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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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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My Interview with the SkinLess Project

The SkinLess Project presents:
Inspirational Woman May 2014: Ayesha Akhtar
An Interview.

I was honored to be the “Inspirational Woman” for the month of May at the SkinLess Project. To hear more about my endeavors, check out the website here.

You are passionate about advocacy for women and young girls, where does this stem from?

In college (Loyola University Chicago) I received a scholarship into a 4 year women’s leadership program. I knew I was some version of a feminist (or a proponent of the advancement of women), but had no idea about the passion the program would ignite in me by the time I graduated. Thereafter, I viewed everything from the lens as an advocate for women and girls. (Check out the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership)

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13.

I’m in a rut. I have writer’s block. I’m feeling very uncreative. I’m running all my miles on the treadmill for crying out loud! It is the dead of winter. We’ve endured and survived a thing called “polar vortex”, and I’m just over it. I’m ready for spring so I can remove things that have been frozen to the ground.  Weeks ago, like everyone else, I had written this gratitude list of 13 *things* I am grateful for this year. I didn’t feel like posting it, but I do think looking back allows me to look forward and plan out my year. I don’t dwell on the past, but rather consider life events and experiences as artifacts of my life. Every event had a proper place, given its context.  And in true Aquarian style, I’m posting it now, on my own terms. And after having thought about it a little more. 

My parents, my husband of 15 years, my two sons and my siblings


My new house, which I adore curating into our beloved home


My talent, which enables me to be successful in my career


Watching Derrick Rose play at the United Center


Traveling, whether with friends, family or for work


Running a sub-2hr half marathon


Getting physically stronger, lifting heavier weights, and boxing more

Writing MY narrative – check out www.MuslimahMontage.com

Amazing locally roasted coffee – Every morning I make myself a latte with the freshest locally roasted beans. Seriously, Chicago coffee has some attitude that rivals my favorites from the Bay Area and NYC. If you’re looking, try dark / espresso roasts from Big Shoulders and Halfwit Coffee Roasters – that stuff will go right through you.

My girlfriends

My health – part of the “Five before Five” sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Take benefit of five before five:
your youth before your old age,
your health before your sickness,
your wealth before your poverty,
your free-time before your preoccupation,
and your life before your death.”

and finally,
Being able to do it all over again in 2014. (God willing)

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10 life lessons I’ve learned from running

What running has taught me about life.

Disclaimer: I was inspired to write this post after reading some #runchat comments between a couple of bloggers, check them out here> http://www.happyfitmama.com/life-lessons-running/ and www.pavementrunner.com.

It’s definitely a list that I’ve thought of over the last several years, and resonates with me in daily life.

  1. “Be Somebody”.

    "Be Somebody"
    “Be Somebody”

    This is what ultramarathoner Scott Jurek signed in my copy of Eat & Run. I met him a couple years ago for a fun run. When you read the book, he talks about his running coaches and pals who have said this to him along his way. Really, are you going to go out there and simply pound the pavement, or can you really ‘be somebody’. Always leave a dent, make an impact, make yourself better every time.

  2. It’s okay to leave your gadgets at home. I ran my fastest 5k unplanned, no watch, ran on feel and surprised myself. Sure it’s great to run with a Garmin but trusting in technology takes away from being in touch with yourself. Lose the gadget, free yourself. Disconnect from technology every day; turn your phone off after a certain hour, don’t be used by tools.
  3. You reap what you sow. When you toe in at the starting line, there is nothing but your training (or lack thereof) that will make or break you. Much like life, what you put into your life comes back to reward you. Work smart, get rewarded.
  4. Always have a plan B. Start a run strong, cramp up, trip, slow down, bump into a friend, whatever it is that stops you from what you initially intended to run cannot be the ‘end all’. Always have a plan B and be okay with it. This has spilled into my life as an educator for the Epilepsy Foundation – the first training I did was in a special needs room with a sight dog barking and running around the room and the L training buzzing by every five minutes. It wasn’t my ideal situation, but I adapted to something just as perfect.
  5. Don’t give up when life presents you with a challenge, you are about to make a breakthrough. You know this when you are planking and are about to collapse – don’t! It is said our true character shows when we are facing hardship or difficulty – that is when we are making a breakthrough. Be your best self when it counts the most. No one regrets trying their hardest.
  6. Injured? Figure out what happened and prevent it next time. I can’t say this enough as a public health practitioner. There is a public health impact in everything, and I approach my life this way. My goals are to prevent disease, increase awareness and promote health education. My brother recently ran the Chicago Marathon and developed a meniscus tear at mile 25. Diagnosing his knee means understanding the mechanics and kinesiology of the knee, basically going deeper into the injury. Life lesson? We have to take that extra step to solve problems. I’ve written a lot on the negative impact of media on girls’ self esteem, which basically puts the onus of responsibility and accountability back on corporations, movies, and the music industry. Why are they interested in selling a concept of weak women and images of photoshopped girls and women? Who is their audience? There is always a cause and effect. I could go on…
  7. Start what you finish. This is so hard for me as an aquarian (yes I read those signs from time to time).
    Still don't know how we finished this trail run without snowshoes!
    Still don’t know how we finished this trail run without snowshoes!

    Can’t see the pavement because of yesterday’s blizzard? Well, just do your best and have fun with it. As someone who has multiple interests, it can be overwhelming to get it all done. But in general, we should always strive to finish what we start, hopefully at 100%, but sometimes it at less.

  8. Be empowered. Embrace your strengths. Being a mid-distance runner has somehow elevated me among my acquaintances and friends to a different echelon of ‘fitness people’, hardcore, they say. I don’t know how it happened, I hit the perfunctory 5 mile mark one April day and knew I was in a new club.  From that day onward, I started going out for 10 mile runs no big deal. If you find yourself saying to someone, “I only ran 5 miles today”, then you know what I’m talking about. You’re a beast and you know it (at least now you do). Life lesson here (and verse from the Qur’an) is we are always capable of more than we think we can handle. Stop that negative self-talk and rise above it. (I love Runner’s World’s columnist Marc Parent’s article on getting to five miles).
  9. Running is for me, myself and I. I love to run alone on the pavement. But I do enjoy running with company, and do so 1-2x a week. We build our self efficacy when we are alone, and increase our self esteem when we join others. We feel good about ourselves when we do something good together.
    races are always more fun with friends
    races are always more fun with friends

    Consider volunteering, it is always more impactful to the community or organization in aggregate, and we get to hang out with family and friends. However the true benefit you get from making a difference is an individual experience. In the end, YOU have to feel good about yourself when giving YOUR time to a cause, not the time of your friends or family.

  10. Have a sense of humor. Seriously, if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re fooling yourself. Yes you are important but there are bigger things to worry about around the world.  Life is too short and unpredictable, make the best of every day, count your blessings, and be good to others.

    It's totally okay to hang out on the lakefront path and take silly running photos.
    It’s totally okay to hang out on the lakefront path and take silly running photos.

Peace out.

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The Secret Race

Okay, last weekend I did the unimaginable: my first time. I am embarrassed to admit this (and I don’t know how many of you have ever done this). I ran a race bandit! I had every intention to wake up early (the woman wouldn’t accept my registration the day before), register and run a 5k with friends. However, the chain of events that day went more like: I woke up late, texted that I would not be coming, eventually got up because I couldn’t go back to sleep, conveniently put on my running clothes, grabbed some coffee, and headed down the street to the race where I was now going to be cheering my friends for a change. It took one friend to nudge me slightly and I was putting down my coffee and jumping in the starting line. It was only a 5k so not much thought required, she said. Ehh, I know the route – I run it every week!

A lot of people get upset about people running races bandit (unregistered), and normally I would too. Here’s Peter Sagal’s admission to running a REALLY BIG RACE, aka, the Chicago Marathon, bandit.  However, this was a very small race (3.1 miles with 100 people), and I knew I wasn’t going to take any water or gatorade that I didn’t pay for, so really what would be the harm done?  I definitely wouldn’t run anything bigger than a 5k unregistered…Thoughts?

Crossing the finish line amazed at my 5k PR, annoyed I didn't register ahead of time.
Crossing the finish line amazed at my 5k PR, annoyed I didn’t register ahead of time.

26:06 turned out to be my best 5k time thus far and the secret race helped me get over my demise from the Oak Brook half marathon.

I couldn’t help but exclaim, ‘But no one will ever know my time!’. To which she replied, ‘you will, and that’s all that matters’. So, cheers to ME for running my best race that I wasn’t signed up for. At least I got a photo finish and a huge boost to my self-esteem. 😉

Next race?

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We can’t win them all

OBhalf
Weird hand gesture … looks like I’m missing a finger??

On Labor day I ran the Oak Brook half marathon, a relatively newer race, sprawled all over my cute little, sleepy hometown of Oak Brook. There’s just one small catch: very hilly. The race had many hills, and 2 miles of the race were run in Fullersburg woods, a beautiful wooded forest preserve right in the heart of Oak Brook.  Of course living in Oak Brook should have clued me in to the hills – but I had no idea – and since I don’t train on any hills whatsoever in Chicago, I was doomed.  I look pretty happy here though, it’s only mile 3.5..

But as I ran down that hill, basically it was the start of essentially Murphy’s Law and anything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. Continue reading We can’t win them all

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Live an Authentic Life

I was truly honored when friend Sophie asked me to contribute a piece to her new website! The secret is that I am an ordinary person living an extraordinary life. I am a mother, wife (married for 15 years), daughter, employee, and friend. Despite my ordinary roles, I have the potential to be amazing. I know this because I create that potential. I have come to terms with my identities in all my roles, dismantled all the ‘rackets’ (preconceived stereotypes) associated with them, and have created a transformation for myself to achieve my goals. Sounds like something from Star Wars? It’s all quite simple in fact. I am a working mother of two, who makes time for a fitness life – which is critical to my happiness – and am celebrating my 15th wedding anniversary this July. My identities are interconnected! It has taken me years to reach this level of high self-esteem and self-confidence; and it began after taking a course in 2002 with Landmark Education (yes the lessons learned still live strong in 2013!). I’ve also recently read similar lessons in Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements and I want to share with you some of my favorite lessons learned, because you too, have the possibility to live an extraordinary life.
Continue reading Live an Authentic Life

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Ayesha and the Zooma Race

Originally appeared: http://www.everymothercounts.org/blog/201308/ayesha-and-chicago-zooma-race

“Of course ‘every mother counts’,” was the first comment my mom had when I told her the purpose for my early morning need to leave my boys with her as I headed out to the lakefront for the Zooma Chicago race. Unfortunately, as obvious as it may be that all mothers are important, there is still so much work that needs to be done in the arena of maternal health. Narrowing the public health gaps (access, cost & quality) for women seeking prenatal and antenatal care as well as safe delivery care are issues very dear to me. I took a course in graduate school on maternal health and was shocked to learn how poorly the United States ranks in preventing maternal mortality, and even more appalling when compared to other industrial, strong nations.
I spent some of my post-graduate years working with young girls and helping them develop self-esteem, strong minds and bodies, yet yearned for the maternal audience. It all starts at home, I kept thinking, with mothers. I found Every Mother Counts (EMC) and immediately fell in love with the mission and even more so when I read Christy’s story of how EMC was founded. I too had a story! I had two complicated births, despite all my attempts at hiring a doula, a midwife, taking natural childbirth classes, and wanting to refuse medication. Yet I found myself in front of an obstetrician both times. I thought, how could this be happening? I thought I knew everything! How lucky I am to be in a country, state and city that allowed me the freedom to seamlessly be transferred between midwife and MD. I never took it for granted, and was even more grateful when I had to visit my firstborn in the neonatal unit where he spent his first four days of life. I know I am lucky because for every case like mine there are ten women who didn’t survive childbirth.

Volunteering at the Every Mother Counts info booth at the Chicago Zooma race

This is why I left my kids at home and asked EMC if I could volunteer at their table at the Zooma race on a Saturday morning. I want everyone to know that it is entirely possible to die from pregnancy complications or during childbirth, in 2013, nonetheless. I’ve espoused EMC’s mission, and I’m thrilled to help!

In this country we have a choice on everything. Information is thrown at us from every direction, when we want it and when we don’t. We choose to make changes in our lives based on these little nuances. During both of my pregnancies I was enrolled at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and strongly believe that the education I received at that time was life-changing, not only for me and my family, but everyone in my ‘circle’. I believe it is my responsibility as a mother and as a public health educator to empower women with medically-accurate information. Educating and enabling women to use their experiences can also help reduce maternal mortality across the world.

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