The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 12: You should eat 5 meals per day

The theory that there’s a magic number of meals per day for weight loss, muscle gain, etc. is something doctors, nutritionists and celebrities have varying opinions about. While you’d think we’d take an educated and certified professional’s advice over a celebrity, that sadly isn’t always the case. The media and we as a culture often admire and adore folks in the limelight, and give them perhaps far more credibility than we should. And so many myths becomes “facts” in some warped way.

The advice that 5 small meals per day will lead to weight loss is somewhat both a myth and sometimes a fact. When we go long periods of time without eating, it can be common to feel a dip in energy, mood and focus. Maintaining somewhat consistent blood sugar can prevent dips and spikes in energy. So it makes sense that continuously fueling your body at a slow burn would keep your energy, metabolism, and blood sugar all happy and in check. Here’s the danger with that: it can be easy to overeat and consume far more calories if you are actually eating 5 “meals.” And if you are eating around the clock, your body will be using the fuel in your stomach for energy, not the body fat you are hoping to lose. Remember that insulin plays in a big role in how we use what we put in our mouths – and when.

The best way to eat for weight loss, maintaining weight, and feeling fueled tends to trend with the concept of 3 meals per day, and some snacks throughout the day. Now, snacks of donuts or candy probably aren’t what doctors are recommending. Instead, something nutritionally dense, and in the 100-300 calorie range. Think of a piece of fruit, a container of greek yogurt, sliced veggies with hummus – that kind of thing. Another thing to keep in mind is portion size for the meals. In general, portions are way too big in America. So that means we are consuming more calories at a sitting than necessary but assuming that’s “normal.”

It’s also important to remember that we are all different. While our bodies are all quite similar, we have different variables. Working different hours, sleep, age, activity level. Some of us are naturally grazers. Others need the ritual of sitting down to a “real meal” in order to feel satisfied. While some people like to drink their calories (smoothie, shake, etc.) others feel the need to chew their food. It is common that when hangry, we will reach for the most available and desirable item. This scenario rarely leads to good choices. So preventing that hangry state from occurring can help.

So while there may be no magic number of meals for us across the boards, a balance in macros throughout the day and at each meal can help. And if you are consuming the amount of calories needed, weight gain won’t be an issue. If you are looking to lose weight, stay away from temptations, and keep your macros in check.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 8: Cleanses are good for you

The cleanse/juicing/toxin myth is a topic that fuels some strong opinions and emotions. Why this topic fuels such passion (and bad research and advice) has surprised me over the years. It certainly is a topic many talk shows (hello, Dr. Oz) spend lots of time promoting. And while “rebooting” your nutrition for a day or a week usually isn’t a bad thing, there’s little evidence there’s any good to come from extreme measures.

We’ve all been there – we get to a breaking point where nutrition has spiraled out of control. It can be as simple as realizing you’ve consumed french fries every day for the last week or month, or have been seriously skimping on your fruit and veggie consumption. Or maybe you have gotten into a habit of skipping breakfast but feasting on the office baked goods midmorning, and you want to break that cycle. Often we want to do something epic, something to shake things up and to make the change seem “real.” Perhaps that’s why extreme measures like cleanses are so popular.

To understand the whole theory behind cleanses, you need to understand toxins. Most cleanses are advertised and credited with flushing our bodies of toxins. Toxins sound bad, right? Like, ewe. So without doing any research, you’d probably be on board and eager to “cleanse” yourself. But here’s the thing, if you spend 5 minutes actually reading something medically and scientifically backed up, you’ll quickly understand why the whole cleanse/toxin thing is complete BS and simply a great way for the health industry to make a fortune. The toxins that naturally exist in our bodies are processed by our liver and colon. And they do a pretty awesome job. In fact, unless you have an extreme medical condition, or were somehow poisoned, our bodies are equipped to handle and process everything in an extremely effective manner. So the whole idea of fasting or a cleanse of some sort is silly. Still wanting to read more on toxins? Here’s a good read.

Now if you are still interesting in juicing or fasting, and understand that there’s no guaranteed benefits, keep in mind that these extreme measures are not sustainable. And while you will drop weight (you’ll lose the weight of food in your stomach, for one thing), you may also end up losing muscle mass and no fat. So the number on the scale will go down, but is that the end game? Here’s an interesting view on juicing, fasting and some recent research.

So if you now understand toxins, fasting and cleanses, and want to overhaul your habits or nutritional choices, try to eliminate processed foods for a week. You’ll reset your relationship with food, and be very aware of the choices you are making. You will also never risk being deficient in your macro’s – so your blood sugar and energy levels won’t be all over the place, and you shouldn’t feel starved.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 4: Eating fat will make you fat

Depending on your age and generation, you have quite possibly heard quite a few conflicting theories on food, nutrition and fat. Does eating fat make you fat? No. In fact, you need fat in your diet. Obviously you shouldn’t eat only fat, but that’s true for every macronutrient. Fo a long time, fat has had a bad name. Think about how many packages at the grocery store proudly advertise “fat free.”

It’s not fat that makes us fat. It’s calories. And to be fair, fat has more calories per gram than protein, carbohydrates, alcohol, and so on. Fat has 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein have 4. So you while you can consume more carbs/protein at a lower total calorie count, it’s not the fat that is a factor in weight gain¬†– it’s simply the calories. In fact, some studies suggest that people on a reduced-fat diet are prone to consuming more sugars and starches, which can cause weight gain, diabetes, and other health concerns. And while a high-fat diet can also be an issue, moderation is usually best. But if you are a healthy person, you should make it a point to get in some fat – eggs, salmon, peanut butter, olive oil, avocados, most nuts, dairy, meat – all can be good sources.

Cutting all fat can be incredibly harmful, and it’s not uncommon for someone looking to lose weight to cut as much fat from their diet as possible. Be careful. Your brain needs fat to function properly. And our bodies rely on it for dozens of things – like energy, absorption of certain vitamins, and feeling full longer – as fat can take a while to digest. Now this isn’t me suggesting you only eat foods that are deep fried. Not all fats are created equal. If you are looking to lose weight or have more energy, avoid fried foods and look for good sources of fat. Stay away from white/simple starches and stick to whole grains. Load up on fresh or steamed veggies and fruits, and lean meats. Moderation really is the best way to keep your body, brain and mood satisfied, fueled, and energized.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Body Image in Athletics

img_6222-editPeople come in all shapes and sizes. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes. It’s often an odd transition viewing yourself as an athlete, but I ask all my clients to do so. When you slightly change your perspective of yourself, you’ll view your nutrition choices, sleep, training, priorities, and life differently. I find this shift is extremely important for folks who struggle with nutrition/weight and with time-management and sleep. Instead of viewing food as “good” or “bad,” you start to think about your training, and what choices will properly aid you in pre-run fuel, post-run recovery, or general nutrition. Suddenly you won’t feel “bad” about a food choice, because your perspective of you as a human being will be different. The same is true with sleep – you’ll suddenly be aware of how it’s an important component of training – and that if you want to train harder and improve, you’ll need to get more Zzz’s.

I remember when I personally went through the shift, and how I finally felt settled and had an “identity” as far as food goes. I’ve been pretty open about my relationship with food and body image in the past, and I know I am not the only person who has struggled with it. But running and training for challenging race goals gave my body a purpose, a hunger for achievement, and I became excited and dedicated to doing what it took to morph my body for those goals. I too referred to myself as “not a real runner” for a long time – dismissing my involvement in this sport because I wasn’t professional, fast, or taking it seriously.

Over the last 5 years, my body has changed a lot. There have been years where I was curvier, years where I was rail-thin and friends voiced concerns, and years where I have been muscular with relatively low body fat. My size has swung from 6-0 and everywhere in between, and changes depending on what I am training for, how hard I am training, and honestly how I am feeling. There are some months where all I want to do is eat, and I need to pull myself up off the couch and into the gym or the park. There are other months where I feel so motivated and energized, I forget to eat and am struggling to take in enough calories. As you can imagine, this changes my body. And though I hate to admit it, it changes how I feel about myself.

What’s interesting is how I am perceived – often by strangers, casting directors, acquaintances, and friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I must always look “athletic,” because the topic usually comes up in conversation. I have had casting directors and the like ask if I am a gymnast, yogi, dancer, Pilates instructor, CrossFit activist – the list goes on. Ironically, few guess “runner.” Perhaps, to be fair, this is because runners come in all shapes and sizes. But to hear “Really? You don’t look like a runner -” it somehow feels like a stab in the gut. I usually am quick defend myself, saying I am not a sprinter (so I am not rocking large powerful muscles and very low body fat), and I am also not an elite middle or long distance runner – folks who are often associated with looking unhealthy, waif-like, and gaunt. Here’s the thing: while I am indeed a runner, I am not a professional athlete. Folks expect to see the stereotype on magazines, winning marathons or track events – not the folks who are “better than average” but also are not training full-time.

I assume if I struggle with being judged, and often have to defend my body and my choices, that other folks out there do too. Unfortunately, females are judged based on how they look before they can even open their mouths. And while I shouldn’t assume this is only a female thing, being female myself, I can only speak for the ladies.

To the folks who judge – I say go watch a race. You will see all body types cross that finish line – 5K through Marathon. You will see the elite runners you expect us all to resemble, you will also see body types doing amazing things that will honestly catch you by surprise. Don’t judge, be inspired. After all, they are the ones training and clocking miles while you sit there on your ass and point a finger.

And while some folks are probably not aware that making assumptions or judgements about a person’s body and sport can be hurtful, we should all remember to think before we speak. It’s the same with fat shaming, or assuming someone’s life is easy because they look like our idea of a “model.” You have no idea how hard someone might work for their sport, or to maintain a healthy weight. You also probably don’t know how hard that person has worked to achieve where they are today.

Being an athlete is hard. It’s a huge time commitment, which makes it a big part of your identity – whether you realize it or not. Wear that identity with pride. Train for your sport and your body will reflect your hard work, and hopefully give you the result you want. There is no perfect body or size. What’s perfect for you is what will help you achieve your goals and feel your best. If I was told gaining 10lbs. would make me faster and set crazy PRs, I’d be the first in line to pack on those additional pounds – assuming it wouldn’t hurt my health, of course. Sadly, that’s not true. Your body is your tool in this world, and we are only given one. What we do with it is our choice.

Recently when given the whole “Really? You’re a runner?!” response, I carefully explain that indeed I am – and that runners come in all shapes and sizes, and their bodies will usually be different depending on the distance and pace one runs. I figure if I cannot stop that awkward comment from arising, perhaps I can educate the person asking and they’ll think twice before assuming something about body types in the future. And for the record, I have never taken one yoga, Pilates, CrossFit or gymnastics classes – so all of those guesses are WRONG. Go figure, right? And while I used to be a dancer, it has been a few years since I have been in class. Again, proof that many snap judgements are totally off-base. I am ever going to look like Shalane Flanagan? Nope. Am I ever going to be as fast as Shalane Flanagan? Nope. And that’s OKAY!!!!!

I hope if you are struggling with your own relationship with food, body image, weight, or role in your sport that you are kind to yourself. Don’t let a stranger’s uneducated opinion sway how you feel. And if you are looking to become lighter and leaner, remember that there is no quick fix – it’s a process. You don’t owe anyone anything. But you do owe it to yourself to be happy in your skin.

Long Run, Dress Rehearsal

Over 30 miles into an Ultra Marathon in July 2012.

Over 30 miles into an Ultra Marathon in July 2012.

The long run. Often intimidating. Rarely easy. It’s the keystone to training for a marathon or half marathon. It’s also the run most folks training get wrong. Here are some things you can do to better your long run, your overall training, and the reasons why you should handle your long runs certain ways.

  • Think of your long runs as dress rehearsals for race day. This means you should practice eating dinner and breakfast the way you would before your race. it also means you should plan mid-run fueling as you would for race day. If you decide to “wing it” on race day, you are foolish. You have weekly long runs between now and race day. Use them as practice.
  • Don’t be scared of bombing a long run. If something goes wrong, LEARN from it. Perhaps you will need to cut the run short due to dehydration, chafing, or take a detour or a bathroom break. Or perhaps you need a walking/stretching break. Or you lose your mental focus and cannot get it back. IT’S OKAY. Figure out why these things are happening, and then we can fix them and never make those mistakes again. A bad long run isn’t a bad thing if you can learn from it.
  • Test out your fueling options. Some folks can take any kind of nutrition on the run and feel great. Other’s find almost every endurance fuel out there leads them to racing for the bathroom. There are dozens of fueling options. Find what feels best for you. Do you love caffeine GU? Do you need to avoid caffeine at all cost? Do you love your nutrition in liquid-form like Gatorade? What kind of Gatorade? Again, the long runs are rehearsals.
  • Take your pace easier than race day on your long runs. This is a hard concept for many runners planning for a marathon. The logic is often that you want to run at marathon goal pace so you know you can. Let go of that ideal. In fact, plan to run most long runs at marathon goal pace PLUS :15-45 seconds PER MILE. Why? Well here’s the short answer: to reduce injury risk. Think about it – when you finally run your 26.2 mile journey, it will be after a taper and you will plan to take at least a week off from running post-marathon. So HOW can you expect to run a 20-miler at your marathon pace and be recovered to run your speed workout a few days later? You cannot. Well you can, but your risk of injury is stupid high. Plus, if you are running speed workouts, running a “fast” long run has no real benefit. If you are sticking to a plan that includes speed workout and easy long runs, the combination will have you prepared for marathon day. I swear. I have yet to meet a coach who recommends you run your long runs at your goal race pace.
  • There are a few times when progressive long runs are beneficial. These should be handled with caution and are only ideal for experienced marathoners. Progressive long runs can vary in formula, but always end with finishing the long run faster than you started. Some will end with the runner finishing the final miles at marathon goal pace. Again, only for the experienced marathoner and with the advice of a coach.
  • Long runs are about time on your feet more than pace.
  • Regardless of pace, cap long runs at 2:30-3 hours. Reason being, injury risk goes up as the hours pile up. Again, totally understandable that a runner aiming for a 4 hour marathon wants to clock long runs of 4 hours, but hang in there. Instead, cap long runs at 2:30-3 hours and perhaps go for a second run within the weekend, perhaps within 24-36 hours – giving your legs the experience of running on tired legs but with the benefit of some recovery.
  • Long runs also give you the opportunity to practice recovery. Take the opportunity to figure out how you feel, what you need to eat and drink, and how your body reacts to the stress of the long run. Some runners are nauseous for hours post-run, while other runners want to eat everything in sight. Some runners have a hard time stretching, foam rolling and taking care of themselves, others are on it like rock stars. We can always make improvements, so budget time to handle yourself as needed after you clock that big run.
  • The long run is also a rehearsal for what to wear on race day. While seasons may change in the course of your training, try to wear what you may want to race in for some of those final long runs. Weather should be pretty accurate, as should your size and how clothes will fit you. Take note of any problem areas with chafing, and if you simply feel good or bad in what you wear.
  • If the long run is mentally intimidating, break it up into smaller sections. Taking on a 20-miler can seem like the worst thing ever, but 4 5-milers, refueling with GU every 5 miles suddenly doesn’t sound so hard. Remember that some miles will feel better than others, and often those middle miles are the hardest to grind through. Once you see mile 17 of 20, the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight.

Lastly, be sure to write down or remember what worked and what didn’t. That information can be priceless. How long did you eat before your run? Were you hydrated enough? How much sleep did you get? What fuel did you use and what was the outcome? Do you love or hate a certain training route? Were there mental roadblocks and what tricks got you past them? These are all clues that can lead you towards a successful marathon.

Fad Frenzy and Detox Domination

28200_574974599374_24301763_33376923_2796281_nThe New Year always brings with it an odd array of health choices. My twitter, FB and Instagram accounts are flooded with the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve blogged about the topic of fads, detox supplements, and all that loony business, but apparently America is still full of suckers willing to drop their dime on any possible “too good to be true” gimmick. America, STOP IT. Seriously. You are smarter than this. I totally understand wanting to buy into Dr. Oz’s newest “miracle whatever,” or some Buzzfeed trend started by someone who received some sort of Nutrition Certification online, and therefore is “the voice of science.” Again, STOP IT. Do I need to reach through my computer and shake you?!?

Okay, so some of you are shouting “yes, Coach Corky – preach!!!,” while the rest of you are like “but I read somewhere, or so-and-so swears by…., etc.” Take a deep breath. I am going to assume that you are all intelligent people. I am also going to assume that you work hard for your dollars and are not looking to go out of your way to waste your hard-earned cash. Let’s also just agree that the health/fitness/weight loss industries are multibillion dollar industries. Because that’s true. And that’s a lot of dollar bills.

Let me also just remind you all that for YEARS, I was one of those Americans after the quick fix, and would drop money on anything promising a miracle. I cannot tell you how much money I spent on diet pills in college. College. When I was super poor. Or the money spent of different colon cleanses, detoxes, juice cleanses – you name it, I probably bought into it. If a talk show doctor mentioned some miracle whatever, I was that hopeful person that thought maybe this was the answer I’d been searching for. Why? Because I was unhappy with my body and had zero self-confidence. I also thought that anything “detox” or “cleanse” was truly beneficial and healthy. When you are desperate, you will grasp at straws. So please understand when I say I have been that desperate American who tossed science and logic aside when tempted by trends, and I didn’t care to stop and question what was being promoted. Truthfully, a small part of me wanted to assume that not everyone would sell lies – something being marketed had to be the real deal, right?!?

Okay, so back to today. If you are tempted to try a juice fast, oil pulling, no GMO, sugar-free diet, etc., be the smart person that you are and DO YOUR RESEARCH. And I don’t mean “go find websites that back up what you want to hear.” No. I mean look for medical journals, articles posted by doctors (NOT celebrity doctors!), and reach multiple sources. Anybody can post their thoughts and theories on the internet. It’s your job to be skeptical and play Devil’s Advocate. If I wrote an article swearing by the “Ice Cream Diet,” gave reasons why it worked, and then listed my credentials, it could very possibly become the next fad. Which obviously is ridiculous, right? Right. But come on, that would sound amazing. If you are still confused, pick up an anatomy book. If you knew anything about the body, you’d know toxins aren’t something you can “detox” with a cleanse – you have organs in your body that do a brilliant job keeping your body clean and healthy without your insane desire to interfere. Your personal doctor is the only one qualified to suggest you interfere or change your body’s natural process.

Okay, so now some of you are going to swear that your detox, oil pulling, cayenne pepper, juicing, whatever is making you feel like a million bucks! You have more energy, your skin is softer, you have lost weight, etc. – you will swear your magical new lifestyle is working. Guess what? It probably isn’t. What are you experiencing? One of a few things. The placebo effect should not be underestimated. You WANT your product or new lifestyle to work, so you are already looking for every possible sign that pill is what’s making something better. Or you are losing water and poop weight (sorry, it’s true!) if you are on a cleanse of some kind, so obviously with less stuff in your gut you’ll weigh less. This is temporary. And if you are in fact, actually feeling better, it probably isn’t due to the one thing you are doing but how that shift in choices is altering the rest of your life. For example, if you are juicing for breakfast, perhaps that is replacing your typical breakfast of processed junk – so of COURSE you are going to feel better – you are starting your day with something nutrient-dense instead of empty. Most people also find that if they make smart and healthy choices for breakfast, they are more likely to eat healthy the rest of the day.

I implore that instead of funding the fads and trends of the health/fitness/weight loss world, toss your money where you KNOW it will do good. Eat a balanced diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Go to the gym and be active every day. Get 8 hours of sleep per night. Drink lots of water. Despite what everyone out there in the media wants you to think, there is never a quick fix that will give you longterm results.

In the end, you’ll just end up frustrated and with less $$$$ in your pockets if you chase after the fads. Instead, always seek out the advice of a professional you trust. And there is absolutely no reason why a smart person should trust the likes of Dr. Oz or anyone in his circle and making money off our desperation. Your best resource is a doctor or nutritionist you trust, who doesn’t have endorsements, a book, or other financial incentives to swing their advice.