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.

 

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.

Me!

Hey everyone!

Well, this is my very first time ever writing a blog so bear with me!

Who am I?

My name is Alison (Ali) and I am currently a Workplace Wellness and Health Promotion grad student at Centennial College in Toronto, Ontario.

Favourite way to sweat?

LesMills BodyPump, BodyAttack or RPM

Favourite vegetable?

Kale

Favourite fruit?

It’s a 3 way tie between pomegranates, avocados and raspberries

Favourite beverage?

COFFEE

Why am I here?

The short story: To talk about wellness with anyone who is interested. Mainly, I like to discuss fitness, nutrition, mental health and wellness in the workplace. It is my hope that I can provide readers with recipes, reviews about all things wellness in Toronto (and beyond!) and discuss ideas and thoughts surrounding these subjects.

The long story: I used to write, a lot. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, you name it. Then, I went away to University. I wrote a lot there too, but mainly things like research papers, statistic reports and then my biggest piece of writing to date- an undergraduate thesis. But that stuff was boring, I didn’t have time to write the fun stuff for myself anymore.

Through University I found myself struggling with crippling bouts of depression and anxiety. I think a lot of students go through this but society teaches us to keep it to ourselves, and I did. There is nothing as poisonous as the self-stigma we put on ourselves and I felt entirely alone. Anyone who has been through University knows it is a fight. I felt like I was swimming upstream through the rapids for most of my time as an undergraduate, barely staying afloat.

After a horrendous breakup, a friend of mine suggested I join her in a kickboxing class. Her words were “because visualizing his face must be good for something”. She was right, and man did it feel good. This was kind of a turning point in my life. I was shocked to realize just how much a good workout could affect my mood. I wish I could say it was right then that my whole life became perfect and I started going to the gym every day. (I will disclose this now- my life is still not perfect and I still don’t workout every day, and that’s okay!).  However, from that point on, I decided that fitness was going to be a part of my life. I made it through my undergrad, working out as much as I could and really finding myself benefitting from a group fitness environment. While at that time I would have loved to be active every day, I could only manage about 3 days a week- yet those 3 days a week are what I truly believe kept me afloat through it all.

When I graduated, I was sure glad all that stress was over. Unfortunately, as a new graduate I found the world to be overwhelming, and the employment market a huge source of discouragement. I always thought that when I left school, my life would fall into place and I would never feel anxious or depressed again. “Real life” left me with a lot of free time on my hands and an even bigger serving of disillusionment. I had never really been overweight in my life, and I considered my eating habits to be fairly healthy, but I also wasn’t exactly athletic and toned. The months following my graduation lead to a few things, a sense of complacency in a terrible serving job, and about 20 pounds on my small frame.

Around that time I met my wonderful partner Zach. Zach is many things to me- my biggest cheer leader, my support system, my road trip buddy, my best friend and my rock. Being in a new relationship is always an exciting time- but I wouldn’t say it was a driving force in my health goals. In fact, it was kind of the opposite. Zach has made it very clear from the get-go that he thinks I am beautiful. It is hard to stay focused on eating well and working out when you have a sexy man telling you that you always look amazing, no matter what. Here’s the kicker to our story- Zach lives 830km away from me. This has had it’s challenges over the years we have been together, but also has had many benefits. I ended up losing my serving job (a huge blow to my ego) and therefore, I didn’t have an income to afford to go visit him. He was struggling himself and we had a period of being apart for quite some time- this wasn’t a pretty time in my life and was a big contributing factor to this post-graduation 20 pounds.

Instead of hiding away in a blanket of depression I started to dedicate my extra time to fitness and changing my eating habits. As I said, I had never been one to eat terribly unhealthy, but something had to change. The key for me was also realizing how much a healthy active lifestyle affected my mood. I began to workout at least 5 days a week with a healthy combination of strength training and cardio group fitness classes. I eliminated all refined and processed foods out of my diet. I started to feel amazing. I dropped nearly 20 pounds in 5 months. Around this same time, I was realizing that I needed to make another big change in my life. I realized I needed to go to graduate school in order to find a career that fulfilled me. I had been an “A” student during my undergraduate career but I still wasn’t quite cut out to pursue a masters in clinical psychology like I once thought I would. I applied to a few M.A. counseling programs thinking I would like to help people through therapeutic means. Yet, something was holding me back. What I thought I wanted and what I actually wanted didn’t seem to match up anymore. However, I didn’t even know exactly what it was that I wanted. I searched and searched and searched until I stumbled upon health promotion programs. I thought about an M.Sc. in Health Promotion. I thought about Organizational Psychology, but I gagged at the thought of dedicating 2 years of my life to research. I still knew I wanted to help people, I just didn’t know what medium I would do this through. I have worked as a summer camp counsellor and I get an immense amount of satisfaction from mentoring and motivating people. I started to help my friends change their lifestyles as well, and the fulfillment I gained from helping others out in this capacity was immensely gratifying. This is also when I discovered the WWHP program at Centennial. I read through the course descriptions and through the career options. I was thirsty for more information. I contacted graduates of the program and spoke to them about what they were doing now. I didn’t even know that workplace wellness existed! Everything sort of fell into place for me. I slowly started wrapping my head around the fact that I could help people in the workplace, I could even help with mental health in the workplace, and I could do it all through my passion for exercise and nutrition.

To me, health is not just about getting through life and avoiding or fighting off illness. Health is about being present in life, it is about preventing diseases (mental and physical) and it is about  fostering our ability to live life to it’s fullest. I believe that our physical and mental states are so much more connected then we realize. I believe what we put in our bodies dictates so much of our lives and affects our mental and physical health the same way that exercise (or lack of exercise) does. I believe that in our society we do not treat our bodies with the respect they deserve. Instead, we work them to the ground and in the process destroy our mental and physical well-being and develop chronic illnesses. The biggest culprit of encouraging this behaviour is a place where we spend most of our time- the workplace. I think this is all preventable if only we have the information and motivation to change our lifestyles. It doesn’t have to be a drastic change. It doesn’t have to be a wake-up-at 5am-every-day-to-run change, it doesn’t even mean avoiding chocolate at all costs. It just means doing the best we can, day to day, to incorporate wellness into our lives. 

 

So to come full circle, here I am studying wellness and pursuing a career where I can do exactly what I mentioned above. I love researching about wellness, I love hearing about wellness, I love sharing the messages, I love participating in wellness initiatives. And I REALLY love writing about wellness. Writing has become fun and enjoyable to me again for the first time since high school. Through my writing about wellness I want to share my passion with all of you. Since fitness and nutrition are my biggest passions when it comes to health promotion and wellness I will be sharing a lot of information about those domains of health here, but I will also be sharing information on just about anything in the wellness field. So stick around and read what you can. I hope I can help you head towards a life full of well-being and health, or at least get the wheels turning to help you live your life the best way you can!