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.

Life happens while you’re busy making other plans

My aim is to keep this blog less about me and more about topics we can all related to. However, there has been so much going on in my personal life lately (hence the hiatus) that I can’t help but share and gush a little bit.

That being said, my days have been jam packed with so many great things I am just exploding with joy. First of all, I had an amazing weekend a few weeks back celebrating my dear friend’s (The Rosetto Blog) bachelorette in Prince Edward County. It was such a special weekend to be a part of and Emily’s happiness was so contagious. What a great group of women go hang out with! Also, if you haven’t been to Prince Edward County before, add it to your list (I’m already eyeing the drake Devonshire for our first year anniversary, I know, that’s over a year away but wishful thinking right?)

Beautiful Bride (in the middle)

Beautiful Bride Emily (in the middle)

Shortly after, Zach and I moved into our very own brand new condo. This move has been long overdue but with crazy wedding costs and a period of unemployment for both of us we wanted to wait until we were sure we could afford a place we really liked and enjoyed living in (read: a home, no cheap student housing) and still have some wiggle room for life so we delayed it. It was worth it! We found the most perfect place and have had so much fun making it a home (OUR home). We are obsessed with our neighborhood and it’s so amazing to live so close to quite a few childhood friends as well as my dad. Plus, I can walk to work! How great is that? Not to mention, the view…

Our View

Our View

Did I mention how fun decorating is? While we are still on a strict wedding budget we have been able to find some great pieces and Zach made some of our furniture which was a big money saver. I’m looking forward to getting rid of my university bed and really making the place homey and our dream over the next few months.

Zach's amazing DIY media stand

Zach’s amazing DIY media stand

Home sweet Home

Home sweet Home

Our kijiji Urban Barn find

Our kijiji Urban Barn find

Shortly after the big move my  (amazing!) friends held two wedding showers for me. I’m so spoiled! The first one was from a group of girls I have known since kindergarten and was a total surprise. A few of the girls couldn’t make it to the bigger shower so they orchestrated the perfect Tuesday night affair with sushi, prosseco, cupcakes and of course a homemade tiara. It was so humbling and amazing, even more so because I had NO idea.

The best of friends :)

The best of friends 🙂

Surprise!

Surprise!

The second one was the larger shower of the non-surprise variety which was just as special. It’s so great to see so many people I love from different areas of my life all interact together. Having so many people get together to celebrate you brings about so many emotions. It’s so special to see how much people support me and Zach. I will be honest when I say it is a little weird though. Don’t get me wrong, everyone loves a party but it is a little hard to sit there and realize all the focus is on you- more than a few times I thought to myself “how do I deserve this!!?”.  I guess it’s just practice for the wedding!

How talented is my friend!? Yes this is homemade!

Amazing (angel) Bridesmaid Masterminds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me and my Mum

It’s all in the details

(I’ve had a lot of questions and compliments about my dress, this is it here. I will also add that I’ve bought quite a few things from them, just make sure you read the sizing information and reviews and you’ll be fine)

And now, this is taking over my life:

Crafts on Crafts

Crafts on Crafts

I don’t want to give too many details away to the guests but the crafting is taking over our condo. Luckily I’ve had some amazing bridesmaid/friend elves who have been helping. DIYing your wedding is a great money saver but don’t kid yourself – it takes TIME. I see a few sleepless nights in my future as I finish all this up.

Thanks for reading everyone. My next post will be back to the regular wellness stuff, I promise 🙂

Beer + Running = unbeatable combination

If you’re like me, you may struggle to be active on the weekends. Don’t get me wrong, I usually do a lot of walking, exploring, visiting friends or just running errands but I really struggle to intentionally workout for the purpose of working out. I find that especially in the summer, I don’t exactly want to schedule a workout on the weekend when I’d much rather be sitting on a patio with a delicious beer.

What if I told you in this wonderful city of ours there is a way you can schedule in some exercise AND drink some great beer? Would you be more inclined to be active on the weekend? I know that the idea certainly sounds great to me!

Over the last few months, RunTOBeer (get it? TO as in T.O. as in Toronto and also as in “we are literally running to beer”) started liking pretty much any post of mine on social media that mentioned running. I honestly didn’t pay much attention until I recently actually clicked on their profile. I definitely was sorry that I hadn’t clicked on it sooner!

The premise of RunTOBeer is to combine the social aspects of running with the great craft beer scene we have in this city. SIGN ME UP. The group is organized by Toronto runners Dan Grant and Tej Sandhu.

On Canada Day, I laced up my sneakers after two weeks off post Nike 15k (I’ve also been battling a terrible cold) and joined the group for a 5k run to the Evergreen Brickworks, the host site of the Brewer’s Backyard. The group was fun, encouraging, and it was great to meet some like-minded people who obviously weren’t there to impress and were just looking for a fun way to be active. We all had the same end goal in mind – delicious beer! I will say, this was not an easy 5k for me but the thought of beer definitely kept me going!

While I was definitely near the end of the pack, there were still plenty of runners behind me, proof that this group is great for runners of all levels. I even noticed they had a call for pacers for this particular event – I missed the message but it’s something I’d definitely love to do in the future as this is an area I’d love to gain some experience in.

While this particular event was scheduled for a Holiday, RunTOBeer normally meets every second Sunday of the month. The group offers 3 different distances to cover all ability levels, 3k, 5k and 10k. I wonder if they have toyed with the idea of doing anything longer at all as I usually try and dedicate Sundays to my long runs. This is extra important for me this year as I tackle training for my first full marathon (kill me). Regardless, I can’t wait to run with the group again, even if it means tacking on a few extra kms beforehand or doing a long run on a Saturday and switching it up with a short steady run on a Sunday. Keeping the runs to every other week is probably best for my nutritional goals as well (why is beer so delicious?)

The best part? The runs start at a reasonable hour for a weekend. For me personally, if I miss an early Saturday or Sunday morning run with some of the other groups I run with, chances are I probably won’t get a run in at all. I am NOT a morning person, and waking up before 8:00am on a weekend for the purpose of running doesn’t always go over so well. (Since I drafted this, I see they have posted their next event which has an 11:30am start time).

Thanks for an awesome event RunTOBeer, it was the perfect way to celebrate Canada day in this beautiful city, I look forward to running with you again soon!

Check out their Facebook Page for all the details you need, I hope to see some of you out there next time!

 

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Oh Canada! (Thanks to Bill from the Night Terrors run crew for this photo)

Nike Women’s 15K Toronto #betterforit

Over the past year and a half I’ve had the honour of being a part of a growing community. This is a community of superwomen. This is a community of strength and determination. This is a community also known as Nike Toronto. You may remember one of my firsts posts about NTC Toronto. You may also remember my skepticism about these free classes that seemed too good to be true. I’m here to tell you they really aren’t and over the last 21 months I’ve had the honour of seeing a movement (and movement in general) in this city explode. You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you that I’ve had the opportunity to train with incredible trainers, run with world class athletes, and even receive some cool Nike swag all without spending a cent. Well my friends, I am here to tell you it’s true and that you can also do it. I’ll get into that more later but first I wanted to talk about something big that happened a few weekends ago. For the first time in Nike history, Toronto was lucky to host a Nike race in our beautiful city. On June 14, Nike Toronto hosted the Nike Womens 15k race on the beautiful Toronto Islands. You may have heard about the Nike races in San Francisco and D.C. (Tiffany necklaces being handed out by firemen anyone?) and this year Nike decided to take their road races International! The thing that always peaked my interest about these races was the killer marketing leading up to the event. What I loved about it was not a focus on running a personal best race, but instead the power that comes from a community of women working together to reach a goal.

After a long winter where I kind of let my fitness slip away (sound familiar?) from me I was looking for something to get me back into racing shape. I had participated in NTC classes and heard through the Nike network about Nike Run Club Toronto. Nike has run clubs in a lot of major cities all over the world- and much like NTC, you can sign up for free! I signed up for my first NRC event back at the beginning of April (or maybe it was the end of March) and was more than a little bit intimidated. During my first run, we were taken to an indoor track to do speed training – not something I had put much thought or energy into previously. Much to my surprise, I found that while there were certainly some intimidating runners, the pacers were very welcoming and friendly and there were quite a few other people who ran at my pace (phew!). I was really impressed at how much everyone else cheered everyone on, it definitely made it that much easier (not like it was at all easy) when there was constant encouragement. My favourite part, while I was running with the “slow” group, no one once ever used the word slow. We were called the sexy pace group.

As the weeks went on, I participated in weekly speed training and other runs with NRC. I started to notice a marked difference in my speed. The groups slowly got bigger and bigger and bigger which was amazing to see. One of the toughest days was attempting a modified version of the Oregon Speed Workout. It was one of the hottest days of the season yet and it was INTENSE, but more than ever, everyone came together to support each other and make sure everyone finished. While it was one of the toughest, I think it was by far one of the best workouts I’ve ever done in my life- and I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have done it alone.

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Oregon Speed Workout

Race weekend rolled around and Nike pulled out all the stops! There were NTC classes being taught on a floating studio (a floating studio!!) on the harbor and an amazing Nike Women village was set up. There was so much hype and I had the chance to meet so many amazing women who had travelled from all over the world and workout with different Nike master trainers. It was so incredible to see so many like-minded people come together and encourage each other for the purpose of fitness. The day before the race, I participated in a 3km shake-out run. As we ran the last little bit and entered the Nike village, there were tons of cheering and such a strong sense of camaraderie. While I ran a half marathon last fall, when I started training for the 15k, I honestly wasn’t sure if I could run that far by the time June rolled around. Yet on that Saturday morning as we ran into the Nike Women’s village, I felt like I could do anything.

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Hanging out in the Nike Village post shake-out run

Sunday June 14 rolled around after a restless night of no sleep. I departed for the island at 7:00am with my best friend and running pal and an old friend from University who travelled all the way from Alberta to run with us. We waiting anxiously for things to get started and unfortunately, it started to pour. It was not a pleasant start to the day. Luckily, the rain stopped just as our wave was about to start. Already soaked, I figured that whatever happened, happened.

The race course was fantastic (though a little muddy). I’ve always loved the Islands so to run the total distance of all 3 Islands in one go was pretty unique. The coolest part was that we ran a good 2-3km on the RUNWAY of Billy Bishop Airport. It was amazing to enter the runway and see a sea of peach shirts stretch out across the airport with planes taking off and landing closely by. There are some amazing views of the skyline from the island but the view from the runway was probably the best I’ve ever seen and not something that many get to experience! The course wound back on to Centre Island which is where I started to struggle. One thing I love about bigger, high-profile events like these is the amount of spectators they attract. Running through the crowds on Centre Island really kept me going when I really wanted to stop.

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This wall was in the Nike Village and was then moved to the course. Pretty neat to see my own words of inspiration on route and everyone else’s encouraging words.

Shortly after, we ran by a gospel choir singing outside of a tiny church which was pretty neat! We then made our way to my favourite part of the Island- Ward’s island. If you’ve never been there – it’s worth taking a trip! It is so neat to see the houses and the small community that lives on the island year round! Again, I was really struggling here, but there were quite a few small children watching the runners go by handing out free high fives, so adorable and all the motivation I needed! I really hope that kids like that take something from watching such a big race and are inspired to get out there and run as they grow. The last stretch of the race went along the north part of Ward’s island; A boardwalk with awesome lake views. This part of the race was TOUGH but the signs that Nike had plastered along the way were a great source of inspiration. I was in some serious pain at this point when I noticed a sign that said something along the lines of “If your mind is screaming at you to stop, scream back louder” and I actually did try and roar out loud- not much came out though. Near the end, my favourite cheer squad was waiting to push people to the finish line. The Parkdale road runners always seem like such a fun and great group of people. NO ONE cheers like they do. I really wish I lived further west so it was easier to come run with your crew! I see them at pretty much every race and they always help me get through that last bit.

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So close to the end and struggling!

All in all, it wasn’t my greatest race timing wise. I was lacking energy and my calves were giving me a lot of trouble. I felt pretty down at the end because I really wanted to do better. In retrospect, there were a few things I wish I had done differently. I really wish I would have removed my negative attitude and just focused on running and finishing such an amazing race. I wish I had taken time to soak up the experience. I didn’t stop and take any pictures on the runway and I’m kicking myself for that because it was so cool! I think that I often forget (in running and life) to remind myself to stop and smell the flowers and really enjoy the moment. However, it truly was an incredible weekend and I can’t change it now!

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Wish this picture truly captured what it was like to run on a runway!

The most amazing thing was not finishing the race, or running on the airport runway or participating in classes on a floating barge. The most amazing part was being part of such a big movement and community. It was watching my friend who has never raced before finish a 15k race after only a few months of training. It was about talking to a new runner on speed night who had never run anything beyond 3k and didn’t think they could finish the workout (they always did). It was about going on training runs and seeing people run 1km further  they had before- or 2 or 3. It was about running with the sexy pace week after week and talking to the amazing women I met- most of whom were either new to running, or just like me. It was seeing these women stick with it and push themselves, turning the words “I can’t” into “I did”. We may not have been an overly loud or impressive group, but we did it and we are certainly #betterforit

For more information on all the amazing free events you can sign up for, head on over to the Nike Toronto page.

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An important reminder of what it really is all about

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3 happy finishers

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Fin.

Getting Back Into It

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Happy 2015! January is not always the greatest month is it? It is sometimes hard to come down from the holidays and get back into the swing of things, especially with going back to work, extra cold weather (sans pretty lights), a few extra holiday pounds and some Christmas debt. Couple that with the often high expectations we place on ourselves to go after some big resolutions and we often end up feeling a little let down by January. Oh January. *sigh* I guess there are some perks to January though. For one, it’s my birthday month (yay!), secondly, the days are only getting longer at this point, and thirdly, setting those resolutions is a great way to reflect on what we want to work on within ourselves.

I’m here to tell you to that it’s okay to reflect on what we want to change. However, I think we can all benefit from avoiding unrealistic and quantifiable goals that put high amounts of pressure on us as human beings. Yes, I do know that creating measurable goals is an important way to make sure you achieve them (S.M.A.R.T. goal setting anyone?). When considering New Years resolutions however, we often focus on the very big picture and forget about, well, life.

I studied a lot about goal setting as an undergraduate (I even wrote my thesis on it) and one thing that I did learn was that being committed to a goal will definitely help you get there. Ask yourself, why do I want this? What will it take for me to reach it? Is this attainable? Think about what is is that you want from your goal, the meaning behind it all. You want to lose weight? As yourself, deep down, why? Hold on to that as you work your way towards your goal, remind yourself of it, repeat it to yourself.

I also learned that if a goal is challenging you are more likely to succeed. This one is simple to me, if it’s easy, why would you do it? However, we also have to remember here, if it’s too challenging, you won’t do it either. It has to be challenging enough to spark your desire to achieve but not so hard that you are bound to fail. This is where I think it’s important to let go of those big quantifiable goals. I think we can easily get caught up in a goal that is too challenging and then feel like we are letting ourselves down and give up. Measuring your goals works, but keep those measurable parts of it in smaller pieces that you know you can reach. It is much more scary to say “I’m going to loose 25 pounds this year” than it is to say “I’m going to try and lose 2 pounds every month”

I myself, have been trying to practice this. After I ran the half marathon in the fall I told myself “in 2015 I am going to run Around the Bay in 2:40 and a full marathon in under 4:00”. But life has happened. I had a very stressful job for a few months where I worked alone on a very big project, I fell off the bandwagon of running regularly. I started feeling bad for myself and these goals slipped away.

As December came to an end, I asked myself “why did I set these goals?” Was it for bragging rights? no. So why did the times matter so much to me? I decided to cut myself some slack, I am just human. As the New Year rolled around, I thought of a way rephrase these resolutions. I told myself, I will run these races, and I will do the best I can. I want to do this because they are both a challenge to me, I will have to work hard towards them, and I want to achieve them, all the while getting back in healthy running shape and feeling better emotionally.

“Do the best I can” stuck with me as New Year’s Eve approached. I was already two weeks behind in training for Around the Bay, but I figured if I ever was going to reach that goal, I needed to break it down into smaller measurable bits, not huge unrealistic big picture goals. “I am going for a run so I can see how my body feels training in the cold” was my goal for that week. And I did just that, I laced up my sneakers and went for a run in -14 degree weather. And it felt good (sort of) because I did that small thing, and kept that “why?” in my head the entire time instead of the “I’m going to run ATB in 2:40”

Saying goodbye to 2014!

Saying goodbye to 2014!

January has been an interesting month for me. My contract ended in December and I have found myself with a lot of free time. It has been really nice to spend the time cooking healthy recipes, really thinking about what job I’d like to do next, networking, wedding planning and just generally being able to enjoy my time. It has also been a great time to reflect on what I want to do this year. I have really spent some time thinking about that “do my best” revelation that came to me in December. I am learning each day to let that into my life.

My mom is a teacher and the picture of the mug at the top is a gift that I gave to her because of this story:

“My daughter gave me this cup as a Christmas gift. Seemingly I say this a lot. This is my motto, this is what I try to live each day. She also mentioned my “story” of doing your best. In my kindergarten writing workshop lessons I do a lesson on doing your best, not giving up, not doing something else because you can’t do something very well, just give it your all and do your best, even if it is not perfect. I model the lesson and try to draw a picture of the story I want to write about. I can’t draw. A few years ago I had a wonderful E.A., come into my classroom to work with a small group of children who had difficulties working in a large space with many children. When I saw the pictures she drew for them I was wowed with her talent and told her that I couldn’t draw. She said to me, “Yes, I know. The students told me you do your best”. I love that story because it means the children learned their lesson they also learned that we are all not perfect, even their teacher, but we can still do our best.”

While I am trying to get back into a healthy routine of running and eating well, I am trying to keep this all in mind. Running has been difficult with this bitter cold. Today I got out for a tempo run and couldn’t run at my tempo pace at all. I nearly burst into tears on the sidewalk because I was so frustrated. Once I finally found my pace, I hit a few big patches of ice and kept having to stop and walk. I took a deep breath and told myself “it’s okay, I am just going to try my best here today”. Tomorrow may be better, it may be worse, but I set a goal to run a race and I will run that race and I will do the best I can. It’s all about being adaptable and allowing yourself to be human.

As you too are getting back into this January, just remind yourself to do your best.

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Chilly but beautiful run today

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!?

Sweden for the Win (Again!)

Sweden is a very admirable country from a Wellness stand point. They are ON TOP of their game. With their great public health care, 6 weeks vacation, amazing child care and great social services it is no wonder those Swedes are so damn good-looking (not to mention they play great hockey, make amazing furniture and delicious meat balls). They just look calm, don’t they? Today I read an article about a city in Sweden where bikes are being given to citizens if they promise to drive less. GENIUS!  This once again proves that Sweden is amazing (disclaimer: I’m obsessed with Sweden). Not only is this a great way to promote physical activity and active commuting (win!) but an incredible way to take care of our environment (double win!)  

I tried to imagine such a scenario in Toronto. Currently, I cringe just about every time I see a cyclist downtown. Driving downtown is scary enough, but I fear for cyclists! Big shout out to those who commute in Toronto by bicycle, you are brave souls!! Toronto is such a driving city which is a huge shame. But just imagine it for a second, free bikes to those who leave their car at home. Obviously we would need to do something about the lack of bike lanes but if our city planners planned for a greener city that supports active commuting, I can picture it. It’s a beautiful image isn’t it?

What is so different about the way things are done over there? Why do people seem more willing to accept these things?

Just my thoughts for the night. And more time, HIGH FIVE SWEDEN!

Tales from a sort-of runner

Hi Everyone,

I just wanted to write a short anecdote about my recent running experience! Let me start with this disclaimer, I have never been a runner, and I still don’t entirely consider myself a runner now. I have never been able to run fast (and I still can’t) and it has taken me a long time to realize that it is not about the speed. I will let you know something embarrassing – I used to be picked last in gym class. I wish I could say it didn’t matter to me, but that’s something that actually stuck with me for a long time. I’m not sure if it was all about athletic ability or maybe popularity or a combination of both, but the label of “not athletic” stuck, especially when it came to my self-confidence. I am sure that a lot of that shame was in my head, I don’t even know for sure if it happened more than once. My friends from that time may not even remember, but that message, while damaging, has also been a great source of motivation on my journey towards health and wellness. 

Running has always been something I have struggled with. I am not kidding when I say that before I actually started training, I could barely run three minutes without stopping. It is still something I struggle with, I don’t ever feel comfortable while running. When I was in University, I had a fitness instructor who always said “make the uncomfortable you’re comfortable” and I think that is an accurate way to describe my current relationship with running. Somehow, I have just found the ability to keep pushing and not give up. Obviously this has become somewhat easier as I train and increase my distance, but it’s never easy. Running is very, very mental, and it hurts. The satisfaction I get when finishing a run however, makes it all worth it. 

What I love about running:

It’s free!

You can do it outside!

Anyone can do it! 

You don’t need any equipment!

It’s a mental workout!

You don’t need a coach!

You can go run at any time of the day!

 

Back in January I decided I was going to run my first ever 10k. Up until 3 weeks before the race, I didn’t think I could run the distance. Until I just did. Now, the distance isn’t daunting. I really want to inspire anyone who thinks that they can’t run. Believe me when I say, I was you, 4 months ago. It was a slow process, but slowly, I worked my way up, and somehow, I did it. I used this running plan, and it was amazing and easy to follow. 

The day of the race I woke up at 5:30am, nervous and excited. The day to prove myself was here. The Sporting Life 10k is a relatively easy course, and approximately 27,000 people participate each year, making it one of the biggest in North America. The course goes right down Yonge Street, Toronto’s busiest, and it is neat to see the whole street packed with runners. The environment was awesome and there was so much energy in the air. My fiancé and I started in the 4th wave, and at 8:40am, we were off! We flew through the first 5k (it is mostly downhill) and I recorded a personal best 5k time, under 30 minutes! However, things got a little more challenging after that. It was hot, and I had been used to training in cooler weather. I started to struggle around 7k and had to take a 30 second walk break, and then another again at 9k. Once I reached that point, I knew the end was near and gave it my all. We sprinted the last 500m and man did it feel amazing to cross that finish line, beating my personal best time by 2 minutes! There were so many spectators cheering us on which really helped. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to do it again next year (hopefully even faster!)

Where does this leave me now? Well, my head is feeling pretty big, and I figure if I can run 10k, I can probably run 21k right? Yikes…

So there it is, I’m going to do it, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront half marathon on October 19. I might be crazy, but in the end, the race is only with myself, and it is all about finishing to the best of my ability. Plus, it sure does feel nice to say “HA!” to that voice in my head reminding me I was picked last in gym class. 

You can do it too, lace up your sneakers and get moving! Whether your goal is a half marathon, 10k, 5k or running 1k without stopping, it is possible if you set your mind to it, I promise.

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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.