Racing Weight, Body Image and the Scale

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Clothing size and the number on the scale can often torment or define the happiness of many of us. I’ve been very open about my relationships with food, body image, and an obsession at times with my size and the number on the scale. In today’s blog I’d like to discuss that number on the scale in regards to running and athletic performance, but also to address the human struggle.

I’m asked all the time about body weight and speed. It makes sense that the lighter the runner, the faster and more efficient the athlete. This is true in a lot of ways. Runners chasing down a specific time goal often look for the lightest shoe they can handle. Every step, stride, arm swing – that takes energy. When every second counts, so does every ounce. HOWEVER, athletes need to be careful to not lose too much muscle. An athlete who is under fueled and lacking good strength will be prone to injury, poor form, and can feel their training plateau because they are not fueled for training or racing. So there needs to be a safe, realistic, and honest assessment of finding that sweet spot. Extra weight isn’t good, but neither is being under weight. For my athletes, I always promote eating to support their training needs. Usually extra weight tends to disappear, but the athlete is also successfully fueled to knock those hard runs out of the park. This isn’t to say that runners always lose weight. Some can gain weight, as their appetite increases and perhaps they get a little carried away. It’s a balance. And a process.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life - 119-122lbs.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life – 119-122lbs.

There have been times in my running career where I gained weight while training (and no, not muscle), and times where I have dropped a lot of weight. I’ve experienced the consequences of both. I’ve lost some speed when heavier. I’ve also been injury prone when lighter. It was a journey for a long time. But after my lowest weight, in 2011-2012 – about 119-123lbs., and suffering an injury, a few things changed for me. One, I started weight training in 2013. Not stupid 5lb. shit. Seriously lifting weights. This was also when I got my Personal Training and Nutrition certifications, and my view on the human body changed. But most importantly, this was when I STOPPED weighing myself every damn day. It had become an obsession. A game. Something I could control. I never starved myself to be super skinny, but I trained to lose weight, period. I trained stupid. Once I stopped training like an idiot and weighing myself, a few things changed. I gained muscle from head to toe. I had muscles in my upper body I’d never seen before. And you know what? That was fucking awesome.

Since 2013, I have been consistently (more or less – there are certainly weeks where I don’t make it to the gym!) lifting heavy. In early 2015, I added heavy lifting for my lower body. Not only have I become a much more efficient runner, my aches, pains and injuries have thankfully been almost non-existent. I hop on the scale every few months (maybe, if that?), and have been a consistent 131lbs. for the last 3 years. I’ve been proud to be 131lbs., 5’7″, and strong. I want to be an example that the number on the scale doesn’t define shit. Strength does.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

One thing that has been consistent since 2011 – I track my calories and activity. Like a hawk. I measure and weigh most food I prepare. I read serving sizes. I’ve gotten really good at eyeballing food that I don’t prepare. I track it all. I also track all my activity. Not just the training, but sleep, standing and sitting. I know exactly what I’ve consumed/burned per day, the average per week, month and year. That knowledge means I am always accountable. Yes, it helped me to drop to an unhealthy weight/composition in 2011, but it also helped me gain weight back in the form of mostly muscle, and fuel my training needs appropriately. And yes, it means I have to hold myself accountable and enter in all that data, but for my training, goals and general health, it’s worth it.

Now, I found myself taking a hard look at my goals for 2016. My goal for Berlin Marathon (EIGHT weeks away!) is fucking ambitious. So I looked at my data. A hard look. The amount of miles I can safely run per week. The types of workouts. The best way to fit in strength training. And my current body. I stepped on the scale in May, and clocked in my consistent 131lbs. I looked in the mirror and was honest. Not “self loathing, wah I wanna be skinny” assessment, but a purely “how do I do everything I can to be my best” assessment. I decided if I could drop 5lbs. carefully between May and September, losing body fat and minimal muscle, I would be improving my odds for achieving my goal on race day. And so, I have been working for weeks to whittle that number down. This week the scale has read 126lbs. and 125.4lbs. on days where I was well hydrated and fed. Goal achieved! Now I need to maintain that number. There’s a part of me that is eager to take that control of the scale to the next level, and try to drop more. I’ll be carb loaded on marathon day, and that will mean gained weight. But there’s the sane and rational side of me that knows my body and that I need to stay injury-free, and fueled for my training.

My relationship with the scale is rarely healthy or happy for long. Which is why I rarely use it. I’d feel bad when that number went up, or happy and in control when it would hit a new low. Which is silly. And so I usually measure myself by my athletic abilities, and how clothes fit.

I joke and brag about my love for pizza, Chinese food, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I do genuinely love them all. So very much. And I eat all three quite frequently. But I also fuel my body with lots of fresh fruit, veggies, dairy and lean proteins. Those calorically high loves are accounted for and tracked. And I train like a beast. My body doesn’t look or act like it does because I sit on my butt or train sporadically. There is a ton of sacrifice (sleep and a social life), and sweat, tears, frustration and grunt work that goes into what I look like and what I accomplish. I’m a work horse. Plain and simple. What I lack in talent, I make up for with effort. I also have learned to value rest days. Those are the days we are actually rebuilding and getting stronger!

That scale. That number or letter in every article of clothes. They do not define any of us. We often let them drive our motivation, confidence, and our self worth. Often those numbers sabotage us in achieving our goals. But those numbers can change. One way or another. Take that control. Take your body and recognize that you can do anything you want to with it. Anything. It’s pretty fucking incredible. You could train it for anything and everything. Sure, it takes time, sometimes failure, and always hard work – but it’s possible. Once we begin to see our bodies as anything other than the obstacle, the sky is the limit.

Race Report: Oddessey Half Marathon

Around mile 10.5, coming over Falls Bridge.

Around mile 10.5, coming over Falls Bridge.

As my first of 16 weeks into marathon training came to an end, I decided to take my first long run to a race course. My program called for a 13-miler, with the final 5 miles at Marathon Goal Pace. Negative-split runs aren’t easy, especially long runs. With other runs out there, and fluid stations every 1-2 miles, I decided a race would be a slightly easier way to focus on this first long run, practice hydrating with cups, and pacing myself amongst a crowd. So I hopped into the Oddessey Half Marathon, in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.

The Oddessey Half is a race capped at about 3000 runners. It’s well organized, clearly marked, and there’s a pretty great Beer Garden at the finish line – courtesy of Sly Fox Brewing Company. The course has some pancake-flat miles, and some super extreme hills. It offers a little bit of everything. It also offered soup-like humidity. The predicted thunderstorms for Saturday night that would have swept the humidity away never showed, so when I stepped outside at 5am, it was a sticky,80+ degrees, with humidity over 75%. An additional challenge.

It was a good thing the race started at 7am, as every minute counted – temperature and sun intensified with every mile. While some miles had ample tree coverage and shade, other miles were in full-blown sunshine.

With the extreme humidity, I made an executive decision to adjust my plan and run the 5 marathon-paced miles at the beginning of the run. This turned out to be a smart move. I maintained Marathon Goal Pace for about 8 miles because I was feeling really good, and then allowed my body to slow down a bit. The humidity began to grind at my gears, and so I willingly let pace go. After all, this was supposed to be a long run and not my race.

Running with other runners is always an education. I’ve learned so much about myself as an athlete, being patient on the course, and how to run and race smart. I used the athletes around me to push the pace in the humidity for those first 5 miles, and then I willingly allowed runners to drop me and make their own choices while I did my own thing. Instead I focused on my form and efficiency, and spent moments observing other runners out there. I did more passing between miles 4-10 then I expected, including about a half dozen ladies who had gone out fast. As I gained on them, I could tell they were hurting. You can learn so much by a runner’s stride, form, and breathing. You can tell if that person will try to hang onto you or willingly let you go. I passed my final female around mile 9, putting me in 4th position. I never saw another lady out there for the remainder of the race.

Humidity is extremely humbling. Few runners handle it well, and for me it’s usually a matter of time before my body crumbles. Around mile 10, I remember my head feeling hot. I also remember my pace drastically dropping by about 15-25 seconds per mile. My quads began to feel like cement bricks, and my feet began to lose their quick and powerful contact with the ground. Instead I could feel every stride becoming heavy and slow. Dehydration was becoming an issue, and I was ready to be done. That final 5K was a grind, and some of it in full sunshine. The final mile of the Oddessey is a pretty epic climb – you run down it around mile 3, so you know what you have in your future. That hill had no shade. When I finally made the turn off of MLK Drive and to the hill, I was glad to be so close to the finish, but also dreading the abuse my tanked quads would take. I tried to relax, but even as my pace slowed, it was a struggle. My right calf felt as though it was going to cramp a few times, which is rare for me. So I did something I rarely do – I walked part of the hill. Yes, I stopped running and power-walked up part of the hill. I didn’t care if 10 females were about to pass me. I kept telling myself to be smart. This was a training run. I had a track workout on my calendar for 48 hours in the future. I needed to make good choices. So I did a walk/run negotiation, which probably was not expected for 4th Place Female, but there you have it.

The final quarter mile is flat, and I just let my body lead. A runner near me asked to kick with him, and though tempted, I refused and told him to drop the hammer. Again, not my race. Just a run. A run I was VERY happy to be finished with. I crossed the finish line tired, dehydrated, and happy at my pacing and decisions.

I waited at the Beer Garden, drinking a few pints and chatting with runners as we cheered in other finishers. Multiple runners collapsed on the final stretch, needing medical attention. Two were taken away in ambulances. On the course a runner dropped out and needed medical attention near me around mile 5. Watching runners in serious destress made me even happier with my decision to run smart, hydrate often, and respect the weather. Some days we learn lessons the hard way. I’m glad this was I day I didn’t need to.

Balancing – a look at how your coach makes it all happen, and how you can too!

img_6834-editEvery once and a while I get a request for a blog topic. Today I am indulging myself to fulfill a recent request. One of my regulars at Mile High Run Club, (very strong athlete and badass lady!), requested I write about what it’s like to coach and pace my own roster, teach full time at the studio, and still get in my own training and goals. While at first I thought this might be an unrelatable but perhaps interesting topic, the more I thought about it the more relatable it seemed. So many of my athletes juggle very long hours at work, private lives that sometimes involve families, the stress and fast-pace pressure of living in NYC, while tackling their own goals. So while my life/career is probably very different from yours, perhaps some tricks and priorities in my life will help you figure out out to better balance your journey with running.

Let me start by saying I am not a professional athlete. I have never been one. So my drive in my own training has never been fueled by a sponsor, collegiate team, pro team, etc. The only pressure or goals I have are those I’ve put on myself. My guess is that’s how most runners operate – self-motivated and training and racing because they love this sport!

To say getting in my training is challenging would be an understatement. Like many folks, my line of work has me on my feet all the time! I am standing, walking or running for anywhere from 4-10 hours per day. This makes “recovery” a tough thing. While there are lots of benefits to not sitting on one’s bum all day, I have to be mindful about wearing supportive shoes as much as possible, and sitting whenever given the opportunity – the train, between classes, whenever I can. If you are a teacher, nurse, doctor, or in the restaurant or film/tv industry, you probably live on your feet too!

Then there’s my hours – fitness industry folks work some of the hardest hours out there. We coach before most people go to work (hello, 4am wakeup!), and after folks are finished with work (I’ve been known many times to get home for dinner around 10pm), and it’s truly a 7-day a week business. It’s a job that can not only take over, but completely control your life. You only get time off when you protect a day and fight to protect it, and even then I am usually responding to emails, texts and calls from my private clients. So sleep, meals and training are a challenge.

The awesome thing about coaching full time is that I am constantly inspired and motivated by the people I am working with almost every hour of every day! My fellow coaches, team mates, clients – I have a ton of inspiration around me! So I rarely have the opportunity to lose focus when I am training. That’s a huge asset.

I was asked how I get my miles, goals and races accomplished – especially when clocking miles paces my own athletes. This is a tough one. Really tough. Despite my best abilities, I’m a human and not a machine – so I need to be careful and can only clock so many miles per day. There have been years where I opted to train and race for ultras, partly because it was of interest, but mostly because it jelled best with all the pacing I had on my plate. Back-to-back 20-mile days are only beneficial for ultra marathoners. However, this year I have really gotten back to some speedier and more ambitious goals for myself, and so I have decided to be more protective of my running time. It means not being everything to everyone. Learning to say no. And thinking of my own health. It’s a balance.

I have learned to always prepare and pack food for the day. I usually have fruit or veggies in my bag, along with some trail mix. I always have a water bottle with me. This minimizes the chance of dehydration or going hours without fuel. I will sometimes try to go to bed really early if I am wiped out – even if it means skipping social events. I write my training down in my calendar with everything else that day and hold it to the same level of importance as work, appointments and errands. I am rarely in shoes that aren’t my Mizunos. My feet are my career. I need them healthy and happy. I also replace my shoes pretty darn frequently. It’s worth it. If a goal race is worth it, I will sometimes sacrifice work opportunities or sleep to get in my time at the gym or park. I never want to be resentful of my work, or feel like I didn’t put in the training necessary for doing my best on race day. Hopefully as you juggle your plate, you can find tricks that work for you.

 

Setting New Goals for a New Year, Successfully!

corky-2816As one calendar year is about to come to a close and we look to the New Year, fitness and health frequently take center stage. This is often a time of reflection on the previous year – races, health, nutrition, happiness, and a time of anticipation and dreams for the future – getting health or weight on track, attempting your first race, working to set new personal race records, trying a new sport, dropping a dress size, sweating on a daily basis, gaining muscle, eating a balanced diet – the dreams and possibilities are endless!

While sorting through your goals, I recommend you do a few things in order to better your odds of succeeding:

  • Be honest about your level of dedication/commitment to change – and what kind of change. It may be a million times easier to achieve a 30 minute walk per day for you, than to consume over 10 servings of fruits/veggies per day – for example.
  • Be patient, and take your goals one day at a time. You are a human being, so expecting a perfect track record is dooming yourself off the bat. While focusing on each day, do have a clear goal for a few weeks, months or years from now. Each day of success will take you a step closer towards that goal or milestone.
  • Ask for help. Very few humans can hold themselves 100% accountable for real change. Rely on a friend, hire a coach/trainer, or use social media or a journal to help your accountability. Meetup groups can also be helpful.
  • Change takes time. Don’t expect to see or feel a huge difference within a day or week. However, you’ll be surprised the difference you’ll notice in a month or two!
  • Trying something new may not be right for you. Or perhaps what you try won’t be the right fit. Perhaps kickboxing is a better fit than ballroom dancing, for example. We are all different, so don’t feel bad if what you initially try isn’t the right thing! Move on and be fearless in what you try.
  • When creating a race goal, be sure to give yourself enough time to be successful! Also be sure any additional races you add to your schedule are supportive of that big goal and not destructive. A big PR in a marathon you flop on your schedule for 12 weeks from now is not wise. Understand your goals the time and work they’ll require.
  • Laugh, have fun and get creative with your goals. Not every day will be easy or fun, but I’m a firm believer that we stick to something we like, and that brings positive change to our lives. Life is too short to be unhappy or dissatisfied. See the humor and fun in everything you can!
  • Toss out the negative. Recognize triggers, and kick them to a curb. Perhaps it’s your daily mid-morning baked good from the office kitchen, or that friend who guilts you into ditching your run for happy hour each week. Everything is a choice, but you can make those choices easier by breaking bad habits, relationships and influences.

If or when you fall off your goals (remember – you are human!), simply pick yourself back up and try again. Just be sure to not do the same thing and expect a different result. You don’t need a New Year to spring into your goals. Tomorrow is just as good as January 1st.

When Did You Become a Runner?

For many of us, there was a defining moment, experience, or year when we became “runners.” This isn’t to say that there is a rule in my book as to what makes someone a runner or not, and it certainly doesn’t have to do with speed, races, or how seriously you take running as a sport or hobby. To me, someone becomes a “runner” when it becomes a fluid part of their life and routine. It becomes part of their day and who they are just like brushing one’s teeth, reading a book, or something else you do without thinking much about. It’s part of you and your day or week.

Sometimes that transition to “runner” is so natural, you can’t remember what your life was like before it. Other times it’s a huge change. Last week I went back to Southwest Michigan for the first time in eight years, to a small town where I worked for 4 months at a theatre. I didn’t realize it until I went back, but that location and time in my life was when I’d say I became a “runner.” I ran before Michigan, but I don’t think I was a runner. For one thing, before Michigan, I ran out of fear of gaining weight. Being an actor can mess with your head and view on body image. And while I liked running, I wouldn’t say I did it consistently. When I ran I enjoyed it and felt great after, but it was still more of a chore and something I did out of insecurity than anything else.

In Michigan, running became a part of almost every day. It began out of the usual place – don’t gain weight while working a stressful job. But from there, it quickly became my favorite part of my day. While most everyone else went out to party at night or slept in for as long as possible, my alarm went off every morning at 7:45am, I’d toss on my running clothes, and be out the door for a run by 8am. I’d get home around 9am, quickly eat a small breakfast, shower, and arrive the theatre by 10am – where I’d usually work until midnight or 1am. I didn’t know how fast or slow I was, and I always ran an out-and-back, turning around about 30 minutes into the run. Some days I’d make it farther than others. I usually carried my iPod (an archaic model by today’s standards), and let my mind wander as I sweat out my stress and felt strong. And while it took me years after my time in Michigan to enter a race, this was when I became a runner.

If you don’t consider yourself a runner yet, but someone who sometimes runs, you may find that changes over time – perhaps undetected under your nose. Until going back to Michigan, I don’t think I could have pinpointed what I became a “runner.” Or perhaps it will be a defining day, experience, or decision. If you consider yourself a runner, when do you think that happened? It’s fun to travel down memory lane, and reexamine when that shift happened. And if you are not a runner, well…never say never! Happy running!

Empowering Each Other – and remembering our words have influence

If you frequent my blog or know me in person, you probably know that I am all about girl power, healthy body image, and trying my best to live as an example of what I value and believe in, while also having a sense of humor. Maybe it’s because in the past I was a self-loathing, diet pill popping, calorie-obsessed human being, or have been in the modeling world too long, but I have recently been noticing trends in behavior, whether we mean to our not, that hurt our attitude about women.

Unless you live under a rock, it’s pretty obvious that women in the USA are held to high “standards” of beauty. Part of that is Hollywood, part of that is the media and beauty magazines, the other part is what we choose to demand from ourselves or the women around us. For example, I can choose to read tabloid/beauty magazines or not. I can also choose to read them and compare myself to every photoshopped, genetically gifted, or miserably starved model/actress in the magazine of my choosing, or I can refuse to compare myself. Yes, it’s hard to do. But don’t make the assumption that because someone “looks” ideal or perfect to you on tv or a photo that they are. There are a ton of tricks to the trade. And eating disorders, body dysmorphia and exercise anorexia run rampant. Ironically, many people are in denial about their disorders or issues, and are extremely good at fooling themselves and everyone in their lives. Skinny doesn’t equal healthy, happy, strong, or anything other than skinny. Of course some people who are skinny ARE healthy, happy and strong – but I am going to call many folks out here. To be “model” or Hollywood skinny (remember, the camera adds pounds!) is a challenge for most women.

Before I bring down the mood, I want to talk about someone who I think is an excellent example of body image. She’s a model, she eats (she posts more photos and recipes about food than anything else!), and she shares her flaws but not in a “look at me, I’m not perfect, I have work to do, wah wah wah kind of way.” No, she posts photos of her cellulite as if to say “Hey look, I’M A FUCKING HUMAN – and modeling is about bringing who you are  – flaws and all, and working your angles, working with immaculate lighting, photographers, and Photoshop.” You many have guessed it – I am referring to Chrissy Teigen. I have never seen her post anything negative about herself looking for attention on social media. If you don’t follow her – you should. She is hilarious. And real. But yes, more “beautiful” than most of us. She, in my opinion, is an excellent example of a model EMPOWERING women. And here’s the thing, if Chrissy were posting negative things about herself, she is putting all of us women down. I mean, if someone who makes a living being beautiful and photogenic isn’t “good enough,” than who is?!? I am sure that Chrissy, like many women, has insecurities. She’s human. But she doesn’t weigh us down with them. I don’t personally know Chrissy, but follow her on twitter and IG, and you cannot help but like her and want to be her friend.

Unfortunately many women don’t present themselves on social media with Chrissy’s positive attitude. No one is perfect. And frankly, I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone to try to hold themselves to that standard. It’s exhausting. And really annoying. I am totally for people doing what they want to be happy and comfortable in their skin. Tattoos, Botox, implants, dropping or gaining body fat, packing on muscle – you do what will make yourself happy. But there’s a difference in going on that quest for yourself and projecting it onto the women in your life. Perhaps instead of saying “I need to drop 5 lbs. to be perfect, I am such a fat ass,” say “It’s really hard to shave off those final few pounds, but if I can work at it, so can you! Hard work is just that – it isn’t easy!” Can you see how those messages are completely different, while still sharing your goals?

Maybe I don’t take myself or life as seriously as many women. I get that. But our bodies are all aging, changing, and adapting – all the time. Some of us will be out thinnest in our teens – perhaps partly genetics and partly choice – nutrition and exercise are CHOICES, after all. Some of us had baby fat until our early 20s and blossom into the “thinnest” version of ourselves in our thirties, forties or fifties. Obviously some of that is genetics, aging and growing – things we don’t get to control. Some women fall in love with a form of exercise or sport, and their body transforms do to that new-found interest. Sometimes medication, job schedules, personal relationships and other factors will affect our bodies. It’s important to remember that “thin” should never be the ultimate goal.

Our power as women in the USA is only as powerful as we make ourselves. Equal pay, paid maternity leave, reproductive rights, being viewed as “the weaker sex,” all while also being told by outside influences of what we should look like and value – that’s a whole lot to handle. That’s stressful. I don’t know about you, but stress is a trigger for me to binge. Let’s please help ourselves, as women, by empowering each other. It’s okay to want it all – our ideas of the perfect body, a career and a family – whatever it is you want – but let’s please not impose our demands and expectations of ourselves onto our fellow ladies. Let’s lift each other up and support one another. Next time you turn to social media, please think twice about the image and attitude you are putting out there, and how that will make the females seeing it feel. Your friends, family and strangers will begin to form opinions based on their gut reactions to what they see. None of us want to come across as putting down others. None of us want to be viewed as self-obsessed narcissist. But I bet many of us want to come across as positive, supportive, and perhaps someone other people can look up to – because we exude something good. You don’t know what insecurities your audience may be harboring – or the age or mental comprehension. Girl power is positive. Girl power is supportive. Girl power says “you can do anything!” – so let’s do some empowering.

 

Fat America

There is nothing wrong with indulgences, as long as you KNOW what you are doing!

There is nothing wrong with indulgences, as long as you KNOW what you are doing!

There’s that saying: You are what you eat. Love it or hate it, I suppose there’s some truth to it. Americans are often consuming packaged, easy to prepare food. Not only is it accessible, it usually tastes good, and as a culture, we tend to work long hours and prioritize our jobs and making an income. It’s no wonder fewer and few Americans actually cook their own food or have any real understanding of basic nutrition. And let’s face it – ignorance is bliss. America is full of blissfully ignorant people. This isn’t to say we are stupid. It’s that if we are in denial, we can always point blame or accountability elsewhere.

Personally, I rarely eat at chain restaurants. In NYC we have so many restaurant options, and I tend to gravitate towards the privately owned, Ma and Pa places. But the awesome thing about chain restaurants in NYC is the following: they are REQUIRED to list nutritional info on the menu. This eliminates ignorance. You have the calorie content of your future meal in front of you before you order. For someone wanting to watch their nutrition, sticking to chain restaurants would be a way to honestly make educated choices for every meal consumed. On a rare occasion, I dined at a chain restaurant last weekend. America, we have a problem.

Chris and I sat down to dinner at Pizzeria Uno in Astoria, right across the street of the movie theater. We wanted to grab dinner before seeing Jurassic World, and didn’t have time to really wander and make the movie in time. I haven’t eaten at a Pizzeria Uno in probably 10 years, and so there was something exciting about eating there. I realize that to Suburbanites, that probably sounds strange. I opened the menu, and was in shock. We could only find 1-3 entree options on the menu for UNDER 800 calories. This isn’t including calories in bread, appetizers, drinks, or dessert. Ironically, all of the salads were over 1000 calories. The pizzas, designed to be shared, topped the chart at 3500-4500 calories.

After a good ten minutes of searching the menu pages and weighing my options, I opted for a soup and side salad for dinner – still combined over 500 calories. Chris and I then split the 1300 calorie cookie sundae, bringing my total calories for that meal to about 1000.

Now here’s the thing: it was REALY HARD to find something to eat that wasn’t half of my recommended daily calories. If it’s that hard to make good choices, no wonder America is so obese. And sure, as someone who is usually incredibly active, eating a 3000 calories dinner here or there isn’t going to kill me, but I am pretty sure my lifestyle is not the norm. Having just come back from vacation (in other words: no exercise and all the guacamole and pina coladas I could stomach), I was looking to eat lighter and get back to my normal diet. Knowing how much Americans eat out, and how few cities and states require nutrition information on their menus, of course we are a fat nation. If I ate out at a place like Pizzeria Uno 3-5 times per week, even training as I do, I would probably be a good bit heavier. If you are someone looking to drop weight, you will NEVER DO IT if your lifestyle involves this kind of eating.

Chris and I asked ourselves if seeing the nutritional info before placing our orders affected our ultimate decisions, and the answer for both of us was: YES!!!!! Chris joked that the nutritional info ruined dinner for him, and I can agree – no deep dish pizza, appetizers or really ANY entree made it in front of my face.

If you are unhappy with your weight, be honest about your meal choices. Nobody is forcing any of us to eat out all the time. If you are needing or wanting to drop weight, the first thing you should do is stop eating out and start cooking. You’ll save calories, money, and KNOW what you are putting on your plate. Learn about nutrition – simply the basics will help. Measure and weight ingredients and know the calorie total per serving. Does this take some fun out of eating? Probably. But will you be healthier, lighter, and wealthier? Yes.

Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power. The informed are always the successful ones. You have two paths to choose from, and the choice is yours.

Vacations and Training

Representing MHRC on the beach in Canucun - where I didn't run once!

Representing MHRC on the beach in Canucun – where I didn’t run once!

It’s the time of year when many folks head out-of-town on vacation. Summer vacations kinda rock, though they can pose a challenge if you are in the middle of training for a race or fitness goal. Today’s blog is all about travel and training – and how to strategize to make training happen while away, and when also to also embrace vacation and let training slide.

When in the middle of training, I suggest planning a vacation that complements training instead of complicating it. For example, a week in Cancun in June is going to guarantee very hot and humid conditions, and is also the kind of vacation that promotes consumption of alcoholic island beverages all day – not drinking water or being active. A vacation somewhere with cooler conditions over the summer or a place that promotes being active will perhaps be a better fit for training. However, a week in Cancun with no races in the near future can be a beautiful thing!

When on vacation and attempting to stick to a rigorous training plan, here are some tips:

  • Run or train early in the day, that way it’s out-of-the-way and your training won’t be derailed by drinking, eating, or sightseeing.
  • Research running routes and get familiar with the area. Ask the hotel staff for recommendations if you need help.
  • Look into hotels with gyms. Many resorts focus on other amenities and skip the gym, or have a bare bones option. If training is important to you, don’t assume your hotel will have a gym you can rely on.
  • Pack GU, water bottles, and any other fuel you may need. Chances are you won’t be able to purchase or stash fuel along your route, so be prepared to bring what you need before you head out-of-town.
  • Accept that your training may be sub-par while on vacation, and focus on maintaining fitness – not building fitness. The odds are that you won’t be running repeats on a track or clocking a 20-miler while on a cruise, for example.
  • Plan for your vacation week to be a “recovery week” in training. Doing so will mean your mileage and intensity will purposely be less – which will fit vacation-mode beautifully.
  • Look into local races or running groups. Both are great motivation, good for accountability, and ideal for running in a new place.

Back in 2013, I was on a Caribbean cruise for a week in August. My goal marathon, scheduled for that November, was a big goal for me. I embraced the idea that my vacation would be a recovery week – and placed my long runs at either end of the vacation so that it was a none-issue while on a boat. However, I was the idiot in the gym most days, and also the one running mile repeats on the beach in St. Thomas at 10am. With a good 12 weeks of training after my vacation, I PR’d my marathon time by 10 minutes.

If you are not currently training for a specific race goal, I highly recommend embracing some time off. It can be extremely liberating to take a vacation from reality – training included. I recently took a full 10 days off from all training while on vacation. I really loved time away from training – more time off from running than I’ve taken in over a year! Even after a 24-hour Ultra Marathon last July, I was back to running in under a week. While it felt odd to not make running part of my daily routine, it was great. I also came back home rested and really excited to get back to running and big goals.

Don’t worry about losing fitness during a vacation. Taking a week or so off from training may actually be a really good thing. Many of us are extremely dedicated to our weekly mileage, and forget that some recovery is necessary for our bodies to recover, build stronger and avoid injury. A vacation may be just what you need!

Debunking Diet Delusions

Today’s blog is about nutrition habits. Many folks looking to hire a trainer or sign up for a marathon are hopeful that with committing to something physical, they will magically be able to eat everything they want and lose weight. It’s a nice thought, but usually not true. In fact, it’s not uncommon for folks to gain weight during their first season of training – because it is really easy to say “hey, I ran today!” and eat everything. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that burning 500 calories on a run doesn’t erase the calories in a burger and fries.

Did you know that many elite athletes are very careful about their caloric intake and nutrition habits? It may sound silly and unnecessary, but it’s quite often true. Folks who may be running 120+ miles per week are careful to not gain any weight. Yes, someone running 120 miles per week can afford to eat a hell of a lot more calories than the folks running 20 mile weeks, but my point is that to be their best, they need to be strong and as light as safely possible. The same is true with you and your goals, if they are based on pace and a time. If your goal is to lose weight, nutrition when training becomes incredibly important.

When I meet with new clients, I am sometimes told they want my physique. They joke to “sign them up” for whatever I am personally doing. I should also say that many friends and family assume I eat anything and everything all the time. I don’t. When I am visiting friends and family, I am often choosing to indulge. We are at a party, a celebration, out at a restaurant, a family get-together, or they simply see me on a day I am indulging because I simply want to. These same family and friends don’t believe me when I say that what they see me consume isn’t the norm. Do I eat bagels, cake or pizza everyday? Nope. Not even close. Do I talk about food, blog about it, dream about it and love it? Yes, guilty as charged. So I wanted this blog to showcase the reality of what it takes for me to be fit, strong, and extremely goal-driven – and perhaps you can apply some of what I do to your own life and goals.

Here are a few facts about me you may not know:

  • I very rarely weigh myself. In fact, in the last year I have only weighed myself to keep track of dehydration levels when training and racing Ultra Marathons (12-24 hour races).
  • I keep track of everything I eat, every day. I use an app. on my phone. I want to know what I am consuming and I find I need to keep myself accountable – be it calories, grams of protein, servings of fruits that day – I track EVERYTHING.
  • I also track my activity. Hours of sleep, time standing, running, weight training. I keep all the data.

To show you what my nutrition usually looks like, I am listing below 2 random days from the past few weeks. One day is an “average” day for me, the other is a “rest day,” – and I tend to eat more calories and junk on rest days. I’ll also make note of my training on the “average” day.

Thursday, May 14th, 2015: an example of an “average” day for Coach Corky.

  • Breakfast: Coffee, 2 TBS. Half/Half, 1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal, 1 cup fresh blueberries, 4 tsp. brown sugar
  • Lunch: 1 large sweet potato, 5 tbs. parmesan cheese, 2 links of turkey sausage
  • Dinner: 1 cup Goya black beans, 2 whole wheat tortillas, 1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese
  • Snacks: 1 orange, 1 Gala apple, 1/2 fresh pineapple
  • Total calories consumed: 2084
  • Training: weight trained for 1 hour, ran at a moderate pace for 1 hour
  • Total calories burned: 2837

Saturday, May 9, 2015: an example of an indulgence day

  • Breakfast: Coffee, 2 TBS. Half/Half, 1 large avocado, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup shredded cheese
  • Lunch: 1 Larabar protein bar, 1 pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food FroYo
  • Dinner: Whole wheat pasta
  • Snacks: 1 brownie, 1 orange, 1 Gala apple, 1 banana, 3 bottles of Sierra Nevada beer
  • Total calories consumed: 3902
  • Training: ran for easy coaching miles for 50 minutes
  • Total calories burned: 2513

As you can see, some days I burn more than I eat and other days it’s the opposite. I usually try to focus on consuming fuel that makes me feel good – I want to be strong and healthy for my training. But I am also human, and am a really great stress eater.

A month or two ago, I decided I want to drop a little bit of body fat. Why? Well because if I want to be my fastest and my best out there for goal races, I need to be light. Trying to drop what little excess weight I have is tough. It’s like that last little bit your body is hanging on to and doesn’t want to give up. So I made sure to focus on weight training, running, and eating less than I burned. Did I lose the fat? Probably a little bit. But I am not going to lose sleep over it. I feel stronger, and am lifting more than ever before in my life, and am getting back to some speedy running and so things are going in the right direction.

Your journey and your goals are your own. Just be aware that when you see a coach, athlete or person on the street you don’t know – you have no idea what goes into their training and what genetics, sacrifices and dedication may have been necessary for what you see to be possible. Am I going to torture myself to be the lightest I can be? Nope. It’s not worth it to me. And as long as I feel healthy and capable of achieving what I want, the rest is gravy. Mmmm…gravy. No, I don’t eat gravy frequently. But it is damn delicious.

Answering NYC’s Questions

With teaching group classes, I always welcome questions during and after class. I thought it may be helpful to highlight some questions that have popped up frequently, and answer them as I have in person. After all, if folks I have coached in person have brought up the following questions numerous times, the odds are some of you may also have the same questions. Let’s get cracking!

What are the best kind of running shoes?

Despite what shoe manufacturers will tell you, there is no one shoe that is the perfect shoe for all runners. If a sales person tells you that their brand or style is perfect for you, run for the hills. Your feet, body weight, stride, weekly miles, terrain, experience, injury history – all are factors when finding the right shoe for you and your running career. I would, however, recommend you keep the following brands in mind when shopping: Mizuno, Brooks, and Asics. These brands are popular with mid-long distance runners, and are the brands of choice at most races. That doesn’t mean those brands are right for you. A shoe should feel like an extension of your foot. If it doesn’t, it’s not right. If you are in the right shoe, insoles and orthotics shouldn’t be necessary.

Are there workouts I can do to trim and tone my thighs?

You cannot target one body area for weight loss and body fat. If you want more definition, you need to lose body fat percentage in general. Zoning in, targeting, etc – that’s not how our bodies work. You can tone up by weight training and losing body fat – that combination will give you visual results. However, based on your genetics, you may never have thin or toned thighs – for example. Your thighs may be the last place you’ll lose body fat, and the dedication to lose that final bit may be extremely challenging. Instead, I would highly recommend folks looking to tone up focus of safely losing some body fat, and instead focus on weight training, and a healthy amount of cardio.

I have pain in my shins. What do I do?

Shin splints often occur when an athletes takes on too much too soon – going from little or zero mileage to running every day, running intense workouts too frequently, or running in old shoes. To help ease shin pain, stretch and foam roll your calf muscles, ice, and perhaps take some anti-inflammatory. Cutting back on mileage and intensity and focusing on some rest days will also help. If the pain continues, see a sports doctor or physical therapist. I am not a doctor, FYI.

I have been training really hard. How come I am not seeing an improvement in my speed?

Improvements in fitness sometimes take time, and very rarely can you expect to see or feel huge improvements in a few days or a week. In fact, you should expect to put in hard work for a few weeks or months before improvements appear by leaps and bounds. Remember that rest and recovery is just as important as the hard work, so if you are someone who rarely takes a day off or skimps on sleep, you may be getting in the way of your own success. Adding some additional rest and active recovery days may help your paces improve.

Is there a way to run on the treadmill that targets my butt?

If you are trying to target a muscle group like your glutes, hills can help. However, you also need to make sure you are activating your glutes and hamstrings. Many runners are quad runners, meaning we overuse our quads and don’t take advantage of the power our glutes and hamstrings offer us. If you are trying to gain strength, shape or size, you need to weight train that area. Running alone will not offer glute definition.

How do I know what my goal race paces or efforts should be?

This is sometimes hard to navigate. When setting your goals for the coming year, I encourage you to be ambitious but also realistic. For example, if your current Half Marathon best is 2:00, aiming for a 1:25 in your next Half Marathon is probably too ambitious. However, aiming for a 1:50 or 1:40 may be ambitious but also reasonable with hard work. If you achieve that goal, then work down to the 1:25. If you have taken a lot of time off from training, or are tackling a new distance, go by effort. This is especially true when training in heat or humidity. As you improve, your paces should hopefully drop towards your goal paces – though you may need to curve your expectations as you go further into training.

When trying to improve, should I focus on more miles or quality miles?

If you are just beginning your running journey, focus on slowly increasing your miles and keep the paces easy. Don’t go out and run hard, but instead focus on comfortable, conversational miles. Once you build the quantity up to a good number, you can then focus on quality – speed, hills, long runs, etc. If you are a runner who is already clocking consistent miles, focus on quality instead of quantity while training for a goal. Do the least amount of running necessary to achieve your goals – this may still mean 60 mile weeks while marathon training for your ambitious goal – but you also may be tempted to push to 70 mile weeks because you have heard more miles are better – but more miles means injury risk and chances for burnout increase.

Do you have questions for me? They can be anything running, nutrition, health or fitness related. If so, shoot me a comment, a message on twitter or FB, or in class next time.