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I love cookbooks. New recipes, crisp pictures, fun ingredient ideas: a new cookbook opens up a new world. I get excited for cookbooks the way others get excited for clothes or shoes — I see a new one on the market and I simply HAVE TO HAVE IT. For many months I've been getting increasingly excited about the release of a cookbook written by four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan and chef/food writer/nutrition educator/runner/mother Elyse Kopecky called RUN FAST. EAT SLOW. After all my anticipation, the book was released in August and I finally got my hands on a copy last night during a talk the authors gave at Powell's at Cedar Hill Crossing.
I'm excited to get cracking on some of the recipes, but before I do I already know I love this book. How do I know this? Shalane and Elyse have a food philosophy that aligns perfectly with my own. They may eat a lot more meat (they are particularly big fans of bison) and their athletic training may be way more elite than mine, but we still share some very similar ideas about food.
Particularly in this country and especially as women, so much of what we're taught about nutrition is bonkers. By focusing so much on avoiding fat, counting calories, and restricting ourselves, food is stripped of both flavor and fun. Restrictive eating leads to hunger which leads to binging which leads to restrictive eating which leads to hunger which leads to binging. Nowhere in that cycle is there room for enjoyment or adequate nutrition. For many years now I've believed — and KNOWN! — that there's a better way. In reading their book, I can see that Shalane and Elyse believe this too.
Their food philosophy is all about "indulgent noursishment." They believe that eating real food and not obsessing over calorie counts or micronutrients leads to optimal body function and satisfaction. We all have the ability to tune into the needs of our own bodies, but some of us have been conditioned for years to participate in diets and other restrictive styles of eating. We've lost sight of the power of our own bodies and minds.
I try hard never to turn food into a moral argument but the fact always remains that I DON'T FEEL GOOD when I eat processed foods or when I skip meals or when I let myself get so hungry that I'm willing to eat whatever is set in front of me. I feel good when I eat whole, real food. I feel nourished. I feel happy. Eating a real meal does not make me want to turn around and eat a bag of potato chips. Eating a bag of potato chips makes me want to turn around and eat a bag of potato chips. Eating real food — the kind that is prepared with fresh ingredients, contains substantial calories, and actually tastes good — is the bridge for everything for me. It's the bridge to a good mood. It's the bridge to a good run. It's the bridge to less stress and higher contentment. There is simply nothing in this world that can or will make me feel better than a healthy, home-cooked meal shared with someone I love.
In this cookbook, Shalane and Elyse are not messing around. They do not shy away from healthy fats, which are both flavor and nutrient carriers. We've been so conditioned to be so scared of certain types of foods (like foods with real fat) while encouraged to flock to the very foods that will leave us less satisfied and more unhealthy (like low-fat foods pumped with extra sugar). These elite athletes are here to put a stop to this madness and I could not be any more on board.
I'll be trying recipes in the coming weeks and letting you know what I think, but for now I'm just pleased that a book like this even exists. At their talk they said this is the first book geared toward runners that doesn't contain calorie counts, which I find astounding. As someone who refuses to count calories and/or weigh myself* I think this is such a positive step toward establishing healthier food habits for so many people. In my opinion food is meant to be lovingly prepared and happily devoured. When a food relationship is all about trying to look a certain way or be a certain weight, life can get pretty miserable. I have no interest in a miserable life and every interest in loving the food I eat and the body I'm in.
*You don't weigh yourself?! How do you know how much you've gained in your pregnancy? I don't! And I also don't think it's important that I do know. I get weighed at every single doctor's appointment and I know they'll let me know if there's ever an issue. Otherwise, what difference does it make? Keeping active and eating healthfully have been my main goals throughout this pregnancy and as long as I'm sticking to that, I think that's all that matters.
But what about losing the weight after the baby is born?! Before I was pregnant, I thought this would be a concern. The more pregnant I get, the less I care. I want my baby to be healthy and I want to keep myself healthy and the rest just doesn't seem that significant to me. My body will look the way it looks. I will continue to focus on being active and eating healthy and my body can either follow suit or not. I'm much more interested in providing a healthy life for my child. I think the best place for me to start is to introduce healthy food habits early. I don't anticipate my kid caring about how soft my stomach is. I do anticipate my kid caring about whether or not the food I'm serving is delicious and satisfying.
Life is crazy enough without making ourselves crazy about food, too. I say: eat real, good food and enjoy every bite. Then get outside for a run (or walk or whatever your preferred mode of activity is) and enjoy that, too. We're humans. We're alive. We're allowed to enjoy ourselves and it's totally possible to do just that while living a healthy life at the same time.
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Sometimes I think people get the wrong impression of me when they find out I've kept up my running (somewhat and so far) throughout my pregnancy. I've been called everything from badass to hardcore to unstoppable, but none of these descriptors ring true for me. The truth as I see it is that there is one reason and one reason only why I've been able to complete so many half marathons during pregnancy. That reason? I was already regularly completing half marathons before pregnancy. I was already in the physical condition necessary to drag my body over 13.1 miles.
There's nothing I've done during pregnancy to increase my strength or stamina in that regard. Every single week, I've run a little less and a little slower than the week before. During some runs I stop and walk entirely. Other days I skip the run to take a nap instead.
Do I think my routine was pretty badass and hardcore before pregnancy? Absolutely. That's how I was able to break a 1:45 half marathon PR. But since I've been pregnant? I've been in maintenance mode. I have dramatically scaled back the amount of time and effort I devote to running. It may seem impressive to some that I'm still getting out there, but I firmly believe the ONLY reason I'm able to do so is because I worked so hard for an entire year prior to getting pregnant.
Here are a few things I used to do regularly that I no longer do now: Run fast. Lift weights. Do ab exercises. Do HIIT training. Run on an incline. Go outside and run 10 miles just because I know I can and I like to move my body. I don't do these things anymore. I certainly planned to continue lifting light weights throughout my pregnancy, but I just haven't had the energy. I planned on running more throughout the week, but I don't have it in me. I can complete half marathons still because the muscle memory is there and because I run JUST ENOUGH to not lose my base level of fitness. For the most part, though, I'm not running a lot anymore.
I'm not saying any of this to disparage myself and try to convince you that running a half marathon while pregnant is nothing. I'm just saying that the reason why I'm still able to carry my pregnant body across finish lines is because I worked my ass off and then some for the year prior to getting pregnant. It's just as simple as that. I worked harder than I've ever worked and thanks to that, I'm still reaping some benefits despite the fact that I've slowed down a lot.
One of the first things I did when I found out I was pregnant was go out and run 16 miles. My body was in the perfect shape to do it and I knew that wouldn't be the case for long. I wanted a super long run so I could navigate and process all the complex emotions I was going through: I was so excited, so happy, so nervous. Until then my longest run was 15 miles, but I knew I had it in me. I had to take advantage of my body's capabilities while they were still available to me.
Could I go out and run 16 miles today? No way. I can still push myself through 13.1 miles in a race setting but as far as runs I do on my own, the energy level is just not there. To me this is the most interesting thing about people finding out I run half marathons while pregnant: they act like I'm out being superhuman but meanwhile most days, I'm home taking a 4-hour nap. To repeat: most days, I'm home taking a 4-hour nap. There's very little that feels superhuman about that.
At this point in my pregnancy, I'm no longer a hardcore runner. My runs include walking breaks, pee breaks, food breaks, water breaks, and Let's Cut This One Short Today, I'm Not Feeling It breaks. It's important to me to try and maintain as much of an active lifestyle as possible despite wanting to spend my days napping and snacking, so what do I do? This is what I do.
I walk a lot.
I take a weekly prenatal yoga class.
When inspired, I do push-ups against the wall, tricep dips on the coffee table, and squats and lunges in the living room.
I run, but much less frequently.
I walk up hills.
I park far away.
I take the stairs.
I walk around the neighborhood. I walk the aisles of grocery stores. I walk up to Mt. Tabor. I walk.
I have a few gentle prenatal workout videos.
Here's what else I do:
I rest. I sleep. I drink a lot of water. I make sure I'm eating plenty of calories. I listen to my baby and my body and cut workouts short when I don't have the right energy level. I avoid working out outside when the temperatures are too hot. I give myself a break because I'm growing a human and that counts for something.
This is why I feel a little strange when people act like the half marathons are some sort of HUGE accomplishment. It's not that I'm not proud of them — I am. I just don't want to give the wrong impression. Guys, I am telling you: when it comes to working out, I truly don't do that much these days. I don't have the energy to carry myself through long workouts. I adore my prenatal yoga class, which challenges my muscles but also feels a bit like a glorified nap. I love strolling around my neighborhood. On the days when I do feel like I have the energy, I love going for short runs. About once a month, I love completing a half marathon. For the most part, though, when it comes to my life day in and day out: I'm resting. I'm sleeping. I'm working. I'm in my robe on the couch. There is nothing badass to see here.
And right now, I think that's totally okay.
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I fell today. This is the third time I've fallen running in a period of nine years. The first was about two weeks before my best friend's wedding, when I was all set to walk down the aisle as a bridesmaid. My twisted ankle was swollen and painful for a long time, but somehow magically felt fine on the big day. The second time I fell was about a week before my own wedding. I scratched myself up but didn't experience any major injuries. You can see a scab on my elbow if you look closely in my wedding photos, but other than that everything was fine.
Today was my scariest fall because it was the first time I fell with a baby on board. The injuries to my own body are obvious from the picture above: I really scraped up my elbows and hand. The skin is raw and painful and because the knee injuries hit right where my knees bend, walking today has been a bit of a challenge. But obviously I wasn't thinking about any of that when I picked myself up and dusted off. Obviously I was worried about the baby.
In talking to a nurse at my doctor's office, I've learned there are a lot of good signs to my fall. First, the heavy scrapes on my knees and hand mean that I braced myself somewhat and therefore my belly didn't absorb all the impact. Secondly, I haven't experienced any scary symptoms like cramping or bleeding. Finally, I'm still feeling movement from my little one inside my belly. Tracking this movement has been difficult because I've only felt sporadic movements up until this point, but I am very happy to report that since the fall I have felt a few more sporadic movements today. Thanks to a lot of amniotic fluid and the still-small size of my baby at 24 weeks, my nurse (in consultation with my doctor) feels confident that the baby is okay.
That news is wonderful, but it was still a terrifying experience. The irony is not lost on me that in trying to stay active and do something healthy for my baby, I ultimately put my baby in danger by losing my footing. As much as I try to eat healthy foods and use healthy products, I know I'm still ingesting things in the environment that have the potential to be toxic. There's no such thing as control here. (Side note: I've never considered myself someone who felt like she *had* to be in control, but when it comes to the health and safety of my baby it's true I want to control as much as possible.) But in the end, it doesn't matter how obsessed I am about avoiding certain ingredients or getting regular exercise or trying to put my best foot forward for the little cupcake in my oven. Sometimes my best foot forward trips on gravel and knocks me down in the dust.
I know this is only a preview of what's to come — there will be so many scenarios beyond my control when we're raising a child. But with the child still in my body, I'd like to think I can keep things as healthy and safe as possible. When I can't do that, I feel a little defeated.
But what matters is this: The baby is moving. I am not experiencing any scary symptoms. I think I shook both of us up a little today, but from the outside it seems we're both okay. As for me, I won't be attempting to run again until I'm fully healed. And even then, I think I'll get myself to a park or somewhere with softer trails and take it super easy. I love running and I think the running I've done until this point has benefited my baby, but as always I'll listen to my body and do what seems best for my little running buddy.
Until then, Baby and I are resting with feet propped, ice pack on, and everything erased from the to-do list for the rest of the day.
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In the years before I became pregnant, running became a huge part of my life. It was my go-to source of stress relief as well as my favorite physical activity. I've never been very sporty or athletically inclined, but in running I didn't have to be either. I just needed to put one foot in front of the other. In the year 2015, I ran a race every month, ranging from 5Ks to a half marathon. For 2016, I had two goals: to continue running a race a month for as long as I could, and to get pregnant. I knew that if I achieved both goals, they would cross over at some point and play into each other. So far this year I've run seven half marathons — one for each month — and five of them have been with a baby on board. I'm planning on running a few more, and then I'm planning on taking the last few months of the year off. I may do some light running during that time, but I definitely won't be racing.
Before getting pregnant, I sought out a doctor who would support me with both my baby and my running goals. I was lucky to find someone I relate to and feel very comfortable around; I feel confident having her as my doctor and I think she understands me and what's important to me in a way that not everyone does. She ran throughout her pregnancies, so I knew she would support me during mine.
Pregnant running is vastly different from non-pregnant running. The goal is no longer speed. My pace has slowed dramatically and it continues to slow each month. I'm also not able to attack certain obstacles (specifically hills) in the same way, or often at all. I never shied from a hill before I was pregnant, but now I slow to a walk every time I encounter one. I don't want to get my heart rate too elevated, I don't want to get overheated, and I don't want to get breathless. This means that I'm going slower (sometimes completely slowing to a walk), I'm skipping the hills, and I'm taking everything at a much easier pace.
An unexpected side effect of all of this is that during pregnancy, running has actually become more fun. I'm no longer chasing any time goals, so I'm free to go out and just enjoy my runs. Whereas before I would become frustrated if I got tired during a run, now I just slow down, guzzle my water, take in my surroundings, and enjoy the fact that I'm out in the open air. I don't even pay attention to my pace anymore. I stop a lot during my runs to pee. Sometimes I'll stop in the middle of a run and have a snack. I've changed my routes to stick to flatter terrain. During my pregnancy runs, I've noticed more in my neighborhood than I ever did before. Now that I've slowed down, I see more.
Another benefit during my first trimester was that running helped to quell my nausea. There were a few days when I felt too sick to go out, but once I finally got out there I felt so much better. Running has helped me to keep in touch with my pregnant body. I haven't been able to easily maintain strength training or some other forms of physical activity throughout pregnancy, but walking and running are movements I've been able to keep up.
So why run half marathons while pregnant? First reason: I signed up for the races before I was pregnant. Secondly, why not? I was in strong enough condition to run frequent half marathons before I was pregnant and I wanted to maintain that level of fitness for as long as I could. So far, it's been doable. Each of my five pregnant half marathons has been a little slower than the last and I know they'll just get slower, eventually getting too difficult to keep up.
If I could do it again, I'd probably focus more on slower distances like 5Ks and 10Ks. But I have no regrets about the half marathons I've run. I'm proud of all this baby and I have accomplished together. I'm excited to see what we can continue to do. And I'm thankful that my stress level throughout pregnancy has been manageable thanks to our regular runs.
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My darling husband Mike and I are so excited to be adding a new member to our family in November. We can't wait to meet our little cupcake and in the meantime, we've been learning a lot about pregnancy. If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that the way I envisioned my pregnancy and the way it's actually playing out are unbelievably different. If there's two things I know for sure, it's that this is okay.
I could not have anticipated how tired I would feel. I had this vision of pregnancy as this time when I would be motivated to sit down and write a book and attack my household chores and prep healthy meals and be full of endless excitement and energy all day, every day. It was like that, just like that, for a few weeks. But then the fatigue hit. Then the nausea followed. Then I realized there would be days when the single most productive thing I'd do all day was finish a writing assignment for work while reclined on the couch in between naps. I realized there would be days when I'd never change out of my robe. There would be days when I wouldn't make it out of the house. There would be days when I'd settle onto the couch to take "a 20-minute nap" only to wake up from a dead sleep five hours later. There would be days when I wouldn't write at all. There would be days when I would not work out. There would be days when I would not make it to the store or muster up the energy to fix a healthy meal. There would be days when I would eat chips and days when I would eat ice cream and days when I would go back to bed after my husband left for work and not wake up again until the afternoon. There would be days when a walk around the block was all I could handle. There would be days when I'd say, "Pizza? Absolutely. No way I'm cooking tonight." There would be days when I would throw up my breakfast and days when, no matter how exciting the prospect of our impending little one was, I simply could not work up the energy to feel joyful.
There were other days, too. Days when I did get dressed. When I did get more than just the bare minimum of work requirements done. Days when I ran half marathons. Days when I put together healthy feasts and cleaned the house and ran errands and felt like a productive member of society. I feel like what I've experienced in pregnancy is such a small preview of what's to come with my child: there are going to be such good days and such bad days and so, so many days in between.
I'm not having a picture-perfect pregnancy, but I've seen enough turbulent and even life-threatening pregnancies to know I'm lucky. Am I enjoying every second of it? No, and anyone who says that didn't experience nausea or exhaustion. But I'm enjoying most of it. And though it's taken me awhile to get here, I'm finally to the point where I'm excited to share my experience.
As a longtime vegetarian, one fear I had was that I'd crave meat during pregnancy. For the record, if this had happened, I would have eaten meat. I'm not depriving my baby of anything. Instead, the opposite happened. During most of my first trimester, my aversion to eggs and dairy products was so strong I had to avoid them almost entirely. This is how I found myself becoming a Mostly Vegan. On the rare days when the thought of eggs or cheese didn't make me want to throw up, I absolutely took advantage and got myself an omelette or grilled cheese. Most days, though, my body just wasn't having it. So I listened.
The egg/dairy aversion lifted in my second trimester and I've been incorporating (small amounts of) eggs and dairy back into my diet. I've realized that I actually do like to limit my intake because the difference in how I feel when I eat a lot of it versus none is substantial. Most days I have either a small amount or none. Some days (I'm looking at you, Saturday) I have pizza AND nachos AND an ice cream sandwich. And then I wake up the next day and remember why Iife is more fun for me when I don't eat like that. In the end, it all balances out.
The first eight or so weeks of my pregnancy were somewhat breezy. I was tired but I didn't have any nausea and I had enough energy to more or less keep up with my regular workouts. Weeks 9 - 14 or so were more hellish. This was when I discovered that those cute late-night ice cream cravings pregnant women are always having in movies and commercials are B.S. A pregnancy craving is not "Oh my gosh, I just have to have some ice cream RIGHT NOW and I'll send my husband out to get some even though it's 3 a.m. because it just sounds SO GOOD!" A pregnancy craving is "There is literally one food and one food only that I can think about and not want to throw up, so I will do whatever it takes to get that food." For me that food was always something super salty like sour cream and onion chips or Wheat Thins, which was super bizarre for me because before pregnancy, I rarely used even a pinch of salt when cooking. Salt was just not my thing. In pregnancy, salt is SO my thing.
Before I was pregnant, I was running 150 miles a month, six days a week, at a sub-8-minute mile. Now I'm running about 55 miles a month, 2-3 days a week, and I'm creeping up on a 12-minute mile. I knew I'd be running slower and less, but I didn't expect things to decrease this much. What I discovered is that there were a lot of days when my energy level was simply too low to fathom going for a run. On those days I tried to walk instead, but even then there were some days I just had to skip and let myself nap instead. I've long been a proponent of listening to my body and giving it what it needs, but it is only in pregnancy that I've learned just how easy I need to go on myself sometimes. I am simply not willing to push myself for the sake of pushing myself when ever fiber of my being is telling me to rest, rest, rest. I know my body is responding to the needs of my baby — so if my baby needs me to rest, I'm going to rest.
I've been working very hard to supply my baby with an extremely nutritious and balanced diet. Once the nutrient quota for the day is hit, I allow myself treats. I do this often. Why? Because I'm HUNGRY and my baby is hungry and we already ate all the things we're supposed to eat, so now we're going to finish the day with an ice cream sandwich and not feel bad about it. Before I was pregnant, I so rarely ate the kinds of snacks I'm eating now. In the first trimester it was all about chips, crackers, toast, popcorn, and whatever salty morsels I could find. Lately I've been drifting back toward my natural sweet tooth, which means that first and foremost I've been eating a lot of fruit, and beyond that I've been having sweet treats of the ice cream and cookie variety. I try to make my own when I can and stick to cleaner brands when I can't — or occasionally I just go for it with the processed crap. I do. I thought I wouldn't get that stuff anywhere near my baby, but every once in awhile it sounds so good I incorporate a handful and move on with my life. Last night I had frosted animal cookies after eating a vegetable-heavy dinner. Balance, balance, balance.
So far the changes in my body have been both subtle and extraordinary. Pregnancy has a way of making you feel hideous by causing a slew of physical effects simultaneously. It's not just that you're gaining weight. It's that you're gaining weight at the same time your face is breaking out and the same time your hair is getting super dry and the same time your nose won't stop running and the same time your feet and legs are swelling up and the same time you have no energy to do anything, much less put on a cute outfit or do your hair or wear makeup. Huge kudos to the women who say they felt/ feel most beautiful when they're pregnant because that's been a difficult costume for me to wear. I'm not glowing; I'm sweating. My weight gain isn't going exclusively toward an adorable baby bump; my butt and legs and arms are getting bigger, too. I don't feel radiant; I feel tired.
That said, do I get what "they" say about being amazed by your body's capabilities during pregnancy? Yes. I've felt so much of my vanity float away during this process, partly because I'm too damn tired to give that much thought to how I look and partly because I recognize there's something truly magical about what's happening to my body. There is a human growing inside of me! Some nights I catch myself complaining to my husband about how big everything is getting and the fact that I keep breaking out along my jawline and the weird way a lot of clothes look on me right now. He always reminds me that underneath all that surface bullshit, our baby is living and growing inside of me. So maybe I don't feel my cutest right now, but maybe feeling cute is so beside the point anyway.
Would I trade this body for anything? No. There's a little cupcake baking in this oven and the bigger that cupcake gets, the less I care about the state of the kitchen. Let there be flour on the counters and batter on the floor. I can clean things up after this cupcake is born. Or I can not clean things up, and focus my energy elsewhere. Either way, there will be time. Right now I have more important things to worry about.
I wrote another article for Verily. This one is about the benefits of sometimes scaling back on workouts instead of always pushing forward. Read the article here: 5 Reasons It Might Be Time To Start Working Out Less.
If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.
I grabbed the photo above from the Women's Running Instagram page. It summarizes my current life well.
Here are the topic titles I originally bounced around for the post:
Not Feeling It
I've been a little low on the mojo front lately. This isn't to say I haven't been taking care of myself, but I've been pretty exhausted and a little burnt out. As a result, I've had to let a few things go. This is one of those things that happens in life sometimes. My work load has been bigger these past few months, which is not something I want to complain about but definitely something I've had to factor into my schedule. Last night I did something I haven't done in a LONG time: stayed up working on a deadline. It was a nice reminder that I am not in college anymore and I do not enjoy staying up past a certain hour at my age.
So what's to be done when we hit a lackluster slump? To me, a loss of mojo always signifies that it's time to go back to the basics: basic meals, basic workouts, basic schedule. I know myself well and I know there are times when my energy goes through the roof; during those times I can make multiple-course meals and conquer new workout routines and load up my days with to-dos. During slumps, though, I know it's more beneficial for me to keep it simple. One-pot meals. Walks in the sunshine. Lots of self-forgiveness because I know I'm operating at a lower level than I normally do, and I also know that's okay.
And maybe that's the most important piece of all of this: to recognize where I am right now, to accept what my body and mind is capable of right now, to make the modifications I need to make right now, and to feel completely okay about not being an absolute badass at the moment. I don't need to be an absolute badass all the time. I'm allowed to be a softer person when that's what I need to do.
Right now, that's what I need to do. I'm fixing myself healthy meals. I'm going for light runs. I'm doing significantly less strength training than I normally do. I'm napping significantly more. I'm working a lot. I'm letting some daily household to-dos slide. Normally when the sun comes out, that's my time to thrive after a long winter fighting against Portland's darkness and rain. This year, it's working out a little differently. This year, this is my time to be a little more tired and to take it a little more easy. This is my time to listen to what I need — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. And what I need right now is pretty basic: I need to eat good, nutritional food. I need to move my body. I need to get enough rest. I need to meet all my work deadlines. And the rest? The rest has a way of working itself out, especially since I happen to be married to the most helpful and supportive person on this planet.
So I'm covered. I'm doing what I need to do for me right now. I know my energy will return again and I know it's okay that I'm a little low-energy right now. I think the important thing for anyone going through an energy slump is to continue taking care of yourself in whatever way you can. And always, always be nice to yourself. You're no less awesome when you're a sleep zombie than you are when you're a half marathoner. Embrace it all.
I have another piece over at Verily. This one's about losing weight without trying to lose weight by focusing on eating real foods, moving my body in ways I enjoy, and having fun. Here's the link: 7 Tricks That Helped Me Lose Weight Without Trying.
If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.
This piece from Women's Running by NYC Running Mama resonated with me. NYC Running Mama (real name: Michele Gonzalez) talks about how she used to live by the "No Excuses" mantra when it came to running and training.
This mantra gained traction several years ago when the self-proclaimed "No Excuse Mom" posted a picture of herself looking extremely toned and fit while three small children clung to her. The caption for the picture was "What's your excuse?" and the implication was that if a busy mom of three could find the time to work out and achieve that body, surely anyone could do it.
This is a common refrain in the fitness community. We're often reminded that we all have the same number of hours in the day — it's a matter of how we choose to prioritize them. And for some people, workouts always win. No matter how busy a person gets. No matter what else is going on. No excuses.
In her piece, NYC Running Mama talks about an evolution that led to rethinking her "No Excuses" stance and opting instead to forgive herself for missing a run here or there. "The reality is that there are excuses," she says. She goes on to point out that "running is not our job or how we make our living. So sometimes priorities get in the way of training. That is okay. And not only is it okay — it's normal."
I love this. I'm typically the type of person who does prioritize working out, generally making space for it about six times a week. Lately, though, that's had to change. It's had to change because of a shift in my schedule. Due to the amount that's on my plate right now, there's simply no way I can work out six days a week and feel healthy. Other projects are requiring my attention right now. And like NYC Running Mama said, that's okay.
Forcing yourself to work out on top of a crazy schedule can seem like the right thing to do, and some days it is. Some days, though, you just need to give yourself a break. Pushing through can have a detrimental impact not just on your happiness, but on the way you look at your training. "Constantly putting running first may make you physically strong, but you could be worn out or overtrained (mentally) or you may begin to view running as something you have to do. These can impact race performance, even more so than a few missed workouts," says NYC Running Mama.
Indeed. Exercise is an outlet. It's a stress-reliever. It should be something that's looked forward to. If it's not, and if it's instead viewed as something that needs to be forced and squeezed into a jam-packed, stressful day, it becomes the enemy. Something to dread. And then even when you do squeeze it in, you don't enjoy yourself while doing it.
Life is constantly shifting. Pressure ebbs and flows. An insurmountable schedule that presents itself one month eases up the following month. What you don't have time for on Tuesday you might have time for on Thursday. A project that's demanding so much of your attention right now will eventually be completed.
Look at your life. Figure out what your present circumstances are. If you're presently able to take on daily workouts, go for it. That's wonderful. That daily sweat will likely make you a happier person. But if your present life is asking you to take it down a notch, that's okay too. If you become an every-other-day exerciser or if you have to trade some of your runs for walks or if you have to do whatever you need to do to avoid having the rest of your life crash and burn, it's okay.
Don't make excuses every day because then they're just that — excuses. But if you need to take a day off here or there, allow yourself to do just that. If you encounter a "No Excuses" type who judges you for it, let her judge. Anytime someone judges someone, it's more a reflection of what's going on with them than the other person. And with that said, don't judge the "No Excuses" types either. Props to them. Props to anyone who makes exercise a priority despite a hectic schedule. When you encounter these types at the gym, tell them they're doing an awesome job. But you know who else is doing an awesome job? The person juggling her job/ kids/ whatever other responsibilities who makes it to the gym once a week because that's what she can handle right now. Props to her too.
We're all living our lives, making choices, and doing a fine job.
If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.
This past weekend I ran my fourth half marathon of the year.
I'm sure there are lots of people out there who race as often or run as much as I do (and there are of course people who run much more), but I don't know any of them personally. I'm the only person I know who has so far run four half marathons in the four months of 2016. I started thinking about what it means to run this much and what I go through to get to each race day. That's when I realized that running four half marathons in four months is exactly like ... anything else in life. It's challenging. Also, sometimes it's not challenging. Sometimes it's just routine. Running is extremely rewarding some days and borderline heartbreaking other days. Running is boring and exhilarating and everything in between. Running is a place where nothing happens and running is a place where everything happens.
Sometimes running is easy. My legs start moving and I just go. The movement feels effortless. Some days in life feel easy and effortless, too. I move from one project to the next, tick things off my to-do list, and maneuver through my day like it's nothing. I'm thankful for these days but they're not always the most rewarding.
Sometimes running is really, really hard. I never know when a hard day will strike. Some runs are circumstantially difficult: it's a big mileage day or the terrain is hilly or the weather is deplorable. Sometimes, though, a run that would otherwise seem easy and smooth just isn't. This could be a quick, flat, three-mile run around the neighborhood — the type of run that normally feels like nothing but on that day, for whatever reason, feels like the hardest thing ever. Each step seems painfully slow. Instead of feeling breathless toward the end, I start feeling breathless a few minutes in. Each minute that passes feels harder than the last and once I get into that mental space of thinking it's hard, it only gets harder.
Sometimes life is really, really hard. Again, sometimes this is circumstantial. Other times a rough day presents itself out of nowhere and all the tasks that normally seem doable suddenly seem insurmountable. These are the days when accomplishing anything at all, no matter how small, feels like a major victory. I hate these days but I think they're necessary, too.
Sometimes running feels so-so. It's neither easy nor hard. It's neither boring nor electrifying. It's just movement. Nothing inspiring is going to come from these runs but neither is any great defeat. This is a lot like life too. There are days that are just days. There's nothing deep about it. It's just doing one thing and then doing the next. Walking one step and then walking another.
Sometimes running feels deeply demoralizing. I already touched upon the days when running feels difficult, but here I'm talking about the gut-wrenching, soul-shaking, truly difficult days when the only voice that's speaking is the most negative one that lives inside of you. These are the days when you feel like quitting. These are the days when you feel like eating french fries instead of even attempting a run. These are the days when you see the big hill ahead and automatically slow to a walk, no matter how many times you've conquered that hill running before.
There are days like this in life too. These days are often tinged with feelings of grief or disappointment or loneliness. These days have been rare for me in the past several years, which I'm grateful for, but I recognize the similar feelings that come up on occasional runs. Maybe it is residual grief floating through me. Maybe it is life's way of reminding me not everything is sweet.
Sometimes running feels like the only possible answer. There is simply no other way to get where I'm trying to go: both literally and physically getting from Point A to Point B but also getting to a place in my mind that I couldn't access otherwise. This is the place where I find myself solving problems. This is the place where I end up answering the questions that plague me. This is the place where I figure out myself and my life and there is absolutely no way I would get to that place if it weren't for running.
This is the way writing works for me, too. If I were to go through all my days without ever lacing up my running shoes or sitting down at my computer to type out my thoughts, I would be adrift. I know because I've been there. I've gone for periods of time without running or writing and it's quite simply my own personal version of hell. There are parts of my brain I cannot access through daily life. I can't access them through conversation. I can't access them no matter how long I sit, focus, and try to access them. I can access them when I'm writing and I can access them when I'm running. These are the only ways to get there for me. This is why I put up with all the challenging days and so-so days and truly demoralizing days. My release is on the other side of that mountain. I just have to be willing to do all the work of getting over the mountain first.
Today is my "fitversary" which means I've been sticking to a mainly clean diet and working out 4-6 days a week for a year. It all started in 2015 when I decided to start using Fit Girls Guide as a birthday present to myself. I was turning 33 and I wanted to get in the best shape possible for my wedding and hopefully a future pregnancy. My birthday was March 12th and I started the program on March 16th.
I made it a goal to always have fun. I refused to hate, shame, or torment myself. I made foods I enjoyed eating. I found workouts (mainly running) I enjoyed doing. I didn't berate myself for any missteps. I was proud of every small accomplishment.
Clean eating made me feel so much better. I stopped popping antacids all the time. I stopped taking so many naps. I got through my days with more energy than I'd had in years.
I became addicted to the feeling of moving my body. I got in the habit of walking to the grocery store, parking far away on errands, taking the stairs, and adding little bursts of activity (10 push-ups here, 10 squats there) throughout the day.
I drastically reduced the amount of alcohol I consumed. It became rare for me to consume more than two drinks a week. I thought that cutting down on drinking would be so much more difficult than it actually was.
I never tried to lose weight. I focused on eating real, fresh foods and making exercise a regular part of my daily routine.
I became passionate about adapting recipes to make them healthier. I especially enjoyed swapping cleaner ingredients into desserts to make them less sugary.
The more addicted I became to the way clean eating made me feel, the more I wanted to experiment with clean living in general. I began making DIY versions of everything from dish soap and toilet bowl cleaner to face masks and shampoo.
I was more lax about food around the holidays because it was more important to me to spend time with people I love than to obsess over a few cookies.
I'm proud of the changes I've made in my body even when it's not at its leanest. Some weeks I work out like mad and stick to clean eating 95% of the time and have the tight body to show for it. Other weeks my workouts are more relaxed, my eating is more relaxed, and my body is a little softer and more relaxed, too. I love both versions.
Clean eating is a way of life for me. It is my lifestyle. I eat treats here and there and don't feel guilty about it — but generally when I do, I don't feel physically great afterward. Sometimes I have to ask myself if that slice of pizza or cake is really worth the way I'll feel later.
The change in my appearance is nice but the change in my attitude, happiness, and confidence is what I care about most. Exercise made me stronger, empowered me, and showed me that I'm capable of so much more than I thought. Eating well helped me to realize that the way I feel both physically and mentally is within my control. When I eat well, I feel well.
I decided on a whim to give myself the gift of health last year on my birthday. It was the smartest decision I ever made and I'm proud of myself for making it.
That picture up there if of me at my birthday party last year. A lot has changed in 364 days.
Today's my last day as a 33-year-old. For reasons I can't fully clarify, I always thought about turning 33 when I was a child. There was something this particular age that epitomized adulthood to my young brain. I always looked forward to it wistfully. When 33 arrived, I was thrilled. And now, looking back on it a year later, I can assuredly say my 33rd year did not disappoint. In honor of tomorrow's 34th birthday, here are 33 things that happened in my 33rd year.
1.) I traded in a diet full of fake meat, lots of cheese, and tons of pasta and chips for one that focused on clean foods, whole ingredients, and lots of fresh produce, fiber, lean proteins and healthy fats.
2.) I became a person who works out regularly. In years past I've always gone through phases where I'd work out a few weeks or months here or there, but this year I got myself into the routine of legitimately working out 4-6 days a week every week.
3.) I married the love of my life.
4.) I visited Belgium for the first time.
5.) I refocused this blog to showcase my new interest in maintaining a healthy lifestyle through clean eating and fitness.
6.) I received a check from the state of Oregon for over $200 in unclaimed property refunds.
7.) I accidentally shredded said check.
8.) I went to three different bachelorette parties thrown in my honor and spent time with some of my favorite female friends.
9.) I developed a serious passion for running and completed 12 races in 2015 and two races so far in 2016.
10.) I learned how to make cleaner versions of all the foods I love, from cupcakes to cookies to ice cream to macaroni and cheese to lasagna to eggplant parmesan.
11.) I tried trampoline aerobics with my friend Megan.
12.) I tried stand-up paddle boarding with my niece Grace.
13.) I tried indoor rock climbing with my husband Mike.
14.) I spent a relaxing weekend in Bend at a lovely house with a hot tub in the company of my sweetheart thanks to the generosity of a former coworker.
15.) I went from being unable to do even one push-up to being able to bust out 20.
16.) I got legitimately good at doing burpees.
17.) I spent a lot of time writing, working on articles, and babysitting.
18.) I said no to a few invitations I knew were going to absolutely drain me and I did so without guilt.
19.) I spent two different days in two different emergency rooms with two different family members.
20.) I got into the habit of prepping all my meals for the week on Sundays.
21.) I lost 40 pounds.
22.) I mourned the fact that none of my grandparents lived long enough to see me get married.
23.) I didn't get sick once beyond a minor sore throat or case of the sniffles here or there.
24.) I spent a few days in Paris.
25.) I reached the Purple Level on Nike Plus, which translated to 1,553 lifetime running miles.
26.) I gathered with two other families for our 31st or 32nd (we've lost track at this point) annual camping trip.
27.) I watched a lot of Netflix movies while cuddled up on the couch next to my husband.
28.) I made a raw, vegan, gluten-free cheesecake for my husband's birthday that everyone in my family raved about.
29.) I made clean gingerbread cookies for Christmas that nobody in my family really liked.
30.) I published a lot of articles that didn't excite me but paid the bills and several articles I felt genuinely proud of, too.
31.) I'm pretty sure I didn't throw up once, which HAS to be a record for me.
32.) I rode a camel.
33.) I planned a honeymoon to Morocco with my husband and we spent a week having the adventure of a lifetime
I capped off my last day as a 33-year-old with a 16-mile run in the rain and am officially dedicating the rest of the weekend to nothing but relaxation and fun.
This picture is of me last week, enjoying my natural habitat of daily sweat sessions and clean eating. (As a reminder I'm all for everything in moderation, which means I also enjoyed the heck out of all kinds of food this year, including breads, pastries, and sweetened mint tea galore in Morocco. If you never allow yourself to indulge in anything, I think you're holding yourself back from fully enjoying your life.) Here's to another year that will hopefully be healthy, balanced, fun, and productive. And here's hoping I don't accidentally shred any checks next year.
Awhile back on her "Magic Lessons" podcast, Elizabeth Gilbert said something that clicked with me in the moment and stayed with me ever since. She was talking to a photographer who wanted to branch into other creative fields after devoting years to taking photos. The photographer couldn’t figure out why she felt so compelled to move on from something she loved and did well. Elizabeth Gilbert put her finger on it and said “Mastery is boring.”
I was going through a running slump when I first heard this. After running consistently for nearly a year, I’d reached a lot of milestones: completed various races, improved my pacing, experienced increased fitness, etc. Something was starting to creep into my runs that threw me off guard because I hadn’t felt it before.
It was a sense of boredom. I was so tired of the streets in my neighborhood. I was tired of the familiar way my body moved from one mile to the next. I was tired of my worn-out music playlist. I’d hit so many goals (ran a mile under 7 minutes, ran a 5K under 23 minutes, ran a half marathon under 1:47) that I wasn’t sure what I was still working toward. I kept going, day after day, but I was starting to run alongside a little piece of dread.
Then I heard that line: mastery is boring. It made perfect sense to me. It’s not that I’ve mastered the art of running, but I’ve certainly mastered a certain type of running. So if I didn’t want to continue being bored, it was time to incorporate something new.
I’d been putting off hill runs for a while because, well, they’re incredibly challenging. There’s nothing comfortable about them. They force my mind and body into places I don’t necessarily want to go. Also, they slow me down. I can consistently run 7:30-7:45 miles on flat surfaces, but hills have me creeping along at an 8:30-9. Part of me was too proud to tackle something I knew would decrease my overall time so much.
But then I realized that was the whole point: to challenge myself. To push my body in a new way. To shake the feeling of stagnation. If I didn’t want to feel bored anymore, I had to do something that would take me out of my boring routine.
So I started doing hill runs. Big, fat, sweaty hill runs. Hill runs so hard, I had to go at a snail’s pace to tackle them. Hill runs that burned. Hill runs that caused sweat to pour down my face. Hill runs that, once completed, made me feel like a complete badass. I told myself there was only one rule: I could go as slow as I needed to go, but I could not stop running. No matter how big the hill, and no matter how long the run, I had to keep running.
So I ran. I ran slower than I’ve run in a long time. I crept along. I felt like my muscles were screaming. I felt like I might run out of breath. The physical demands prevented me from being able to think about anything else. I could only worry about putting one foot in front of another. Everything else, I knew, would work itself out.
On these runs, I started experiencing something I hadn’t felt in a while: joy. This wasn’t joy from accomplishing something difficult. This wasn’t joy from mastering a goal or winning a race. This was the joy of NOT being good at something but seeing myself get a little better each day. That’s how running was for me in the beginning: I wasn’t in the shape for it, I couldn’t go faster than a 12-minute mile, I always felt breathless, but I just kept going. Eventually, over time, I worked myself down to an 8-minute mile. I got better at breath control. I got better at everything.
And then I got bored.
But I’m not bored now. By incorporating hill runs into my regular routine, I remembered how it felt to push myself and have something to work toward. The best part about hills is knowing I’ll probably never master them. I’ll always have something to strive for. And I won’t be bored in the process.
I stepped up the intensity level for my third week with my Class Pass. (If you're just tuning it, I received a one-month gift certificate for Class Pass from parents-in-law for Christmas and have been putting it to use, focusing on different styles of exercise each week. Class Pass lets you visit multiple gyms and studios for group exercise classes as a way to either try things out or keep things varied.) The first week I used Class Pass, I had a half marathon at the end of the week and therefore focused on slow, gentle yoga classes. The second week, I went for Pilates and barre-style classes. Last week, I went full-on warrior and focused on boot camp/ H.I.I.T training/ kickboxing.
Here's something that may sound slightly insane. As I've been taking these Class Pass classes, I've continued with my regular workout schedule. That means running six days a week and Fit Girls Guide Boot Camp four days a week. When I added in extra yoga or Pilates classes, this wasn't a very big deal. When I added in extremely high-intensity classes, I started to question my sanity. It's not that I wasn't physically capable of handling that amount of exercise (I was happy to discover I was), nor that I wasn't mentally capable of handling the extra stress (I was doubly excited to discover I was), but that I was in no way, shape or form prepared for how EFFING HUNGRY I felt all week long. Mind you, I THOUGHT I was prepared. I added in extra snacks and made sure to get adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. I made sure to keep extra-hydrated by upping my water intake. I went easy on myself when I needed an extra handful of nuts here or a piece of toast with peanut butter and fruit there. But no matter what I did or how much I ate, I was still ravenous. (This is partly thanks to monthly hormonal fluctuations that were coinciding with this week as well.) Three workouts a day, four days a week = NO END IN SIGHT TO MY HUNGER. It got to the point where I felt like I had to eat so much food to compensate, it completely negated the amount of calories I may have burned in the classes. I have no idea how (or why) people work out like that on a regular basis and if I'm ever in that position again, I will definitely lay off my regular workouts and focus exclusively on the group classes.
That said, this was also one of my favorite weeks. I like the gentleness of yoga and Pilates (I'm talking about the style of yoga and Pilates classes I take — I know some yoga and Pilates classes are quite intense but that's not what I'm talking about here) and the gracefulness of a barre class, but after a few weeks of mostly bodyweight and light weight exercises I was really craving some grit. I've reached a physical level where I'm capable of pushing myself more than I ever have in the past and it's fun for me to challenge myself, seeing just how capable this body is.
I like to end a workout drenched in sweat. I like to feel the fatigue in my muscles. I like to end the workout feeling both physically spent and emotionally hyped as a result of all the endorphins spinning around my brain. The classes this week delivered on all fronts.
The titles of my classes said it all: "Bootcamp." "Drench." "S.PA.C.E. (strength, power, agility, core stability, endurance) Camp - Core Stability & Power." "Kickboxing." These are badass titles meant for badass classes. So how did they stack up? I loved them all. They were all extremely challenging but doable and I left each class feeling accomplished. Boot camp was great because it focused on the upper body at a time when my lower body welcomed the break. "Drench" delivered as promised and worked me into a sweaty frenzy. S.P.A.C.E. Camp was an absolute godsend and focused almost exclusively on the hips, which are by far the tightest area of my body thanks to all my running. And kickboxing was like going back home — I did kickboxing regularly about six years ago but had to give it up because I couldn't afford it. Of all the vigorous, intense classes I've been taking lately, I still think kickboxing is hands-down the single best full-body workout. I left that class SPENT. And then I ran seven miles because that's what was up on my running schedule that day. And then I wanted to eat a house.
If I were ever to operate at this level again (and frankly I don't think there's any reason why I should — I stepped things up this particular week because I wanted to take full advantage of a limited-time gift certificate), I will definitely do a lot more research to figure out how to feed myself better when I'm burning that many calories. I'm proud for how much I pushed myself physically and was amazed to discover I had the stamina for these types of workouts (and was double amazed to discover I could do a handstand from the wall, which I didn't even know was possible for me). But the hunger, man. It was intense. If pregnancy hunger is anything like this, I'm considering myself slightly more prepared for if/when that time comes.
But for now: I'm glad my crazy week is over. I miss the rush of the intense classes, but I'm getting my mind straight again with yoga this week. It's my final week using the Class Pass gift certificate and the experience has been incredible. It makes me realize that I don't think I would want to be a member of just one gym at this point in my life. I get bored too easily. Having the opportunity to take completely different kinds of classes at different types of studios from one day to the next has been awesome. If I made more money, Class Pass would be a great option. I'm a frugal girl on a budget, though, so I'm just enjoying it as much as possible while I still have it.
Clean eating is one of those terms that seems like it should be fairly cut-and-dry but often ends up ambiguous. Some people who eat clean are more strident than others (you’ll recognize them from the “NO” and “NEVER” language they use). I’m personally a fan of balance. I think a person can maintain a clean diet the majority of the time and still have indulgent treats now and then without feeling any guilt. I think there are some situations (like Date Night at a gourmet restaurant) when it makes more sense to aim for portion control than for clean foods. And I think that restriction leads to deprivation and deprivation leads to binging, so I’d rather avoid restriction altogether.
This is what clean eating means to me.
When possible, I choose whole, real foods. I am in an ongoing love affair with fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve found joy in making my own versions of things I would have previously bought packaged, like granola bars and soups. In terms of satiation, I know that eating an apple will satisfy me in a way that eating a slice of apple pie never will. Real foods fill me up without making me feel weighed down.
I avoid processed, fried, and fast foods as much as possible. I’ve found there’s a healthy alternative to any food I could possibly crave. Baked sweet potato or carrot fries do it for me in a way that fried white potato fries never did. Ice cream is as simple as blending a banana and adding in some mix-ins.
I aim for unrefined foods (brown rice, quinoa, honey, maple syrup) over refined (white rice, white bread, sugar). There are so many ways to sub in healthy ingredients when cooking or baking. I like to swap butter for avocado, sugar for unsweetened applesauce, and whole wheat flour for white.
I eat protein, carbohydrates and fat (preferably a little of all three at most meals). I won’t let anyone tell me I need to avoid X type of food in order to maintain a healthy weight. I don’t need to avoid ANY type of food. Balance is always my goal.
I refuse to be afraid of food. If I’m hungry, I eat. I wasted too many years stuck in the cycle of believing it was normal to go for hours upon hours without eating. This was always followed by delirious hunger and a desire to eat way too much to compensate. It’s so much easier just to feed my body when it’s hungry and walk away satisfied.
I eat several small meals throughout the day. This is especially important because I work out a lot. I need food for fuel. I need food for recovery. I need food throughout the day.
I drink as much water as I can handle and sip on herbal tea when I want something beyond water but limit my alcohol and coffee intake (I haven’t had any alcohol or coffee in 2016).
I do not count calories or macros. I try to eat as much real food as possible and I also try to honor my hunger. If I’m craving a handful of walnuts, I’m going to eat a handful of walnuts. If I eat a regular portion of food and still feel hungry, I’ll add a piece of fruit. I refuse to obsess over how much I’m eating or burning. I’ve found that by eating a mostly clean, healthy, and normal-portioned diet, everything works itself out without me having to think about it too much.
I do not think of my way of eating as a diet because it’s not a diet. It is a lifestyle. This is the way I eat every day. Some days I have extra clean treats and some days I have treats that aren’t clean at all, but I always come back to clean eating as my mainstay.
I don’t believe in absolutes. I worry for people who say you should NEVER eat X. I have no intention of going the rest of my life without cupcakes, but I’m also not going to eat a cupcake every day or even every week. When I have a cupcake, I’m going to enjoy it for the treat that it is.
I don’t believe in the concept of cheating. I think food is food. My diet is 90-100% clean a lot of the time. Some days, I eat snacks and meals that aren’t so clean. I don’t view this as cheating. In order for it to be cheating, I would have to eat something I’m not allowed to eat. In my mind, I’m allowed to eat whatever the heck I want to eat. I simply choose to eat the foods that fuel me the best and make me feel the best — most of the time.
Being in control of my food empowers me. Knowing exactly what I’m putting into my body helps me to know I’m not absorbing toxic ingredients. If I were to go to a fast food restaurant right now and order a snack, I could not tell you what exact ingredients I’ll consume or how exactly my food will be prepared. When I make my own meals based on a handful of whole ingredients, I know I’m fueling my body to get through the demands of working out, running, and living my life.
Clean eating and clean living is a choice. I don’t choose to avoid bagels because I think it’s what I ought to do. I choose to go for whole wheat bread over a bagel because I know how my body feels when it eats a bagel: heavy, sluggish, and slow. As someone who runs 150 miles a month, I consider myself an athlete. As someone who works from home, I know the importance of feeling alert throughout the day. Making certain food choices enables me to power through my life efficiently. I’m not depriving myself. I do not need anyone’s “Still on that diet, huh?” pity.
I believe in the power of fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. The difference in how I feel when I eat clean is undeniable. I used to eat foods like boxed macaroni and cheese made with powdered cheese, processed fake meat products, artificially flavored chips and crackers, and store-bought cookies and cookie dough without batting an eye. I’d inevitably feel terrible after consuming these kinds of foods, but I’d just keep eating them. I lived in a near-constant state of feeling terrible. Antacids were part of my daily routine. I felt too tired to work out. Sometimes I felt like my entire body was coated in grease. Now I eat real, whole foods. I make healthier versions of the snacks and desserts I always loved. I’m able to run long distances. I’m able to sustain vigorous workouts. I’m able to live my life without feeling weighed down. That’s why I eat clean. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. And the pudding, of course, is made from avocado or silken tofu with unsweetened cocoa powder.
This was my second week using my Class Pass gift card and I decided to step up my game by focusing on barre and Pilates classes. I've taken Pilates in the past, but this was my first foray into the world of barre. Let me tell you: it may look graceful, but it's a tough workout. At one class in particular, I ended the hour drenched in sweat. Though there's a heavy emphasis on glutes and leg work, there were also upper body and cardio intervals thrown in.
As you may recall, last week I focused on gentle yoga because I didn't want to overtax my body before my half marathon. This week, without a half marathon on the immediate horizon, I was ready to take on some more difficult workouts. The only problem with this strategy: last week was a super-light running week (again: half marathon coming up), but this week was not. Running eight miles after taking a sweaty-intense Barre class? Yikes. But this gift card lasts for one month and I want to take full advantage of it while I have it.
Barre, although ballet-inspired, is not overly dance-centric, which is great for me as someone with no dance background or rhythm to speak of. On the surface, it honestly looks pretty wimpy: most of the moves use only body weight and the few that use weights are only two to three pounds. But don't mock it until you try it: the tiny moves I did in my barre classes (think lots of tiny pulses) put fire into my muscles. I had no idea such subtle moves could yield such great results.
As for the Pilates classes, they served as a nice balance that prevented my entire week from being too rigorous. Pilates is a slow, gentle workout that doesn't make me sweat but does help me to connect with my mind and body in a more precise way than I normally do.
My favorite part of the Class Pass experience so far is the shakeup in my regular routine. Two weeks have already flown by, so I'm halfway through the whole experience. Next week, I'm going to up my food intake to counteract the extra calorie burn (a step I neglected this week, which led to me being way too hungry and making a few less-than-ideal food choices).
I can't wait to see what the next two weeks bring.
I get asked a lot of questions about half marathon training (What and when do I eat? How much water do I drink? How do I train?) I decided to give my most comprehensive answer ever in a single blog post that contains all of the following: 1.) a photo diary that shows exactly what I ate, drank and did the entire week before my half marathon, 2.) a summary of everything I did in the 12 weeks prior to my half marathon, and 3.) an A-Z guide of everything I could think of that relates to half marathon training, as well as tips for the day of the race.
PART ONE: EXACTLY WHAT I DID THE WEEK BEFORE MY HALF MARATHON
Went grocery shopping.
Soaked black beans.
Made almond-cherry granola, chocolate chip trail mix bars, honey energy bars, maple-cinnamon walnut butter, asparagus and mushroom rice bowls, chocolate cherry cashew bars, and tofu peanut stir fry.
Sliced lemons, limes and ginger for water.
Filled water bottles.
Set out workout clothes for Monday and Tuesday.
Cooked black beans.
7:30 a.m: Woke up and made breakfast
7:50 a.m: Ate Good Morning Sweet Potato and drank 8 ounces water
8:20 a.m: Did Fit Girls Guide Fit Girls Boot Camp Week 4 3X3's + Extra Credit Lower Body X3, drank 16 ounces water
9:45 a.m: Ate honey energy bar, drank 8 ounces water
10:15 a.m: Ran 4 miles, drank 16 ounces water
12:00 p.m: Ate asparagus and mushroom rice bowl, drank 8 ounces water
12:30 p.m: Worked, drank 16 ounces water
2:30 p.m: Ate whole wheat bread, maple-cinnamon walnut butter & banana, drank 8 ounces water
3:00 p.m: Worked
4:30 p.m: Took Mellow/ Restorative Flow/ Vinyasa Yoga class, drank 16 ounces water
6:20 p.m: Ate tofu peanut stir fry, drank 8 ounces water
7:00 p.m: Worked
9:00 p.m: Relaxed
11:00 p.m: Bed
7:20 a.m: Woke up and made breakfast
7:45 a.m: Ate Good Morning Sweet Potato, drank 8 ounces water
8:25 a.m: Did Fit Girls Guide Fit Girls Boot Camp Week 4 Supersets + Extra Credit Upper Body X3, drank 16 ounces water
9:30 a.m: Ate chocolate chip trail mix ball, drank 8 ounces water
10:00 a.m: Ran 4 miles, drank 16 ounces water
12:00 p.m: Ate asparagus and mushroom rice bowl, drank 8 ounces of water
12:25 p.m: Worked, drank 16 ounces of water
1:55 p.m: Ate dates, mascarpone & honey, drank 8 ounces of water
3:00 p.m: Took Gentle Yoga class, drank 24 ounces water
5:30 p.m: Worked
6:30 p.m: Ate tofu peanut stir fry, drank 8 ounces water
7:30 p.m: Made stir fry soup and breakfast burritos
8:15 p.m: Set out workout clothes for Wednesday and Thursday
8:30 p.m: Relaxed
11:00 p.m: Bed
7:25 a.m: Woke up and made breakfast
7:55 a.m: Ate "baked" granola apple, drank 8 ounces water
8:30 a.m: Did Fit Girls Guide Fit Girls Boot Camp Week 4 Drills + Extra Credit Core X3, drank 24 ounces water
9:40 a.m: Ate honey energy bar, drank 8 ounces water
10:15 a.m: Ran 6 miles, drank 16 ounces water
12:20 p.m: Ate southwestern black bean wrap, drank 8 ounces water
12:50 p.m: Worked, drank 24 ounces water
2:30 p.m: Ate whole wheat bread, maple-cinnamon walnut butter & pear, drank 8 ounces water
4:00 p.m: Took Yin/ Restorative Yoga class, drank 24 ounces water
5:35 p.m: Ate stir fry soup, drank 24 ounces water
7:00 p.m: Went to Blazers game
11:30 p.m: Bed
7:30 a.m: Woke up and warmed breakfast
7:45 a.m: Ate "baked" granola apple, drank 8 ounces water
8:20 a.m: Did Fit Girls Guide Fit Girls Boot Camp Count It Down Cardio Quickie X2, drank 24 ounces water
9:15 a.m: Ate chocolate chip trail mix ball, drank 8 ounces water
9:50 a.m: Ran 4 miles, drank 16 ounces water
11:00 a.m: Worked
12:25 p.m: Ate southwestern black bean wrap, drank 8 ounces water
1:00 p.m: Worked, drank 24 ounces water
2:45 p.m: Ate dates, mascarpone & honey, drank 8 ounces water
3:30 p.m: Worked, drank 24 ounces water
6:00 p.m: Ate stir fry soup, drank 8 ounces water
7:10 p.m: Made southwestern black bean wrap
7:30 p.m: Ate curry chipotle popcorn, drank 8 ounces water
9:00 p.m: Set out workout clothes for Friday
9:15 p.m: Relaxed
11:00 p.m: Bed
7:10 a.m: Woke up and warmed breakfast
7:30 a.m: Ate "baked" granola apple, drank 8 ounces water
8:10 a.m: Ran 3 miles, drank 16 ounces water
9:00 a.m: Ate honey energy bar, drank 8 ounces water
10:30 a.m: Took Yin Yoga class, drank 16 ounces water
11:30 a.m: Went grocery shopping
12:30 p.m: Ate southwestern black bean wrap, drank 8 ounces water
1:00 p.m: Worked, drank 32 ounces water
3:00 p.m: Ate whole wheat bread, maple-cinnamon walnut butter & pear, drank 8 ounces water
4:00 p.m: Made chickpea-cherry frittata
4:10 p.m: Made high-protein chocolate pudding
4:30 p.m: Made sweet and sour tempeh stir-fry
5:20 p.m: Made spaghetti with sun-dried tomato sauce
While cooking: Drank 32 ounces water
5:30 p.m: Ate spaghetti with sun-dried tomato sauce, drank 8 ounces water
6:00 p.m: Organized fridge
6:15 p.m: Set out clothes for Saturday
6:20 p.m: Packed post-race bag
6:30 p.m: Relaxed
10:30 p.m: Bed
5:30 a.m: Woke up & got dressed
6:00 a.m: Ate dark chocolate-cherry-cashew bar & banana, drank 8 ounces water
7:00 a.m: Arrived at race site
8:00 a.m: Ran half marathon, drank 16 ounces water
10:30 a.m: Ate oatmeal, raisins & scrambled egg, drank 8 ounces mint tea & 16 ounces water
11:40 a.m: Took shower and detangled massive knots in hair from running in the rain
12:30 p.m: Ate high-protein chocolate pudding, drank 32 ounces water
1:00 p.m: Relaxed
2:45 p.m: Ate chickpea-cherry frittata, drank 32 ounces water
3:00 p.m: Relaxed
3:45 p.m: Ate lime-chili popcorn
4:00 p.m: Relaxed
5:50 p.m: Ate sweet and spicy tempeh stir fry, drank 32 ounces water
6:20 p.m: Relaxed, drank 16 ounces water
7:15 p.m: Ate Yasso Greek Yogurt Bar
7:30 p.m: Relaxed
10:30 p.m: Bed
NOTES ABOUT THIS WEEK:
1.) This week, I prioritized my half marathon training. I prioritized it above work, which fortunately I'm able to do thanks to a flexible work-from-home schedule. I prioritized it above socializing with friends. I prioritized it above staying up late. I treated my training this week as if it were my job and I took it very seriously.
2.) I used the Runner's World cookbook MEALS ON THE RUN as my Bible this week. This cookbook has recipes for meals that are specifically meant to be eaten pre-run, post-run, mid-run, and more. I focused on high-energy, carb-filled meals and snacks before my workouts and protein-dense, muscle-recovering meals afterward. Toward the end of the week, I upped my already-high water intake and focused on hydrating foods for dinners.
3.) Most people will tell you it's crucial to fuel up during a race, whether it's on energy bar bites, "goos" or even handfuls of jelly beans or similar fast-acting carb-heavy snacks. I've always trained without eating during long runs and I don't eat during races, either. By eating a few hours before and soon after, I've had success. But that's just me. That's my body. Like I said, MOST people will tell you it's important to fuel during a race. If you're training for a big race, start experimenting on your long training runs. Figure out what works for YOU.
4.) I think strength training is a key ingredient in any runner's arsenal. You're asking a lot of your body when you put it through long runs. Building up the strength in your muscles helps you to power through speedy runs, incline runs, and long runs. Don't skip this part. I normally strength train on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This week, because I didn't want to tax my muscles (especially my lower body) too much toward the end of the week, I strength trained on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It is generally advisable to have a day in between strength sessions. For my strength training I used Fit Girls Guide Fit Girls Boot Camp, which is an advanced 12-week training program.
5.) Planning things ahead of time is what made this week successful. It can seem daunting to spend your weekends grocery shopping, cooking, and prepping meals for the rest of the week. It can seem silly to set your clothes out ahead of time. But trust me: take the time to do things early and you won't be scrambling during your days. You won't be searching your drawers for yoga pants 15 minutes before the class is supposed to start. You won't turn to grab-and-go fast food because you're starving and dinner's not ready. You won't skip drinking water if it's already filled with yummy slices of lemon or lime, pieces of ginger, and/or sprigs of mint. Do the work ahead of time and you'll thank yourself later.
6.) This week I decided to incorporate yoga into my routine because I knew my body could benefit from some slow, deep stretching. If your regular routine includes vigorous workouts like kickboxing or boot camp, you may want to ease off of them the week before your half marathon and you will DEFINITELY want to ease off of them the few days before your half marathon. Take this time to show your body how much you appreciate all it has done for you. Take care of it. Be gentle with it. You're asking a lot of it when you request that it runs 13.1 miles. Don't overtax it before the time comes.
7.) Warming up and cooling down before and after workouts is so important. This is true whether you're running, strength training, doing yoga, or anything else. Static stretches (the ones you hold for a long time) before working out are not advisable, but dynamic stretches (like toy soldiers and butt kicks) are. When your workout ends, take a few minutes to cool down and gently stretch (now it's okay to do those static stretches). Preferably, take five minutes. Most people (myself included) have a difficult time sitting still and stretching for that long, but try to give yourself at least two minutes. Stretching is one of those things that feels so boring at the time but is an absolutely crucial ingredient in feeling (and performing) better later.
PART TWO: A SUMMARY OF WHAT I DID THE 12 WEEKS BEFORE MY HALF MARATHON
To prepare for this half marathon, I used the 13.One training app from Active. This is an advanced training program I was only able to take on after working out with other apps for months prior. This app had me logging miles 5-6 days a week for 12 weeks. Broken down, it looked like this:
WEEK 1: 4 miles, 6 miles, 4 miles, 6 miles, 3 miles, 8 miles
WEEK 2: X-Train, 3 miles, 5, 6, 3, 9
WEEK 3: X-Train, 3, 6, 6, 3, 10
WEEK 4: X-Train, 3, 6, 6, 3, 8
WEEK 5: X-Train, 4, 6, 6, 3, 11
WEEK 6: 4, 7, 7, 4, 8
WEEK 7: 3X1, 4, 7, 7, 3, 12
WEEK 8: X-Train, 5, 7, 7, 4, 9
WEEK 9: 4X1, 4, 7, 7, 4, 14
WEEK 10: X-Train, 5, 8, 8, 5, 15
WEEK 11: 5, 5, 8, 7, 4, 8
WEEK 12: 4, 4, 6, 4, 3, Race Day
For the past ten months, I have used the following programs for strength training:
Fit Girls Guide 28-Day Jump Start
Fit Girls Guide Fitkini Body Challenge
Jillian Michaels Body Revolution
Jillian Michaels Body Shred
Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide
Jillian Michaels Assorted Videos
Fit Girls Guide Boot Camp
I was doing Jillian Michaels videos five times a week for the first 8 weeks of training and Fit Girls Guide Boot Camp four days a week for the last 4 weeks.
I've been following a mostly clean diet for the past 10 months. On most weeks I maintain a 90% clean diet, but during the holidays I dipped down to a 70% clean diet. I focus on whole, real foods (lots of fresh veggies and fruit, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats) and try to avoid processed food, fast foods, sugary foods, fried foods, and foods made with white sugar, flour, bread, rice or pasta as much as possible. I started eating clean with Fit Girls Guide. In addition to their 28-Day Jump Start, Fitkini Body Challenge and Fit Girls Boot Camp, I've also used the Fit Girls Cookbook and Fit Girls Detox, which have a lot of clean recipes. My other favorite cookbooks are THE FOREST FEAST, THUG KITCHEN, SUPERCHARGED FOOD: EAT CLEAN, GREEN AND VEGETARIAN, and DELICIOUSLY ELLA. These are all vegetarian (some vegan) cookbooks with an emphasis on clean ingredients.
I aim for at least 64 ounces of water a day but generally go over. I've found it's helpful to drink 8 ounces of water with every meal or snack and 16 ounces of water during every workout. Before I began my healthy lifestyle I rarely drank enough water and often had headaches, dry skin, and a parched throat as a result.
Rest Day is probably the most important day of the week, in my opinion. This is not just a day off from running. This is a day off from EVERYTHING. It doesn't mean I have to stay on the couch all day (walking around is always great), but this isn't the time for anything that's going to break a sweat. Today is all about muscle recovery. It's a great day to run errands, buy groceries and meal prep. In the beginning it can be difficult to get in the habit of spending Sunday afternoons of evenings prepping meals for the whole week when there are so many things that sound like a more fun use of time. When I saw how much time it saved me during the week, though, I grew to appreciate it. By meal prepping, I'm basically guaranteeing that I'll never have to ravenously snack on junk food because I always have something healthy ready and available.
PART THREE: MY A-Z GUIDE TO HALF MARATHON TRAINING
1st half marathon: May 4, 2014
Official time: 2:15:08
Training method: Ran approximately 3 times a week, paid very little attention to diet, no strength training, no cross-training, no hydration schedule, no sleep schedule, did not drink alcohol the week before the race.
2nd half marathon: August 1, 2015
Official time: 1:52:46 (1st place for age group in an all-women's race)
Training method: Ran 3-4 times a week, ate clean 90% of the time, strength trained 4 days a week, cross-trained once a week, no hydration schedule, no sleep schedule, did not drink alcohol the month before the race.
3rd half marathon: January 23, 2015
Official time: 1:47:06 (3rd place for gender & age group)
Training method: Ran 5-6 times a week, ate clean 80% of the time, strength trained 3 days a week, cross-trained once a week, regular hydration schedule, regular sleep schedule, no alcohol or coffee since January 1, 2016.
Did I wear an athletically fitted adult undergarment during my half marathon? YES. What?! Listen: You're asking so much of your body when you put it through a long, grueling run. There are only so many times my bladder can repetitively bounce up and down without responding. It's not as if I'm full-on peeing myself (though have I done this during previous races? YES! Things happen!) but wearing something protects me from little dribbles here and there. When you get the dying urge to pee and you're in the middle of a long race and don't want to lose time, you will thank yourself.
Sorry to start this list off with two incredibly TMI entries, but I want to be real with you. Having a bowel movement before your race starts is imperative because YOU DO NOT want to feel like you're going to have a bowel movement during the race. This is why I always eat a banana two hours prior. Clear the system before you go or you WILL regret it.
I'm not here to preach to you about the foods you eat, but I will say that the foods I ate made a WORLD of difference. If you want to train seriously for a half marathon, take a hard look at your diet. Does it include fast food? Processed food? Fried food? Sugary desserts? What kind of bread do you eat? Is it white or whole wheat? What about rice: white or brown? Do you eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables? Do you incorporate lean proteins and healthy fats? These things are important. Your body is a machine that needs to be fueled properly. Fill it with junk and it will slow down on you.
This is one of those things that was so tough for me at first and then eventually became very easy. There are a lot of people who will disagree with me on this one, but in my opinion alcohol and running do not mix. Alcohol is dehydrating, for one. Secondly, alcohol contains sugar. In addition to all the usual side effects of alcohol (dulled senses, impaired judgment, loss of discretion when it comes to food choices), alcohol has a way of lingering in the body. Drinking a glass of wine Sunday night can have a great impact on Monday morning's run. It's so much better for me if I just skip it altogether. Another thing I've cut out completely: coffee. I know people LOVE their coffee and I know people swear by its caffeinating powers, so I'm not going to stress this one too hard. But I will say this: coffee is dehydrating, too. Try to at least lay off it the day before and the morning before your big race.
The only way to know how much effort to expend on the big day is to train during the months prior. Those long runs you do (usually on the weekends) are your dress rehearsals. Treat them as if they're the real thing and run as hard as you can. (Some advise against this. Some say long training runs should always be slow and steady, and you should save all your big energy for the race itself. Do what works best for YOU.) Make sure you're tapering off in the weeks prior to the race. (This is why it's important to follow a program.) Your long run the weekend before the race shouldn't be longer than 8 miles and your mid-week runs the week of your race shouldn't be longer than 6. During the race, adrenaline is going to push you a little faster than you're used to going. I generally try to ride out the adrenaline rush for the first few miles and then settle into my normal pace around miles 4-5. Race Day is not the day to suddenly decide to push significantly harder than you normally push. Your body will likely allow you to go a little faster than you normally do, but not a lot. Go too hard in the beginning and you will crash toward the end. The goal is always to FINISH, so pace yourself accordingly.
Races aren't cheap. When you pay a race entry, you're usually paying for a timed chip, shirt, medal, and post-race provisions. This can seem like a bummer when you don't really care about the shirt of medal and you leave the race without digging into the free food, but it's still nice that it's offered. It takes a lot to put on a big race. If your race goes out on the streets, police may shut down traffic for certain intersections of the course. This is not a free service. In fact, nothing comes for free. If you want to race, you'll need to invest in proper shoes and gear. All of this can add up, so choose your races wisely. If it's important to you to get a drink ticket for beer or wine or a meal ticket or some other specific perk, do your research and find the races that offer those things.
What you wear is important. It's especially important when the weather is either very hot or very cold, but it's also important every time in between. Before you put any clothes on, think about the temperature. If it's hot, put on sunscreen. Whether it's hot or cold, put on Body Glide or a similar product to guard your feet against blisters. Invest in socks specifically designed for running: their main ingredient is not cotton and they're designed to wick away moisture. If it's going to be cold, you'll need base layers. If it's going to be really cold, you may need gloves and a hat. It is extremely helpful, if you're wearing multiple layers, to have someone you know standing on the sidelines somewhere along the course so that if you decide to ditch a layer, you can toss it to them and move on. This is exactly what happened to me on Saturday: I started with a rain coat because it was raining, then got too hot as I increased my speed and threw the jacket to my parents on the sidelines around Mile 5. I also peeled my gloves off a few miles in and threw them in the pocket on my water holster. This reminds me: get a water holster. I have one that holds two eight-ounce bottles of water. This is usually enough for me and I don't need to accept any of the water cups offered at water stations. I generally take one big sip of water every mile. For ME, this works perfectly.
Hydration can be a tricky thing because you want to be sure you're properly hydrated but you don't want to feel like you have to pee during the race. My solution for this is to work on being super hydrated the week before the race (aiming for well above 64 ounces a day), but only drink 8 ounces of water the morning of the race. By doing this and taking my one sip of water every mile, I stay on track without overdoing it.
I was lucky to have a very flat course for this last race, but that's not always the case. If you're going to encounter hills during your race, you MUST incorporate hills during your training. The only way to learn how to run on an incline is to practice running on an incline. And here's a tough truth: Incline running NEVER gets easy. It gets EASIER, but it never gets easy. You will never run up a large hill and feel as if no energy was expended, no matter how fit you are. Hills are tough. Hills will always be tough. Hills will slow you down. If you haven't been running hills and you start adding them in, prepare to watch your times slow dramatically. It's okay. Running inclines is one of the easiest-yet-hardest ways to become a stronger runner. If you're the type of person who can stomach a treadmill (I'm not), challenge yourself to run on an incline. If you're running outside, find the biggest hills you can. Run to the top. Run to the bottom. If you have anything left, run to the top again.
JUST DO IT:
You're not going to feel like running every day. You're just not. Trust me: I do not feel like running every day. If it's cold or raining or cold AND raining or if I'm tired or busy or tired AND busy, I'll want to skip my run. But here's the thing: I can't. When you're training for a half marathon, you're training for a half marathon. That's all there is to it. Miss training runs and your entire training program falls behind schedule. Skip your long runs and you won't know how hard to push during the real race. Skip short runs and your pacing will never improve. If you're sick, don't run. If you're injured, don't run. If you're having a mental breakdown, don't run. Otherwise: Run. Just do it.
KRISTEN DOES IT THIS WAY:
I read an interview recently with Gretchen Rubin, author of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT. When asked about her 2016 mantra, she said something to the effect of "Be Gretchen." I love this. You're the only person who knows what you're truly capable of, what works best for you, and how you need to go about approaching your goals. You can ask other people how they do things, you can read articles like this, you can do all the research in the world, but at the end of the day the most important thing is figuring out the exact prescription for what works best for you and you alone. Not everyone can run six days a week and be happy. Not everyone can give up alcohol or cake, and not everyone should. It doesn't matter if you're aiming to run a half marathon in 1:30 or if you're aiming to run it in 3:00. It doesn't matter if you walk. All that matters is that you do your own thing — whatever thing works best for you. Everything I'm talking about in this list is something that works for ME, so take it all with a grain of salt.
If it's cold outside, you'll need to wear layers. If it's raining, you'll need to wear layers. If it's cold and raining, you'l need to wear layers. If it's cold AND raining, or if it's snowing, or if it's windy, or if there's some other inclement weather going on, you'll need to wear layers. For me, that looks like this: short-sleeved running shirt + long-sleeved running shirt + lightweight rain jacket with gloves, neck wrap, headband that covers my ears or running hat over long pants. I put hand warmers in my gloves during shorter runs, though this actually gets me TOO hot during a long run like a half marathon.
I can generally make it through the first 9 or so miles of a race simply by watching my pace, visualizing the finish line, and running to the beat of music. For the last four or so miles, I need more to keep going. This is where mantras come in. Mantras are little phrases I repeat over and over to myself, saying one syllable inside my head each time my foot hits the ground. During this race, I had different mantras for miles 9, 10, 11, and 12. Mile 9's mantra was "I am strong enough to handle this." Broken down into syllables it looks like this: I-am-strong-e-nough-to-han-dle-this. Mile 10's mantra was "I trained for this" or I-trained-for-this. Mile 11's mantra was "Trust the process" or Trust-the-pro-cess. Mile 12's mantra was "Thank you Fit Girls Guide" or Thank-you-Fit-Girls-Guide because using their programs helped me to build my strength, fitness, stamina, endurance, and confidence. For me, focusing on these mantras (and nothing but these mantras) during my last few miles was the difference between quitting and finishing.
I always assumed that when you improve as a runner, you continue to improve no matter what. If you're running an 8-minute mile one month and a 7:40 mile the next, you're not going to go back to running an 8-minute mile the next month, right? Guess what? Wrong. Your body gets tired. Your mind gets tired. Your body and mind working together get tired. You're not going to set a new personal record every day. You're not going to improve every day. Sometimes you will slide backwards. Sometimes you will slide backwards for weeks at a time. There are few things as frustrating as being able to run a 7:40 mile one week and slipping back to an 8-minute mile the next week, but you have to trust the process. There are reasons some runs are slower than others and there are reasons some runs are a LOT slower than others. Your body may be in recovery mode from your last big run. It may be in conservation mode for your next big run. Trust the process and trust your body. It can be frustrating to stop improving and even more frustrating to slide back, but as long as you keep working you'll eventually push through. Trudging through a slow, sluggish run isn't a lot of fun at the time, but you'll ultimately be rewarded for your consistency when you hit a new PR a few weeks down the road.
Several weeks before this last half marathon, I started to get a nagging case of self-doubt. I was having a lot of not-so-great training runs (see above) and feeling like maybe I wasn't ready for another big race, despite all my training. Or maybe I was overtraining? What if I was exhausting myself before the fact? I started to question everything I was doing. But then I got a hold of myself. I reminded myself or my mantras: I am strong enough to handle this. I trained for this. Trust the process. If you've been training hard, you're ready. My mind was trying to convince me that even though I did just fine in my 14 and 15-mile training runs, I wasn't ready for my big 13.1 run. I had to remind my mind that I WAS ready, and I'd done everything I needed to do, and it wasn't a question of whether or not I'd finish (of course I'd finish) but how quickly I'd get it done. I AM STRONG ENOUGH TO HANDLE THIS. I TRAINED FOR THIS. TRUST THE PROCESS. On bad days, repeat these lines over and over until you believe them.
This last half marathon was the first one I've done with pacers, and I absolutely loved the experience. Pacers are people who have trained themselves to maintain steady paces throughout the race, so they know pretty much exactly when they expect to finish. This race had pacers in 15-minute increments, starting with a 1:45 pacer. (Runners expecting to run faster than 1:45 were on their own for pacing.) I really liked this system because I knew that as long as I kept my eye on the 1:45 pacer (he was literally holding a sign that said "1:45" during the entire race), I would be able to finish around that time. Since I'd been training to run about 1:50, I knew to keep my eye on him but to also hold back a little. I figured I'd finish about two minutes behind him and I was right. It worked perfectly. If there aren't pacers at your race, you have to rely more on other cues, like technology (most running apps will tell you your mileage) and intuition (How do you FEEL? Are you breathless? Are you running at a pace you can maintain? Do you feel like you're going either faster or slower than normal?) Half marathons are tricky because it's a big enough distance that for most people, you can't just go all-out and run as hard a possible for the entire 13.1 miles. The trick is finding the sweet spot where you're running hard but not TOO hard. You want to be able to finish the race and you want to be in one piece at the end of the day.
QUALITY VERSUS QUANTITY:
This is a hotly debated topic in the running community. Some runners believe that the best way to train is to run the minimum amount of miles that you can per week and still improve. The theory here is to train harder, not longer. Other runners think the way to improve is by logging more miles, period. I've approached different races with different training methods and I can honestly see the advantages of both. When you're running less, you're more refreshed. You have more energy, which can lead to better times. When you're running more, though, your body gets acclimated and you quickly build up the endurance and stamina to withstand longer runs. The sweet spot is probably again somewhere in the middle: running three days a week may be too light and six days may be overkill.
Last month, Portland had its rainiest December in history. I ran 33 of my last 41 training runs in the rain. Sometimes this was a light drizzle and sometimes it was an absolute downpour, but either way I had to be prepared. If running in inclement weather sounds like the worst thing imaginable to you, you may want to rethink the idea of a winter race and aim for the spring or summer instead. If you're going to race in winter, you're going to have to train in winter. For me, the best way I've figured out how to train in rainy weather is to just do it. Put on your lightweight running jacket, put on a hat with a brim so the raindrops can bounce away from you, put on your heated gloves, and just do it. I'll be honest: the five minutes I spend warming up for my cold, rainy runs are the worst five minutes of my entire day. But once I get into the rhythm of running, I forget about the cold and the rain — unless it's raining so hard I can't forget about it, in which case I allow myself to feel like a total badass for persevering. After your run, peel off your wet clothes, take a hot shower, and get on with your day.
Strong muscles are able to carry you over finish lines. Do not make the mistake of focusing solely on running if you're training for a half marathon. Running is only part of the equation. Incorporating strength training helps you to build stronger muscles and it also gives you a diversion. Even people who love running get bored doing it day in and day out. Strength training days shake up the routine and allow you to challenge your body and mind in ways that don't happen out on the road.
My best advice about technology is to a.) use it and b.) expect it to fail. I absolutely rely on running apps for my training and I also rely on music and GPS to power me through my runs. At this point I've been in enough races to know this: things happen on race day. I got a new phone the day before one 10K and was quite surprised to discover three minutes before the race began that the music from my old phone had not neatly transferred to my new phone. I had to run that entire 10K in silence. During my final 5K of 2015, my hands were so cold that I couldn't properly press the button I needed when one of my running apps paused, so it simply stopped recording my miles three-quarters of the way through. And at this last half marathon, my music didn't start playing alongside my app right away and when it finally did after some sweaty fumbling, it didn't play the running playlist I had carefully set up; instead, it cycled through my entire library of mostly super-mellow folksy and singer-songwriter songs. Running to Willie Nelson singing "You Were Always On My Mind" is not an ideal scenario. But guess what? Stuff happens with technology, especially on race days. I just had to run with it.
Invest in proper-fitting sports bras. Don't wear cotton underwear. Practice your runs wearing the underwear you plan on wearing on Race Day. I have some pairs of underwear that, for whatever reason, start to slide down when I run. Trust me: You do not want to be dealing with underwear that's falling down while you're running. Figure this out well in advance of Race Day. The last thing you want to be thinking about is your underwear. (Practice wearing ALL the clothes you're going to wear before the race itself. This is not the time to bust out a cute new outfit.)
VALUE OF A SUPPORT SYSTEM:
Running is a pretty solitary endeavor and the truth is that no one can run your miles for you, no one else can motivate you, and no one else can feel either the physical sensations or the emotional changes that you'll experience as a result of running. Still, it's important to have a support system. I'm not the type of person who announces my runs to all of my friends before my races, but I can see how if I did it would be nice to have a crowd of people there cheering me on. I prefer to keep my support system a little smaller, though, so I pull my strength off the support offered to me by my parents and husband. My husband's support is especially important because my lifestyle impacts his. I need for him to be on board with me eating specific meals, going to bed at early hours, and spending weekends NOT meeting up with friends for a wine tasting, but instead getting up at 5 a.m. to drive to the race site. My husband helps me with grocery shopping, meal prepping, cycling through the never-ending piles of sweaty workout laundry, and everything else. My husband drove to the venue the day of the race while I focused my mind. He was standing on the sidelines of the course to cheer me on at both the halfway point and finish line. Seeing his face halfway through encouraged me to keep pushing. My parents come to every race I run, and there have been multiple occasions when I've thrown things to them (this time my rain jacket, another time my entire phone) on the sidelines because I needed to get rid of those things to run my best race. My parents and I also have a post-run tradition of going out to breakfast after every race. Sometimes this is what I'm thinking about the most when I need to push through: as soon as I finish here, I get to go eat something delicious. Just X more miles, and then I can go have breakfast. Without my husband and parents cheering me on, the motivation to continue would dwindle.
I generally wear three rings: my engagement ring, my wedding ring, and my grandma's engagement ring. When I'm running or working out, though, I don't wear any of them. They're too precious and I don't want to be worrying about them when I'm covered in sweat and mud. Instead, I wear a silicone ring from Qalo on my ring finger during workouts and runs. This is just a little symbolic thing I do for myself: I feel like I'm honoring my marriage, of which I am so proud, without mucking up the real rings of my marriage. It's a way for me to feel connected to my husband without worrying about dragging something so beautiful through such brutal workouts.
XTRA, XTRA: PLAN AHEAD OF TIME:
Planning ahead of time is the key to my success. Whether it's prepping my meals, setting my workout outfits out ahead of time, or just knowing the schedule the week before it starts, it pays to stay on top of things. Training for a half marathon is incredibly time-consuming. I also have a career, a marriage, a social life, and a house I like to keep clean. There's only one way to balance all these things and that's to be as organized as possible. Sometimes this means I don't get to do everything I want to do. Sometimes I have to turn down cuddling up to watch a two-hour movie because I desperately need those two hours to go grocery shopping or finish the laundry. When training for a half marathon, you'll encounter a lot of choices. Knowing what you want ahead of time will help you to manage your time and make the decisions that are best for you.
YIELDING TO YOUR BODY:
When I was talking about mantras before, I should have mentioned the most important one: Listen to your body. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Lis-ten-to-your-body. Trust me: Your body knows. Your body is a very smart machine. When your body sends you signals (I'm exhausted today / I think I'm getting sick / I feel sore / Please go easy on me / I have extra energy today / I need more sleep / I'm thirsty / I'm hungry), LISTEN. Yield to your body. Yield to your body even if it's the biggest race of your life to date and your body is saying "Please, please, please slow down" but your mind is saying, "Let's push through and go for a record!" Yield to your body. Your body knows.
Here's my big secret about running half marathons: I've never actually run a half marathon. At least, I haven't mentally run a half marathon. I've never thought to myself: I'm going to run 13.1 miles today. Can you imagine how daunting that would be? Here's what I think instead: I'm going to run a 5K. Easy breezy. When I reach three miles: I'm going to run another 5K. Six miles: I'm going to run another 5K. Nine miles: I'm going to run one last 5K. Twelve miles: I'm just going to run one more mile. Thirteen miles: I'm just going to run until I get to the finish line. 5K, 5K, 5K, 5K, 1 mile, finish line. During that last .1 mile, I zero in on that finish line like you wouldn't believe. I don't have to be the best. I don't have to be the fastest. I just have to make it through that finish line.
This is the most comprehensive post about running I've ever written, but if you still want more, I have more. Try these previous posts:
Let's Talk About Running Apps (a breakdown of ALL the running apps I use)
2015: My Year in Running (a reflection on the improvements I made and lessons I learned while running in 2015)
Park Project (in which I share how running to a different park each time I ran helped bust running boredom)
Twelve Months, Twelve Races, and a Lifetime of Lessons (reflecting on the 12 races I ran during the 12 months of 2015)