The Big Sur Marathon Relay: my race recap

Disclaimer: This is a LONG post about my experience training and running the Big Sur Marathon Relay.  Enjoy!

Remember running relay races in grade school? Remember that feeling of relying upon your teammate to bring you the baton quickly?  What an incredible metaphor for childbirth. There are so many people involved in the birth of a baby, and every person along the way is part of the end goal: a safe delivery for mother and baby.  Too often the focus lies solely on the newborn, but in reality the health and condition of the mother is just as critical, and often overlooked. Maternal mortality is unacceptably high: the mortality rate is roughly 800-830 deaths daily, worldwide. Of these deaths, 98% are preventable through the availability of supplies, transportation, and education (skilled birth attendants, midwives, etc). Every Mother Counts (EMC) is a campaign, founded by maternal health advocate, Christy Turlington Burns, to reduce this burden of disease worldwide by providing these three needs to empower local communities. Join us this Mother’s Day for the Orange Rose campaign! Please learn more about EMC here.

with EMC founder, Christy Turlington Burns
With EMC founder, Christy Turlington Burns

I appreciate all the work she does to raise awareness and create programs to benefit others: we run so others don’t have to. Running is symbolic such that in many developing nations, a woman sometimes has to walk a minimum of 5k up to a marathon’s distance to deliver her baby. I run to raise funds for these programs, but more importantly to raise awareness of this statistic. We may think the United States precludes us from this rate, but rather, the US is one of a dozen countries with increasing mortality rates. Increasing. Just let that marinate while I tell you about my run.

As a Running Ambassador, I run all my races of varying distances for EMC, and this year, when the opportunity arose to join a team at Big Sur, I did not hesitate for a moment. Why would I say no to run on the glorious Highway 1?

Ragged Point, Big Sur
Looking out at the Pacific from Ragged Point, Big Sur

I committed to raising $1,000 (ultimately raised $2,300) and got to work. I trained on hills, unpaved trails, treadmills, inclines on treadmills, rowers, and stairs. I did a lot of isolation work, lifted less weight than normal so I could increase my range of motion. I foam rolled several times a week and was more strict about rest / recovery days. The biggest gain I noticed was returning from a 9 day road trip in California, and I had not lost an ounce of my game, and that’s when I had a newfound respect for rest days!

Love unpaved trails
I love the serenity and beauty of unpaved trails
My good friend Jenny and I after the Orangetheory 90 minute charity class. We burned 21000 calories and $.01/calorie was donated!
My close friend Jenny and I after the Orangetheory 90 minute charity class. We burned 21000 calories and $.01/calorie was donated!

Are you still reading? You’re awesome!

Running for a cause is an experience I recommend to anyone. It adds a beautiful dimension to your end goal, and it teaches you patience and empathy. Raising funds is not without effort, however, you campaign for a cause and you must believe in it wholeheartedly. And I do, because I’ve had two difficult labors, not near-death, but complicated enough. My conviction made raising funds relatively easy: I am blessed with such INCREDIBLE support all around me, and I don’t take that for granted for a second. Every single man and woman who contributed to my Crowdrise page gave me a reason to push myself and stay focused.  I was also able to coordinate with two local studios, Orangetheory Fitness (where I was a trainer), and the Barre Code Oak Park, to hold charity classes to help raise funds on a larger scale. The events were extremely successful, but again most important is to raise awareness. That is the public health professional in me.

Two weeks before the race. I felt a completely random and uncomfortable pain in my left heel. I’ve been a competitive runner since junior high, and I’ve never experienced a pain in my heel before. (I blamed it on turning 40!). As a personal trainer, I tried not to self-diagnose, but I had a suspicion it could be the dreaded plantar fasciitis. I rolled and iced my heel and took ibuprofen as needed. Pain, pain, go away. It eventually subsided: I ruled out plantar fasciitis.

Race week. Not much more I could do in terms of fitness to contribute to my race day performance, but my coach reminded me that there are many things that could take me out of it.  One was this nagging heel pain. What on earth was it? I had kept my appointment with a trigger point specialist to confirm the source of the pain. In that first visit the therapist officially ruled out plantar fasciitis (thank GOD), but instead told me my left achilles is wrecked from wearing heels and from something called a ‘semi-pelvis’. Essentially, my right psoas* muscle is so tight (again) that it shortened the length of my right leg, causing my left leg to overwork. Whoa! Imagine hearing this information 6 days before a big race! I walked out with some tools for myofascial massage at the appropriate trigger points. I felt pretty good, however. The psoas muscle, by the way, is a rope-like muscle located deep in the core, and runs obliquely from spine to the femur. The psoas is joined at the hip, literally, by the iliacus, which travels from hip to thigh. Together, the psoas and iliacus make up the iliopsoas–the body’s most powerful hip flexor. Each time I lift my knee, I contract my psoas, and when I step, I extend it. Every step of my run it is being used, so this is a pretty big deal for it to be wound up. 

Are you still here? Probably the second worst thing you could do during race week is read articles entitled “What to know before racing Big Sur”.  Of course I read them, and of course I started second-guessing EVERYTHING. Did I run enough? I should have pushed harder that last run! I should have ran that hill two more times.  All the right questions, but at the wrong time. My friends reminded me I am no stranger to distance and this was something I could “do in my sleep”.  Ok sure, that helped. A smidge.

Fast forward to the big event: the relay! Sunday morning, I woke up at 4:50am, slugged my iced coffee, grabbed my almond butter/banana sandwich and got to my bus stop at 5:30am, the bus departed at 6, and we arrived at Exchange 3 by 6:30am. It was a hurry up and wait…and wait….and wait….My teammates and I had roughly calculated our positions and we estimated based on their paces I would see my runner around 9:15-9:30. It was definitely agonizing for me, given that I had been up since 4:50! I started looking for my runner (who I had just met once the day before) at 9:15, she finally came in at 9:50. I grabbed the baton, handed her my gear bag and took off. It usually takes me 1-2 miles to warm up and loosen up, but there was no time to waste here, and the hills start right away. It was slightly annoying to hold a baton (at Ragnar we have slap bracelets), and my handheld water bottle and a belt for my phone. My pace was as undulating as the hills, ranging from 8 min miles to 10 minute miles. I definitely walked a few times and took in the scenery.

Vistas of my course ahead
Vistas of my course ahead – in the upper right corner

I started my leg, the final 9.2 miles of the marathon, around mile 17. The course was remote for a couple miles and people really started coming out to spectate around mile 21. I’d never seen fresh fruit on a course, so it was awesome to eat orange slices and strawberries (a natural NSAID, I learned). I wish I could tell you how amazing the air smelled: the salty ocean, the pine trees, the flowers. It was incredibly invigorating. Equally challenging to the elevation (my total gain – 622 ft) was the road itself. It was a game for me to maneuver the canted roadway on pace, up and downhill. Maybe that’s why my legs gave out around mile 26…

It was a mind game to tell my calves to hold off their predictable calf spasm until after the race. I looked around me. Some were walking, some were slowly running, some were sprinting. We all cross the same finish line, no matter what our journey. Like the others, I made it – it was not my usual sprint finish, however,

Thank you for supporting me! My team of 21 runners raised over $31,000 at Big Sur.
Thank you for supporting me! My team of 21 runners raised over $31,000 at Big Sur.

but I crossed the line and am ready to go back.

Thank you for reading!

xoA

 

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I am running the Big Sur International Marathon Relay!

It’s been ages since I’ve last posted, and partly because I forgot my WordPress password. Just kidding, I have been very busy!

I split my time between three different jobs, and I hesitate calling them “jobs” because I love everything I do, and the way I do it. Providing education in schools, as an Educator for the Epilepsy Foundation, for teachers and students on seizure first aid and recognition is extremely gratifying work – regardless of the fact that I do not have any connection to epilepsy. As an educator, I have the ability and the responsibility to empower my audience and enable them to make life changing decisions if they are ever in a situation where a student is having a seizure. Second and third of all, I am a fitness coach for Orange Theory, and a personal trainer.  Two additional opportunities to empower people and help them improve their quality of life.  #Winning

But the purpose of this post was to tell you that I am running the Big Sur International Marathon Relay for Every Mother Counts. I love to do 1 crazy thing every year, and running a marathon relay from beautiful Big Sur to Carmel, CA. I’ll need your support to get there and together we can help reduce maternal mortality worldwide.  Every 2 minutes a woman dies in childbirth and would you believe that 98% of those deaths are PREVENTABLE! I’m talking about education, supplies and transportation. These are barriers that Every Mother Counts has identified and is working with organizations in over 7 countries (INCLUDING the United States) to do exactly what I love: empower people.

There is a motorcycle guy in Uganda who gives rides to women to the childbirth center so they can deliver safely. For the price of your latte, $5, you can pay for a woman to take that ride for free, earning her a voucher.  In the United States, a $50 donation will enable an uninsured woman to have a prenatal visit. The best part is that 100% of your donation will go to directly to this portfolio of programs around the world to help women get the maternal care they need.

If you made it this far in my post, then you’re awesome! Thank you! And if you are moved by what I wrote above, then I would love your support to get me to Big Sur!

everydollarcounts

Please (and thank you) donate here:

https://www.crowdrise.com/2016bigsurinternatio/fundraiser/ayeshaakhtar1

xoA

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Get Results Quicker

Before I start working with a new client, I take time to inquire about my client’s goals, time commitment, and capabilities.  Saying to me, “I want to lose weight but it doesn’t matter when” is as noncommittal as saying, “Someday I’d like to fly a kite”.  Together we develop SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) goals which I use to create a routine that I (as any personal trainer) dream will be adhered to, impeccably.

I want to highlight that in order to avoid a body plateau, every fitness routine should be varied and incorporate a mix of endurance, strength and power exercises to achieve best results. Endurance training is aerobic training for the long haul. We are talking about the ability to walk for extended periods of time, run middle or long distance, cycle or swim for more than thirty minutes at a time. Having the stamina to keep up with life starts right here. Keep in mind endurance training for sport or performance is different and more rigorous, but practically speaking, endurance training needs to be a part of everyone’s fitness routine to develop a healthy heart in the long term.

Functional movements such as squatting, lifting, lunging and rotating are some simple daily activities that can bring a lot of pain to thousands of people every day. How many times have I heard someone say to me, ‘Oh I can’t squat because I have bad knees’!  However, when these muscle groups are strengthened, you can enable yourself to live a greater quality of life. Consider the grandmother who is strong enough to lift her grandbaby. The ‘one less trip to the car’ to get groceries. We’ve all done that, you load up your arms with grocery bags because no matter what you will NOT be returning for a second trip. So rather than relying upon grocery shopping trips to build muscle, let’s start adding strength training (also referred to as resistance or load training) into your routine. Strength training can be done 2-3 times per week. I recommend splitting your routine with large muscles one day, (chest, full leg, back, shoulders) and small muscles the other day (biceps, triceps, core). Depending on your fitness level, you can modify repetitions and weights, but a general starting point is 2-3 sets and 8-12 reps. Perfect your bodyweight form before you add load. Consult with a personal trainer to ensure your form is correct to prevent injury.

I also incorporate power (anaerobic training), which is the product of strength and speed. Power gives us the ability to bicep curl quickly and with resistance. Muscles love power because they are metabolic – they are working all the time. Muscles like to be stretched. Power is also vertical jumping or lifting very heavy weights quickly. It’s the mojo that enables you to cross a street four lane intersection before the light changes. Power prevents you from falling, or tripping, when you catch yourself quickly.  Power is also a great adrenaline rush.

All of the best exercise in the world is of no value unless it is coupled with clean nutrition. Get 95-110 grams of protein per day, drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day, and eat as fresh and from the source as possible.  By varying your workout routine with elements of cardio, strength, power and rest, you will be on your way to avoiding plateau and developing your body into the best shape for YOU.

 

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Be a Renegade.

I’m a Ragnarian!

This past weekend I participated in an epic running event: a relay race! I haven’t done a relay race since my track & field days, and this is arguably the most challenging running-related experience I’ve ever had. The Ragnar Relay is a national running event, which takes place is over two dozen cities across the country, starting in one city, ending 200ish miles somewhere else. The Ragnar Chicago relay started in Madison, Wisconsin, headed east to Milwaukee, south along the Chicago lakefront and finished on Montrose Beach. We ran on country and city roads, trails, sidewalk and pavement, in and out of pouring rain, through the night.

My running group (Best Foot Forward) had two teams sign up for the Ragnar this year, thus we decided to make one a competitive team, and the other slightly less competitive team. I was on the first team, with the goal to win 1st place. Here’s a longish glimpse into what it entails to run on a team of 12 amazing women, eat, run, & ride in a van with 5 others, and sleep for 1.5 hours over a period of 28ish hours.

Van 1 - all decorated and marked by kills. Before we headed to the car wash
Van 1 – We’re all done! Here’s our Suburban, all decorated and marked by 179 kills before we headed to the car wash.

Leg 1: My team was assigned a start at 7:45. I was in van 1, which meant runners 1-6 got the first shift, while van 2 (runners 7-12) slept in and would start in the afternoon. Runner 1 started around 7:50am. We quickly drove off to exchange 1, and I hurriedly got out of the van, slightly overdressed in the misty rain. I’m a little high maintenance when it comes to running in various weather conditions so I was a bit anxious running in the rain. Trust me, this Ragnar experience has squashed all of those anxieties! I cued up my music and started my Charity Miles app as Runner 1 slapped the bracelet on me and I took off. (My teammates and I donated our miles to Every Mother Counts – EMC – via the Charity Miles app!) I knew the route, having reviewed the app but didn’t realize it would have a few slow inclines. I knew my strong legs were trained for hills and could do the work. My van honked at me along their way to the next exchange, and it put a smile on my face. The first couple miles of the 4.5 mile leg felt choppy as I was settling into a pace, calming my nerves and dodging intersections. Around leg two I switched to a different playlist and just took off. I saw a big incline coming, and passed a few more people. Every person you pass is called a ‘kill’ in the Ragnar vernacular, and in that leg I had 10 kills (I think). The ‘one more mile’ sign put another smile on my face as I kicked into higher gear to meet my teammates! As soon as I finished, a wave of adrenaline hit me, and I FINALLY felt energized as I realized the importance of MY part of this big relay team.

How does the team work? Each team has 12 runners, and is divided into 6 runners per van. After each of our 6 runners would complete her first leg, we would have a mini break while van 2 would complete their first 6 legs. At EMC, we say that a relay race is a beautiful metaphor for the experience of childbirth. There are so many people involved in the birth of a child, from family at home, to the transportation, to the birth attendants, every single person plays a vital role into bringing that baby into the world and keeping the mother safe and healthy. We didn’t see our van 2 too often, but we were in constant communication with them, and that we were working toward the same competitive goal is the most amazing feeling. That is true teamwork and takes serious camaraderie.

Team 1 Finish: Van 1 and Van 2 together. We run in with Runner 12. Totally shed some tears coming down that finish line!
Team 1 Finish: Van 1 and Van 2 together. We run in with Runner 12 (in the fuschia tank top). Totally shed some tears coming down that finish line! We decided on finish line costumes: “Ladies of the 80s”

Back to the race!

Leg 2: Everyone was on pace. I was getting more and more excited as we moved from one exchange to the next. Unfortunately, our anchor (runner 6) sustained a leg injury and was unable to complete her miles. (She ended up going home with her husband and her second and third legs were picked up by other teammates – that happens!). Another runner instantly jumped in to go after her, grab the slap bracelet and complete the remaining mileage to the next exchange were van 2 would begin their first legs. That was the first time the entire team of 12 got to see each other since the night before! After we handed off, van 1 headed into town for lunch (Lake Mills, WI). It was refreshing to sit, unwind, talk about our morning, and use a proper restroom. It was also the first time the 6 of us were together since the race started. After lunch we headed to the start of our second shift of running for an opportunity to rest. I pulled out my sleeping bag, laid out on the grass and enjoyed the afternoon sun with a little foam rolling.

Find a place to park, lie down and rest those legs.
Find a place to park, lie down and rest those legs.

By 5:45 pm it was time to get dressed and get moving again. Runner 1 was getting ready to go and it was a short leg so I had to be ready to run as soon as she took off. My second leg was another 4.5 miles, and I came in under my expected time again, and faster than my morning run, which was also coincidentally 4.5 miles. I was feeling so good on that run, so solid, and I had 15 kills! (I had 16, but then a guy I passed ended up passing me). My teammates told me I looked very strong coming into that finish, which is always nice to hear! I handed off the bracelet to runner 3 and we jumped in the car, time for me to get refreshed, and we drove to the next exchange. We had our exchanges down to a science! The team would greet the finishing runner at the chute and ask what she needed. I headed to the back row of the Suburban to change and clean up. We tended to rely upon baby and athletic wipes (Shower Pill!) and removed our wet clothing into sealed bags, which kept our car smelling fresh!

My teammate and I slept in one of these tents on the beach in Racine for about 90 minutes.
My teammate and I slept in one of these tents on the beach in Racine for about 90 minutes.

Leg 3: After runner 5 finished came through, our second set of legs was complete. (Van 2 would pick up our injured runner 6’s leg, which meant it was our turn to rest). We met up with the rest of our team and our other team at what was a rather large exchange location, where there was an indoor sleeping option (with sleeping bags of course). It was close to 10pm and our van decided to quickly inhale Jimmy Johns and drive to ‘tent city’ to sleep in the van or on the beach. A teammate and I opted to sleep in a tent on the beach of Racine. Easily one of the most exhilarating experiences of Ragnar overall! We “slept” from roughly 11:30p-1am. It was really hard to wake up but once we all got going, the energy started to flow again. We felt sluggish on our semi digested sandwiches, and whatever shuteye we could get. I rejoiced in the simple fact that I could lay down horizontally for a bit. This was probably the second lowest moment for me during the entire race – the first being the first 2 miles of leg 1 – as I was exhausted, extremely anxious to run my third leg, and sleep deprived. How could I possibly run fast feeling this way? The pace calculator gave me 1 hour to run my 6.33 legs (we are still wondering who or what the pace calculator does to determine expected finish times). I told my team I was going to take it a little easy and I’d try to run an 8:45 average. I got dressed, headlamp on, butt light on, and a light mist started. No big deal, I told myself, as it didn’t really impact my vision in any way, and it was somewhat refreshing. Around 3am, runner 1 came into the finish, I got the bracelet and took off into the darkness.

Finished my 3rd leg - all done!! 15.3 miles
Finished my 3rd leg – all done!! 15.3 miles

The MRK (Milwaukee-Racine-Kenosha) trail is very much like running on the path in Salt Creek, a trail I run on frequently. I am sure it is just as gorgeous but given that I only had visibility with the headlamp, there wasn’t much to admire at that hour. I dialed into a quick pace right away and tuned into my thoughts (normally I tune out). It was during this run I realized how incredible this entire experience has been thus far, how ridiculous it sounds that I’m traveling by foot from Madison to Chicago, and how a lot of my running fears have been conquered. I am always afraid of falling while running, and here I’m running in the dark and cannot see anything but what is ahead of me. I’m so programmed to running in the morning, and here I clocked an 8:14 average for 4.5 miles at 6:30pm. One after another my fears and hesitations were being smashed, and that encouragement plus my teammates constant motivation kept fueling me through my race. Back to my night run. When MapMyRun told me I was at mile 3, I quickly texted my team to say I was finishing ahead of schedule. After the trail part of the race ended, I ran on a road and some sidewalk. I don’t know exactly where it was, but I made one turn and suddenly I saw the city lights of Chicago ahead of me! I ran along the lake for about a quarter mile gazing at my city, with tears of joy and a big smile on my face. I took my headphones out and absorbed the sounds of the waves and birds chirping (who knew birds are up at 3:30am!?) As soon as I saw the ‘one more mile’ post, I firmed up my pace and focused on a strong finish. I averaged an 8:23 pace and it was easily my most favorite run ever. Period.

What have I learned from this experience? I am reminded that we make up excuses and stories about why we can’t and won’t do certain things outside of our comfort zone. But we NEED to. I do one crazy thing every year to keep challenging my fears and set higher goals. Back in August of last year, I decided this would be it for 2015. Running this race through all sorts of nature also reminded me of how small my daily issues, problems, and fears are, as compared to this big, beautiful world, and how much exploring I need to do! Be a renegade and get out of your head!

Oh in case you were wondering, the preliminary results are in: we won 1st place in our division (all women team).  Stay tuned for the final results!

Yours truly,

(One of ) The Fast Girls Your Mother Warned You About.

 

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The Food Babe Way: A Book Review

By now you’ve probably heard of Vani Hari, aka, the Food Babe, in some way shape or form. If you have followed the recent story on how Subway eventually removed Azodicarbonamide from its bread, then you know of her. She currently has her hands in several other investigations, such as getting Kraft to remove artificial dyes in their macaroni and cheese products, removing BHT from cereals and recently exposing the mind-numbing fact that the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte had neither pumpkin nor spice.

So immediately, given my personal interest in healthy, conscious eating, I took a liking to her. I started following some of her campaigns, and using my background in public health, performed my own research on similar topics. I have made personal (family-wide) campaigns against certain ingredients I now refuse to eat or drink, such as carrageenan – found in many brands of almond milk. (It definitely upsets my stomach and has loosely been associated with colon cancer). Giving that up was a no brainer. I was on the same page as the Food Babe, until I read her book, The Food Baby Way.

Her book guides the average (arguably uninformed) reader through a list of unhealthy chemicals we as society have ‘been duped’ into consuming. She carves out a list of what she calls, ‘The Sickening 15”, and relates many of her own childhood illnesses to this list. Many of the items on the list are very common knowledge, and several are not (dough conditioners). For example, growth hormones in meat, pesticides, BPA in plastics, and of course high fructose corn syrup, just to name a few are always in the media whether the message comes from Coca Cola, plastic water bottle campaigns, or labels on meat. My personal vendetta is against carrageenan, and that’s on her list too. (Thus far, no problems with her philosophy in creating this list). She then takes the reader into her personal 21-day detox. There are so many kinds of detox diets on the market, you could choose a new one every for 52 weeks, and her detox isn’t ground-breaking. I will pause here to insert that as a public health educator and conscious eater, I whole-heartedly do not believe in the concept of a detox or a cleanse. A detox is eliminating your regular foods in lieu of others (most often liquids) at a highly concentrated dosage. The body is not designed to handle drinking 5-6 juices per day for 5-10 days straight. Consider replacing a snack with a fresh juice, but not a meal. Juice fasts are not sustainable and it does not promote healthy habits in my opinion. Thus, when it comes to the Food Babe, I certainly do not agree in calling her prescription a detox; additionally, she makes several claims that I don’t feel are completely warranted. All of my opinions are in the context that I already live by the 80/20 principle (eat clean 80% of the time), therefore I wasn’t too motivated to change my habits despite to her accusatory tone.

Let me now highlight a couple of reasons why I am parting from the Food Babe way. (As always, do your own research, and use your own judgment). The majority of her rules are decent, and as I mentioned earlier I have been following such guidelines for years already. However, here are a few rules that offend me.

Day 3 – Stop drinking with your meals

Stop drinking fluids with meals? She claims that symptoms such as indigestion, heartburn, bloating, fatigue and headaches (to name a few) are likely caused by the habit of drinking fluids with meals. I would argue that the foods she was eating was probably causing those symptoms, as I drink water with my meals every day and have never once experienced this.

Day 4 – Drink and bathe in pure, clean, filtered water

There is not much I can say about this but who feels so entitled that they can afford to bathe in pure, clean, filtered water? Is she not aware that California has been in a drought for four years? Fine – drink clean water, but to profess to the world that one needs to bathe in it becomes preposterous.

Day 20 – Fast 12 hours every day.

This one bothers me the most, because I understand fasting and I believe she is providing mixed messages. She takes the overnight fast from your last meal to the extreme. She suggests, that because you are already sleeping for 8 hours (which not everyone does to begin with), why not add 4 hours and break your fast around 8:30-9am. Stop for a moment and consider the implications this would have in your life. Completely unfeasible in mine, this is nonsense, because the first thing I do when I wake up is eat so that I have energy to exercise. My brain needs that fuel which makes me more productive than I am on days when I haven’t eaten before a workout. She also claims this ‘intermittent fasting’ improves fat burning. Sure, it’s true that intermittent fasting, which is a popular fitness trend to get lean, can help people burn fat. However it is always coupled with a cardio workout to maximize the fat burn. Again, she’s not providing the complete picture.

While the above rules (and the other 18) can be considered well intentioned, they are very short sighted. Not everyone has the time or resources to engage in a 21-day detox of this scale, and what upsets me the most is her authoritative tone claiming amazing life benefits from doing so. She is quick to list out the “Sickening 15” and also list out her favorite foods on her website (does she profit from them?) She also dismisses any room for error in her 21-day detox.

I believe that if you adopt a lifestyle of eating healthy, clean, conscious, or whatever you prefer to call it, you are already on your way to living your best self. Don’t fall prey to diets (ex: Paleo), detoxes or cleanses. Inevitably you will be faced with difficult choices along the way. What do I eat at a party? What do I eat when traveling? What do I eat at a work event? Follow the 80/20 rule and eat healthy 80% of the time and allow yourself the 20% breathing room. You will feel great because you are in control. Diets and cleanses are not wholesome; they are temporary fixes and are unsustainable. Remember, the best plan is the one you keep, and that is a lifestyle.

P.S. Who calls themselves a “Food Babe”?

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Whole Life Challenge – My Review

My women’s running club regularly participates in the 8-week fitness and nutrition game called the Whole Life Challenge (WLC), and one day last December I decided to join the next round which started January 17. I was fully aware of the  golden rules: no sugar no bread for 8 weeks (The Paleo diet in disguise essentially). I am already a clean eater, and daily exercise is no problem for me. So the real challenge would be to confront my sugar addiction. I signed up. My husband, two sons, family and close friends were fully forewarned of the potential mood swings they would have to endure WITH me. Yes – I made sure I had a decent support system to remind myself of my challenge and to help me succeed. On the first day of the challenge I went to a friend’s surprise birthday party. (Probably the first birthday I’ve left without eating cake). I was prepared however; I had a slightly cold banana waiting for me I the car. Leaving it in the car was a mistake but a good one because I ultimately learned that the colder temperature of the banana provides a sweeter return. (Hint: banana ice cream).

So here we go. Eight weeks of no sugar and no bread and day 1 was great. I felt like a champion. End of week one and my family was begging for me to give it up. Turns out I’m not nice when I’m not on simple carbs. Moving forward another week and into half marathon training, I found it hard to subsist on sweet potatoes, all the extra meat I felt forced to eat, and beans. (Off the challenge I would eat meat a few times a week at a maximum). My skin took a beating presumably from all the extra almonds I was consuming. (Almond butter brownies being the biggest pot of gold). I didn’t feel great and about 3 weeks in, near my birthday (which was my predetermined drop out date), I was at an all time low. I made a chocolate mousse from avocado and seeing the green bits invade my chocolate was atrocious. I got into my first ever fender bender. My mood was constantly depressed. I was not myself at all.  I had no energy on the treadmill. I was ready to quit. I proudly quit on my birthday – 4 weeks into the challenge. I scheduled my annual physical and was beyond shocked to learn that my Trigs and HDL were at an all time low. My Trigs were 39!! A low fat diet is around 50. Could it be too low, I wondered? I slowly started to add back bread, enjoy life better, and deal with the sub-5 nutrition score. (Every day the challenge awards you up to 13 points). Adding the bread meant losing the points – I could deal with that! Dramatically my life changed. My athletic performance improved, as did my mood. My family liked me again. I liked myself again, too.
New PR! 1:54
New PR! 1:54

The challenge ended the weekend of my NYC half marathon. I had already checked out of the eating game, and I missed the post-challenge team brunch. So there really wasn’t much ‘closure’ so to speak. But on my end of things, I was so ready to treat myself! I had a great race, set a new half marathon PR, and was jetting off to Paris the night of my race. Mile 12 was when it hit me that I was going to Paris and would be eating croissants and drinking cappuccinos in cafes all day!  It would be the perfect celebration of the end of the Whole Life Challenge.

The Daily
The Daily

It was a whirlwind week and every day in Paris I made it a priority to eat bread, croissants or waffles. I was in gluten heaven. I loved not having to worry about counting anything! I ate so much bread my brothers and sister would just pass the basket to me on the table as soon as it arrived. Did I binge? Probably. But I earned those carbs. I know everyone is wondering if I ever kicked the sugar habit. And I did! No longer feeling vulnerable in front of those bakery chocolate chip cookies. I’m in better control of my sweet cravings, have created a handful of healthier alternatives. I’m excited for what’s next!

Cacao Hemp Smoothie Bowl
Cacao Hemp Smoothie Bowl

A dozen or so people would ask, “why are you doing this challenge? What do you have to gain from it? Why are you only doing the basic level? Why are you trying to lose weight? Did you win?” I participated in this challenge for several reasons. As a personal trainer, I come across many clients interested in many diets. I am not a fan of diets and my experience above is exactly why. A diet implies an end date with are rules and restrictions. There will be binging. There will be falling off the bandwagon. I didn’t lose any weight, but I did shave off some inches. In the game I ended up at 21st place (125 started the challenge, 46 finished) – not bad.  My blood test proved me that excluding sugar and bread might not be what my body as an endurance athlete needs. I found I was motivated by the possibility of earning a perfect score every day which helped me stay away from noncompliant foods. But it also allowed me to explore other means to satisfy my sweet tooth. Dates, banana ice cream and almond butter brownies were my saviors. I even won a recipe challenge! However, this experience was not enough for me to change habits – but serves a purpose for those looking to try new things. (Reminding myself I already follow the 80/20 clean eating rule, so I didn’t have many bad habits to break).

In order to change your nutrition habits to eat better so that you can perform better in life, the change agent has to be intrinsic. It has to be motivated by something greater than our own ego. I am glad I did the challenge, and I am glad I can share this experience with my clients. The most important takeaway for me is that I know where my limits are and what nutrition my body needs to perform at its optimum level. That was the best lesson for me to learn.
*To learn more about this health and fitness game, or to join the next round, head to wholelifechallenge.com
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Running for Pelvic Health

In my experience thus far as a personal trainer, I’ve met a variety of women at different stages of fitness. I enjoy the assessment process, asking relevant questions about health, fitness and eating habits, using that information to design a program to help my client become “Stronger Fitter Faster”, my tagline. However, after a recent conversation with Women’s Health Foundation (WHF) founder, Missy Lavender, I have come to realize there is a huge piece of my assessment that I have been missing especially in my female clients: pelvic health.

Yes, pelvic health. Continue reading Running for Pelvic Health

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I Run for Mothers

In 2013 I unofficially joined Every Mother Counts (EMC) as a Running Ambassador. That means I get to run, metaphorically, for women who are walking or running to seek healthcare. Often, failing to make it due to labor complications. Ninety percent of maternal mortality is preventable. Ninety percent. And Every Mother Counts has figured out ways to cut into that alarming statistic by addressing access, barriers, and education.  In October 2014, I was really fortunate to finally meet my EMC family in person, and was asked to join a panel discussion following a new movie premiere entitled, “Every Mile, Every Mother”.

Christy Turlington Burns, EMC Founder; Julie Smolyansky, CEO Lifeway Foods; Ayesha Akhtar, EMC Running Ambassador; Erin Thornton, CEO EMC
L to R: Christy Turlington Burns, EMC Founder; Julie Smolyansky, CEO Lifeway Foods; Ayesha Akhtar, EMC Running Ambassador; Erin Thornton, CEO EMC

The documentary, narrated by EMC Founder, Christy Turlington Burns, follows the team on the biggest relay race – the Hood to Coast. Following the premiere, I got to join her, CEO Erin Thornton, and Moderator Julie Smolyansky (CEO, Lifeway Foods) for a short Q&A panel discussion, also unveiling the Running Ambassador program. I discussed my own childbirthing experiences and urged interested audience members to start sharing their own stories so we could begin connecting the dots and learn from one another.

I’ve been running in solidarity with Team EMC using the Charity Miles app — best and easiest way to raise money and awareness for several selected charities.  I’d wear my EMC logo shirt as well. Next month, I’m excited to finally run WITH my team, at the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon! It’s my first race in NYC, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to join up not only with EMC staff but also the Ambassadors from across the country!

You can help me get to the start line! Every dollar you contribute goes to programming in up to 9 countries worldwide, from assisting women in transportation, training doulas and providing safe birthing supplies. You can be a part of reducing maternal mortality!

Thank you for your support.

My Crowdrise Page:

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Recipe: Clean(ish) chocolate chip cookie bars

I am a complete sucker for chocolate chip cookies. It is my weakness; my downfall. I was so happy to come across this guilt-free recipe from ToneItUp.com and made a few changes according to what I had in my pantry.  Lessons learned: blend well – you don’t want chunks of chickpeas visible in the cookie. Perhaps blend the chickpeas well first, then slowly add in the rest of the ingredients. The coconut sugar is something I use in baking a lot – it tends to darken whatever I bake, so keep that in mind. Enjoy!

Blend all ingredients (except chocolate chips) well – I had to use a bit of oil.

No one will ever guess the secret ingredient!
No one will ever guess the secret ingredient!

3/4 cup Creamy Unsalted Peanut Butter – Almond Butter is best but I didn’t have any on hand.

  • 1/2 cup Organic Coconut Sugar
  • 1 can (15oz) Garbanzo Beans, Canned, Rinsed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp, Baking Powder, Aluminum Free
  • 2 tsp (5 mL), Vanilla Extract

Mix in via spoon:

  • 1.5 cup Chocolate Chips

Pour batter into greased 9×9 pan. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1
Servings Per Container 16

Amount Per Serving
Calories 128 Calories from Fat 54
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 6g 9%
Saturated Fat 1g 5%
Trans Fat g
Cholesterol mg 0%
Sodium 178mg 7%
Total Carbohydrate 17g 6%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Sugars 8g
Protein 4g 8%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

 

(Recipe adapted from ToneItUp.com)

 

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Stronger Fitter Faster

Need a quick workout you can do at home? All you need is a set of dumbbells between 8-12 lbs.

Here’s a snapshot of a workout from my Stronger Fitter Faster class I teach on Tuesday nights at Lively Running.

Perform a warmup of your choice for about 6-10 minutes.

Perform each exercise for 1 minute, run through each circuit 3 times.

Try not to take breaks between exercises, but allow yourself 30-60 seconds after each circuit.

Be sure to cool down and stretch.

Let me know how you like it!


 

1. Curtsy Lunge (see pic)

Curtsy lunge

 

 

 

 

 

2. Pushups (modified or military style, whatever you can maintain in good form for 1 minute. Can also do sets of 10, with a short rest)

3. Tricep dip on bench or step (see pic)

Bench/Chair tricep dip

4. Plank with leg raise (see pic)

Plank with leg raise

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Dumbbell arnold press (see pic)

Arnold press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Squat to overhead shoulder press (see pic)

Squat to overhead press

 

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