Trails Winter Trail Running Festival which took place yesterday. Some ran the 5 mile loop, the majority ran the 10 mile race, we also had a kid relay team (5 kids and one "grown up" kid) and a pair 50K team.

The race starts at 3:00PM, and for those running the 50K, it finishes sometime between 6:00PM and 7:00PM. A headlamp is required. And a willingness to get muddy. Very muddy. And given that this is a horse park, you know there's more than dirt and rain water in the brown mixture.

All in all, this is a great experience. A great place to see familiar faces from our friendly running community, to have a nice cup of hot chocolate after a wet run, and a fun way to start the running year. After you run Bridle trails, a drizzly running day on pavement is a gift from the gods.