So, I ran a marathon.

It’s funny how people thought every time I ran a race I was running a marathon, and so no one but myself was surprised that I actually ran it on October 9th. I was always the person who would talk people out of running it, commenting it didn’t provide any physical benefit, only detriment after 13.1 miles. But a couple things changed my opinion. Spectating the race every year is inspiration, but was never enough to compel me to run. Turns out, turning 40 makes you think about all the things you have accomplished in your life, and what work you have ahead of you to make your mark in this world.

As a Running Ambassador for Every Mother Counts, I’m fortunate to be surrounded with like-minded women who choose to run to raise awareness of maternal mortality. So joining the team for the Chicago Marathon was no different. I ran the Big Sur Relay Marathon in April and crossing the finish line as the anchor was exhilarating, but I was also alongside finishers of the full marathon. I looked at them eagerly, wanting that same accomplishment. One of my teammates caught wind of my interest and she was determined to change my opinion of the 26.2 miles. Thanks Anna :)

Got back home, kept thinking about it. The lottery day had long passed for Chicago, but I knew we had a team coming to Chicago in October. June rolled around, I focused on Ramadan, fasting and cutting back on mileage. It was during this time I decided that if I was going to run any marathon, it had to be for charity and that I would do it with conviction: I joined team EMC. I finished Ragnar Chicago (we got 1st place in women’s open again!) and quietly started training (mentally) for the marathon. I didn’t even tell my parents until after my first 20 mile run.

What I could not have predicted was how much I absolutely loved the training. I looked forward to the long runs. And funny enough, I started disliking the 12 and especially 14 milers. I loved anything over 16 miles. Anything under 10 became “easy”. Just bizarre. The fellowship, the commitment, the challenge, the journey of the longer distances invigorated me. Every long run pushed me mentally, physically and emotionally. I will never forget the first time I ran 16 miles, I knew I was closing in on 16 miles, so I picked up my pace, departed from my running partner, and finished with tears of joy. This happened many more times. I did most of my training runs with my running club. We are a tribe of mother runners, and no one could have supported me any better than them. I’m blessed to have them in my life.

My first Marathon
Chicago Marathon

The best part of all of this training was for me to know that every single step had meaning. During one of my long runs my mom was in Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. I thought of her and the millions of Muslims on foot, making that spiritual journey. I likened my run to a spiritual journey many times. Some days I log my run on Charity Miles (miles get donated to charity) or I set a specific intention for the run. For the marathon, I dedicated my steps to raising awareness of maternal mortality. I love the metaphor of running to raise awareness for this cause because in so many parts of the world (including right here in the US) distance is one of the largest barriers in seeking health care. If I can run to save one life, then that is what I need to do.

Race day was exciting, but I just wanted to be done. All the hard work in the summer, the hot training days, the trials and gear tests was about to be cashed in on a beautiful Sunday morning. I set my intention, ran well in the first half. Coming up on the 13.1 mark, I spotted my boys but kept going. I felt kind of bad that I didn’t stop for them, given they were the ones following me around, so I decided to stop the 2nd and 3rd times I saw them. The first marathon is about having fun, right? I knew that stopping for them (and my friends who came to support me) would impact my time, but hugging my boys gave me the energy I needed, and hearing my son Imraan tell me repeatedly “mama you are a superwoman! you are running a MARATHON!!” was like kryptonite for me! My second half was okay. I didn’t hit ‘the wall’, but I certainly had two angry quads, for which I had to stop a few times. My yoga instructor would always say, when you are stressed, bring yourself back to neutral before you make a decision. I had to do this a few times – pull over to the side, close my eyes, take 5 deep breaths and count to 10. It was like hitting reset and it allowed me to continue. I finished strong and happy, and in tears (of course). I had a great race overall, and I’m thankful to God that I could run. I did miss my goal time by 20 minutes, but I suppose that is God’s plan to keep me running marathons while I am able.

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Coming Full Circle

My last entry was about the Big Sur Marathon Relay, and probably one of the most momentous races in my life. Not only because of the incredible scenery, but because of the experience I had overall running on a team, with my team for charity. It was the only time after finishing 9.5 hilly, canted miles did I wish I could keep running. I envied the excitement and of the full marathoners. I wanted that same sense of accomplishment. Subconsciously, I was planning my first 26.2. I knew it last year, when I was spectating the 2015 Chicago Marathon, that after turning 40 in February of this year, it would be high time for me to finally run the full distance. I was always the person who would talk anyone out of doing a marathon. “It’s bad for your health”, I would say. “There’s no fitness benefit”, I would add. But secretly I knew the jig was up, and if ever I would run a marathon, it had to be in Chicago and for Every Mother Counts.

I secured my charity bib and did not tell a single person until after Ramadan ended in the beginning of July. The marathon lottery came and went and I didn’t say a word. People started their marathon training, and I secretly did as well, but under the guise of “I’m always training”.  I did not want anyone to interfere with my decision, challenge my previous thinking, or comment that Ramadan (the month of fasting) would interfere with marathon training. I told my parents just 2 weeks ago that I was running the marathon after I finished my second 20 mile training run! Slowly and surely I have come out of the closet and am now 10 days away from running this race I never thought I would run. I have incredible support and through family and friends, I’ve raised over $2,100 to help reduce the barriers of maternal mortality, stemming from a lack of access, transportation, supplies and education.

My two sons just had birthdays: 14 and 12. Both of their births had slight complications and running in their honor is the only way for me to run. I connect my steps metaphorically with other women worldwide, who embark on the journey of childbirth, which people tend not to focus on as much. The pomp and circumstance is pregnancy and the baby. But what about those 800 women who die every day in childbirth? And then what about the fact that 90% of those deaths are preventable? So yeah, it’s time for me to put on this jersey and run for those women, so that they too can be around to celebrate their child’s 12th and 14th birthdays.

If you want to help me get to the start line, please contribute to my Crowdrise account here. All your contributions go to great places and make a significant impact, worldwide.

God bless!

Ayesha

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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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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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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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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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Running for Mothers

Hello everyone!! I have been waiting for this moment for months and months.  I am extremely excited to announce that I will be part of the pilot Running Ambassador program for Every Mother Counts (EMC)!

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 9.02.12 AMFor those of you who know me, you’ll know this is a perfect marriage of two of my loves: running and public health. So what does this mean for us?

  • Me: Identify a local running event, a 5k or 10k, or even a half marathon, and ensure I can create a team of runners
  • You: Register for the race, join the team, tell your friends about it, thereby raising awareness, and hopefully, raise funds
  • Me: Lead group runs, provide training plans if needed
  • You: Be awesome and support Every Mother Counts!
  • Us: Create a running revolution and make a united impact as a team!

Continue reading Running for Mothers

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Race Recap: The party is over…

If you have ever been a part of planning a huge party or a wedding, then you get it. That empty feeling you have as the last guest leaves, and your heart swells up with joy and your mind is sorting through all the new memories you created. Maybe you are wondering, when will I see them again? It’s a dramatic sentiment, but it’s exactly how I am feeling now, post-triathlon. I feel like I said goodbye to a dear friend. One that I trained with for months and months. It kept me company every day and because it was new, every week was exciting. I loved the highs and lows of learning how to swim all over again. Oh, and the gear?? Buying a new swim suit after YEARS. Experimenting with goggles, paddles, flippers and buoys. Some things I never knew existed for the water before this year. The drama with my bike, wavering between, ‘will I like triathlons and if so should I buy a road bike’, or ‘Nah, I’ll just hybridize my mountain bike and deal with it’. I installed a bike computer and pedal cages which made me feel accomplished. I had the run covered, no sweat. But it was tricky learning how to successfully complete brick workouts from bike to run!

The 2014 Esprit de She Sprint Triathlon. Here’s how it went down.

The standard 4am wake up call: adrenaline woke up me and got me out of the house. I was in transition by 5:30am, set up all my gear as you can see below, and started eating my overnight oats. That was one of the smarter things I did that morning…

sweet bikes to my right and left...
sweet bikes to my right and left…

Then my fellow race pals and I decided to walk the T1 and T2 paths to familiarize ourselves with the course and stay warm. Transition would close at 6:45am, so by this point, we had about an hour. It was really great to walk around and see everyone’s transition setup, especially swoon over the elite bikes! That’s when it really hit me that my mountain bike with hybrid tires wasn’t going to cut it.

Before it all went down...
Before it all went down…

 

The 750 m Swim

Swallowed some EnergyBits tablets and it was time to head out. Grabbed my goggles and swim cap and we made our way. I had a mylar blanket to keep myself warm until my start time of 7:52 (Wave 14). In my mind I was thinking, I’ve got this! All I need to do is get into a groove and I’ll be set. I had NO IDEA what I was in for. For those of you who have done a triathlon, you know what I’m chaos I am referring to! A friend and fellow racer from my running club did warn me that it would take about 100-200m before my nerves would calm down / HR would come down. What I wish I had prepared for was that feeling of ‘HEY, is that woman trying to drown me?!?!’ Surely she is not, she is trying to do exactly the same as me, which is find some space and get into a groove. I was so anxious I had to flip on my back and swim backstroke for about a full lap. It’s simply very hard to swim well when you are constantly being kicked and smacked. No lane lines to see where you are going, you constantly have to look up. I kept trying to look out for my vista points but would lose them moments later. Maybe that’s just the beginner’s swim, and now it won’t happen again? I know I lost a LOT of time panicking and doing this. Despite the drama, my total time for the swim was 19 minutes.

T1: 4:58

Couple notes on T1. My bike was racked towards the end of the entry, so it was a long shuffle from the swim. Getting my bike off the rack – should have practiced after racking it in the morning. Lesson learned.

The 13.3 mile Bike

Got the bike off the rack, grabbed a fig bar, water bottle was already loaded but I FORGOT to add a Nuun tablet. And rushed out to mount. I had taped a Clif gel to my bike the night before so that would be my source of carbs for the ride. THE WIND WAS AWFUL. It was a double loop course so I thought I’d be safe on the way back since I was getting so much headwind, but no, not at all. Wind found me head on both ways, both times. Drank water every 5 miles, took the gel at mile 8. All I can say about the bike is that I was being passed up by mostly everyone and their mom and by the end if I heard someone say “On your left!!” one more time, I was going to S C R E A M! I made a point to pass up a few people and finished strong with a lousy 54 min.

T2: 3:37

Notes on T2. There is be no reason why this cannot be under 2-2 1/2 minutes. Especially because I was not wearing cycling shoes. Alas, I racked my bike, took off the helmet, grabbed the visor, Garmin but FORGOT my bib. I ran out, stepped on the timing belt and it wasn’t until a woman quickly called out ‘HEY you forgot your bib!!’. I ran back to transition and ran back out. So there’s my awful T2 time.

The 5k Run

The run was awesome! I got into a meditative groove right away, knowing it is my strength. However, the last race I did was the Soldier Field 10 mile and I cramped at mile 8. The cramping got me through the finish line until my legs started spasming so bad that I was wheeled into the medic tent. All I kept thinking about was thanking God for giving me the opportunity to race today, and to please keep my legs in check and let me just get through pain-free! And I did!! Also, I don’t race short distances so there was no time to complain :) My average pace was 8:27 and my time was 26:15 (53/246). I will say one more thing, the finish line deceived me. There were two timing belts, placed about 20 m apart, I don’t know WHY I nearly stopped at the first one, until I heard a woman yell out to me to KEEP GOING (maybe the same one who said my bib was missing??). I have never ever done that in any race, so either fatigue set in or the race layout is all wrong :)

Overall

I know there was room for improvement in everything I did. And that’s the beauty of your first time, you create the framework from which to improve and make modifications. My overall time was 1:48. I planned for 1:45, mostly because it sounds like a really great number. Otherwise I have nothing to compare this to, so until I sign up for another sprint triathlon, which I will, I will happily take my beautiful medal and enjoy the fact that I set out to complete a triathlon, and now I can finally say, I’m a triathlete!!

Hopefully the first of many
Hopefully the first of many

 

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My first triathlon!

This is it!

Raceweek! The homestretch! Whatever you call it, it’s here. I’m thrilled with my training, and can’t wait until I get into the pool on Sunday. When I consider the swim alone, I’ve come SO FAR in just a few months. I have successfully overcome my traumatic near-drowning experience in Kauai a little over 4 years ago, which kept me out of the water all this time. Time is both a great healer and mentor. I have done the hard work: the laps in the pool, the miles on the road, the indoor and outdoor rides. This week I need to focus on nutrition, sleeping and stretching. I’ll get in the water once or twice, ride and run twice. Friday is REST DAY! The two days before the race I will load up on complete protein and complex carbohydrates to top off glycogen levels. Can’t forget to hydrate! For race-day endurance I plan on taking my EnergyBits before I hit the pool, and again in T1 before I get on the bike. I will load my water bottle with Nuun and have a backup ready to go. Fig bars will be the energy of choice – they are a great source of potassium, sodium and are extremely portable.

Do you have a big race coming up? What does your raceweek look like?

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