Natural Pain Management

I am one of those people who loves a good wallow. When I feel low, I am the type to hide out and binge watch Netflix (and usually binge eat things I shouldn’t). This is particularly true when I am in physical pain. While I used to pop advil like they were candy at the first sign of any pain, this isn’t my style so much these days. However, I do often reach for one when I am really having a hard time even though they cause total chaos in my stomach. In my quest to lead a more natural and holistic life, I jumped at the opportunity to interview Dr. Jason Marr, a naturopath and expert health and wellness speaker. At the time, I was dealing with a lot of hip and other joint pain as I was still trying to push through my marathon training. One of the supplements that Dr. Marr mentions, Genuine Health’s FAST Pain Relief, has really done wonders for my hip pain and I can’t recommend it enough. While I did receive a sample, this is by no means a sponsored post and I genuinely stand behind the product or I wouldn’t mention it here.

I think there are so many natural products and supplements out there that can help us with pain management and prevention, but the information can get overwhelming. I think that is why it’s often so much easier to reach for something conventional over the self, even when we know there are potential scary side effects involved. I was very excited about this interview as it provided me with so much helpful information that helped make sense of it all. I also learned the word nutraceutical which I just think is a really great word. Can’t wait to drop that one in a conversation. But seriously, did anyone else know about this word? How did I never know it before? So, without further ado, read on if you’d also appreciate some information about natural pain relief:

 

  1. We are so quick to reach for pain killers when we are sore from a workout or have a headache. What are some more natural options to dealing with this? How can we prevent pain before it happens or mitigate it through our diet and supplementation?

Over 4.5 million Canadians suffer from the pain of arthritis, and millions are diagnosed with other pain syndromes.  Everyone experiences some level of pain on a regular basis, whether acute or chronic. With questionable efficacy of natural health products for pain, and negative side-effects of pharmaceutical drugs, the need for safe, natural, effective treatments that work quickly, with sustained results, is glaring.

Glucosamine is a standard that sufferers of arthritis and other pain syndromes often self-medicate with. Natural eggshell membrane is a naturally occurring source of glucosamine, with the added advantage of also being a source of hyaluronic acid and other substances associated with joint health.  This more natural nutraceutical supplement is taking the world by storm for the management of pain syndromes, and in particular, for arthritis, when it comes to reasonably evidence-informed natural medicines.

Physical medicines, such as hydrotherapy – The application of hot and cold therapy to the body using water as the vehicle, and cold laser (low intensity laser therapy) are mainstays of my practice for the management of pain.

Other nutraceutical supplements that may have a role to play in pain management and anti-inflammation include those from herbs, such as curcumin, white willow bark and boswellia, nutrients like the specific omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from fish oils, and vitamins and minerals that may be deficient in the body, such as magnesium, calcium, antioxidants and the B-vitamins.

  1. Why do you think that FAST products are a better choice over a conventional pain killer?

Natural eggshell membrane products are currently the most effective natural health products for chronic joint pain by far.  They produce results quickly and sustainably, are well-supported by scientific literature, are easy to use and safe, and are inexpensive.  This is an essential component to a natural health approach to joint pain in conjunction with an anti-inflammatory diet, essential fatty acids from fish oils and other anti-inflammatory means.

  1. How do natural remedies for joint pain fare over time and can they prevent further pain?

Most pharmaceutical pain management tools come with high risk of side-effects and dangers when used regularly for extended periods of time. NSAID drugs (such as Aspirin, ibuprofen) come with an increased risk of bleeding and peptic ulcer disease, for example, and acetaminophen depletes the body of antioxidants, stressing the liver’s ability to perform adequately.

Natural remedies can be as effective as pharmaceutical medications for the management of pain when used appropriately and in the proper doses.  While natural remedies are not always safe for everyone, and you should consult your experienced healthcare practitioner prior to using them, they often exhibit fewer side-effects and less serious interactions, particularly for long-term use.

  1. What is the single most powerful food when it comes to natural healing and prevention for pain?

Water.  Without proper hydration, every cell, tissue and organ in your body suffers, and struggles to produce or use energy appropriately.  Especially for runners, adequate hydration, proper rest and recovery, and optimal fuelling with an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense diet (ie. More vegetables than everything else) must come before anything else.

  1. As a runner, what small diet change can I make to make sure my joints as muscles suffer as little as possible?

Drink more water.  Eat more vegetables to obtain a more anti-inflammatory diet.  One way to achieve this is by adding a scoop of a superfoods greens powder like any of Genuine Health’s Greens+ powders to your daily morning regimen, in a smoothie or just with water.

If you want to add supplements to your plan, at the top of your list of options should be products like natural eggshell membrane (ie. Genuine Health’s FAST Pain Relief product line), and pharmaceutical-grade fish oils.  To get the most out of fish oils, ensure you’re delivering a minimum of 2000mg of combined EPA and DHA each day to your body.

From a lifestyle perspective, get adequate rest and ensure at least 1 day of complete rest per week.


Dr. Jason Marr is a Naturopathic Doctor, an Expert Health & Wellness Speaker, and Director of Evoke Integrative Medicine Ltd. (www.evokemedicine.com) in downtown Vancouver, BC.  He arms urban professionals with evidence-based, integrative, real-world tools to maximize productivity, creativity and learning agility, while overcoming fatigue, stress, anxiety and burnout.

 

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You can’t pour from an empty cup

Right now I am supposed to be sitting in my cramped Kia Rio driving from Chicago to Toronto after having run the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Instead, I am sitting at the kitchen island in my Toronto condo after shoving my face with a Thanksgiving feast writing this.

This is now the second year in a row that I haven’t reached my goal of running a full marathon and to say I’m disappointed would be an understatement. Social media is currently agonizing, taunting me and reminding me where I should have been this weekend, but here I am sitting Toronto, having run a total of zero kms this weekend. While last year I didn’t make it to the marathon because I admittedly wasn’t training enough, this year my decision not to run was based off of agonizing hip pain that made even walking feel impossible after any long run. Despite the slow start to my training, I was SO determined to run this year and once the hip problems really set in I tried to ignore it and really really thought I could push through it and find that inner grit and mental strength that every marathoner talks about. I just wanted to get there and finish, even if it meant crossing the line in over 5 hours. But I couldn’t ignore the fact that my hip was so sore I couldn’t sleep after a long run, and then it started happening after shorter runs too, and then it was starting to hurt just from walking down the street. I was stretching, rolling, doing yoga and trying anything to self-rehabilitate.  Eventually, I decided to suck up my pride, look after myself and defer my entry until next year.

While the pain this year was certainly out of my hands, I do keep asking myself if trying harder earlier on would have got me there. While the pain was there all summer long, I also started noticing something else in those early summer days. My head was not in the game. I don’t know if this was from the pain or from something else. I just didn’t want to run. This wasn’t normal exercise procrastination this was a straight up I-hate-running-and-don’t-want-to-run feeling. Training was becoming a chore, and something I absolutely dreaded. If I missed a run, I ended up stressed, angry at myself, and totally let-down. I don’t know if these thoughts were a result of the pain or if the thoughts were making the pain feel worse than it actually was. While all of this was going on work was getting crazy and I still hadn’t settled into my commute and my new routine at my still-new job. A true perfectionist, it took me a long time to admit that my pain and my negative thought loops would keep me from running a decent race, or even finish the race, not the way I wanted to make my debut at this distance. After much reflection and a run where every single step hurt, I decided to defer to next year. I cried and cried and cried when I hit the defer button online. I couldn’t believe I had let myself down again. But then something happened- I felt relief. I suddenly didn’t feel as stressed.

I quickly came to the realization that the very same thing that inspired me to START running was now the cause of one of the main reasons I had to completely stop running for a bit; stress, and the perfectionism in my head I constantly try so hard to quiet. At first, I felt shameful about this. It was hard for me to tell people that I was having hip problems and that I also honestly just didn’t want to run. Being a runner, after all, had become such a large part of my identity and social life. But slowly, after a few weeks of coming home from work and literally doing nothing, I came to terms with it. My body and my mind had been trying to tell me something important, I just needed to stop and listen. I really tried to focus on myself and not on what everyone else would think of me dropping out of the marathon. I normally wouldn’t advocate for this kind of lifestyle but honesty, I was very lazy for a few weeks, I ate what I wanted and drank what I wanted and it felt great. I’m not saying that this is the best way to take care of your mental health, but I think in this situation I just felt so relieved and relaxed and let go of the impossible standards I so often set for myself. Learning that this is okay was a huge lesson for me. Of course, being the active person that I am, my body started telling me it was time to move again. Instead of lacing up my sneakers and hitting the pavement, I listened to my still sore body and focused on walking more, getting off the subway a stop early, taking breaks in the day to do some stairs, carving time in my schedule to get to a yoga class. Mainly, I didn’t stress about fitting tons of activity it. I did it when I felt like it and if I skipped a day, that was okay too. I tried some new fun recipes, I enjoyed lazy Saturday morning coffee walks with my husband and my dog, I made social plans after work with my non-running friends. I like to think this was just as healing for my mind as it was for my hip. I truly believe that we can’t be well physically if we aren’t taking care of our mental health first.

As I prowled social media this weekend and watched my favourite blogger cross the finish line in Chicago, I started finding what I had been missing again. My hip is feeling a lot better, I’ve achieved a bit more (of that impossible thing called) balance in my life, but most importantly my mind is ready. My motivation is there again, and it’s REALLY there.

Getting back into it last week with my fav running pals

 

Am I going to jump back into running 5 days/week? Absolutely not. But I am going to slowly get back into it, keeping up with my yoga and other strength classes, doing some proper physio with a professional and taking care of my head again. Hopefully I will start to rev-up the training again mid-December in preparation for some Spring races, but if my head isn’t there, I won’t force it. So much about being healthy is about finding what works and keeping it as enjoyable as possible. Of course, I want that to be running. But I want it to be running for me, for my goals, for my mental health, for my well-being, not for my perfectionism, my worries about what others will think or because I think I have to run a marathon to call myself a runner.

Thanks to all who have listened to me agonize over this and still loved me anyway, marathon finisher or not. You know who you are!

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Run a marathon they said, it’ll be fun they said…

Attachment-1

With only 45 days until the Chicago marathon I thought it was about time to provide everyone with a bit of a training update!

I don’t know about any of you out there but Toronto has been BURNING UP (or at least it was when I started writing this last week), a negative factor that has kept me from training as hard as I’d like to. I will be totally open about this, but I am currently not putting in the weekly mileage I should be at this point as I prepare for the Chicago Marathon. It really is a week-by-week struggle right now. Some weeks I am ALL IN (like this one), and others (like last week) I am barely scratching the surface in my training. Not only is the heat a factor but the time it takes is really deterring me from my training as well. I know, I know, I have to make it a priority. The problem is, I have made other things a priority as well and am struggling to prioritize my running in all of this. I find this especially difficult because I have so many planned weekends away. I really find that getting in a Saturday morning long run with my club is the key to staying on track and setting myself up for success. With being away, it’s so hard to fit in a long run, and especially challenging mentally to get myself to do it solo.

Back in May, I was feeling on top of the world  regarding my running. But then things kind of got derailed. I was having knee and hip pain and started taking it easy. I was job hunting and feeling down about unemployment and also got caught up in a bunch of side work and freelance projects. Basically, I lost steam and was struggling to find it again. I barely ran at all during the month of June. I luckily found and started a new job at the beginning of July but it also threw me off. Getting back to the 9-5 grind plus a 50 minute commute has quite simply been exhausting. Because of this, I was really struggling to get up early on weekends for my long runs for a while, throw in cottage weekends and summer plans and everything was all out of whack and off track. When I miss a weekend long run it is so difficult to try and make a long run happen on a weekday after sitting in a chair from 9-5. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. Even when I have the best of intentions all day long, by the time the work day is over I just cannot.

In general, I am finding sitting all day difficult, I forgot what an energy suck it truly is. Since I literally help people feel more energized at work and stay healthy, I really need to do a better job with practicing what I preach and get up more during the day for a little walk or stretch. I’m going to start putting reminders in my outlook calendar to make sure this happens and will post an update about it later- hopefully I can stick with it and notice a difference. I am also working in an office with no natural sunlight which is also a challenge mentally and really takes a toll on my energy levels as well.

And now, here I am. I am STILL struggling to stay on track but at least I can say I finally am getting some of my drive back and making it more of a priority. Is it possible to run a marathon after only 8 weeks of REAL training? (Please say yes!)

So how do I feel mentally with 7 weeks to go?

Motivated. At least sometimes haha. My head and heart is mostly in the right place. I am ready to conquer it although I admit it is still a little daunting and I thought I’d be more prepared at this point (does everyone feel this way before their first full?) I am also a bit stressed. Training for a marathon takes A LOT OF TIME and I have accepted I basically have to give up other plans and a “life” outside of running for the next 7 weeks. It’s really tough to prioritize this in the summer when there is so much going on- endless invites for after work drinks, weekends away at cottages and camping, weddings, gatherings, bachelorette parties, etc. After this week, I absolutely have to focus more and stop saying yes to these other things or find a way to schedule my runs around the things I can’t miss with zero excuses. Luckily, I have the local chapter of NRC to help keep me on track.

T-minus 66 days until the Chicago Marathon. It may not be obvious from this photo but I am in near panic mode. Getting back on track (pun intended) and finding my groove again sexy pace style. Slow and steady wins the race right? (Well maybe not wins but I'm thinking a super sexy pace marathon is a personal win). Shout out to @vividsole for pushing me to the point of near death but keeping me going somehow during last nights speed session! 📸: @ak.tivated . . . . . . . #NRC #niketoronto #nrctoronto #bankofamericachicagomarathon #tracktuesday #chicagomarathon #nrcchicago #chasing26point6 #chasing42km #marathontraining #whyWeSweat #4run6 #werunTO #runTO #teamsexypace #nikerunning #betterforit #torontorunning #nikewomen #getouthere

A photo posted by Ali Williams-Brun 🇨🇦 (@aliwillibrun) on

How is my body feeling?

Getting there. It’s hot and I’m still adjusting for that and playing with fueling on long runs. It took 3 hours to do 24km a few weeks ago but I’m trying to not get caught up on the time and just get the kms in. Walk breaks and water breaks are necessary in this heat and I’m trying to listen to my body. My hip is still bothering me on and off. I find the more I run the better it actually feels. However, I am really amazed at how different my legs feel after a 20km+ run. They are so restless and keep me awake after a long run. I don’t remember this happening when I was training distances under 21km. I DO know I felt this way after I actually ran my first half marathon but I don’t remember it in training. My feet are getting some interesting blisters too, nothing too uncomfortable though. Also I find I am SO HUNGRY for like 3 days after a long run and need to make more of an effort to bring healthy filling snacks to work every day. I also need to (somehow) carve time in my weekly schedule for strength training and yoga. I have been doing more yoga recently and find it immensely helpful. I also feel like I’m actually GAINING weight by focusing on running only which is something I need to figure out and hopefully gets better as I focus more on healthy snacking and get some more weight lifting in (summer beers are also probably not helping).

What I’m really into right now:

Endurance tap energy gel.  This stuff is as Canadian as it gets.  I know I am not alone in my struggle to find an energy gel that doesn’t lead to an upset stomach. I discovered it at a recent MEC race and purchased a bunch shortly after. Normally I run with huma gels and banana brownies, with minimal discomfort but I still always get some of those nasty pangs in my stomach shortly after getting a huma down. Also, the gloopy texture of the other gels out there is just so gross.  These gels on the other hand taste amazing as they are just pure maple syrup, ginger, and sea salt. They go down so easily too and are not difficult to consume in their packaging (but be careful, since they are more watery than a traditional gel, they spill easily, as I obviously learned the hard way). The best part? NO stomach discomfort. Finally a natural gel I can get behind! Wooo! Even better, they are local so I feel a bit better about myself every time I buy some knowing I am supporting some (almost) neighbours! Buy them online from their site (linked above), at BlackToe in Toronto or MEC online.

What am I doing to stay motivated?

Recently it’s been Kelly Roberts who blogs over at Run, Selfie, Repeat. I know it sounds silly that a blog written by a person I haven’t met is my biggest source of inspiration but it’s true. Kelly is seriously my spirit animal. Maybe kindred spirit sounds better? Soul sister? Who cares. I am channeling Kelly. She is BRINGING it as she is challenging herself to BQ for the first time and when I read her posts it’s like I am reading posts from a more seasoned version of myself. Kelly also struggles with how tough running can be and makes me feel better as her posts about not looking like a natural runner or having to explain her pace really ring true for me. I feel those feelings girl. Yet she is killing it and getting out there and trying her damned hardest, and bonus, she really makes me laugh along the way. Her blog is super motivational and always brings it back to why we run, not to look better, not to be the best, but to better ourselves and appreciate the lessons in the struggle and the satisfaction of making it to the finish line. She also motivated me to join the #SportsBraSquad and run without a shirt for the first time in forever which was SO empowering. I’m going to post about that later but in the meantime, read her post about it here.

Well everyone, that’s all I have for now! Hopefully my next training update will sound like this: “I’M KILLING IT! I’M GOING TO RUN THIS MARATHON SO FAST”. In the meantime, I will continue to drink maple syrup and hope for a miracle.

Happy trails!

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Living in Lyme “hell”

Almost 3 years ago now, Zach and I worked one last summer at our beloved Summer Camp. That summer was supposed to be the best yet; we were both on senior staff, all of our closest friends would be there and as soon as camp was over we would be taking the California road trip of our dreams. Halfway through the summer, right around the time of our anniversary, Zach became ill. His symptoms were very much meningitis-like, but when he went to the camp doctor he was told if he was vaccinated then it wasn’t meningitis and probably just the flu. He was sent on his way with some tylenol for the extreme back and neck pain (he worked in climbing so he “could have pulled something”) and orders to rest. After over a week of this I vividly remember we were sitting in my car and I was looking up his symptoms online. One thing kept coming up: Lyme Disease. It made sense. Zach worked in a wooded area, we were in North-East Pennsylvania, and he spent his days outside. After quite a few warmer winters, the deer population was out of control (I had never seen so many deer before!) so vector borne viruses like Lyme, were at an all time high. I kept reading words like “epidemic” yet no one even thought to test Zach for Lyme. He did not think it was Lyme because he never had a rash or found a tick on his body. If you read up on Lyme, the literature almost makes it seem that you have to present the classic bullseye rash if you have Lyme. This went on for two months, and it was really scary to see such a fit and active young man literally just start to melt away. Zach is not a big guy to begin with, but all of his clothes started falling off of him, he was constantly tired, battling stomach issues and dizziness and he was also impossible to be around. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt knowing that something was going on but I also seriously considered leaving him because it was so bad and he kept brushing off how awful he felt. When we were in California, he almost fainted 3 minutes into a hike- this is a guy who can get up any random day and run 20+ km with no complaints. It just wasn’t right.

When Zach returned home, he went to another doctor. He was prescribed beta blockers (a bandaid solution) for his irregular heart beat. It was only after he insisted (or I insisted while on the phone with him) that they test him for Lyme.

Not surprisingly, all of the tests came back positive.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month and this post is really all about that, to make you aware of what Lyme can look like. Lyme carrying ticks have been confirmed in Toronto (not surprising considering how many cases have been reported by our neighbours directly to the south and our warm winter) so it is inevitable that if you spend time outdoors, you will come in contact with ticks.

Today, Zach is here to tell his story about his experience with the disease. Please read on and share.


Facial Palsy- one of the many symptoms

Facial Palsy- one of the many symptoms

So this is a story about Lyme disease. This is a story about the often misdiagnosed tick-borne disease that’s quietly causing disarray in the medical community. I’m not going to speak in absolute medical terms here (I’m not a doctor); I’d rather speak about this from a personal side. So here we go.

Late summer 2013 – I had just finished working my last of 3 summers at Island Lake, where I met my amazing wife Ali. This summer at camp was unlike any of the other 2 summers though. It will always be remembered, for me, as one of the worst summers of my life, and now how I wanted my last summer to go. However, camp wasn’t ruined for me because of the usual reasons – a relationship gone wrong or an insufferable boss. That honour belongs to Lyme disease. I’ll remember the sequence of events forever, like they happened just the day before. It started with back pain and progressed through various other types of symptoms until I literally hated everything and everyone in my life. Hate is a strong word, but the irritability associated with Lyme disease is the real deal. For example, on our post-camp vacation in California, Ali stepped on a wasp, barefoot while walking along the beach. In a Lyme-induced rage, I told her off and made sure she kn ew that she was inconveniencing me by being a human that feels pain. Lyme-me was a truly dickish guy. So this leads me to the bulk of the story.

What exactly was I feeling? There’s no good answer here for what I was feeling throughout this whole experience. With Lyme disease, it really seems like the Universe throws the kitchen sink at you. I mentioned back pain (which made me double over) and I wish that was the worst of it. They say that Lyme starts off like meningitis and then it’s everybody’s guess, what’s next. Well, that’s true. I had:

•Fevers

•Irritability/hatred towards everything

•Diabetes-like bladder control

•Hot flashes and dizzy spells that ended with me blacking out at really inopportune times

•Night sweats

•Facial palsy

•Heart palpitations caused by fluid and swelling around my heart

•Constant light-headedness

•No appetite (and resulting weight loss)

•Depression

•Insomnia

•Nausea

•Fatigue

•Slight alcohol intolerance

•Etc. Etc. Etc., the list goes on

But forget about the symptoms. They’re scary as a whole and all, but the scariest thing about Lyme is that there are no standard symptoms. This disease is f*****g scary; absolutely scary. And it breeds a sense of hopelessness in most of its prisoners. My treatment was gruelling (I’m not trying to compare this to chemotherapy, etc.), with a 3 week oral antibiotic regimen followed by a 3 week IV antibiotic regimen with twice-a-day infusions, after my EKG and echo revealed worsening heart irregularities. To this day, I assume that treatment completely worked, and mostly, I do live a normal life. It wasn’t an easy recovery process and it did take some time to feel normal again. However, I notice tiny things that are different about this “new” normal life – I’m more generally fatigued, I struggle with my alcohol tolerance, my digestion has never quite been the same and every so often I feel my heart pumping abnormally.

But in classic Lyme fashion, that was the treatment specific to me. Even the treatment is completely different depending on the individual and how early it’s caught. I caught mine early on, at the beginning of the second stage (Lyme has 3 stages) thanks to Ali’s persistence (she knew this was Lyme from day one somehow), even though I didn’t have the “bullseye rash”, which actually only appears in about 25% of reported cases.

So I somehow caught this mysterious disease, which has mysterious symptoms and doesn’t have a standardized treatment. Fun right? Ali and I struggled through this process. She was understandably worried, which led to all of our long distance phone calls being hijacked by conversation about the best Lyme-literate doctors in Chicago and the most recent research. It was so hard to go through all of this and not be in the same place. There was so much that was unknown and neither of us had any sort of answer as to what was going to happen. It just seemed like it was one piece of bad news after another and everyone was dancing in circles not sure how to proceed. I’m so thankful to have Ali in my life, and I’m especially lucky to have had her throughout that whole process. Who knows how long it could have gone on had she not insisted that it was Lyme.  It was also unbelievably difficult to go through this while battling with insurance companies (something that is still going on to this day- Canadians, never take your health care for granted).

Once I started working with an infectious disease doctor things got a lot easier. Finally someone had some answers and was able to help me through the healing process. I was grateful for my doctors who helped get me better, but I know that a lot of people often feel failed by the medical community when it comes to Lyme. This is definitely a problem in Canada, where there are not as many confirmed cases and the health care system lacks knowledge.

Nearly November and starting to feel better

Nearly November and starting to feel better

Since there is so much unknown about Lyme, it seems that Doctors don’t really test for it unless you say “test me for Lyme disease”. The biggest thing that I want everyone to take from this is to always remember to be an advocate for yourself and your own health. There are thousands and thousands of cases that are not diagnosed every single year due to the ambiguous symptoms. This can go on for years and only gets worse over time. The number of reported cases is shockingly high but it is estimated that the actual number of cases is probably double those reported.

Doctors are amazing people, but it is so important to speak up and trust your gut, not just taking what someone else tells you for the truth. If you have meningitis or even mono like symptoms that will not go away, please talk to your doctor about Lyme. Tests can also come back as false negatives with Lyme as well, and there isn’t a gold standard for testing. There are a lot of unknown and scary factors surrounding Lyme.

Remember, most people won’t present a bullseye rash, this is something that a lot of doctors don’t always seem to know. This may be especially true in a place like Toronto where a lot of cases have not popped up yet. If you spend time outdoors and have been in a grassy or wooded area, check yourself for ticks, this is what a tick looks like. Have your partner check you for ticks. Double check even. If you find one, this is how you remove it. Take it to your doctor. Wear long pants if you are out hiking, or clothes that are light in colour so you can see a tick. Check your pets for ticks too. Also remember that sometimes they are incredibly small, the size of a grain of sand, a pin point or a poppy seed. If you have a lot of dark hair like I do, you may never find a tick. This is why it is so important to always listen to your body.

For more information please visit these sites:

Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

 

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Reflections on “Slow” Running

I was a little hesitant to write this post. Not because I am embarrassed by my speed (or lack thereof) but more so because I don’t want anyone out there to feel like they are not a great runner based on their speed.  Also, I hate using the word slow (I really tried hard to find a better word for the title) and even more than that, I hate using the word to describe my own running pace, using it as a justification as to why I can’t run with someone or even worse, using it to dismiss and diminish an accomplishment.  What does slow mean anyway? Slow compared to what? Everyone is slow compared to someone else. But, everyone is also fast compared to someone else. More importantly, the majority of us are fast compared to when we started. I’m going to throw the word away. My speed shouldn’t come with negative connotations and it certainly shouldn’t define who I am as a runner. I’m taking back the negativity that I have put on myself for being “slow” and hope that in doing so, I can inspire others to do the same.

As a “slow” runner, I often have had a hard time even calling myself a runner at all. When people tell me they are impressed with what I do I often downplay it saying “ya, but I’m really slow”. The first time I ran a 5k in under 30mins and the first time I ran 10k in under an hour were significant events that I immediately brushed off once I realized how easy that is for some people.

I just want to clarify something; slow does not equal easy. Slow also does not equal unfit. I promise you, when I am out there running 5:45-6:00 minute kilometres, I am giving it my all. I know that I can say the same for many others, especially those who may not be able to pace alongside me.

I also don’t like the word “jog”. Once, when talking to a non-runner about a race they said to me “how long does it take you to run a half marathon?” and when I said “probably about 2 hours, 15 minutes” they responding by saying “oh, so you don’t really run then, you jog”. It took everything in me to not bluntly say “no you jerk, I run, and I run all out, that is just my pace”. (They admitted they had never run further than 5k so I cut them some slack.)

Last weekend when I finished the Sporting Like 10k race in 56:52, it was a huge personal best. I didn’t hit a single km over a 5:45 pace. Running doesn’t come easy for me. Or at least, there was a time not too long ago when it didn’t. I wasn’t one of those people who could just tie up my shoes and get out there for an after work 5k run. It took me some time to run 5k continuously. There was a time when I didn’t think I could ever run more than 5km and the thought of doubling that distance made my head spin. When I finished my first 10k run I honestly could not believe it, (see below) and I think it took me about 1 hour, 20 minutes. I also wasn’t sure if I could take another step or run 10k ever again. The first time I ran the Sporting Life 10k race a few weeks later, I remember thinking I just wanted to run a 6:45 pace. I was very happy when I finished in 1:06 because at the time, it was faster than I ever thought I could be. It made me feel like anything was possible, even at that speed. However, I couldn’t even imagine doubling THAT distance. But somehow I did, and over the last two years I have run 4 half-marathons. I honestly would have laughed in your face if you told me 3 years ago I would run that far and that I’d be training for a marathon in 2016. Yet, here I am. This is what I’m keeping in mind as I start my training for Chicago

First time I ran 10km!

First time I ran 10km!

I was inspired to write this post after reading this article a few weeks ago. It really spoke to me and made me realize that my negative self-talk about my running was only hurting my potential. It was time to reframe how I felt about my speed.

“From a pure performance perspective, thinking negatively can inhibit you from achieving your potential. While thinking you’re slow may seem harmless, every time you preface a statement with the phrase, “I know I am slow, but …” you condition your mind to believe that you can never be fast.

Countless research studies in sports psychology have proven the power of positive thinking and self-talk. Athletes who go into a workout or race with positive thoughts perform significantly better and more consistently than those who approach workouts and races with a negative attitude.

Reframing your belief in yourself starts before a workout or race. If you’re negative and lack self-confidence throughout your training, no amount of pre-race self-talk and mental preparation is going to undo weeks or months of self-deprecation. Positive thinking starts with how you frame every aspect of your running.”

This post is for all you runners out there who have ever felt left behind, who have ever been afraid to run with a group, or who have ever felt less proud of finishing a race based on your time. Perhaps, this is also a little pep talk to my internal self consciousness about my own speed.

You are not slow. You are running. You are doing something amazing for your body and your mind. You are not less of a runner because you can’t keep up with others. In fact, I’d argue that you are MORE of a runner because it takes all that much more determination to go on once everyone has left you in their dust. You will never be an elite runner, you may never run a Boston qualifier. But it doesn’t matter. Each and every time you get out there on the pavement you are winning. You are pushing yourself to be better, pushing yourself to keep going, tapping into your inner grit when everyone around you makes it look so easy.

When you start running with a friend who isn’t a runner and they quickly become faster than you, don’t be jealous, celebrate their success and the fact that they are teaching themselves that same perseverance that you have. When you run a race and the crowd is all gone by the time you finish, don’t be discouraged, be proud that you kept going for that much longer than everyone else.

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When the amazing runners in your club get shout outs for amazing PBs and running cool races, don’t feel ignored or invisible. Know that this keeps you humble and you don’t need the attention to know you have accomplished something amazing. There is always going to be someone who is faster than they are, much like there will always be those who are faster than you. Remind yourself that there will also always be someone who is not as fast as you. Encourage them, run with them, help them understand that they are still crushing it. When you talk about your running, don’t downplay it. Own it. Shout it to the world. You are a runner, you are a 10k finisher, a half marathon finisher, a marathon finisher and no one can take that away from you.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this sport is that it has become accessible to everyone. You no longer have to be at the top. Besides the elites, we are all in for our own good and to compete against who we were yesterday. We aren’t going to the olympics and we aren’t winning National titles or breaking records. Even the elites face the same fears and challenges that the rest of us do and that makes us all in this together.

My greatest joy is convincing new runners that they too can run a race they once thought was not possible. It’s not about how fast you go, but about learning how to push yourself to do things you thought you weren’t capable of. It’s about the feeling of crossing the finish line, or simply getting up one day and having an amazing run with your crew, running buddy, or just by yourself with your thoughts.

I recently spoke with a pacer about how being a “slow” runner means we actually have to have more endurance- while some can run a half marathon in an hour and a half, we have to pound the pavement and keep going for over two hours. 

But let’s stop calling ourselves slow. We aren’t. We are fast. We are faster than we were last year. We are faster than we were last month. We ran a faster race than we did a few weeks ago. We are faster than when we started. We are fast.

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Get out there and be proud of your 30 minute or even 40 minute 5k, you’re still doing better than everyone else on the couch!

You are a runner, and you’re an amazing runner too.

 

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Saying yes to every opportunity

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I tend to be a pretty positive person but as anyone else who has been on the job hunt knows, it can be hard to keep your head up while searching for the next opportunity, particularly if you work in a pretty small field like I do. If one thing is true, job hunting isn’t as simple as just sending off resumes and cover letters and waiting to hear back (although that is how I got my last job, so I’m just going to assume that was my one lucky chance and it probably won’t happen again).

In recent weeks, I have really been striving to just get myself out of the house and meet people, regardless of whether or not it will help my job search. I think the hardest thing for me about being at home is that I don’t get to talk to adults all day (just the cat) and as an extrovert who gets my energy from other people, this isn’t easy. Hence, getting out of the house and meeting people. Besides, you never know what can come your way just by getting out there and having an open mind.

A few weeks back I signed up for a lunch n’ learn at BrainStation, which is an amazing learning space here in Toronto offering workshops, courses and other great offerings (like yoga! And bonus, there is a great coffee shop attached to it!) The lunch n’ learn was with the experiential marketing specialist from Vega, Kelsey Reidl. I signed up because I love Vega and their products, and for 10 bucks how could I say no to a delicious lunch and the chance to sit in a room with potentially a bunch of other wellness folk? I was happy to learn that Kelsey and I have a lot in common- we are both actively involved in the fitness community here in Toronto, love connecting with people and enjoy a good cup of coffee!

As Kelsey told the story of her journey and what steps and opportunities led her to her role with Vega I found myself deeply inspired and feeling a little more hopeful about my own current job hunt. But before I ramble on about it, I am overjoyed to share that Kelsey is here herself today to talk about her journey in her own words- how saying yes and taking chances can not only lead you to your dream job but impact your life in so many ways. Read on and prepare to be inspired- whether you are job hunting or not! (also, I’m glad that I’ve been succeeding at #4!)


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I am so excited to be guest posting on Happy Fit and Free today! Like Ali, I’m a local fitness and health enthusiast currently living in Toronto. When I moved to Toronto I had no idea what the journey I was about to embark on would look like, but with constant curiosity and a positive attitude I made sure that each day included some sort of adventure. What’s more is that on this path, I truly have found myself to be at a place in my life and in my journey that I truly feel happy, have communities in fitness, and am creating more and more freedom to live my life to the fullest each day!

Today, and for the past few years, I’ve been hanging out in what I’ll call my ‘yes phase’. This phase of my life was really ignited when I moved to Toronto and knew next to nobody, and was not familiar with my surroundings.

What I’m chatting about is not just applicable to those of you in new places though. By turning on your ‘yes phase’ you are embracing a chapter of your life that can bring about great shifts and welcomed changes to your routine. Perhaps you are that someone who is ready for more, whatever that may be, and can find inspiration to look for it through some of tips.

As I reflect on what got me to where I am today as a marketing specialist, nutritionist, and lifestyle coach, it was simply about saying ‘yes’ to the right opportunities and really believing that the more that I put myself out there, the more opportunity could (and would!) come my way.

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I’m going to elaborate more specifically on action items that I took to launch me towards more success in all areas of my life;

Other people will believe in you, before you believe in yourself

When people ask me to speak at an event or to help them with their nutrition, I still have a moment of wondering why in the world I would be the right person. There’s an element of self-doubt or fear that many of us are challenged with on a daily basis that we need to get over!

When people ask me to speak at an event or to help them with their nutrition, I still have a moment of wondering why in the world I would be the right person. There’s an element of self-doubt or fear that many of us are challenged with on a daily basis that we need to get over!

Others will often believe in you and take a leap on your skills before you even solidify that you’re great at them, but I speak from experience when I say it doesn’t matter!

In these moments of being challenged with an opportunity or the moments of being believed in to take a leap, you MUST say yes and do it whether the confidence is there or not. That can be practiced and worked on after you commit with a ‘yes’. All that it takes for others to believe strongly in you is for you to exude your unique confidence and skill set with grace

Join a new community

If you’re stuck in your longtime friend bubble, it’s time to push along and expand your network! Opportunities present themselves when you join new communities and establish relationships with key people.

As I mentioned, coming to a new city with very few friends and family was daunting to me. I had this hunger to connect with like-minded people though, so I decided to pursue some new communities that would help me meet others. For me that included joining and working at a small gym, attending evening classes at a local tech school, asking to join various online communities (i.e. a women’s networking group on FB), and even developing relationships through social platforms like Instagram.
Community is such an important piece of our lives that we often neglect as young and independent people. But remember that it takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a community to propel you to the top…

Share your story

Are you an introvert or extrovert? Maybe you’re a combo, but regardless of what your personality type is I want you to spend an afternoon crafting your story or your elevator pitch.
I used to hang around an amazing lady who was well connected in the health industry. When she would introduce me to any of her friends, she would go beyond just ‘Kelsey this is Jane, Jane this is Kelsey’. She went deeper and always gave a quick bio on each person she was connecting.
It would be something like ‘Kelsey this is Jane, my former roommate who runs the blog The Fitness Connection and adopted that cute rescue dog I showed you a picture of. And Jane, Kelsey is my colleague at work and we were the ones who created the video on how to execute a great social media campaign’. See the difference?
First, I think it’s important to start introducing our friends with more than a name. Give them context and bring them to life so that conversation flows immediately after an introduction.
Second, and the point to the above story, is that we should start thinking about our own elevator pitch for introductions. If you’re stumped, think of what you’d want your friends to say about you or what qualities you aspire to have. Practice this 30 second pitch and live it out, every day. Remember that you are your own brand, and have an opportunity to sell yourself at every interaction. These interactions are what create opportunity.

Get out more

Still unsure of how you’re going to create more opportunity for yourself? Here’s the most difficult piece… You need to get out of your house more.
You can have the most crafted elevator pitch and be a member of the most influential community, but if you never physically show up you’re missing opportunity.

For example, when I pulled myself off the couch last week to attend a run club I ended up getting a wonderful introduction from a friend saying ‘Kelsey is a great sport nutritionist’. Not only did this run club allow me to join a new community, it allowed me to then share my story and background as a sport nutritionist with someone new, and therefore give people the opportunity to learn about my services and believe in me enough to hire me.

All of the pieces came together in that moment. And this is why it’s important to say yes to opportunity (the right ones anyway) and infuse a bit more hustle into your day if you’re looking to create connection.

I’ll leave you with a quote… “Most of what exists in the universe—our actions and all other forces, resources and ideas have little value and yields few result. On the other hand, a few things work fantastically well and have tremendous impact.” In other words this quote is the concept that 80% of our results come from 20% our efforts… so my advice to you is to start making more efforts.

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Kelsey’s Bio

Kelsey Reidl is a holistic nutritionist, fitness instructor, and business mentor for driven women who are ready to embrace a more natural life through clean nutrition + daily self-care. As a multi-passionate entrepreneur she keeps busy educating on essential oils + whole food nutrition, sweating at studios around the city, snapping photos of food, and checking out all of the amazing coffee shops around town. Follow her on instagram and twitter: @kelseyreidl

 

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A Healthy Mother’s Day

Often times any sort of Holiday or celebration can side track our healthy lifestyle goals. Of course, a Holiday is definitely a good reason to indulge a little bit, but that doesn’t mean going all out. With mother’s day coming up this weekend, I know a lot of people (myself included) like to head out for a huge meal, or spoil mum with a feast of chocolate and cake (and wine!) at home. This year, I tried to keep it a little healthier as we planned what we were going to do. By no means was this my way of saying to my lovely mum that she needs to be healthier, but more so, she is just very much like me; health-conscious and tries hard to stay on track. I thought I would share it all with you here and perhaps inspire you to plan activities that are a little healthier but still centred around our superheroes, our Mums!

Take a trip to a Flower Market! On Saturday mum and I will be heading to the Blossom and Bloom Flower market here in Toronto at Union station. This will be a nice way to get in a bit of movement (walking there and back, and around the market), get outside, and allows us to spend some quality time together with nature, a proven way to reduce stress. Sure, mani pedis are fun, but that involves sitting down and inhaling nasty chemicals.

Photo from blossomandbloom.com

Photo from blossomandbloomshow.com

Brunch at Home: Instead of heading out to a restaurant where we will be likely to indulge in less-than healthy brunch food, I will be hosting a home made brunch right here for mum and grandma! On the menu; lemon ricotta coconut flour pancakes, egg and veggies frittata, fresh fruit salad and grapefruit juice (maybe with some champagne in it hehe). Making a brunch at home is a guaranteed way to have a healthier day, you know exactly what is going into everything you make and have more control over portion size as well.

Photo from healthyrecipeblog.com

Photo from healthyrecipeblog.com

Treats: instead of spoiling mum with tons of chocolate (she would kill me), I’m going to make these delicious looking vanilla macaroons made with genuine health fermented vegan protein + powder. These treats are loaded with healthy fats and protein and are sure to satisfy. I love this protein powder because mum, like me, often has a hard time digesting whey and soy. This powder is made from all veggie protein (no soy!) and fermented so you won’t be left feeling bloated after consuming. All the leftovers for mum obviously. I’ll also cut up and serve some of their amazing protein bars – these things are seriously delicious and taste like Candy. They also make a great alternative gift to chocolate for this health conscious mums out there 😉 Though, if you do want to spoil mum with chocolate I always recommend ChocoSol, of course!

Photo from meghantelpner.com

Photo from meghantelpner.com

Another great way to spoil mum without all the junk is buying her a gift that she can use instead of eat. I’ve had my eyes on these Rosefield watches and I think a lot of mums out there would love one!

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What are you doing to spoil your mum this Sunday?

P.S. Since I’m a foster mum to two puppies, do I get spoiled too? 😉

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Redemption

“Hello fear, thank you for being here. You’re my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.” -Cheryl Strayed

On Sunday morning at about 8:25am I hurried into a crowd of people as it rained down on us. I was cold, shivering, wet and incredibly tired. I had slept about 4 and half hours the night before. I had acid reflux from the generous glasses of red wine I had the night before. My stomach didn’t feel quite right, my left contact was bugging me and I felt a little twang of pain in my right knee.

Fast forward to 2 hours and 15 minutes later, I’m soaking wet, super hungry, my makeup has run down my face, my right knee is throbbing, I have a terrible stitch in my side and can feel about 3 pulsing blisters on my feet. Yet, I am overjoyed. I just crossed the finish line of my 4th half-marathon, my second in 2 weeks, and I finally beat my PB from almost two years ago, something I’d been chasing ever since.

After my mishap in Montreal last week I kept oscillating between wanting to quit running and wanting to fight back and train harder. A lot of my running friends were running the GoodLife half marathon and I was honestly feeling a little jealous. I wanted to give it another go and be out there  on the course running with them. The course has a pretty big net downhill which appealed to me and I was kicking myself for running Montreal when I should have just signed up for GoodLife, on home turf.

“Why don’t you just do it?” a running friend asked me. No, that wasn’t a good idea, was it? I had just run a half marathon a few days ago. But….I wasn’t sore. In fact, I barely felt like I had been on a long training run (probably because I walked so much). Her voice was in my head all week. I couldn’t possibly do it could I? Was it really stupid if I did?

Something you may or may not know about me is that I am relentlessly determined, or maybe we could say stubbornly relentless (just ask my husband). Once I have an idea in my head, I can’t let it go. And so, I found myself toeing the start line on Sunday morning for the GoodLife half.

I cared a lot about this race, only I also didn’t really care at all. I was so terrified that it was going to be another disaster that I didn’t really tell anyone (me, not tell anyone? about running? unheard of). My fear almost kept me in a zen-like state. I figured I didn’t really have anything to lose though (except my pride, my ego, maybe my knee…) and did it anyway.

Of course I was hoping for that PB, but I honestly just didn’t really think it would happen after last week. After only really committing to running the race on Friday, I tried to approach Sunday with little to no strategy. I didn’t set any reminders to drink water on Saturday. I didn’t monitor what I ate. I drank wine. I went to bed late. I didn’t take any pre-race photos of my outfit the night before, or even really get my clothes ready (of course I threw together an outfit shot the morning of). I didn’t chug a bunch of water on Sunday morning. I didn’t eat what I normally would before a run. Instead, I ate what I wanted. An egg, a piece of toast to go with it and a half a piece of toast with peanut butter. The weather sucked, it was raining, grey, windy and pretty cold.

Haphazard Outfit Shot

Haphazard Outfit Shot

I drove up to the start line with two running friends and my friend Rachel and I decided that we would start together and hopefully stick with each other as long as we could. Before I knew it, we were off. We took it nice and slow, chatted away and in my head I was just treating it like a nice easy long run.

I had broken down this race into 3 separate parts and I had a plan to get through them all. Part 1 took us from the start line to km 6, Yonge and Sheppard to the area where the sporting Life 10k starts. The first 2km or so are gentle with a steep decline, BUT around km 3, that becomes a steep incline. This hill really is the only tough part of the race and I was pretty nervous about it. To me, this was going to be the biggest challenge and I just wanted to run it without stopping. I figured once I was over this hill, the worst would be behind me, and I was right. My plan for part 1 was to take it nice and easy and not stop. I had never run this stretch of Yonge and wanted to conserve my energy. I made it up the hill without walking. It was a doozy though and seemed to never end but oh man it felt good to reach the top. From there, I kept it slow and steady until we reached the Yonge and Blythwood area.

Once we reached the same area where the Sporting Life 10k starts, I knew it was time to coast. I was familiar with this area having run it many times (going both south and north) and was excited to have it fly by. I called this part 2, a nice easy downhill from about km 6 – km 15 or so, ending at King and River, right around my neighbourhood. This was my time to gain some speed and pick it up a bit and I did just that. In what felt like no time we had reached Rosedale Valley Road and km 11. I started to tire a little bit, but nothing extreme. The weather, while not ideal was actually feeling kind of nice at this point. It was cloudy so there was no sun beating down (I hate that when I run), and the rain had turned into a nice mist. Around km 13.5 I started to feel a bit light headed and started eating the banana brownie I had packed. At about km 15, the end of “section 2” where the Bayview Extension meets the King East area, my knee started feeling really off. It wasn’t bad enough to stop, but it was painful. I knew it was going to be an uncomfortable finish but didn’t think I’d be putting myself in any danger by continuing on. I tried to stretch it out as best I could as I ran by doing some weird hopping kicking movements that I can’t even really explain.

At about km 15.5 I saw Hubs smiling face and he jumped on the course with me to pace me to the end. This was part 3 for me, which spanned from King and River to Ontario Place. I knew this meant it was time to push it and finish strong but I tried to approached it nonchalantly, almost as if I were going for a 6k tempo run through my own neighbourhood as I would on any given day. I knew the route well and knew how quickly it would pass. I also knew this was going to be the hardest part for me. I have always struggled around this mark in any race. I saw my dad at km 17 when I was getting pretty tired and doing a sad limp run from my knee pain. His cheering definitely helped. I had to take it back a notch a few times during this part but I didn’t walk. I was so close to the end. Of course, at about km 19.5 I got a terrible stitch but I was so determined to run through it after making it so far. Right around the 20k mark it was almost unbearable, but it faded away to a dull ache after a couple hundred metres. Zach left the course just after this and I knew it was time to give it my all. I always try and sprint the last 500m, but this time I took off with about 700m to go and I don’t even know where I got the energy. I literally left everything out there on the course. This is always my favourite moment of a race and it always feels like the crowd is there roaring for just me. I knew I had achieved that PB and I pumped my fists up in victory as I crossed the line. I think I maybe even yelled “YES!”

I quickly realized that not only was this a PB, but I also had run a half for the very first time with NO walk breaks and even better, if my calculations were correct- I ran a negative split! It felt amazing!

I waited in line for my medal and immediately realized as I cooled down just how awful the weather hard turned again. Very quickly, I began shivering uncontrollably and I noticed that the wind was nearly  blowing over everything in its path. Still, the smile couldn’t be wiped from my face.  I obviously enjoyed a post-race coffee and butter tart to celebrate 🙂

Frozen but overjoyed

Frozen but overjoyed

Once home I was VERY happy to have a hot bath and the run already started to feel like a distant dream. Did that REALLY happen? It was such an amazing day and I continued the celebrations with a pizza and two beers on the couch in our cozy condo.

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Thank you to everyone for believing in me and for the congrats! I’m having a nice week of recovery and only running a few times because I am also running the Sporting Life 10k next week! It’s such a fun race and pretty much a guaranteed PB every year. After that, I’m going to step back a bit from running (maybe do a long run and an easy run every week) until I start my training for the Chicago Marathon in June. I figure this is a good time to really work and focus on my core strength (hello bathing suit season!) and maybe figure out what’s going on with my knee!

Sometimes, you just have to tap into that fear and show it who is boss. 

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Banque Scotia 21k: OUCH

When you ask a runner If they have any goals for an upcoming race they’ll usually tell you a goal that they know they will accomplish. But, they also usually have a goal that they won’t tell you about, one they won’t admit out loud. Usually the personal goals are the ones they really want to achieve but are too afraid to say it in case it doesn’t happen. I can definitely say that was true for me in this race.

I signed up to run the Banque Scotia 21k in Montreal on a whim. One of the groups I sometimes run with had a code for a discounted entry so I thought “why not?” plus, it was a good chance for a mini weekend getaway with hubs (I’m all about those recently).

When I told people I was running this race and they asked about my goals I said “I just want to beat my time from the Toronto Scotiabank half in the fall when I didn’t train” and “I’m really going for a negative split, regardless of the total time”.

But, in my head I honestly thought I would PB. My goal for a negative split and a PB was really what I was after and I knew I could do both. I was pretty cocky confident going in. I stayed kind of quiet about this race because I wasn’t technically “training” for it. In reality though, I had been putting in more long runs and more total runs overall than when I actually was training for my first half, so I felt incredibly ready and definitely prepared. My long runs were getting faster and faster and for the first time in my running life I was actually truly running consistently week after week. I had this. After I failed bailed on running a full in the fall I’ve been adamant about getting back out there and really giving it my all. In fact, just this past week I found out that my entry was chosen in the lottery to run the Chicago Marathon this Fall. Finding this out only made me more excited to run in Montreal and start the 2016 race season off strong.

Oh, how I was wrong.

In retrospect I should have booked a hotel for us to stay in on Friday night AND Saturday night in Montreal because by the time we packed up and hit the road on Saturday, it was already almost 10:00am. There were a lot of fun things I wanted to do in Montreal but our lack of time cramped my style. Also, I’d never been to Montreal with a car before and no one told us how crazy the driving is there. Every street seems to be one way and things are not signed that well. At one point while I was waiting for my google maps to load, I told hubs to turn down a street, and well, I guess I mistakingly told him to turn the wrong way on a one-way (it was dark and there were no cars when he turned so we really didn’t know, I swear he’s not a bad driver) and that put him in a flustered/bad mood. Maybe that was the first sign that things weren’t going to go as well as planned. None the less, we tried to enjoy the time we did have but we were both feeling kind of rushed and overwhelmed.
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I slept really really well on Saturday night which was maybe the second sign that things were not quite right. Because, come on, who sleeps well the night before a race?

Upon waking on Sunday, I ate my usual pre-run breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter and banana and drank half a coconut water and a terrible cup of instant coffee (note to self: always remember to bring my own coffee and french press, duh). The race didn’t start until 10:00am so I was feeling pretty relaxed and had a lot of time in the morning to eat, get ready and make my way there.

I always feel like such a bad Canadian anytime I am in Quebec. My French is atrocious, and actually kind of embarrassing. I don’t even bother most of the time because I’m so embarrassed by it, and I hate being that person who just says “hi” the second someone says “salut”.  Because of my terrible french, I was a little confused when we stepped off the metro at Parc Jean-Drapeau and couldn’t quite figure out where the start line was. I was too stubborn/embarrassed to ask anyone and since the 5k race was just finishing, following other runners around didn’t really seem to get me anywhere.

I finally made it to the start area and was feeling pretty great. The weather was perfect, sunny and about 5 degrees. I wore my favourite t-shirt (I originally was planning on wearing my NRC Singlet but it was only 0 when I woke up so I changed my mind), shorts, compression socks and a hat (but I forgot sunscreen and have a hideous collar burn to prove it).

The race is not a very big one, about 2500 people were running the half, so though we were in separate corrals, the start times were not staggered. I filed in behind the 2:15 pacer. My plan was to stick with the pacer for the first 5-8k and then slowly pick it up with each km. Before I knew it we were off. I was feeling good. So good. Maybe too good?

Normally any sort of run SUCKS for me for the first 4k at minimum, but I was feeling amazing from the get go. The pacer was super positive and talking to all of us. I didn’t quite get what she was saying but I do know she kept saying “patience, patience” which was something I needed to hear because my mind and body were telling me otherwise. I have blown my pace early on in other races only to lose all my steam halfway through. Since I REALLY wanted that negative split I was trying so hard to keep it slow. After what felt like seconds, we had reached km 1 and my app in my headphones spoke to me saying “average pace, 6:39/km” and I had to fight EXTRA hard to not speed right up. I kept reminding myself “negative split” and had even started to plan this blog post  and how I would talk about my method to achieving that negative split.

I inched slowly ahead of the pacer (not too far) and with each passing km, my announced pace in my ear was increasing by a few seconds. Before I knew it I had passed 4km. This race was going to be a breeze.

And then it happened. A stitch so bad and so sudden I doubled over in pain. No no no no. I wasn’t going to stop. I have always been someone who has suffered from stitches but I had never felt one like this. I am not kidding when I say I have tried everything, but no matter what, it seems that on almost every run I get a stitch (did you know that there is actually no proven scientific knowledge about what a stitch actually is and what causes it?). This is so beyond frustrating because none of the suggested solutions ever seem to work for me. I can usually run through them and they usually go away but this was different. I pushed through for a full km, pressing on my side and slowed right back down but it only got worse. I saw a sign in the crowd that said “You’re running better than the American government” and it cheered me up a bit. I made a mental note to tell hubs about it later and was distracted for a split second but then, I couldn’t take it. Just beyond 5km I walked and from that point on it only got worse. Every time I tried to run again the pain was so bad I thought I was going to pass out. I would run a few steps and then be forced to walk from the pain. And so it went…

I waited for it to subside. Stretching, breathing, walking, but nothing helped. I passed 6km, then 7km and the 2:15 pacer flew by me. I couldn’t do it. I started to cry and plan my exit. Have you ever tried to run while crying at the same time? If not I will tell you this, it’s impossible. What came out was the sound of hyperventilation. I was so angry. A kind man asked me if I was okay and I only cried more. He asked if I needed help and I nodded no.

I was out. Mentally, I had finished the race, checked out and accepted a big fat DNF. I was ready for Poutine and beer and a really good cry in sweatpants. I had run rage . Every awful thought that could cross my mind did. “I hate running” “I hate myself” “I’m going to quit running” “I’m definitely not going to run a marathon ever” These loops of negative self-talk continued on until I almost forgot about the pain and was simply just PISSED.

I texted my running pal as I walked along in tears “I think I’m going to quit” to which she said “no! don’t do it! You’ve got this! Just take it slow for a bit” and I replied “I tried already. I’m not even at 8km. I can’t do it.” I text my husband “I’m dropping out, I need you” and he too encouraged me to go on. I was so defeated. I had spent the money to be here and had visualized in my head over and over again that PB. I was having a serious self-pity party. I called my husband and he talked me through it. “Where are you?” “Are you sure you can’t do it?” “Can you take a few steps running?” This distracted me and I walked on, after a while and I could hear the cheers in the background from where he was standing as the top finishers ran by him.

I was at the 10k mark and still ready to quit, only, to my dismay it seemed like that wasn’t an option. I was now on an F-1 race track and the only way out was back. Still, I looked across the track and couldn’t believe how far I’d have to go if I chose to go on. I started crying again “this track never ends but I’m stuck”. If this had been a course anywhere else down city streets I would have walked off that second, no doubt in my mind.

We kept talking, I ran a few more steps, then a few more. Then I continually jogged a slow but steady pace. The stitch was still there but it wasn’t going to make me pass out. All around me were people looking SO determined and trying so hard. I made it to the next water station, and they all cheered “ALI ALI!” which excited me until I realized they were actually saying “Allez! Allez!”

I made it to 11km, then I made it to 12km. Then I reached 13. By the time 14 came along I knew I was going to finish the race but I just wanted it to end. I hung up the phone (while also realizing that everyone around me must have thought I’d been talking to myself, oh well) and trekked on. As mentioned this was a smaller race, making it so much more difficult to place well. I had now been running along more or less with the 2:30 pacer and had accepted that I would probably finish last in my category. I couldn’t decide what was worse, going home and having to tell everyone I dropped out, or finishing but coming nearly in last. I tried to get my pride in check and enjoy this humbling moment but I’ll be honest, it was a struggle.

Still, I had the chance to notice some things that I normally wouldn’t. The runners around me were seriously giving it their ALL. There was a woman that I ran side by side with for quite some time who was air drumming along to her music the whole way, something I often restrain myself from doing. She was SMILING. She was going to run a 2:30 half and was so joyful. I really needed that. There was also a man who must have been 70, slightly hobbling along but never stopping. And then there were two other girls around my age, obviously struggling but their friendship was apparent. They did NOT stop encouraging each other and it reminded me of my own running network and all the amazing friends I have who keep me going when I want to stop.

I also took some time to think about a camp friend of mine, Rusty, who is currently RUNNING ACROSS AMERICA, averaging over 30 miles a day in support of the Boston marathon bombing victims and survivors. If he can do that, then I could do this.

17k

I saw Zach at 17km and it was all I needed to finish. It dragged on, but eventually, I made it, somehow finding it in me to sprint the last 500m. It was done. I finished. I sucked up my pride and decided it was definitely better than a DNF. And then I cried again…out of relief, anger, determination…I don’t even know.

2:31 my watch read. Not the worst, but certainly not what I had been expecting.

No negative split, no PB and a million walk breaks.

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So happy to have finished!

Still, I beat my time from the fall when I ran scotiabank in Toronto without training so not all is lost. After all, this is what I told people I wanted to do. Plus, besides the stitch I felt absolutely fine and was not tired or sore. If it hadn’t been for the pain of the stitch I really do think that I could have achieved that PB. AND, I didn’t come in last- I was 120/134 in my category, again, not the end of the world.

The most frustrating thing about running is that it’s not always going to go your way. It’s such a love hate relationship because when you have a great run, you’re on top of the world, but when you have a bad run, it’s such a defeating and awful feeling. You can do all the right things and prepare the best you can. You can go into something thinking that you’ve got it, only to have it completely turn around and kick you in the ass. A humble reminder that running is such a metaphor to life and full of so many lessons.

Shout out to my amazing husband Zach who literally talked to me on the phone for over 30 minutes while I “ran”, drove me all the way to Montreal and back and ate ALL the poutine with me after. Also, shout out to the folks at Canada Run Series for designing a course that didn’t allow me to quit. Stubborn and proud me would have dropped out if it were easier but stubborn and proud me is also grateful I didn’t really get that chance.

Do I still want to quit running? No. In fact, if anything this has made me MORE motivated to stay out there and keep trying. The next opportunity to PB will come, and eventually, that PB will become an old one as I continue to improve. And I will run a marathon, I will run the Chicago marathon. Can’t wait to share my journey with everyone!

 

And just for fun, how I celebrated finishing:
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If you are ever in Montreal- check out Pikolo!

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AMAZING beer at Dieu du Ciel

 

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And of course, Poutine! (I shared with Zach don’t worry)

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Au Naturel

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In my effort to live a clean and holistic life I am always on the hunt for great natural beauty products. Our skin is the largest organ in our body and we put it through so much without much thought. It’s also pourous and absorbs everything in our environment that we expose it to.  For the longest time, I didn’t think too much about this, and had no hesitations when it came to conventional beauty and skin-care products. However, over the last few years, I have switched over to more natural products. I honestly didn’t do this with the intention of being more conscious about the chemicals I was exposing myself to. Rather, the switch started because over time I stopped being able to tolerate the smells of conventional products and was drawn to products that use essential oils for fragrance. Plus, it seemed like no matter what I used, my skin was always breaking out, cracking from being overly dry and my eczema was taking over my life. I kind of thought that the products I used wouldn’t really make a difference when it came to my skin (I thought it was just because I’m a redhead) and had just accepted my fate.

Once I started using more natural products however, I definitely started to noticed an improvement. When I was in my graduate program I took a course on health and the environment and was introduced to the EWG’s Skin Deep rating system for beauty products. The Environmental Working Group examines all of the chemicals in beauty and personal care products and gives it a score- the lower the number, the better. A low score means it is not as harmful to your body. It also gives a breakdown on any harmful or potential harmful ingredients. Once I checked out there list, I was pretty surprised. I honestly wasn’t aware how many scary chemicals I was exposing my skin to! If you think about the number of products you use daily, it can be quite alarming. While the Skin Deep guide doesn’t always have local Canadian products, it is a great resource and can help you pick out more mainstream natural products. After using it, you’ll start to get familiar with what ingredients are okay, and what ingredients may be dangerous.

I will be totally transparent- I still don’t use 100% natural products, but I do try my best. I’m gradually making the switch but I also am not sure if I’ll ever be able to part with my urban decay eyeshadow palettes. That being said, I’d say I’m about 80% there and when I find a good product, I have to share it with the world! A lot of people don’t now how great a natural product can actually be. I am honestly not trying to get everyone to switch to natural products (though, that would be great) but these products are seriously amazing and I think everyone should check them out! Over the last few weeks I have purchased a few that I have quickly become obsessed with and I thought I’d share them here with you all today!

Perk Naturals Exfoliating Scrub

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Okay, this exfoliating scrub is seriously unreal. The ingredients are: Fair Trade Robusta Coffee, Dead Sea Salt, Natural Brown Sugar, Sweet Almond Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Orange essential Oil, Jojoba Oil, Vitamin E. How simple right? And yes, that’s coffee as the first ingredient. I love me some coffee. Caffeine has been shown to increase blood flow and applying it directly to the skin will stimulate that area. It can also help in the reduction of cellulite! Plus, this scrub will energize you as you get your day started! It’s an amazing exfoliator that you apply with your hands. It will leave you skin soooo soft and supple. Plus, it’s affordably priced! At $15 bucks for the smaller size, you can’t go wrong. Get it at The Detox Market or from their site linked above. BONUS, it is a Toronto based company and everything is hand made. I love supporting local businesses!

If you are caffeine sensitive I may avoid this one, but check out their other scrubs!

 

Skin Essence Light Facial Moisturizer

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This product is seriously life saving. It’s a little pricey ($32 for 30 ml) but you will use a lot less compared to a conventional moisturizer. The ingredients are: Jojoba Seed Oil, Kukui Nut Oil, Orange Oil, Eucalyptus Oil, Lavender Flower Oil, Lime Oil, Geranium Oil, Galbanum Oil, Lemongrass Oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin-E) and Tea Tree Oil. Again, so simple! It also smells AMAZING. After using this for just two weeks on my face I have noticed such a difference. My facial skin always used to be so so dry after I washed my face or showered, and then once I moisturized it would be so oily. Not to mention I seem to always be breaking out! I have tried many moiustuzisers (natural and conventional), and have never found one that I liked enough to purchase again. Well, now I have found it! As mentioned, you only have to use a little bit, about 3 drops. It feels oily at first but is quickly absorbed. My skin is SO soft, my breakouts have gone down, and I’m no longer suffering from the constant cyclical battle of dry vs. oily. Find it online (linked above) or at the Big Carrot. Again, it’s a local company too!

 

Saje Natural Wellness Spray Deodorant

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I’m not here to push natural deodorant use but the jury is still out on the potentially harmful effects of aluminum contained in antiperspirants. I think my own personal aversion to these conventional kinds comes from the fact that it seems weird to clog up these pores when they are meant to sweat, stopping a natural cooling and detoxifying system. Disclaimer, I sweat A LOT. I actually find that most conventional antiperspirants and deodorants make me sweat even more. I have tried every single deodorant and antiperspirant under the sun. Not only are my armpits always agitated, I find that none of them really work that well anyway. I have ruined so many shirts and I honestly have kind of just given up.  I often don’t use any deodorant at all, which is okay for the most part until I’m intensely working out, or wearing stuffy business clothes on a hot day. At that point, I honestly start to stink. I have been on the hunt to just find one that keeps me from stinking! For a while I used Tom’s natural antiperspirant, which was kind of a lesser evil in the antiperspirant world but still contains aluminum and left my arm pit skin so dry and painful (but didn’t stop the sweat like any others or really help with the stink factor). Once I realized that it wasn’t really doing anything I started hunting for a good natural one. I tried probably about 20, no joke. Creams, sticks, sprays, etc. I even made my own. I found that a lot of the essential oils in some of the natural ones even made me stink worse! For a while, I really really liked this one by Primal Pit Paste, but the baking soda content in it was simply too high and left me with a big ugly rash in my armpits. The one I made is actually pretty good, but it’s a bit messy and requires multiple applications on a sweaty day.

I recently discovered this one from Saje Natural Wellness after seeing it on Erin Ireland’s snap story (vegan, vegetarian, health conscious people: do yourself a favour and follow her). I figured I’d give it a try since Saje (a Vancouver-based company) has a 100% satisfaction guarantee. I’m pretty sure that this particular scent is meant for men, but it’s not overly masculine smelling, and I think that when I work out I probably do smell like a man so the strength is probably just right for yours truly. The ingredients are: potassium alum (liquid mineral salts); essential oils of cymbopogon martini (palmarosa), aniba rosaeodora (rosewood), santalum album (sandalwood), lavandua angustifolia (lavender), citrus aurantifolia (lime), pogostemon cablin (patchouli), foeniculum vulgare dulce (fennel) and vetivera zizanoides (vetiver).

FINALLY I have found a natural deodorant that I love! Like most natural deodorants, it requires re-application as you sweat, but since it’s a spray, it’s not messy (or difficult) to reapply. It lasts for a surprisingly long time and even after a long 18km run I wasn’t that stinky. I think I’m going to buy one to keep everywhere- my gym bag, my desk, my purse. Seriously, check it out!

I am so so pleased with all of these products and I highly recommend you check them all out. Let me know what you think too!

I recently also purchased a natural mascara and concealer. I don’t love them, but am going to use them up. Once I’m ready to buy more I’m going to look into other natural options. Does anyone have any recommendations?

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