Thursday, March 31, 2016

My Fueling Strategy & Mind-Blowing Customer Service: Hammer Nutrition

We've all heard about the "good old days" when customer service was more than just a slogan or a marketing technique.  When business owners cared more about exceeding their customers' expectations than increasing their profits.  Too often in today's world of drive-through service, online one-click purchases and faceless, nameless multi-million dollar corporations, that all gets lost.  I have to say that Hammer Nutrition is one of those few special companies that brings all of these customer service ideals together, and continues to impress me with every encounter.
First - their incredible customer service.  After my first online order with Hammer, I received a free ($25 value) welcome gift with a large assortment of all of Hammer's products for me to try - which way outnumbered the small initial order that I had placed to simply try a few gels on an upcoming long run.  I was blown away - who doesn't love a free surprise in the mail?!  I was even more surprised when after placing my second online order, I received a free water bottle, a book, and a handwritten thank you note in the mail.  Awesome!
Like Christmas morning at my house!
And then the products -  so far, I have started using Hammer's Endurolytes and gels.  I have Crohns disease, so I am VERY picky when it comes to running fuel (or any food in general) to avoid unexpected GI issues.  Hammer gels are all-natural and made with real ingredients that I can recognize and pronounce.  For example, my favorite flavor, Apple Cinnamon, which tastes just like fresh applesauce, is flavored with apple juice concentrate, cinnamon and vanilla.  Go figure!  All of the gels are made with long-chain complex carbohydrates, so I don't get the sugar high spikes and crashes like I have experienced with so many other fake-sugar gels out there.

Remember that squeezable applesauce we loved as kids?  Flashback!
 I also use the Hammer Endurolytes, which have proven to be a lifesaver for me.  I've always been a little skeptical of electrolyte tabs (or anything in pill form, for that matter), but I have to say that I am a believer now!  I used to get horrible cramping and swollen fingers during my long runs, especially in the heat.  I used sports drinks diluted with water to avoid GI distress, and during races tried to alternate water and Gatorade to replenish electrolytes.  Now, with Endurolytes, I can specifically tailor my electrolyte needs to the run distance, temperature and how I am feeling, and haven't cramped up in months!  Also in addition to sodium, which is all that most salt tabs offer, Endurolytes provide supplemental calcium, magnesium and potassium to be able to maintain high performance in tough conditions.
 I am still experimenting with how I take my gels and Endurolytes to get the best effect and to maintain consistent energy on my long runs - but my strategy so far is to take two Endurolytes before I start running, and then a gel at 6 miles, another Endurolyte tab at 9 miles, another gel at 12 miles, an Endurolyte at 15, and so on.   I've found that spacing out my fueling but staying consistent on the timing is key to maintaining consistent energy and avoiding cramping.  Fueling this way has also kept my GI system happy - which is a constant challenge with my Crohns.

Let me be clear - I wasn't paid or encouraged by Hammer Nutrition to write this blog.  I am also not a nutritionist or clinician of any sort.  I do work in healthcare through, and have had more than my share of GI education over the years in learning how to live with Crohns, and am passionate about sharing what works (or hasn't worked) for me.  Finding a realistic and easy fueling strategy is SO important, and using Hammer products for me has truly transformed how I feel during and after my long runs.  

Huge thumbs up for feeling good!
 Questions for you:

What tried and true fueling strategies would you recommend?

Have you tried any of the other Hammer products?  I am kind of hooked, and am thinking of trying the Recoverite drink next - thoughts?

I am linking up with Amanda at Running with Spoons for Thursday's Thinking Out LoudIt's almost Friday - thank goodness!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Race Recap: Eastern States 20 (aka My Love Affair with Running)

My 20-mile run this weekend reminded me of every wonderful, crazy thing that I love about this sport.  The Eastern States 20-Mile has been on my running wish list for several years now.  There is just something SO irresistibly cool to me about running across state borders in a race.  Like "yeah, no big deal, I ran through three states on Saturday morning, what did you do this weekend?!"  The brag factor is big with this one!  

Eastern States is a point-to-point race starting in Kittery, Maine and running primarily along Route 1A (which stretches from Maine, all the way to Florida) through New Hampshire and finishing just over the Massachusetts border in Salisbury, MA.  It is almost 100% along the ocean, and is extremely flat, with only about a 50 foot elevation change throughout.  
I was excited to be able to share this experience with two new friends from my running club, who I met at 6 AM in Newton to drive up to New Hampshire together.  That meant setting my alarm for 4:30 AM on Saturday morning... which would have been rough, had I not been SO excited all night long (yes, I am obnoxiously perky on race mornings!)  As we made our way to Hampton Beach for the shuttle, we caught a glimpse of the beach from a side-street and parked to get a closer look.  The sun was just beginning to rise over the ocean, casting streaks of yellow and orange through the sky.  The scene took my breath away, and I knew in that moment that it was going to be a magical day.

After a quick coffee (and chocolate glazed doughnut) stop, we boarded the shuttle that would take us from Hampton Beach up to Kittery, Maine for the race start.  A quick 15-minutes later and we were at Traip Academy for packet pickup and a mega-long porta-potty line!  We spent much of the next hour waiting in line while debating our race attire... It was 39 degrees and slightly cloudy, but forecasted to be 45 degrees and sunny by the finish, with a slight wind along the ocean.  The challenges that we runners face!  After much angst, I decided to put my windbreaker in the gear check bag, and couldn't have been happier with my decision when I warmed up within minutes.

Who doesn't love a good porta potty line pic!

It is hard to say enough about how beautiful this race was.  I am fairly positive I spent the first 18 miles of this race with a cheesy grin on my face, just completely in awe of my surroundings.  Totally obnoxious, like I said!  
Just can't help myself!

The first mile or so of the race ran through downtown Kittery to Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Maine-New Hampshire border.  There we passed Warren's Lobster House, my all-time favorite seafood restaurant from my time living up in Maine, which brought back some incredible memories of friends and food comas.  We then crossed through  downtown Portsmouth, making our way to Route 1A and the ocean.

The next 10 or so miles of the race followed the curve of the coastline past several state beaches, and more lobster shacks and ice cream shops than I could count.  Talk about great memories of Maine summers... I could practically taste a buttery lobster roll with a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone.  I have to say, my sports gel was not quite the same!

We began passing a series of beaches that I recognized, first by name and then by sight, having spent some fun long weekends with friends along the New Hampshire coast.  First Wallis Sands Beach, and then Rye Beach, where there was a small crowd of spectators braving the cold winds to cheer us on, and then a view of the Isle of Shoals off in the distance.  Although the stretch between Rye and North Hampton marked 13 miles, I barely felt the distance, believing instead that I was on my own little tour of coastal New England.

It was somewhere around mile 16 and Hampton Beach when reality started to hit.  At this point, my legs felt heavy and with the sun out, the water stations started to feel further apart.  We passed the parking lot where we had met the shuttle over 5 hours before, and then the hotel where the post-race party being held, and the half marathoners were already celebrating, which mentally was a little rough.  Only four more miles!  Hampton Beach was undeniably beautiful though, and I tried to let the scenery take my mind off the distance.

The last two miles seemed to stretch forever for me, and I really started hurting just as we approached a small climb over the Hampton Bridge.  I started counting down half miles and then quarter miles, pushing to keep up my pace and get it done.  The race turned slightly inland, so I lost track of my blissfully distracting beach views as well.  I was so relieved when we approached a large crowd of spectators and then turned a corner and saw the finish line just100 yards away.  

Elated to have completed my last 20-mile training run for my April marathon, I walked (okay hobbled) to the gear check bus, where I was amazed that the incredibly organized race volunteers had already retrieved my bag and had it waiting to hand to me.  Just a few steps beyond that, a shuttle bus was waiting to take runners to the post-race celebration.  It couldn't have been better, because when we got back to Hampton Beach, I practically inhaled three cups of chicken noodle soup, two slices of pizza, an orange slice and a Diet Coke.  Recovery food of champions! 

I was psyched to check off one of my wish list races and to be still feeling halfway decent after 20 miles with a finish time I could be proud of.  I felt lucky to have had such an incredible race experience, running through one of the most beautiful parts of New England, with a tailwind behind us, on a perfectly clear and sunny March day.  Most of all, I couldn't have been happier to share this experience with some new friends from my running club family.  Everything about this day epitomized everything I love about this wonderful sport of running.  Here I come, Eastern States 2017!

I am linking up this post with the Tuesdays on the Run link-up with My No-Guilt LifeMCM Mama Runs and Marcia's Healthy Slice!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

My Magical Place: Weekly Wrap

I can't wait to fill you in on my amazing week in Orlando!  It was everything I was hoping it would be and more.  I flew down on Saturday at 6 AM (yikes, 3:45 AM wake-up call!) and checked into the Orlando World Center Marriott.  The work conference I was attending was held at this hotel, and when I discovered it was less than a mile from Disney World, I was ecstatic!  The hotel itself did not disappoint.  A wonderful hotel employee scored me a free upgrade to a pool-view room, and when I got upstairs, I was amazed by my view.

Check out that water slide!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Building distance and off to Disney World!

This linkup is hosted by HoHo Runs and MissSippiPiddlin.  The purpose of this linkup is to connect with and support other active women.

I've had a busy couple of weeks since I've last checked in!  I took two "me" days off work and have enjoyed some incredible running adventures and lots of relaxation as well.  Last week, I joined Cycle Life in Whitman, which is a spinning studio close to work. I haven't taken spinning classes in a few years, and I am hoping to improve my cross-training.  The first class I attended was called Happy Hour, and yikes it was tough, but I had a blast! My goal is to attend a class once a week to build endurance and to get some non-running fitness in.
Disco lights at spin are trippy!