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.

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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)

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?

Wellness and Corporate Culture

In the literature, it is often made very clear that in order to have a successful employee wellness program, there must be a culture that is supportive of wellness. Of course, any organization that has a wellness program could argue that they then, in hand have this supporting culture of wellness- or else why would they have a wellness program at all?

However, I have found this to not always be the case. So I ask you this, can you have a successful wellness program without a supportive culture?

I would argue that you absolutely cannot. To me, wellness is just a piece that falls underneath the overall umbrella of corporate culture and they must be interdependent in nature. To have a successful wellness program, there absolutely must be a positive corporate culture, one that supports and encourages a culture of wellness. Otherwise, the wellness programs simply will not be utilized or thrive. Wellness is so much more than checking off a box in your HR strategy.

What does a supportive culture of wellness look like?

Top down: It’s important for those at the top to walk the walk. Literally. This means your senior leaders are out there hosting walking meetings, working out at the in-office gym, attending lunch n’ learns and getting involved in fitness challenges. They also support (and encourage!) all of the employees below them to do this as well, whether it be by contributing an awesome prize to a fitness challenge, inviting an employee to a lunch time workout, organizing a team for a local race or challenging an employee to reach a healthy lifestyle goal.

Flexible hours: This doesn’t mean giving employees the free-for-all. But allowing and encouraging employees to take an extra 10 minutes at lunch so they can make it to the gym and back for a solid workout can do wonders. Same thing goes for allowing an employee to come in a little bit later so they can make it to the gym before work. As long as employees are putting in the required work, allowing this flexibility is only going to improve productivity.

Making health the easy choice: This can mean any number of things, providing employees with healthy snacks in the office is a great place to start. Making sure there are healthy breakfast foods around is another great idea. Planning team building events that take place during work hours and focus around health conscious activities (bubble soccer, healthy cooking class, yoga class, etc) is also a great way to embed health into the culture.

Encourage use of vacation time: Is it common that employees don’t use their vacation days? If so, encourage them to do so and set an example by using your own vacation days as well. Sometimes it is an implict norm to not take vacation and people are afraid to, but people need this down time to rest and unwind.

Wellness Days: Instead of calling unplanned days “sick days” instead call them wellness days. Encourage employees to use these days for their wellness needs, not only when they are miserably sick. Sometimes we really do need a day to de-stress and stay on the couch, encourage using these days for whatever reason, no questions asked.

Environment: Not every organization can afford stand-up desks, but perhaps you are able to convert an empty boardroom to a stretching or relaxation room or build a small gym. Another thing to consider is making sure that stair cases are unlocked so employees can use the stairs more often.

Out of all of these, I would argue that having those at the top walk the talk can make the biggest difference. What do you think? What other ways do you think a corporate culture can have an impact on employee wellness?

 

 

Coconut Chia Breakfast Pudding

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It’s been a crazy few days around here and I am exhausted. Hubs and I are fostering two 6 week old lab cross puppies and boy are they a handful. In fact, I’m surprised that I have found the time to sit down and write this post (though, I can hear one stirring now so I’ll probably have to write this in chunks). I have always been in awe of mothers to newborns, and this is even more so true now. If puppies are hard, I cannot imagine what it’s like to take care of a new tiny human being.

It is no easy feat getting these little rascals up and down the elevator a million times a day as we house train them. We live on the 23rd floor! It is times like these when eating healthy meals is a bit of a challenge and take-out or a making up a quick pot of pasta seems like the easiest solution. OH MAN am I happy that I have a few go-to super easy breakfast options that are full of nutritious goodness. One of these go-tos is my chia seed breakfast pudding. Thats right, pudding for breakfast!

Chia seeds are amazing. Not only are they full of fibre (if you haven’t eat them before, introduce them slowly), but they are also packed with protein and Omega 3 fatty acids. I don’t know about you, but waiting for spring to arrive has left me a little blue and Omega 3s are great for mood! All that being said, chia seeds will fill you up, nourish your body and maybe even make you feel a little more happy!

This recipe is oh-so easy to make. Don’t worry too much about the fat content and calories. It’s all good stuff and breakfast is supposed to be a big hearty meal. This is the best of both worlds because it is big and hearty but doesn’t feel like it. It is so easy to fix up and eat in the morning and it goes down so effortlessly even if you aren’t feeling super hungry. I like to make a batch of the base and keep it in the fridge for the week. This gives me four super easy breakfasts and the prep is so quick!

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I like to use canned lite coconut milk, but if this is too rich for you, you can use an dairy-free or dairy milk, or a combination if you like. The coconut milk gives it an amazing texture and richness, but I realize it isn’t for everyone. I usually distribute it amongst two mason jars but you could easily make it all in a large container or even make one serving at a time, or make four separate servings in 4 jars at a time so you can pack and go this am treat.

Be sure to make the base the night before so the chia seeds can absorb as much liquid as possible. You want a tapioca like consistency. I always find mine works out best if I mix in the chia with a mini whisk, put it in the fridge, and then whisk it again an hour or two later so that the chia doesn’t clump together..

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The possibilities are endless with this. I like to keep it simple but you could add cocoa to make this a chocolate pudding, some nut butter to add some more protein, or blend up some fruit with your milk before mixing to give the base a fruity flavour. Top with whatever your heart desires! I like to do chopped nuts (cashews, almonds and coconut), some flax seeds, some hemp hearts for extra protein, some fresh fruit (bananas tastes amazing with this!) and some coconut chips. I’ve also tried matcha powder as an add-on but think it would be better if I blended it with the milk first.

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I hear a puppy whining (just in time!) so there goes my solitude! Enjoy and let me know any amazing variations that you may come up with!


 

Coconut Chia Breakfast Pudding

Makes 4 Servings

Ingredients:

1 can lite coconut milk

6 tbsp. chia seeds (the ratio here is approximately 1.5 tbsp per 1/2 cup of milk)

2 tsp. Pure Maple Syrup

Dash of himalayan sea salt

Any toppings you desire

Directions:

Split coconut milk between two mason jars. Mix half the chia seeds in one and half in the other. Stir in 1 tsp. of maple syrup in each jar and add a dash of salt. Place in fridge overnight. Stir after about an hour to prevent clumping.

Take out of fridge in morning and scoop out half the contents of one of the jars into a bowl. Top with chosen toppings and enjoy!

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Consistency

How sticking with one thing can change everything

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Over the Easter long weekend Happy Hubs and I drove to Northwest Indiana to spend some time with his parents as well as spend a day in one of our favourite cities- Chicago. If you haven’t been to Chicago I highly recommend checking it out. It has some amazing coffee shops, incredible food, beautiful buildings and a waterfront to make all Torontonians envious.

Normally when it comes to travelling, even 3-day weekend getaways, I let everything fall out the window concerning the healthy lifestyle I lead in my day-to-day life (because nothing counts when you’re on vacation right?) However, at the beginning of this year a friend and I vowed to run a minimum of 100km/month for all of 2016. At first, I thought this would be a no brainer and was pretty excited to see that number reach over 200km/month once I started training for some goal races. However, after looking over my training logs, it seemed that I was in for a bit of a challenge. If there was anything consistent with my running, it was that I am unbelievably inconsistent.

Up until recently, it was apparent that I thought I was running much more than I actually was. Looking over my logs, even in the months leading up to my first half marathon, my runs were scattered all over the place. One week I’d run 4 times, the next only once, some weeks had no runs at all. I embarrassingly realized that I wasn’t even giving myself a real shot when it came to training.

While I am aiming to run a marathon this fall, I didn’t really have any upcoming spring races in mind (besides the Sporting Like 10k that I run every year) when I started running a consistent 100km/month. Very quickly though, I started to notice some small changes. I have been sticking to a long run every. single. week. and my gains have started to become very apparent on those long runs. Each week, just by consistently running 14-17km, I am getting faster, something that has never happened with long runs before. Building a base at these distances has helped me immensely. Until this recent consistency, I always took walk breaks but I haven’t taken a walk break now for over a month on a long run! While I have been doing speed work for quite some time, and throw in hill workouts every now and then as well, it’s really all started to come together since I started sticking to my long runs. For the first time, I feel like I am seriously improving at distance running and I feel I can begin to set some solid time goals (before, my approach was always “just finish”).

A big thing that has helped with this is that I started doing my long runs with the club I run with whereas I always used to do them alone. Running with people has helped me so much because we push each other to keep going, and chatting away week after week makes the kms fly by. On a bit of a whim, I have decided to run a half marathon at the end of the month in Montreal. I’m approaching it as more of a training run, just to sort of see where I am after a few solidly consistent months of running.  I think I kind of owe it to myself, now that I’ve actually been staying consistent.

All of this being said, one thing that I love about Nike Run Club is that so many different cities also have a club that more or less follows the same schedule. It’s pretty cool to see the larger Nike community on social media and know that we are all in this together. Happy hubs and I decided to stay overnight in Chicago and, to not throw off my consistent training, decided to do my long run with NRC Chicago on the Saturday morning.

I sure am glad we did. We have both spent a fair amount of time in Chicago before, but there is something to be said about seeing it on a run. We woke up bright and early at 7:00am, put on our run clothes, scarfed down some breakfast and headed out. It was chilly, but nice and sunny which definitely made up for it. It was pretty cool to see the Nike space in Chicago. While the space was different, it had the same vibe that the Toronto club does, a solid group of like-minded people buzzing about all there for the same purpose. The pacers were super welcoming and glad to have visitors from Toronto joining them.

We ran a gorgeous 8 mile out and back south along the waterfront. The waterfront trail in Chicago is just amazing. Sure, we have some nice parts of ours in Toronto, but it doesn’t even come close to the beauty that is the waterfront in Chicago. I’m already dreaming about running along it the next time I am there. If you are visiting Chicago, make sure you take a walk along the waterfront (north or south, it’s all gorgeous). The view from the Adler Planetarium is something else.

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If you had told me a few years ago that I would wake up at 7:00am while on a holiday for the purpose of running 8 miles, I would have not believed you. They say that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Now that I am three months into consistently running, I can’t imagine NOT running, even on vacation. It’s crazy how easily something can become a part of your life if you really make the time for it.

Now excuse me while I go get ready for a run….

Happy trails!

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Spring Tips for Eating Well

I know that it is now April (though you wouldn’t be able to tell by the blast of snow we received here in Toronto) but it was just March. For those who do not know, March is Nutrition Month, this is certainly a National Health Observance that I can get behind and the inspiration behind this post. Inspiring people to eat well is something I enjoy so much- especially once people realize HOW GOOD (and how easy) healthy food can be, dessert included!!!

Maybe it’s the (impending) arrival of spring, or the post-easter binge guilt getting to people but over the last few days I’ve had A LOT of friends telling me that enough is enough and they are really needing to get back on the healthy eating train (amen, I am right there with you).

But what is nutrition? What constitutes a healthy nutritious diet? There is SO MUCH information out there. Gluten-free? Sugar-free? Paleo? Vegan? Fat-free? Juicing? It’s hard to wrap your head around it all isnt it? And once you finally get on board with a certain diet, everything seems to change faster than you can say “saturated fat”.

However, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s not. Following a nutritious diet is easier than you may think. The first step in this involves ignoring all forms of media you see surrounding healthy eating and health foods, present and past. Okay, so maybe that part is hard. Especially when you see beautiful models promoting a certain diet who tell you if you do what they do, you’ll look like them (they’re lying). Now, once you are able to block that out, throw out what your grandma has told you regarding nutrition (“eggs are high in cholesterol and therefore bad for you!”) and try and ignore your mother too (“whole-fat milk will make you fat!”). Okay, hard part over. Here comes the easy part.

Here’s the secret: Eat real food.

If you follow this rule, you will be healthy, you will feel great and you will be able to eat guilt-free.

What is real food? Real food is something that grows in the ground or is raised on the ground and has been minimally processed. Plants, animals, it’s all real food. Boxed diet chocolate granola bars? Not real food.

Here are the guidelines I follow when it comes to determining what counts as real food:

If you must eat a boxed or packaged meal or food product, read the ingredients. Are they chemicals? Something made in a lab? Do you know what those things are? Can you pronounce them? Are they all things that are grown in the ground? If you can answer “yes” to the last three questions, then go ahead, eat it. Same thing goes for eating out at restaurants.

Limit/eliminate refined sugar as much as possible. But wait, sugar comes from a plant doesn’t it? You’re right it does. But do you know how much work goes into processing that sugar cane to get the sugar? A lot. But what about organic cane sugar? It’s still processed sugar. But what about strawberries? Grapes? They are high in sugar sure, BUT (and this is a big but), they are good sugar, and they aren’t processed. Those grapes and those strawberries are exactly the way nature intended them to be. Eat up. If you need a sweetener for baking, reach for something like pure maple syrup or honey, as they are not as processed and are closer to their natural state compared to something like white sugar.

Do you see where I’m going here?

What about dairy? I thought dairy fat was bad. False! Dairy fat is good and can actually be an aid in weight loss. In fact, go for the full-fat kind. I’m serious. It will fill you up and keep you fuller longer, not to mention it’s full of protein and doesn’t go through as much processing as it’s low-fat versions. (Bonus points if you can get your hands on non-homogenized products that are pasteurized at the lowest temperatures).

What about meat and eggs? Meat is super complicated and as someone who follows a vegan-ish diet, it’s hard for me to tell you what meat to eat and what meat to not eat. Personal opinions and choices aside, meat isn’t bad for you as long as it’s not ALL you’re eating and you don’t eat it with every meal. It is a great source of protein, and rich in B vitamins and iron. Most people will get more than enough protein by eating a balanced plant-based (with or without dairy) diet, but meat can certainly help you get more. The key here: keep it as natural as possible (back to my main theme). Natural means you’re eating a cow that was raised in a natural environment, that ate a natural diet. You are what you eat, therefore, you are what you eat eats as well. If you eat a cow who ate lush green grass and NOT processed corn feed, you are going to get the health benefits of eating something that ate something healthy, as nature intended.

Don’t be afraid of fat. We need fat, it is crucial to brain functioning and as long as we are getting real, good fats, we won’t gain weight. Remember again that dairy fat is good, so is the fat that is found in things like nuts, olive oil and avocados.

Plants. Eat all the plants. All of them. In every form. In any way. Chopped, sautéed, steamed, raw, roasted, purred, heck even fried. Calories don’t count when it comes to veggies. DIG IN.

When it comes to my own eating I follow this one simple rule, as said by Michael Pollan: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants”

The “not too much” brings me to another important point. Eat until you are full. Eat when you are hungry. If you eat mostly real foods, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll eat too much.

One last thing to remember- eating well doesn’t always mean total deprivation of all the yummy things. Sure, if you want to be the absolute best you can be, by all means, go all in. I just don’t think that this type of lifestyle is realistic or sustainable for most of us. What is a birthday without a birthday cake? What is a trip to the cottage without some chips? It’s all about moderation. Moderation doesn’t mean you can eat these things in moderation once a day, but maybe once a week or once every other week. When you do indulge, please don’t feel guilty, the last thing anyone wants is to have a negative relationship with food. Food is amazing, it brings us together, it nourishes us and it gives us energy- not to mention, it brings us so much joy!

Keep it simple, remember these few things and you’ll be feeling great in no time at all!

 

Some suggested reading:

“In defence of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto” -Michael Pollan

“Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” – Michael Moss

“Eating Animals” – Jonathan Safran Foer (this is a good read if you are pondering the philosophy and the ethics behind eating meat, of course it encourages a vegetarian diet but it talks about how unnatural the meat industry is, worth a read even if you vow to not never up meat)

Goals and Accountability

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How many others out there have vowed to or set out to accomplish something or make a change and have not been able to stick to it? How many of you have uttered the words “I’ll start tomorrow” or “next week I will really start”? Come on, don’t be embarrassed, I know I’ve done it! In fact, I think I do it on a weekly basis.

As an undergraduate, I wrote my thesis on Goal-Setting Theory. Locke & Latham’s Goal-Setting Theory states that in order for someone to work hard towards achieving a goal it has to be specific and challenging (but not too challenging). People who set a specific and challenging goal are much more likely to achieve it than those who set a “do your best” goal.

I often think of this when I take a hard look at my own goal-setting habits and techniques. When it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes, I don’t think that goals should be all-or-nothing big goals. For example, I often set goals that are maybe a bit too challenging (to me), such as “I’m going to work out every day of the week for the next 6 months,”  “I’m going to run a marathon” or “I’m not going to have any sweets for an entire month”. Furthermore, these goals are seriously lacking in specificity. What constitutes a workout? What counts as a sweet? What steps are involved in running a marathon? When I set out to achieve these things, they are simply too challenging and when I am (inevitably) faced with failure, I often just say “well, I’ll try my best”. This is okay, and trying your best is certainly a step in the right direction. However, I would argue that it makes room for excuses and won’t actually lead to achieving a goal or making a lasting change.

With summer coming up, a lot of friends have been asking me for advice on how to reach a goal (running a certain race, fitting back into an old bikini, etc) and I certainly have some for myself as well. A lot of these friends are frustrated because these goals are something they have tried to reach before and haven’t been able to. If you too are trying to achieve something, here is my advice to you:

  • Make your goal specific. Instead of “I’m going to run a marathon” make it something like “I’m going to run a marathon in October, and to get there I am going to start training at the end of May and dedicate 4 days/week to running”. Instead of “I’m going to workout every day of the week for 6 months” make it something like “I am going to work out 7 times a week, where each workout will last 30 minutes”. Instead of “I’m not going to eat any sweets for a month” change it to “I’m not going to eat any sweets that are made from refined sugars or over 250 calories”.
  • Make your goal challenging, but not too challenging.  For me, this means taking a step back and being honest with myself. What is realistic? What do I already do but can improve upon? For instance, I currently run about 3 days a week. This has become a part of my routine and most weeks it is “easy” enough to fit in but sometimes it can still be a challenge. I realize however that training for a marathon involves a little more. Aiming to run an extra day/week is hard because it is more than I already do. But, it is not overly challenging. Instead of saying “I’m not going to eat any sweets for a month” (too challenging), limiting myself to only eating sweets made without refined ingredients will still be a challenge (I LOVE SWEETS) but is more attainable. I can say no to an indulgent sugary easter chocolate bar knowing that I can still eat one of my homemade nut butter cups, or enjoy a few pieces of high quality dark chocolate.

Thirdly, I am going to add an additional point that I find helps me reach a goal just as much as setting specific challenging goals.

  • Hold yourself accountable. Accountability goes a long way when it comes to reaching a goal. Have a friend join you as you reach for your goal. Having support and encouragement through it all makes it easier and you’ll be less likely to give up if someone is right there with you. If you can’t get a friend on board, join a group of like-minded people working towards similar goals and build a community (running with a club helps me immensely with my running goals). Sign up for a bootcamp, take a healthy cooking class, join an online community, there are a lot of groups out there that can help! Talk about it. People who are running marathons are known for this. It’s not about boasting, it’s about making it known so that it’s easier to stick to. If you talk about it, it becomes a part of your regular thought patterns and conversations, serving as a constant reminder to keep with it. Be that annoying person, tell everyone about your goal. Reward yourself. This can be a small reward for every step, or a big reward once you reach the goal. Try and keep these rewards healthy and not food based, especially if your goal is weight loss. For example, it is no secret that I love workout clothes. In the past I have been successful reaching a healthy lifestyle goal if I allow myself to purchase a new piece of active wear at the end of each successful month.

Don’t give up! Setting a goal can be daunting but it should also excite you. Be realistic with yourself but don’t forget that it should be hard! If it wasn’t, you would have already done it. Hang in there and keep pushing!

FREE Yoga!

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Living in Toronto has some serious perks. It is clean, it is full of incredible culinary talent, there is never a shortage of stuff to do, it is diverse, it is full of ravines and parks, it is friendly, there is an endless supply of incredible coffee shops and we are home to the best hockey team in the NHL (just kidding on that last point). I know that since I have never lived anywhere else for a LONG period of time I am a little biased, but I kind of LOVE Toronto. I also love that Toronto is finally starting to be recognized as a “cool” place to visit (thanks Drake) as I have always found myself trying to explain that Toronto is a worthwhile city to visit to my less-than-informed American friends. What I love most about living in this city though? The endless opportunities it provides me with to stay fit and not have to pay a single cent.

It is no secret that I am actively involved in Nike Run Club and Nike Training Club here (not like I talk about it on Instagram or anything…) which is an incredible community to stay active with. However, there are also so many other opportunities out there as well that go beyond Nike. There is literally something for everyone.

I’ve been trying to stay a lot more consistent with my running recently and made a vow to start practicing yoga again so I can take the time to stretch and balance out my tense muscles from increased running mileage. I always knew that Lululemon offered free community yoga classes but for some reason I never actually looked into it.

Well, after speaking to a fellow Nike Run Club member, I felt it was about time I checked out a free yoga class. The class I decided on was the community class at YYoga Queen West, an hour long Flow class that starts at 2:45pm hosted by lululemon.

I would suggest if you check this class out, arrive a good 15 minutes early to claim your spot (you can’t register ahead of time for this class). When I arrived at 2:30, it was clear the class was going to be very busy. The studio is beautiful and guests to the community class are allowed to use the lockers and change rooms. Bring your own yoga mat or rent one for about $2.00. There are also a lot of props (blocks, straps) in the studio that are available to use for free.

The class was packed, but not in a way that hindered movement. I secured a spot near the back of the room as it had been quite some time since I had practiced. The instructor was great, and led us through an energizing vinyasa sequence. The selected music was perfect for this type of class and helped me get into the groove and comfortable with the poses. I was definitely sweating a little bit once we we were deep into our vinyasa, by the time we ended the class in savasana I was feeling so perfectly rested and stretched out. In fact, it was definitely one of the best Flow classes I have ever been to, and it was free!

The instructor did an amazing job of walking around and correcting everyone’s poses when needed, especially given the class size. It was apparent that everyone in the room was more or less familiar with the poses and because of this, I don’t think this would be the ideal class for someone who has never done yoga. However, it wouldn’t be that difficult to follow along if you are new to yoga.

I can’t wait to get back and stretch it out again and look forward to attending as many Saturday community classes as I can!

Check in with your local lululemon to inquire about the free classes they offer. A lot of studios also offer donation-based community classes once a week, a great option for those who may not be able to spring on a class membership.

Toronto is truly great this way, and I know that the Toronto Public Library system and Mountain Equipment Co-op also offers free yoga classes. Stay tuned as well for the schedule of outdoor summer Park Yoga, something I am very much looking forward to attending.

Namaste!

How to Deal- Late Night Snack Attacks

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I don’t know about you, but I have a serious love affair with snacking and always have. I find during the day I am very mindful about what I eat and what snacks I consume. However, once I’m at home, dinner finished, workout done and cuddled up on the couch, my snacking becomes completely mindless. This is a phenomenon that has been observed time and time again so I know that I am not alone in this. Yet, even as someone who is completely conscious of living a healthy lifestyle, that all seems to so quickly fly out the window the second I sit down in front of the TV at night (which I will admit, in the winter it has become a daily thing- I’m not perfect). It doesn’t even matter if I’m full from dinner still- all of the sudden I want to eat EVERYTHING (and usually everything that is bad for me). Today I thought I’d share with you what I do to help combat this:

  • If I’m not hungry and I keep feeling like I need to eat something, I’ll TURN OFF THE TV and go into my bedroom and read. Reading stimulates my mind enough for me to stop thinking about eating ALL THE SNACKS.
  • As soon as I find myself wanting to snack while I watch TV I stop and ask myself “am I really hungry? did I eat enough today?” If I am not really hungry, I’ll drink a big glass of water or make some tea and then reassess. If I realize that I didn’t eat enough, I’ll then consider having a snack. This helps me with make my sense of my snack cravings and makes me conscious of what is going on in my body and mind.
  • I think about how I will feel tomorrow. Sure, a giant bag of bulk candy or a bag of chips may sound great in the moment, but how will I feel after I eat it or the next morning? Chances are, not great. Knowing this and keeping it in mind is sometimes enough to prevent a snack attack.
  • I’ll brush my teeth. Once my teeth are all minty fresh I am less inclined to snack.

IF I must snack simply because my craving is taking over or I really am still hungry, here is how I deal, because let’s get real, I can’t watch “The Bachelor” without a snack…

The key here is to make CONSCIOUS and MINDFUL decisions of what goes in to my body, and yes, I do believe that night time snacking is not always a bad thing and can be a part of a healthy lifestyle:

  • As noted above, I will always try and drink a big glass of water or have a tea first and then see if I still want to snack.
  • I always make sure that I have healthy snacks on hand, so even if I eat a lot of said healthy snack, it won’t throw my body off that much. Preparation is key here. When planning out my meals and writing my weekly grocery list I always include healthy snacks.
  • Keep rich, “healthy” chocolate on hand, a.k.a. NOT Cadbury mini eggs. I can eat a million of those without stopping. However, when I have good, rich, dark and low-sugar chocolate around, I can eat one to three pieces of it and feel totally satisfied.
    • I recommend chocosol or something similar
    • A quick trick to make a healthy chocolate bar in a pinch- melt some coconut oil on the stove top and add cocoa powder and natural sweetener of choice (maple syrup or honey) to taste. Poor into the bottom of a muffin cup or small container and place it in the freezer. In a short period of time you’ll have a delicious creamy chocolate treat!
  • Bake healthy and satisfying “treats” ahead of time to have on hand when you want a snack! Anything packed with healthy fats and superfoods that mock a traditional treat is great:
  • If you’re more of a chips and salty/crunchy kind of snacker, reach for (or make) some of these healthier choices:
    • Popcorn! An air popper is a quick and easy way to make a healthy snack. Popcorn is packed with fibre and when you make it yourself you aren’t going to be eating a bunch of chemicals like the ones found in the microwave varieties. Top with whatever you like- butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, or my personal favourite- nutritional yeast
    • Kale chips as so easy to make (and way cheaper than buying store bought kale chips) and almost taste exactly like potato chips. Follow this recipe and use an oil spray bottle for flawless results
    • Olives are good for you and taste delicious too. Plus, they’re so salty it’s hard to eat too many
    • Pickles- same as above!

If you must indulge in the less-than-good kind of snack (hey, it happens) the key thing to remember is portion control. I know that if I buy a Costco size bag of mini eggs or a family size bag of chips, I will eat the whole thing (it’s not my fault!) so if I do give in to my less-than-ideal cravings, I make sure I only buy a small quantity so I literally can’t eat more than that small amount. Think a mini bag of mini eggs, a snack size bag of chips, a mini cupcake. BUT, always remember, the less you eat these things, the less you want them. Giving into these cravings is a sure fire way to make you crave even more (it’s science guys, I’m not making this up).

I hope this helps those late night snackers like me! Have a great night everyone and happy (healthy) snacking!

Spokehaus T.O.

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It takes a lot to get me out of bed before 7:00am. Even on the most exciting days, it can be tough. However, yesterday I actually got up before 6:00am!! All in the name of a solid sweat session!

A few weeks ago I saw something on social media about a new Spinning studio called Spokehaus that had opened up in Toronto. Fast forward to last week and I finally looked into a little more. They are offering your 1st class for free as a trial so I figured I may as well give it a try! According to their website, Spokehaus promised to be an experience like nothing else:

“We reinvent your typical spin class- the spokehaus workout is a kick-ass, low impact, high intensity full-body cardio party on a bike. We warm you up, work you out and cool you down.

Targeting your core, legs, butt, arms and heart through a series of carefully choreographed movements that will transform your body, your mind and the way you feel about your workout.

Music is at the heart of everything we do.

Every 45 minutes we bring down the house with specially curated playlists that will push you out of your comfort zone and help you get lost in the movement- music that is continually inspiring, motivating and will challenge you to push through each work-out- break free of the daily grind and let us help you find your rhythm.”

Those words were enough to get me to sign up. To me, it sounded a lot like Soul Cycle, which I know has a bit of a cult-like following from my friends in New York. Since we don’t have anything like Soul Cycle here, I think Spokehaus has a chance at being really successful in Toronto. An experience it was!

I used to take group cycling classes back in University and in recent years have been a big LesMills RPM fan. I find a cycling class is a really good way to balance other workouts with running. It’s a killer cardio workout, amazing for your legs and core and a good way to “flush out” my legs after a week of running many kilometres.

Needless to say, when Happy Hubs and I walked in to Spokehaus, located at City Place, at 10 to 7:00am yesterday, I was feeling pretty confident about getting through an early morning sweat session and assumed I knew what the class would more or less entail.

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The front of the studio is bright and simple, with lockers (no lock needed, they are all keyless and you can set your own code) and a big open reception area (including that fun light sign pictured above). We were greeted by a very friendly young woman who gave us cycling shoes, this is a clip-in class but shoes are provided. Shortly after, we walked into the studio with our Instructor, Courtney, a bubbly brunette who was exactly the right level of enthused for a Monday morning (anything TOO enthusiastic can be a bit too much sometimes, but especially early in the morning). It was at this moment that I realized this was going to be anything BUT a normal Spin class. The studio was dark, except for a handful of large candles in front of Courtney’s bike, something I appreciated as I was still struggling to keep my eyes open.

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That all changed the minute the music started. I suddenly felt like I was at an uber-cool club and I wasn’t sure if I was asleep and maybe still dreaming. After a track or two I knew I was definitely awake as I was sweating my face off. In fact, I don’t think I can remember a time in recent history when I have sweat that much. Courtney led us through the tracks (top 40 EDM remixes) and we did everything you’d expect in a cycling class- sprints, climbs, standing sprints, heavy resistance etc. What I liked about the class however, and something that I haven’t experienced in previous cycling classes, is that most of the tracks included some sort of upper-body work. We did a lot of different push-up type movements over the handlebars and one track was even pure upper body. We used small hand weights and sat upright while Courtney led us through bicep curls, tricep extensions, shoulder presses etc. I will admit, I am pretty fit and scoffed a little bit at the 2lb weights when I first picked them up- but my arms were burning by the end of this track. We cycled on home to an angry Eminem song and then were all handed cool wet towels with eucalyptus oil which was an amazing treat and the perfect energizing and cooling boost I needed after such an intense sweat.

I exited, surprised that it was sunny and bright outside the studio as I had honestly forgotten whether it was day or night. Spokehaus sells juices and Kombucha from Greenhouse Juice Co. and I couldn’t resist a “Root Beer” Kombucha. Not too sweet, and just the right amount of root flavour. The changerooms are bright and clean (although a bit small) and filled with great natural bath and body proucts for guest use.

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I left feeling so glad I had forced myself out of bed at 6:00am for the class. It was a great experience and what really made it stand out was that it was a total body workout- not something I’m used to from a spin class. The music was great, the atmosphere was super fun, and the extra little touches went a long way. And they should- at $28 for a drop-in class you’d expect something different, fun, luxurious and a killer workout. I don’t know if I’ll be back- not because I didn’t love it (I did), I just probably (and unfortunately) can’t stomach a class that is fairly steeply priced. If I had more money, I would find it easier as it is worth it, it’s just a shame that the cost makes it a little elitist (but I think that is what they are going for here, and I know Soul Cycle has faced the same criticism).

Spokehaus is still offering you to come try your 1st class free for a limited time though so if you want to check it out head on over to their website and prepare to sweat your face off!

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