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

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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!

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.

 

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!

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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What does “Wellness” mean to me?

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I will be honest, this post is a contest entry. BUT, in order to enter the contest, I have to explain what wellness means to me. Motives aside, this is definitely an important question to ponder and reflect on and I am so happy that The Healthy Maven, Run to the Finish and Fit Foodie Finds have made me stop to think about this. In my last job, I ran the wellness program in our HR department and I often talked at length with my colleagues about what “wellness” meant. It was quickly apparent that it means different things to different people, no doubt. In the case of our job, we had to learn to separate what wellness meant to us and what we wanted it to look like, from what the organization saw wellness as (and all the complications that came with working in a large organization with a lot of complex policies, budgetary restraints, etc). That being said, our jobs may have been easier if we had just had someone tell us what wellness meant in this context.

This makes me think, because I often talk about my passion for wellness, but I haven’t exactly defined what it means to me, my perspective and where all of my actions come from. Takes me back to my undergraduate years and always making sure my research papers had an operational definition. How can I go about living my life a certain way without a starting point, a concrete philosophy to leap from? Not to say that these things cannot be flexible in the way they can’t be in a research paper. I think wellness is such a personal thing and as we grow and evolve, it makes sense that our definition of it may be a bit plastic as well.

As a classic Type “A”, I definitely struggle with letting perfectionism go. This is hard for me, because I truly used to see wellness as having a perfect body, eating a perfect diet, having perfect work/life balance. However, I (thankfully) have learned that this is not possible, and defining wellness that way is only going to achieve the opposite of what I want it to be.

I came across this saying a few years back and it definitely hits close to home and has become my mantra when it comes to my health and wellness:
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BUT, to put it in my own words; Wellness is about treating my body and mind with respect, activity and nourishment. Wellness is being emotionally present, aware and connected to myself and to others. It is having a positive relationship with my home and work environments, as well as with nature. Wellness is flourishing, living happily, healthily, holistically, and with gratitude.  It is not comparing myself to others but to personal milestones, and how far I have come, whether I have made progress or taken a few steps back and knowing how to better myself (whether this means taking a mental health break, losing weight, gaining weight, resting, connecting with loved ones). It is about doing my best under the circumstances, and not beating myself up when I can’t do my best (like today when I ran very slowly through the rain). It is fostering my ability to live life to its fullest while understanding that the good and bad must co-exist. It is about being me, it is about being okay with it.

To be able to spend a week at Wellfit Malibu would be an incredible experience, a chance to step back from the current chaos, and press the reset button on my health goals. It would be a chance to remind myself to really take care of ME and be in the moment. It would be a dream come true!
#WellnessThatFitsYou

Re-framing Exercise

Disclosure: I am often eavesdropping on conversations that I am not a part of. I don’t do this to be rude or because I am nosey. Rather, I work in an area where there is a lot of traffic coming and going. Given that I work in wellness I am always curious when people start talking about health. My office is actually located in an area where people work out so naturally, I hear a lot of these conversations and my ears perk up.

From all my eavesdropping, one thing I know for sure is that everyone wants to lose weight. I am always amazed at how often I hear the exact same words and conversations. It is so common, which is not that surprising given our society’s views on body image.  However, this focus on weight loss, as we know, does not always pave the way to a healthy lifestyle. I am starting to realize just how big of a focus it is for a lot of people. Yet, it is so rare to see people really stick with health and fitness for long periods of time. I am also shocked at how misinformed people are about fitness and diet, and always find it so sad when I hear the words “nothing works for me, I can’t get fit so I give up” or “I will never look like that, I feel awful” or even “I hate exercise but I do it to get skinny”.

I am here to challenge this and ask you to re-frame the way we think about exercise. What if we focused on how good exercise made us feel instead of seeing it as a means to an end. What if we focused on our health, energy levels, well-being and less about the way we looked? I know, crazy thought, but hear me out.

I have been you. I have eaten too few calories, been obsessed with the gym, all with the intention of losing weight and getting my body to look a certain way. I have since learned that my body is not MEANT to look that way, and even if I have achieved it for a short period of time, that’s the extent of it – it’s a short period of time. Even though I looked a certain way, I can assure you, I was not healthy. I deprived myself of enjoyment. I was grumpy. I was hungry. I would reach the end of the day and fight the urge to binge on chocolate and chips. I wasn’t able to enjoy my weekends and felt plaugued with guilt if I followed the lead of those around me and had a glass of wine. I would go to sleep feeling miserable that I had failed myself so terribly if I did give in (see previous post on balance). So why did I even do this? Because there was some pre-conceived notion in my head that happiness=having the body of a bikini model. Even when I nearly had that body, I wasn’t all of the sudden happier. In fact, I was miserable.

The crazy thing is, for even those of us who don’t really have any weight to lose; we still obsess about it and can’t be convinced otherwise no matter what others around us say. Weight is such a deeply personal concept and we are so easily brainwashed into thinking we must look a certain way.

It doesn’t help that we are constantly bombarded with images like this all over social media:

(it also takes depriving yourself of all fun)

(it also takes depriving yourself of all fun)

I am not saying that males don’t have these same insecurities because many do. However, I find in my circle of female friends, weight and body image is something that is always coming up. We work out to get fit and often, that is all we talk about concerning fitness. I recently have had a lot of conversations with my friends about this though and have started challenging that. I encourage them to still put a lot of effort into being active, but change the focus of it and the reasons for doing it. Furthermore, I really try and steer any conversations about health and wellness away from weight. But it doesn’t stop there, by merely having a few chats with my friends about changing their focus on exercise I’m not accomplishing much. So how do we make the conversation in society about something else?

We have fitness instructors urging us on and saying things like “think of your bikini”. I hear it every day. Every day. And frankly, I am sick of it. “Summer is coming, get beach ready” “don’t give up, think of your vacation body”. Why is our motivation to do a healthy behaviour coming from statements that are not healthy? It’s backwards, isn’t it?

Our obsession with the way we look is unhealthy. It causes unrealistic expectations and spins us into a downward spiral of self-loathing and distorted body image. And it truly isn’t our fault. How can you disconnect yourself from these messages when everything that is being portrayed is skinny=happy=healthy. This message is constantly being shoved down our throats from every industry out there trying to capitalize on our insecurities.  What if we were to remove the “skinny” from the equation? What are we left with? Happy=healthy. That doesn’t sound all that bad to me.

What if we stopped focusing on the way we look and started focusing on the way we feel and all the positive ways that living healthy and exercise can help us? What would that look like?

I recently attended a Body pump class with a new instructor (to me). Near the end of the workout (during which she did not once mention weight and looking fit) she said “stop and think right now about how strong and empowered you feel. How clear your mind is. How relaxed you are. Now remember that feeling every time you don’t want to come. Hold on to that and remember why you workout”

That really stuck with me. Why do I work out? It calms my nerves. It clears my mind. It gives me more energy. It protects me against disease. It makes me feel strong. It helps me sleep better. It makes me feel confident. Overall, it makes me feel HAPPY. Those are all a bunch of reasons that have nothing to do with weight. I tell myself those things when I don’t want to be active and it works wonders. The days I don’t want to work out are often the days that I am feeling low or am stressed. Those are the days I need it most, and those are the days where it really hits home that being active is so much more than the way I look.

If you are only working out for the purpose of looking a certain way, I am curious to know if that works well for you. Do you enjoy your workouts? Have you made it a part of your life? If so, I applaud you and I hope that once you reach your physical goals, you will continue to keep it a part of your life for many other reasons. If you don’t like being active, try something new. Find something you not only like but are actually good at too. I can’t stress this enough. It doesn’t always to be in a gym.  It can be as simple as planning a weekend hike twice a month, or riding your bike on a Saturday. It can be so many different things.

So how do we change this focus on weight? I am putting my foot down and saying enough is enough. Next time you hear someone talking about it, stop them and encourage them to think of other reasons to be active. Next time you hear that dialogue in your head, stop it. Replace it with something else. Re-frame it.

I am a runner.

Give credit where credit is due is an important lesson that was drilled into my head by my elementary school science teacher. I took it so seriously that I remember printing out an extra little square for my 8th grade science fair project and titling it “Thank You’s”, listing the names of all those who had helped me, meticulously framing it in bright coloured construction paper and sticking it on my three-fold poster board. My science teacher noticed and it felt good to be recognized for my kindness, almost as great as receiving a good grade.  It is important to enjoy our moments of glory and relish those feelings when we have worked hard to achieve something. Yet perhaps, I think we often forget to thank those who helped us achieve something big. Maybe it’s a weird subconscious Freudian thing or maybe it is just my science teachers voice drilled in my head, but I think I sometimes over emphasis this whole giving credit thing. Maybe it’s due to a few lingering teenage “I’m not good enough” inferiority feelings, but whatever it is, in certain situations I am not good at giving myself any credit and often project all the credit on to others. This is especially true in an area where I don’t feel like I deserve any credit for what I’ve done – athletic pursuits (see previous entry on athletic inferiority).

After running the Sporting Life 10k in May, I decided to conquer something bigger – a half marathon. Over the summer months and into October I trained for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront (half) Marathon, an amazing, massive road race known for being “flat, festive and fast”. For someone who could barely run a single kilometre without stopping back in January, this seemed like a daunting task. I sucked up my pride, thinking of myself as somewhat of an intruder and signed up for a half marathon clinic. The majority of us had never run beyond 10k, some had never even gone beyond 5, and some were seasoned half-ers. I surprised myself on our first run out, falling somewhere in the middle of the pack. I have always told myself (and others) I am not a runner, just an average person trying to run. “I’m not fast” I would say or “I only started a few months ago”.  I would scoff when others referred to me as a runner. To me, a runner was always someone who trained for marathons, and did well, someone who actually ran at a competitive pace, i.e., people who actually had a shot at qualifying for Boston. My definition of a runner was completely shattered when said runners welcomed me into their little exclusive club. Although, I quickly realized, it wasn’t an exclusive club after all. Runners are not just elite athletes, runners are moms, dads, grandparents, plus-size people, slim people, short people, tall people, sub-3 hour marathon people, never run anything beyond a 5k people, 5 hour marathon people. Heck, if you have legs that run (at any pace) and you put on running shoes, and go for any type of regular run, you are a runner. So why did I have so much trouble calling myself a runner?

I  started running with the club 3-5 days a week and learned about steady runs, tempo runs, speed work, hill repeats and long slow distances. Each time I ran a new distance I thought “okay I just made it  to 12km but how will I ever make it to 21?” or “Okay I just made it 14 but I don’t think I can go any further”. But then the next week rolled around, and I did.

My body started to crave movement, I felt antsy to get out there with my group and pound pavement. I gave up leisurely nights at home to run 10km of hill repeats, for fun. I missed outings because I had to train. I went to bed early on Saturdays to get up to run Sunday mornings. I started to feel unstoppable, my pace quickened and my total kms/week skyrocketed. And then at the beginning of September, it started hurting. All of the slower people in our group stopped showing up and suddenly, I was the slower people. I hurt, I hurt a lot. I suffered from blisters, muscle spasms, shin splits, you name it, all to the unbearable degree. I remember sitting on the subway one night after a short 5k run choking back tears because my calves felt like they were going to pop out of my legs, and even worse, we had only run 5k and I was at the very back of the group. This was a rough period. Not only was I in physical pain but mentally by brain was telling me I couldn’t do it. I had to take a break, I was pushing too hard. I didn’t run for 10 days and I felt like I was going crazy. I finally laced up my sneakers again, and miraculously, I felt no pain, yet my head was not yet back in the game. I didn’t think I could do it. My legs were saying “yes yes” with every step I took but my brain was saying “no, no, take a break, you’re tired”

When I got back on track and started to feel good I thanked my run coaches for pushing me, I thanked my partner for running slowly beside me, I thanked the weather for cooperating, but I never thanked myself for getting over this rough patch.

Then, one Sunday, I ran 21.1km. I just did it, and it felt amazing. Let me say that again, I RAN 21.1km. This, was the biggest hurtle yet. I had kms where I just wanted to stop, and I didn’t. Some were worse than others, some felt amazing, but somehow I ran the distance. I couldn’t believe how far I had come and that it was already time to taper!

Race day arrived before I knew it, on the coldest day of the season yet. I donned my throw away old sweats and headed to the commuter train at 7:00am with my amazing partner and run buddy. Everyone on the train was headed to Scotia and I could feel it in the air…this was going to be a very special day. I nervously waited in my start corral, the minutes ticking by like hours, freezing in my sweats. I saw many familiar faces from the two different clubs I trained with, which eased the anxiety a little. The gun went and the first wave was off. My stomach literally felt like it was doing summersaults as we moved forward to the start, stripping off my sweats and inching closer and closer to the 2:15 pace bunny. And then, like that, we were off!

The first stretch of the race was a comfortable slight incline up University Avenue, a route I had become familiar with as I had run it many times with my run club over the summer. I passed the 2:15 pacer as we turned on to Bloor, and kept going. My pace felt slow but when I looked down at my time I realized I was flying and I had to try really really hard to back off and keep it steady. We hit the 3km water station in what felt like minutes, and before I knew it we reached 5k, and broke my PB for that distance!

The race continued down Bathurst, a nice steady decline, along Fort York to Lakeshore, and just as I felt warm, we reached the 10k mark, posting a new PB for that distance as well. This was one of the best moments of the race for me. Up until this point, I had been a devote run 10 minutes and walk 1 minute kinda girl (and I know, that is really not the best race strategy, but for someone just wanting to finish it’s great!) yet I had only taken about two 25 second walk breaks. I was on track to finish in just over 2 hours. The 2:15 pacer was far behind me and as I ran west along Lakeshore, the elite’s were coming back East, impressing me with their sheer athleticism and mind blowing paces. A few kms later I even saw a guy at the head of the pack JUGGLING. My mind was blown! Down the road, one of my close friends passed me coming back, on track for her 1:35 half (she’s a rockstar and running Boston this year!) and we shared an absolutely joyous and perfect mid-race high five! A few minutes later I saw one of my run coaches. I think at this point, I felt absolute bliss. I was running well, and absolutely loved the environment and atmosphere of it all. I felt like a runner.

We reached the turn around point just west of high park and things started to go downhill. Actually, the course started to go uphill, but my stamina was dwindling and it was dwindling fast. My friend from run club caught up to me, chatted for a short while and then blew past me. This was a bit of blow to my ego as we had run together the entire summer, a perfect pace match. I calmly reminded myself that I was running my own race and it was not a competition against my run club peers. Despite my months of hill training, something on this slight uphill did me in. I started cramping in my calves and each step was getting more and more painful. Then I got a stitch. It was a stitch so bad every single step felt like a thousand needles digging into my side. I wanted to cry but I also didn’t want to give up. I saw two runners down on the side (with some amazing passer-bys helping them) and immediately felt grateful I wasn’t in a similar position.

At about 16k I continued on in agonizing pain, but knew the end was coming soon. Only it wasn’t. My pace had slowed and the 2:15 pacer caught up, and then passed me. Time was going by so slowly and I truthfully almost willed myself to just walk the rest and be proud to have even finished. The road turned into a never-ending tunnel in front of me and my mind started telling me to stop, my heart arguing back, “NO!” And yet I kept going. We hit the dreaded on-ramp incline and I had to take a break. I embarrassingly just could not do it. But then I saw a man running ahead of me with one leg, and directly in front of him, the 2:15 pacer. By some miracle, I had caught up and that was all the motivation I needed. At about 18.5k I spotted my mom and sister. They had made a sign that read “Just keep swimming” which they knew was my personal mantra all throughout University, stealing the line from “Finding Nemo”. I think I even smiled as I ran by, and I thew in some swimming motions for fun.

I checked my pace and was back to the pace I had started at, I was finally getting out of my head and geting back on track. We turned up Bay and I spotted my dad and my stepmom, again with an encouraging sign. I could feel it building inside of me, I’m not sure if “it” was vomit or adrenaline but everything was starting to tingle. I saw the 500m sign, the 400m sign behind it seeming so far away. Zach reached for my hand, saying “you’re so close! you’re so close!” but the only thought in my head was “don’t puke, don’t puke, don’t fall, don’t fall” and I swatted him away, mustering a very un-kind “shut up!” I really don’t think I could feel my legs. We reached 400m, then 300m and all of the sudden there was a huge crowd around and it felt as if everyone was cheering for me. I don’t remember what happened next, but I took off in an absolute sprint to the finish, Zach grabbed my hand as we crossed, triumphantly (on his part, he was basically holding me up) pumping the air. I literally was speechless. I don’t know if it was emotion or cardiovascular failure or some combination of both, but it took me a good 30 seconds to say anything, at which point we high-fived and shared a celebratory hug. All the sudden, it hit me, I just ran a half marathon, A HALF MARATHON. I wasn’t even a runner for crying out loud. Yet, I looked around me, and everyone I saw was a runner. I was a runner! I finally acknowledged that I could call myself a runner!

I don’t know why it took completing the race to fully recognize myself as a runner. I think just needed proof that I could actually do it. But goddamnit, it felt good to finally allow myself to take some of the credit for what I had accomplished. I finished the race in just over 2:15, which was pretty much my pipe-dream when I started training. And yet, I did it. I became a runner this summer. Every time I laced up my shoes, I was a runner. Every time I pushed beyond my limits, I was a runner. Every time I woke up early on the weekend, I was a runner. When I finished that race, I was a runner. Before I even started the race, I was a runner.

The funny thing about running is that it really is not as competitive as you think. It is such a deeply personal sport even when you are competing with others. Running pushes you to places you didn’t think were possible. Running helps you find strength and resilience you didn’t know you had. It forces you to look deep into your being and learn to tell those inner voices telling you to stop to just shut up already. it’s a sport of dedication, discomfort and mental strength. It’s a sport of deep meditation. Often in life we feel inclined to run from challenges – figuratively speaking. However, running teaches us how to persist and just go on. Let me say this, it isn’t fun. It hurts, and it’s still a struggle for me and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s a struggle for some of the best athletes out there to just keep going when you want to give up. Running forces you to deal with something head on. The truth is, you could give up, just like with many things in life. When you are running, especially if you are an average runner not competing for top placement, you could give up. No one is forcing you to run and you’re not being graded on it and it doesn’t affect your career or your relationships, so the consequences of stopping in the midst of a race probably won’t be very big. But it’s a personal challenge. There is a good possibility that no one is there counting on you to finish. The running is challenging, but the persistence you have to find within yourself and for yourself is the real struggle. It takes your mind and your body to a place where you have to deal with the pain and the here and now, just because you chose to. The personal satisfaction from intensely just being present with your emotions, your physical being and the surroundings around you and pushing on despite every voice telling you to stop is something that we can all benefit from experiencing.

There is a certain song that I listened to a lot when I was training this summer. While the song is kind of cheesy, the beat is uplifting, playful, and kept me moving. While the song is about fighting through life, I played it as I crossed the finish line, and one line in particular sums up what I learned about life and running from training for this race:

Never dwell in the dark cause the sun always rises
But gotta make it to the next day
It’s a feeling that you get in your lungs when you run
Like you’re runnin’ outta air and your breath won’t come
And you (uh) wheezin’, gotta keep it movin’
Find that extra (uhn) and push your way through it
I didn’t think I was a runner, but I am. And if you have a pair of shoes, a determined mindset and get out there and move, you too, are a runner. And for that, you deserve all the credit in the world.
18.5k in and trying to smile!

18.5k in and trying to smile!

We did it!

We did it!

P.S. I think I am going to sign up for the Around the Bay Road Race in March…am I crazy!?

The Power of Nature!

Hello Friends!

I realize it has been a lonnnnnnng time since I posted and I am sorry for anyone who stopped by looking for anything health and wellness related and found nada in recent months. A LOT has gone on in my life since I last posted. I got engaged! Very exciting and while the actual day is still 16 months away, it has been SO much fun putting my creative hat on and starting to plan. We are both outdoorsy people so we decided on an orchard as our venue- think dinner under the peach trees, twinkly lights and a ton of natural looking flowers. I get excited like a little kid on Christmas when I think about it! Of course, we cannot forget the point of it all, that I get to spend my life with the absolute best partner a girl could ask for. I cannot wait to share my life with Zach!! I have also now officially completed my graduate program in workplace wellness and health promotion!!! I am very very very very excited and keen to get out there in the working world (stay tuned for progress on that!) Through my grad program I had an amazing opportunity to work in the corporate wellness world two days a week and I really hope to take everything I learned with me into this next part of my life.

I have also been running! Anyone who knows me may know that I have no problem making it through an hour long BODYATTACK class, yet I have NEVER been a runner. This is surprising since my dad has been a runner all of his life and still plays very very fast lacrosse in his mid-50s. I guess I never got that gene. I have enjoyed (suffered) periods of running in the past, but running has always been way more mental to me than anything else. It has been a goal of mine for a long time to run a 10k race, so this year, after struggling with staying active during my first semester of school, I decided to sign up for the Sporting Life 10K in hopes that 1. I would be able to run it all and 2. Committing to the race would keep me active and force me to train throughout the semester. I was right! The race is this coming Sunday, and I’m sure I will post about it afterwards, but I ran the whole distance last week in 66 minutes, only stopping for about 30 seconds. It may not be a competitive time, but that’s not what this is about. I am also happy to report that I stayed on track with a running program since January, a huge plus since I was definitely struggling to stay active during the fall semester. The journey was long and not always pretty. I hate hate hate treadmills and with the winter we just had, I wasn’t able to get outside until the end of March. But boy oh boy, once I was able to take my training outside did I ever see improvement. Which brings me to the point of this post!!! (Sorry about the lonnnnng preamble there).

Spring has finally sprung!!!!!! It is May 7 and temperatures have FINALLY started to reach the double digits. It’s been a long wait for us northerners, that is for sure! I don’t mind the cold too much (I am Canadian after all), but the frigid temperatures that we saw this winter were enough to send even the biggest winter-lovers inside hiding and crying for spring. Now that it is finally here, we shouldn’t waste a single second more sitting inside (I am currently writing this outside wrapped in a blanket with some tea, which, side note, is the best I’ve ever had, from a local Toronto company called Pluck)

A few friends and I have decided to participate in the David Suzuki Foundation’s 30×30 Nature Challenge. The whole point of the challenge is to get outside for 30 minutes, every day for 30 days. This may not seem like a “challenge” but it is surprising how hard it can actually be to fit nature into our lives, and a lot of us don’t even realize how deprived of nature we truly are. Think about what your average day (weekend excluded), looks like. How often do you intentionally spend outside connecting with nature? The truth is, a lot of us are very much so nature-deprived. In the health and wellness industry, nature is recognized as a crucial component to overall well-being. Our relationship with the outdoors is a long and important one, and it is only recently that society has become so disconnected from nature. Think about it, most of us sit inside at a job, which we drive to, while sitting inside a car, then we drive home, come inside and get on with our daily chores. Researchers like Richard Louv believe that not spending time outside with nature is actually detrimental to our health, and I happen to agree whole-heartedly. He calls this “Nature Deficiency Disorder” and believes it is strongly linked to many of our personal and community health and well-being problems, and it makes total sense. 

Nature is GOOD for us. Spending time outside can make us feel happier and less stressed. It also helps us fight off disease and is great for our overall mental and physical health. The 30×30 Challenge website states that nature can make us more empathetic and help connect us with our communities- which I also happen to agree with!

In case you need more reasons to get outside:

  • Nature can help treat depression. One study found that a daily walk in a green space can be as effective as antidepressants to treat mild to moderate depression!
  • Nature helps create a healthier work environment. A study found that employees who surround themselves with plants or those who have views of nature report better overall life satisfaction. I can personally vouch for this one! I have spent time working in a cubicle with nothing but a grey view. It made me sleepy when I wasn’t even tired! I have recently been working in an office where I sit right by a window looking out onto a pound and untamed nature. It is amazing! I feel so much more energized and happy even when I am doing mindless work!
  • Nature is healing. Hospital stays have actually been shown to be shorter in patients who have direct exposure to sunlight.
  • Nature helps us de-stress. Being outside forces us to focus on something that is pure, rather than focusing on the multiple tasks in a technology laden and artificial environment. No one can deny the calming effect of listening to the birds outside! 

I’m sure I could list a thousand more reasons why you should get outside. Visit the 30×30 Nature Challenge website for more reasons to connect with nature and to join the challenge. There is a hilarious quiz which can tell you how much nature you need in your life (hint, it is probably more than you are getting.)

While I strongly encourage a break from technology, if you do take a phone with you, be sure to use the hashtag #natureselfie or #30x30challenge in any pictures you take on your adventures with nature. 

I hope you all participate and build a stronger relationship with our beautiful outdoor world! Now that it is warm, take your lunch outside, get off the bus a few stops early, take a mid-morning “nature break” or simply sit outside in a park or on your porch/balcony or in your yard. I know you can do it!!!!

If you live in Toronto and are interested more in the work that Richard Louv does, be sure to come and see him speak at the Evergreen Brickworks on May 20.

Some of my ramblings:

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source: www.besthealthmag.ca

“Ritz” crackers should not count as a grain!

My mother recently forwarded this to me http://gawker.com/mom-gives-kids-homemade-lunch-school-forces-them-to-ea-1466822586/@neetzanz

Basically, a Mother in Manitoba was fined by her children’s because her home-packed, homemade, whole food lunch lunch did not include a serving of grains. Along with the fine, the school “supplemented” her children’s lunches with Ritz crackers to make up for the “lack” of a grain.

There is so much wrong with this. First of all, following the food guide literally to a T can be completely misleading about what a healthy, wholesome and nutritious diet should include.

Second of all, why does every meal have to include a grain? What if these kids had grains at breakfast and will have grains at dinner?

Third of all, what about the kids who are allergic to wheat? What about those who are vegetarian or lactose intolerant? What would the school do to their homemade lunches? How can they follow the Food Guide to a T?

Fourth of all, and maybe most important? HOW ON EARTH ARE RITZ CRACKERS CONSIDERED A HEALHY SUPPLEMENT? The whole point of following the food guide at this school, I presume, is to make sure children are eating a balanced, wholesome and nutritious meal. Yet somehow Ritz crackers are considered crucial to that? In our fight against the packaged food industry and obesity and health of young people, this is concerning.

What does everyone think of this? Should schools have the power to do this?

I think that it is great that schools are checking homemade lunches but what is important is the food and nutrition knowledge of those who are checking. Clearly, there are a lot of things that need to be addressed here.

Edible Schoolyard Project

I know this is not news, but we watched this in class a few weeks back and I think this is AMAZING.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qApx7O6phWo

Of course, this project takes place in California. The wonderful climate there certainly makes this easier but I still think programs like this could (and should!) happen anywhere.

I am a firm believer that kids are the ones who really need to learn about the issues in our food production and what we actually put in our bodies. One way to change this is definitely to target food education in the schools. Kids carry the messages home and are so impressionable in their young age. A lot of time children are only eating processed food because it is what their parents give them- they are not even aware of it’s detrimental effects on their health. We need to make these kids aware! And we need to teach them about sustainable and local farming.

Way to go Edible Schoolyard!!!!

I can’t believe I had never heard of this project until recently!!