Tuesday, October 26, 2010

digestion and your complexion; why pooping is good for your face!

As you may have read in a previous post, puppy poop makes me happy. What you may NOT know is that I have equally warm and fuzzy feelings about people poop. SERIOUSLY! We don't talk about it, but pooping is actually a really important part of our day. Our poop can show important indicators of when our health is failing, and pooping is our bodies BEST method of eliminating nasty toxins from our system. The health implications of a malfunctioning digestive system are numerous and epic; if you ever want to read a book that will blow your mind and crack you up, check out "What's your poo telling you?" by Josh Richman and Anish Sheth MD.

Although there are a myriad of health issues I could talk about as they relate to digestion, today I want to talk about the links/similarities between healthy pooping and the clarity of your skin! While your face and butt are, admittedly, located on opposite ends of your body, we (as holistic and health savvy people) know that EVERYTHING in our body is connected. All of our systems interact with one another in a fluid, overlapping, wonderful, beautiful process of living! If one of our internal functions is on the fritz, the rest of our body reacts; usually in an attempt to repair and rebuild the failing system, and compensate for it while it's not working. Sometimes we don't even REALIZE when we're out of whack; things can be wrong for YEARS before we get those valuable physical signs that something is wrong. By the time we understand the damage we've done to our bodies, it may be necessary to take drastic measures to remedy the situation. Which brings me to why poo problems and skin problems are simply awesome!

Our skin is our largest organ; what's fabulous about our skin is that it's also the only organ we can see! (unless we look in a medical book or watch a discovery channel special or something...) Often, what's going on inside our body is reflected on the outside. Although some people are wonderfully blessed with beautiful skin that doesn't break out no matter what they do, their ailments will most likely be expressed in other ways physically. However, the vast majority of people who are exposed to stress (whether it's emotional stress, physical stress, or mental stress) will end up showing it in their skin. In my (unprofessional) opinion, it's not possible to have broken out skin and have a truly healthy system. One or two breakouts every once in a while are understandable, but if we have serious, ongoing skin issues, it's a good indication that something isn't right inside our bodies.

I'm not speaking from inexperience; for years and years I suffered from serious skin problems, and it was really tough to deal with. I remember wishing that I could just hide in my room so no one would look at me. I was so embarrassed to meet new people because I thought they would think I was dirty or gross. I often went running at night so that when my makeup came off from sweating people wouldn't be able to see my face in the dark! I've been on so many medications, put so many lotions and creams on my face, bought so many different types of makeup, washed my face over and over again...and most of it made my skin worse! Looking back on all those years, I WISH the dermatologists and doctors had the knowledge and good conscience to look into what the CAUSES of my skin issues were, rather than treating the symptoms. After doing my own (extensive!) research I've been able to clear up my skin problems naturally, through wonderful, fun, calming, and rejuvenating diet and lifestyle changes, and it (sometimes!) makes me grateful that I did have those external signs telling me that I needed to take charge of my health and well-being.

What does pooping have to do with skin clarity? LOTS! Of course, to be honest, I'm not talking ONLY about pooping, but rather digestive health in general. I know, I know you thought it was just about pooping from the title. It just sounds cooler when I get to use the word "poop" over and over again :P So...both digestion and skin are great indicators that something is wonky with your body. If you're experiencing stomach issues (acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, gas, or just feeling like you need a nap after most meals) AND your skin is red, irritated, broken out, or is yellow-y or grayish in color, it DEFINITELY means your body is having troubles eliminating all the toxins from your system. If your body isn't properly getting rid of all the garbage in your body through sweat or pooping, all that junk ends up STAYING in your body, circulating in around in your blood stream, muffing all your internal processes up. Gross.

There are a bajillion reasons our bodies can have problems eliminating toxins. One of the biggest culprits is dehydration. If we're not hydrated NOTHING works like it should; digestion, sweating, kidney function, joint lubrication, and brain function are all aided when we get enough water! If our system isn't properly hydrated, our skin (which is constantly eliminating toxins through our pores) won't be able to properly excrete all the bad stuff that accumulates in our bodies; it get trapped in our pores because the water didn't lubricate it's pathway and viola! Hellooo breakout! Water is our best friend. Gotta love that water.

My FAVORITE way to clear up my skin, help digestion, and make me a happier person in general is to eat lots of scrumptious fruits and veggies in the place of processed foods! Fruits and veggies are water-rich (and we know all about the importance of water) and they have antioxidants, which help repair our damaged cells and reduce inflammation caused by everyday stress! Antioxidants are like our bodies tiny little security guards (I like to imagine that they look like Chuck Norris), fighting back disease and aging and inflammation, and they totally rock!

On the other hand, the WORST thing we can do for our skin and digestive system is eat lots of processed, icky, sad-face food. Boo for junk food! Junk food has lots of chemicals and foreign substances in it that our body doesn't recognize; it creates free radicals (the arch-enemies of our Chuck Norris antioxidants) which promotes a lot of stress and inflammation in our systems. While our little antioxidant heroes do their best to fight off and neutralize free radicals, they can't effectively undo the damage if we overwhelm our systems with too much refined sugar, processed food, and fried food. Additionally, our body works overtime to reduce the harmful effects of this nasty food, and other processes, such as digestion and skin regeneration, take a backseat to damage control. There are many people high on the medical food chain (such as Dean Ornish and T. Colin Campbell) that have tons of studies showing that eating junk food ages your body faster than eating antioxidant rich foods such as fruits and veggies.

In summary: a healthy digestive system is a good indicator of overall health. The clarity of your skin is also a great indicator of whether everything internally is going well or not. If you find yourself suffering in either of these ares, don't just try to treat the symptoms! Look for an underlying issue; are your hormones out of whack, are you eating food that's causing inflammation in your body, are you stressing out? Seeking a holistic solution to these problems is is a much healthier (and permanent!) avenue to healing yourself, rather than relying on pills or topical solutions. When we starting treating ourselves right and being KIND to our bodies instead of fighting against them, we begin to experience increased quality of life, greater health, and (yay!) more happiness!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

RAWbstacles; things to keep in mind when considering a raw foods diet

When I first heard about raw foodism, I was intrigued. I started my raw inquisition shortly after becoming vegan; I read about a vegan bodybuilder who subsisted on nothing but fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. I hadn't realized such a lifestyle was possible, especially for an athlete. I googled raw foodism and was inundated by countless accounts of people reversing disease, increasing energy, losing weight, curing serious digestive ailments, and essentially looking RAWmazing. From my totally non-expert analysis, the basic theory supporting a raw foods diet is that when you eat food in it's most natural state, our bodies are better able to take on and digest those nutrients. Not only are the raw foodies adamant about eating unprocessed food, but they are proponents of eating uncooked foods. Interestingly, raw food CAN be heated, just not above a certain temperature; either 115F or 105F depending on who you talk to. The hypothesis is that once a food is exposed to too much heat, the nutrients and digestive enzymes are destroyed and we're depriving ourselves of all the nutritional awesomeness we want and DEFINITELY deserve. Basically, the raw foods lifestyle sounded RAWsome.

However, there are many things to be aware of if you're considering experimenting with a raw foods lifestyle, and I found out many of these things through extensive trial and error and research over the past few months. When you're unprepared, navigating your way through a lifestyle of raw foods can be a figurative RAWbstacle course. Because I don't cook very often (Aaron is the AMAZING cook of the household, I steal bites of whatever food he creates mwahahah) becoming a raw foodist sounded ridiculously easy. All I had to do was not heat my food! Right? Wrong. I was so. Very. Wrong.

COLD food does not equal raw food. That fact alone sent me into a tailspin. Clearly, I'm no great chef, but it really blew my mind when I realized how many COLD things I could eat that I THOUGHT were raw, but weren't! Example: My typical breakfast used to be steel cut oats, frozen blueberries, unsweetened cocoa powder (don't judge! Who doesn't want chocolate for breakfast!) and a glass of brown rice protein powder (blerg). If I was feeling a bit saucy I might even add flaxseed meal or almonds. Anyway, my RAWsumption was that since I had to COOK my oats in the morning to get my bowl of creamy chocolately blueberry goodness, it meant that when I bought my oats they were raw! So in order to follow the sacred raw commandments, I soaked my oats overnight to get them mooshy and ate them uncooked like all the other raw foodies do. Or so I thought. Apparently when oats are first harvested, they're kind of spherical or cylindrical, and then they're flattened out by machines until they look like what we buy in the store. Get this: When oats are pressed, they're simultaneously steamed so they're more pliable and can be squashed by the massive roller dealy-bob. Because they're steamed, they're not raw. Oats=cooked=evil. After 2 years of eating oats every morning (literally) for breakfast, I quit cold turkey. Lord help me, the first few days were hard. I went through some serious oat withdrawals.

Clearly, my oat misinformation was just a single example of the many foods that aren't raw that I thought were. Obvious foods that aren't raw include bread, soup, anything processed, meat, dairy (unless you have it special ordered), beans, pasta, tofu, and protein powder. Less obvious foods that aren't raw: coconut oil (unless it's cold pressed and specially ordered), olive oil, dried fruit (unless it specifically says raw), a lot of the more common spices, any kind of sweetener, and yes....my beloved unsweetened cocoa powder. We'd been through a lot, me and my decadent chocolate love. My Hershey's cocoa powder and I had been through a lot together; it carried me through numerous cravings, low-energy days, emotional traumas, and "girly" moments. I gave it up for the cause...but it wasn't pretty. It's possible to buy raw versions of these "non-raw" products online or from specialty stores, but it can get expensive, and for me was ultimately not worth it. I just gave them up and made substitutes.

One of the challenges to eating raw is the inevitable integration of "exotic" products into your diet. Raw cacao nibs. Raw energy bars. Raw coconut oil. Lots of nuts. Lots and lots of dates. Food processors. Dehydrators. Juicers. Depending on how much "uncooking" you want to do as a raw foodist, it can get intense. I read the new raw gourmet movement. There are a surprising amount of world-renowned raw chefs; and since that's their passion I can understand them shelling out money on equipment, but personally, I can't foot the bill. I have a blender. And my mom mercifully got me a food processor for my birthday. But that's it. The full spectrum of raw foods won't make it into my kitchen because I'm too cheap.

What surprised me more than anything was the wide range in beliefs that come from raw foodism. When I first looked into it, I guess I just assumed raw was raw was raw. Much the same way I assume people think vegans eat like all other vegans. Which, of course, is like assuming all omnivores eat the same. I shouldn't have been so naive, but I guess I thought that raw foodism would be the end of my never ending quest to find the "right" way to eat. I wanted the absolute and final word on what was THE healthiest way to eat. I drove myself crazy with research.. and never found it. In fact, the more I looked into it, the more confused I became. The range of raw food theories is phenomenally wide: some raw foodists theorize you should eat 80 percent carbs, 10 percent fat, and 10 percent protein. Basically your entire day revolves around eating serious amounts of raw fruits and veggies. Some gourmet foodies, like Ani Phyo, advocate eating hearty portions of fat because vegetable fats in coconut oil, avocados, and nuts are the "good" fats. She states that these fats are nourishing for your body and that you won't gain weight on them. Some raw foodists believe in subsisting almost entirely on smoothies. Some advocate "sprouting" your food because it's "living" and more nutritionally complete. Some people eat ONLY fruit! And no one can prove what the "best" way to eat is.

For now, I'm surrendering. I give. I can't find the answer. Maybe there isn't one. If there is, I don't know if (for me) it lies in raw food. Maybe I'm not doing it the "right" way, but I know that the more raw food I eat, the colder my body temperature tends to get, and it's been bothering me for the past few days. I'm afraid of the implications of eating a raw food diet in Colorado in the winter, and I'm slowly backing away from the raw foodism bandwagon. Truly, I might be going about everything wrong, and maybe that's why I'm feeling slightly lightheaded and cold, but it's enough to scare me into eating some cooked food tonight and seeing how I feel. It's not something I've totally discounted, but I'm not sure if it's perfect for me at this point in my life.

Of course, I'm not like eagerly sprinting towards vegan pizza, pastries, and cookies right now (not that I ever liked those things very much anyway!) it just means I'm taking a step back from my previous commitment to a month of eating only raw foods. I'm still fascinated by many things the raw foods movement suggests. I'll definitely continue to stay away from processed food as much as possible. Also, I've started to look forward to my amazing green smoothies in the morning, and have been drinking them for lunch and dinner whenever I crave them! I don't go bat-crazy over cocoa powder any more, and I feel like that's a great thing! Overall, I'm returning to anywhere between 75 and 90 percent raw, mostly because of my deep love for fresh fruits and vegetables. If I feel inclined to eat more raw, I'll go for it, but I'm sure I won't be buying a dehydrator any time soon. I won't be making raw brownies. I'll just continue along the nutritional path that feels right, and hope to grow through my experiences.

Albert Einstein once said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity."

Monday, October 18, 2010

From failure to inspiration; how I plan to not suck at running marathons

Last weekend= massive hole of suck and desperation. I never want to feel that way again. And while I can't guarantee that I'll NEVER get that nervous for the rest of eternity, I'd like to reduce the overall anxiety level in my pre-race running world. Especially since I'm trying to conquer this 26.2 mile race I've heard so many great things about lately. This year the available spots for the Boston Marathon filled up faster than ever before; background info about the infamous race flooded my computer screen while I checked my usual slew of running websites. Naturally, this being the day after my half-marathon epic fail, the increased traffic about the original race (at least in the US) forced me to contemplate my own ambitions of glory and distance victory.

As I considered my optimistic desire to tackle long-distance racing in stellar fashion, I realized that it might take a little more planning than I'd anticipated. Fortunately, I'm a HUGE planner, and love coming up with this kind of stuff. I make plans for everything else in my life...but I've been running for so long, it never occurred to me to make plans for the running part of my life. I think my confidence in my abilities are really what did me in; I've been a consistent casual runner, but have I ever, really, honestly, truly been good with competition? NO! It's amazing what we learn about ourselves when we start to question beliefs we've always held to be true. SO here it is, my plan in all it's shining glory..

How I plan to not suck at running marathons:

1) Run Faster- To me, this is a given. Incredibly, I've managed to run for years and years without actually improving my times. Recently I've run farther, which is cool for building endurance. But have I gotten faster? Not so much. In fact, as I take on longer distances, I've begun to run slower. A lot slower. Which is fine when I'm trying to increase my distance... but it's considerably less fine when I carry that glacially slow pace into shorter runs. My plan is to attack my "speed deficiency" from several angles; work on form (I'm a heel striker, my stride turnover rate is seriously low, and I don't engage my core when I run. I'm reading a book on Chi Running and have a Chi Running Clinic coming up November 13th in Denver! Ahh so excited! Stay tuned for further raving about what I love about the Chi Running concept) Incorporate plyometrics and interval training into my shorter runs, and use the micoach to keep track of and stay on pace in my longer runs. Any other suggestions on how to get faster would be GREATLY appreciated...so far this is all I can think of.

2) Research running like I used to research nutrition and health- Most of the books I read about running aren't technical; they explore the triumph of the human spirit over seemingly impossible obstacles. I love that stuff. I can't get enough of books like "Born to Run", "50/50" with Dean Karnazes, and "Marathoning for Mortals." I'll skim books on the physiology of running, but I'll rarely, if ever, bring any of the exercises or training plans into practice. It's time for me to get serious about the training aspect of running, and start experimenting with technique and pace! :) Yay new obsession...

3) Enter races. Complete Races. Repeat.- Clearly, all the training in the world won't help me if I don't make it to the starting line. So I'm going to sign up for shorter races and plow through them, just to get in the habit of racing. I've heard great things about an upcoming Turkey Trot 10 miler and a sweet winter race called the Colder Boulder 5k. I've always celebrated holidays with a nice morning run, why not a morning race?

4) Own the half marathon- I think I've been taking the 13.1 mile race too lightly, like it's a casual stepping stone to the "real" race. I'm realizing now what a huge mistake I made by not taking the half-marathon training seriously enough. Being able to Run 13.1 miles at a decent clip is no joke. I think I need to respect the distance, get fast, and kick some serious half-marathon booty. After which, I'll try take that training dedication and knowledge and apply it to training for my first full marathon *hopefully* at a decent pace. I'm at the point right now where I don't just want to FINISH a marathon...I want to do feel proud of my performance! I'm tired of being slow. I don't WANT to be slow any more. I want to be a superfast MARATHONER! Woohoo :)

5) (Looking to the future) Qualify for Boston. Move on to running fame and glory. Rule the world. Be eternally grateful for the embarrassing "Rock and Roll Denver 13.1 Incident of 2010" and the fact that it motivated me to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hating myself right now.

Projectile vomit. Massive amounts of projectile vomit. That pretty much sums up my Saturday. Remember yesterday when I wrote about how I'd woken up nervous for the race, but then worked I it all out with myself and was fine? Around 2pm that stopped being true. I felt more nervous, scared, and nauseous than I have for any other race. I felt so anxious..it's like there was a brick in my stomach. Several hours later, I felt like I'd regurgitated a brick. By 5pm I'd decided I was too sick and tired and defeated to run the next day. So I didn't.

And I hate myself for it right now. I can't believe I bailed. I don't get any take-backs, and I feel like that was a really stupid mistake for me to make. Clearly, I need a new strategy for handling pre-race nerves. That's the worst it's ever been.

After realizing my massive error in judgment, my initial instinct was to google the dates for the next half-marathon available and run it (even if I had to fly out of state to do it). Obviously, that plan wasn't realistic, and all dreams of redeeming myself quickly fell through. At this point, the most mature thing I can do is accept responsibility for my screw up and move on. Additionally, I'm going to figure out WHY I was so much more nervous for this race than the others. I'm not particularly excited about doing a bunch of soul-searching to find the answer; stuff tends to get messy when you go digging around your head for cosmic truths like that. BUT I'll do my best to figure it out, and let you know if I uncover something brilliant.

In the meantime, I plan to console myself with all the deliciousosity and yummyness that food has to offer. Only I suspect I'll be using a fairly unconventional method of comforting myself through food. Since I have a little over a month before I officially start marathon training, I feel like I can afford to play around with my diet a little bit and not suffer any serious performance/energy consequences.

As you probably know I'm a vegan... but what you might NOT know is that for the past few months I've been slowly transitioning to a more and more raw foods based diet. A raw diet basically consists of eating fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and other unprocessed foods that haven't been heated above 115F. Supposedly, 115F is the magical number where the digestive enzymes and the other nutritional goodness in food starts to get destroyed. The general theory is: The more raw food you eat, the healthier you'll be.

I MAY have previously mentioned my intense never-ending quest for optimal health, and I may have also mentioned that I promised to quit my abundant internet research on foods and practices to help me achieve it. And I have! I will continue to do so! (continue to quit...is that a grammatically correct phrase?) There's this wealth of knowledge already in my head that I'm dying to try out. Maybe I'm just rationalizing because I need to have a definitive goal before I start training for another race. Maybe I'm trying to console myself after a crappy couple of days. Either way, I've come up with a plan, and I'm going to go through it.

THE PLAN: (dun dun dun...)
Attempt to maintain a completely raw food diet over the next month and see if I get all the amazing health benefits that have been promised as per the raw food experts (potential benefits include but are not limited to: clear glowing skin, more energy, weight loss *not really an issue*, improved digestion and improved overall health.) I doubt I could ever eat an entirely raw diet long term, but I'm interested in knowing if the health claims are true. Since I don't know any raw foodies firsthand, I'll just have to be my own personal guinea pig and see what happens.

There are a bajillion raw food websites out there, but this one gives the best brief synopsis if you're interested in learning more.


Have a great day! I know I'm not, lol :p Hopefully you'll hear tales of my amazing energy and happiness within the next few days, what with my dry-brushing (see previous post) and raw food diet, with no scary race to make me sic for months and months :)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Rock and Roll Denver tomorrow!

Tomorrow I run the Rock and Roll Denver half-marathon. I haven't written about it much, mostly because it interferes with my infamous denial tactic (see my Lazy Person's Guide to Starting and Maintaining an Exercise Program post). Going to the race expo yesterday to pick up my packet actually got me really excited for the run! Booths for all the races in the Rock and Roll marathon series lined the walls, and it took some serious willpower not to sign up for a few right then and there. Aaron and I found some sweet minimalist shoes; Vibram 5 Fingers for him and a pair for me that I'm sure I'll rave about later. The expo almost felt like a party; the music was pumping, everyone was laughing and having a great time, and I wasn't nervous at all. Or rather, I didn't REALIZE I was nervous until last night.

All night I was haunted by nightmares illuminating my imminent failure; visions of collapsing at the 2 mile mark, dreams of accidentally lining up with those running the Rock and Roll 100 miler (note: this race doesn't actually exist, it's just a figment of my wildly paranoid imagination.) I envisioned myself getting horrifically lost on the course, while "helpful" people along the sidelines offered instructions in foreign languages that ultimately led to me running in circles. This morning I woke up gasping for air, my heart pounding like a jackhammer. "What if I can't do it?" I whispered into the darkness. That's when I started to get mad at myself.

CAN'T is the most frustrating word in the English language. It's such a defeating statement. I hate when people tell me they CAN'T do something; they CAN'T seem to get into shape, they CAN'T relax, they CAN'T quit drinking. CAN'T is just a fancy way of saying, "I don't want to put in the time and effort to do (whatever it is they want to do)." CAN'T also sneakily hides it's meaning in phrases (I call them excuses) that don't actually use the word, but the meaning remains the same. How many times have we heard (or said, or thought), "I want to work out, but I just don't have the time." Or, "I want to stop doing (whatever addictive behavior) but (insert phrase blaming something or someone aside from ourselves here.)" When we use those expressions, we ultimately say, "I don't want to get out of my comfort zone and push myself to a higher level because it's scary; I'd rather stay in my secure/miserable box rather than make the move towards change and improvement."

Goals can be tough to reach. But we absolutely CAN do it. And if we think we CAN'T do something, maybe we don't WANT it enough yet. I once read that people put off making positive changes in their lives until the pain of remaining the same outweighs the pain and discomfort of allowing ourselves to grow. So this morning, when I asked myself, "What if I can't do it?" I was really wondering, "What if I don't want to experience the discomfort and nervousness that comes along with race day?"

Admittedly, there are challenges that come along with a big event like a Rock and Roll Marathon. Runners have to be at the starting line at 6:55, which means I have to leave my house around 6, which means I want to wake up around 4:30 to make sure I get in a good breakfast, drink lots of water, employ bodily functions to make sure I'm rid of any excess food and water that may decide to make an appearance mid-race. Also, it's supposed to be cold on Sunday (48F) so that's a major discomfort for someone like me who freezes until it's 80F and sunny. There's the stress of finding a parking space, figuring out where to line up, and making one last trip to the port-a-potty for last minute emergencies (this seems to be a key issue with long distance races. Makes me want to start running 5ks instead..) And all this comes BEFORE the gun goes off.

After that, I have to somehow figure out how to get through the race relatively intact. My main goals tomorrow are to a) not puke on the course b) not die c) not get injured d) not curse in front of little children who might be in the vicinity.

Why would anyone ever want to compete, right? Why don't I just scrap the race, put in a movie, baby myself with junk food, and call it a day?

Because in my heart I know tomorrow is going to be AWESOME! It'll be my third half-marathon, and no matter how nervous I felt before my first two, I was so grateful and proud when I made it to the finish line. I don't train with competition in mind, but I'm always amazed at what I learn and feel during a race. When I attempt to describe why I keep training for events even though it scares the bajeezus out of me, I can't find the words. I know I love it. I know it makes me happy. Until I figure out a better way to express those feelings, I'll have to postpone a definitive explanation.

At the very least, I know I'll have something interesting to write about after tomorrow :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The most pain-free, innocuous detox you've ever done in your life

Yesterday I wrote this incredibly emotional post, describing some of the more difficult times in my life. I wanted to give you a little background information on me, some of my past experiences, and how it led me to be who and where I am today. Of course, by the end of the post, I was so wrapped up in what I'd been writing, I felt really emotional and bummed out! Maybe I'm not ready to share those things with the world yet! I woke up this morning in mini-funk, mulling over things beyond my control. I hated that my well-meaning blog led to a) my NOT posting and b) making me feel bad about things beyond my control. I needed a mind detox! So I've been deep breathing and counting my blessings, drinking tea and shamelessly browsing zenhabits.net and crazysexylife.com to give me some perspective on life. I also have a hot date tonight with my favorite Rodney Yee yoga dvd, and I feel much better just anticipating our upcoming relax sesh. Honestly, I'm pretty rusty at the whole zen/calm/meditation thing, and don't feel like I have any expert wisdom on mind-detoxing that I can dispense.

I DO however, have some pretty awesome tips on how to rid yourself of those nasty toxins that accumulate AFTER stressful times. There are lots of things that can cause a build-up of toxins in our system, and stress is one of the main causes. We also accumulate toxins when we experience physical stress by eating overly-processed, sugary and fatty foods. Also, if we eat too MUCH food (even healthy food) our digestive system can't handle it, and this results in bodily stress. If we have too much caffeine in our system, if we don't drink enough water, if we lead a sedentary lifestyle, and when we don't get enough sleep, we are contributing to the physical stress and buildup of toxic yukkies in our body. Additionally, there are even MORE catalysts in our daily routine that stress us out and leave our systems overwhelmed! Our bodies are fabulously, amazingly designed to get rid of all these contaminants, but when we put too much strain our cleansing system through improper nutrition or an unhealthy lifestyle, it can't handle all the buildup that's accumulated!

When our bodies are overworked they can't properly regulate our systems and we end up feeling lethargic, cranky, headache-y, and crave-y. We tend to gain weight, have dark circles under our eyes, and get blemishes and blotches on our skin. All of these things are signs of stress and incomplete elimination of all that gross gunk hanging out in our systems! Nasty. The majority of the time, if we eat right and maintain a healthy lifestyle while keeping our anxiety in check, we can demolish those negative symptoms of stress and toxicity. But there are certain times we allow life to overwhelm us, or we do things that aren't great for us, and it's time for a detox.

I'm not talking about one of those poop-your-brains out detoxes or an extreme liquid "elimination" diet! Maybe I'll change my perspective someday, but to me those sound super extreme, and downright scary. Now that I've kept you in suspense for the past three paragraphs, I'll tell you about my FAVORITE bestest most awesomest detox method in the world: Dry Brushing!

Dry brushing is a great way to stimulate our lymphatic system, which is one of our bodies natural systems of junk elimination. You know how people get massages to encourage circulation and remove all the crap building up in their system? Dry brushing is essentially the same thing, only cheaper! Obviously, it's slightly less fun...massages are an indulgent special occasion treat, while dry-brushing is perfect for daily relaxation and wellness :) Dry brushing also claims to: remove cellulite, cleanse the lymphatic system, remove dead skin layers, strengthen the immune system, stimulate the hormone and oil-producing glands, tighten the skin which prevents premature aging,tone muscle, stimulate circulation, improve the function of the nervous system, and help digestion. I just started dry-brushing recently, so I don't know if all of that is true, but I know it's fun, relaxing, and makes my skin super-smooth! I'll have to update you if the rest of the claims turn out to be true. If you want an in-depth explanation of what rocks about dry-brushing, or instructions on how to do it, this is where I found my info:

Happy Brushing!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why puppy poop makes me a happier person

I have to be honest; my dogs have been TERRIBLE this week. Our beloved living room couch has significant new chew holes in it, important papers and receipts have been viciously shredded to pieces, and the overriding scent of the apartment can only be described as, "Eau de dog urine." As someone who loves order, this drives me batty. Before returning home from school I can safely assume that there WILL be puppy pee and poop on the floor, all furniture is fair game for fresh chew marks, and there's always the bonus probability of puppy puke if they've ingested anything particularly exciting in my absence.

Every morning it's like a game; Aaron and I try to locate and prevent all potential furball-related incidents. All cords and appliances are stashed away. Books are tactically placed out of the "puppy district." This morning we even removed the couch cushions and stashed them safely away from puppy teeth, claws, and excrement zones. Naturally, I came home to find the box-spring of the couch demolished, its stuffing spread across the hardwood floor like freshly fallen snow. Toby (the youngest of the mischievous duo) popped his little nose out enthusiastically and panted in satisfaction at his newly created fort. Nugget (my slightly older, significantly more spastic puppy) wagged his tail, jumping up and down at my arrival. "NO!" I scolded them, "This is Bad!" Tails wagged more rapidly. "Bad. Bad bad bad." Wagwagwag. I shook my head, half in admiration, half in disgust. They did a pretty good job at destroying the apartment with the few resources they were given. Well played, young pups.

As a general part of my personality, I have a hard time staying mad at anyone. This is particularly true with my puppies. Yes, they've been ungodly destructive lately, and yes they've each gotten Giardia 2-3 times since we've gotten them, costing several hundred dollars each time we've taken them to the vet (FYI it costs $25 to get and test a stool sample. Seriously now.) But, all things considered, they're one of the great joys in my life. They can be complete boneheads about some things (they magically forget how to "sit" unless I've got a treat in my hand, and their favorite times to bark are late at night, early in the morning, and when I'm trying to study) but there are some aspects of life I think they've got figured out. They teach me invaluable lessons on life, and I'll be forever grateful for them. Of course, they teach me patience, responsibility, unconditional love...but I don't want to sound too much like an ad for "Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul" here. Today I realized the importance of puppy poop in my daily routine.

In addition to being somewhat of a clean freak and an exercise fanatic, I'm an avid studier. I wasn't always like this. My experience in the military molded me into what I like to call a "learned type-A" personality. This doesn't happen to everyone, but it certainly stuck with me. Anyway. These past few weeks I've had mid-terms in several of my classes. Additionally I've been planning and organizing things for my role as a mentor for Team in Training. Also, I'm determined to start blogging again, after some motivation from one of the inspirational figures in my life. Because I've got all these new activities on my plate, and because I'm still figuring out how to manage my time around them, I've been spending a lot of time at the computer, typing away like a madwoman. Inevitably, my puppies decide they need to pee, or poop, or sniff the grass every hour or so.

If I KNEW that they only wanted to sniff the grass, I might let them sit at the door for a while when I'm occupied with a project. But because they're still puppies and don't have great control of their bodily functions yet, I never know when that ticking time-bomb is set to go off and they're ready to release the infamous "stinky chocolate soft-serve" in the house. So I have to treat every situation like it's an emergency; clip on their leashes, rush them outside, let them sniff the grass, and wait for them to do their business. This process can take a while. Sniffing is kind of a big deal with Beagles. It's like the most fun thing they can do aside from destroying our furniture. So I stand outside with them while they smell every tree, try to eat the rocks, roll in the grass, and generally have an awesome time. I want to rush them along, but what can I do, really? Squeeze their bellies like a tube of toothpaste and stay out of the splash zone? All I can do is wait.

Which brings me to why I'm grateful to my little furry buddies. If I don't HAVE to take a break from studying, I won't. I'll just grind myself into a textbook induced oblivion, stopping when only when my brain begs me for mercy or ceases to function. When I'm standing outside, waiting for that puppy magic to happen, I remember to take the time to look up at the sky, admire the clouds, and sometimes investigate what the little guys find so interesting. I talk to them all the time, and I'm sure my neighbors think I'm crazy. They'll walk by while I'm asking important questions like, "What did you find guys? Is that a good bush to pee on? Looks good to me!" Nugget and Toby make me wonder at their endless enthusiasm for bugs, plants and interesting scents. I think we could all use a little more of that curiosity. My puppies remind me that life is seriously awesome, even the little things like tasty clumps of leaves and smelly dirt clods. They make me laugh without even trying, and I think that's the greatest gift I could ask for from these tiny little bundles of love.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The lazy person's guide to starting and maintaining an exercise routine

While I am undoubtedly a fitness fanatic, there are days that I really really reallyreallyreally don't want to work out. But with very few exceptions, I've managed to work out 5-6 days a week for probably 10 years or more. This isn't always easy, and there have definitely been times where I've given into tiredness/stress/general feelings of ickyness, and I rarely feel better when I forgo the workout. In most cases I feel significantly better after a sweat sesh, especially if I felt unmotivated due to stress or general tiredness. Because we all KNOW the benefits of exercise, I've devised several (nearly) fool-proof methods for making it happen on those tough days when I'd much rather curl up in a warm blanket and cuddle with my puppies than turn myself into a hot, sweaty, exhausted mess. My favorite methods to overcome Dont-Wanna-Workout-itis are outlined below:

1. The Sneak Attack- My current system of exercise insurance. I set my alarm clock an hour earlier than usual, lay out (or sleep in) my workout clothes, and blissfully drift off to dreamland. When my alarm goes off I shift to autopilot; get out of bed, throw on workout clothes (clearly this step isn't necessary if I slept in them), lace up my shoes, and burst out the door or start my favorite dvd before my brain has time to register what's going on. I like to be as drowsy as possible when I start working out, so by the time my brain realizes what's happening, I'm already halfway done and might as well keep going. If Basic Training taught me anything, it's that working out is way easier when you don't have an internal debate about whether you're going to do it or not. Your body knows what to do. Just get it done. Sidenote: if you're extremely clumsy I wouldn't recommend this technique with moves that require tremendous coordination unless you're in the safety of your own home. I use the Sneak Attack method when running on flat surfaces (no trail-running here..), and when I use my Jillian Michaels dvd. I may not have perfect form, but I figure as long as I'm flailing my arms around and kicking my legs haphazardly, I'm going to work up a sweat.

2. Continual and Relentless Denial- This is a personal favorite, and a technique I frequently use for races. It works equally well when I'm faced with other things that I don't necessarily feel like doing (ie giving a presentation, doing homework, or anything new and scary). It works like this; you tell yourself you're NOT going to do the thing you're going to do, but you're getting ready just in case you feel like it later. Example: "I'm not really going for a run; I'm just putting on my Nike shorts and T-Shirt in case I DO feel like running at some point in time today. Also, the swishy fabric of my shorts and this soft cotton tee are really comfy, and I can always run errands in them, or just relax around the house while looking athletic." This dialogue is effective as long as you need it to be; it's amazing how far denial can go; "I'm not going to compete in this race, but if I stand around with these people wearing numbers and running shoes at the starting line, I have a better opportunity to wish them luck in the final seconds before the gun goes off." It evens works mid-workout; "I'm not going to finish the whole exercise video, I'm just doing the warm-up to get my blood flowing and listen to some funky 80's music." It sounds ridiculous, but the powers of denial are strong, and by the time you've come to grips with reality that you ARE in fact doing what you didn't want to do, you realize it's not as bad as you thought. I feel like this could be a subset of the Sneak Attack method.

3. Dialing Down the Intensity- Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than doing a half-assed workout when I feel super unmotivated. I seriously feel like I'm getting away with something. If I usually work out 45-60 minutes at a higher intensity, I'll either reduce the time of my workout, or my effort, or both. I'll go for a "run" at a speed that hardly qualifies as a shuffle, making sure to gaze at the scenery, amble onto whatever path feels easiest at the time, and relish the fact that I'm sticking it to the workout gods by making a mockery out of everything they stand for. I'll do a workout, but I won't DO a workout if you know what I mean. Plus I get the added benefit of claiming a workout for the day. Notice how I mentioned I work out 5-6 days a week in the beginning of my post? That's right. I even get to count the craptastic days. Makes me sound like a badass, and keeps that exercise momentum going. It's much easier to skip a workout when your track record has been spotty, but when missing a workout means taking a complete deviation from the norm you're much less likely to do it. There's a secret added bonus to this method as well; 99 percent of the time you'll feel so good after you get all that oxygen pumping in your lungs, and you'll want to try hard. I try not to think about this when I use this system; it messes with my "sticking it to the man" justification.

4. Motivation- This one sounds obvious, but it's amazing how few people actually utilize this technique. Everyone who wants to exercise has a reason. But it's unreal how many people forget those reasons once it's TIME to get up and do it. We use excuses to justify our actions, or rather, lack thereof. The reason doesn't have to be epic, it just has to be honest. Motivation can change daily. One day I might want to exercise because I secretly dream of competing in an Ironman and I know I have to start somewhere if I ever want to do it. The next day I might just want to look good in my skinny jeans. A lot of the time, I get my motivation from Aaron; how can I justify sitting around when he consistently kicks butt at the gym? There's something to be said for being in a relationship with someone who's ridiculously buff and motivated. I want him to be just as proud of me as I am of him! This works with friends, coworkers, and family too. Even when I am pumped to exercise, I like to run through a mental list of why I'm doing what I'm doing. Ultimately, working out is good for your physical, emotional, and mental health, and it's worth doing no matter what your reason is.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

How to make a green smoothie that doesn't suck

I know, I know. I told you yesterday that I would be shifting my focus from food this month, and I am, seriously! Yesterday I had a totally awesome day out on the town with Aaron doing tons of explore-y, non food related-y type activities. And it rocked and I'll probably write about it sometime. But, I figured that because I DO have all this nutritional knowledge/wisdom jammed in my head, I might as well let it out and share some with the world. Kind of like seeing a priest or bishop; you've got all these things weighing on your mind, you let out everything that's been bothering you, and when you're done....relief! I'm not Catholic, but I confess! I'm a green smoothie addict, and you can be too if you want after reading this post :)

For those of you not in the vegan community, you may not realize it, but green smoothies are kind of a big deal. Huge, actually. Like Michael Jackson huge. Whether you love them or hate them, you know they exist, and you've probably tried them, either sparking a new obsession or triggering your gag reflex. I'm here to tell you how to prevent the latter.

When I first started making green smoothies, I hadn't really browsed recipes for them. I figured, what's to read? They're smoothies...that are green...which means blending a bunch of vegetables together and drinking them! Even though I was wary of creating a sludgy hulk-colored Frappccino abomination, I wanted to experience the supposed energy boost I'd get from the vitamin-packed, antioxidant rich magical elixir I'd caught wind of in the online vegan community. So I threw all the beautiful veggies I could dream up into a blender; spinach, carrots, broccoli, jicima, bell peppers, and dandelion leaves because I was feeling a bit crazy. I also rationalized that because I was a newbie to smoothie town, I'd break up the intense veggie magic with some sweeteners and flavor enhancers. I tossed in some frozen blueberries and unsweetened cocoa powder. The result? My "green" smoothie looked like a blender full of poop. And it tasted that way too.

Doggedly, I continued to experiment with different veggies, cursing the day I ventured into uncharted veggie-smoothie territory. Did I look at recipes? No. Did I accept Aaron's generous offer to "help" me with my smoothies? Of course not. Because I'm an idiot. It wasn't until I saw the documentary "Crazy Sexy Cancer" (which is uplifting but a little cheesy for me) and watched the bonus features on How To Make Green Smoothies that I realized just how many things I'd been doing to destroy the potentially delicious concoctions. I made some key corrections to my misguided smoothie recipe, and voila! Green smoothie heaven! You couldn't stop me from chugging them like a sorority girl on dollar beer night if you tried! Here are some basic instructions for making a green smoothie that will make your taste buds sing and your energy skyrocket. :)

1. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)- I cannot emphasize this enough. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the blender tends to result in a drink that tastes like something clogged in the kitchen sink. I've found this to be true with most recipes in general. I'm a terrible cook, and am just now discovering the beauty of a few well-combined ingredients. Aaron is the great cook of our household, and I'm slowly letting go of my stubbornness and allowing him to be my Sensei of the kitchen. 6 ingredients or less is usually best.

2. Don't try to make vegetables taste like chocolate. This is clearly a bad idea, and I don't know why I thought it would work. The only time I've ever heard of chocolate and veggies gathering together in perfect harmony is in the occasional baked good, where zucchini or squash sneakily nestles among the other flavorful ingredients as a texture enhancer.

3. Don't mix and match your veggie colors and flavors. If you want a GREEN smoothie, it's best to include veggies that are GREEN. Also, you want to stick to a specific flavor idea. Like if you want a "fresh and light" smoothie, you should probably only include fresh, subtle veggies to put into your smoothie. No adding heavy starchy carrots with delicate cucumbers. They don't play well together.

4. Don't put in veggies that are going to leave "debris". Unless you like chewing your drink. Carrots leave behind chunks. So does jicima. Broccoli leaves behind those cute little broccoli ball top thingies. It's grainy and the experience is reminiscent of drinking puke.

5. Read. Recipes. Follow. Recipes. Experiment later.

That's it! Here's my recipe for my favorite favorite favorite green smoothie, and then a link to smoothies that probably taste a lot better than mine anyway.

Amanda's Amazingly Non-Sucky Green Smoothie Recipe
1 stalk celery
2-3 spears asparagus
small bunch of parsley
handful of frozen grapes (this helps with sweetness and a light flavor!)
1/2-1 frozen banana
1 scoop chai flavored vega whole foods health optimizer (I'm sure like 99 percent of you don't have this stuff, but I usually put that in to get some protein cuz I'm a vegan! And vegans need protein! So they say. You can put in any flavor of protein powder you want, I'd stick with something light like vanilla if you use any protein powder at all. Honestly it would probably taste better without this ingredient but would be less filling if you drink this shake for a meal)

And here's a website with green smoothie recipes that probably taste way better than mine but I'm too stubborn to admit it:


Also, I included the obligatory picture of my own smoothie. It's not that pretty. Don't judge. AND I thought I'd include the ridiculous amounts of squash and avocados Aaron eats in the background of our picture. They're gorgeous! And not half the amount of veggies we eat in a week or 2!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

De-Cluttering my life!

By most standards, I'm not a clutter-bug. In my apartment, "knick-knack" is a dirty word, and stressful weeks often result in whirlwind cleaning sessions taking over my Saturdays. I wasn't always like this. Growing up, my room resembled the aftermath of an epic battle; books, magazines, and dirty laundry littered the floor like wounded soldiers crying out to be escorted to the nearest aid-station. Dust collected on my nightstand and CD-player like debris accumulated from numerous explosions.

All of that changed when I went to Basic Training. Anyone who hasn't been doesn't understand the sheer volume of time that went into organizing, cleaning, straightening, and perfecting our (few) possessions. I vividly remember spending hours organizing my "security drawer"; a tiny locker in which we were allowed to keep roughly 7 essential toiletries; a mini bottle of shampoo, body soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, a razor, and a comb. All of these needed to be painstakingly placed in their "correct" positions atop a crisply folded white towel. I diligently worked alongside 50 other girls in silence, like employees in a sweatshop, while our Training Instructor strode authoritatively around the room, periodically scattering the contents of a drawer across the floor if he spied a stray piece of fuzz on a towel or a remnant drop of moisture on our toothbrush. Even though the hours of labor were maddening, those long days taught me a lot about the power of organization. In an environment where timing and efficiency were everything, I soon realized the simplicity and elegance of having a few possessions exactly where I needed them to be when I needed them.

6 years later, I don't live anywhere close to the rigorous requirements of a training environment. But, I do appreciate the beauty of minimalist living, and work to maintain a clutter-free environment. My apartment layout, beauty routine, exercise regimen, and daily routine are pretty simplistic. Recently I've started running without music, and let the sounds of the day power my workouts. I've always had a fairly routine diet, and since I've become vegan the majority of my food (in large part because I have zero cooking ability!) has consisted of oatmeal in the mornings, large salads, and frothy green smoothies. In our largely consumerist society, I feel like a bit of an oddball when I realize how pared-down my life is. But lately, I've fallen into that "more is better" mindset, and I didn't even realize I was doing it.

Since I became vegan, I've been really careful to do it the "right" way, which to me, means getting all the vital nutrients, making sure I get enough calories, and feeling energized throughout the day. Obviously, for my quality of life this is important. But in my quest for nutritional advice, I found myself inundated with a plethora of vegan recipes, food blogs, holistic healing websites, and decadent raw desserts! If you haven't done a search, I can tell you; it's literally a vegan eaters paradise on the internet! Suddenly I found myself sucked into the magic of it all; the recipes, the beautiful food pictures, the fantastic health claims. Live longer! Increase vitality! Reverse aging! Improve athletic performance! I wanted it all and I needed to know how to do it. I found my days consumed with intense "research", online forum discussions, and a growing fascination. I bought a food processor to create fun raw recipes. I've bought more books than I care to admit about nutritional healing.

I justified my actions through the whole process. It wasn't me being consumerist, this was for HEALTH. This was for vitality! This was for wellness. My preoccupation with being vital was taking over my life. I found myself searching for the "best" foods for my health, the "best" lifestyle to make me burst with energy and happiness. All my time and energy was spent trying to find ways to get more time and energy. I felt drained from my search. I probably know more than I need to about nutrition, and for the most part it's been a good thing. But I think it's time to give myself a break from all my investigation, if only temporarily. Health is so much more than eating the right combination of foods, or getting the right nutrients. True wellness is a conglomerate of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual characteristics. I'm sure I could be more healthy...I'm sure everyone can strive for perfection. But I realized that just as some people use fast food or junk food to dull their emotions or medicate, I was using my quest for the most perfect food to do the same. When I feel sad, or stressed, or lonely, creating the perfect meal plan won't change those feelings.

My plan is to (at least temporarily) give myself a break from the nutritional research. I think many people are so afraid of their emotions that they mask them with food. I'd like to shift my focus from food to the world. I genuinely enjoy reading about holistic healing, and the infinite possibilities it provides. But I think I need to look into things I haven't had "time" for since I've delved wholeheartedly into my research. I'd like to embrace music more, explore the mountains in my neighborhood, and be a tourist in my own city! I feel like so many outings and social gatherings are based around food. Why can't people get together and just enjoy each others company any more without seeking the emotional comfort in cooked delicacies? I'd like to find the answers to these questions, and take the time to listen to my own emotions more as well. Over the next 30 days I plan on returning to a simplistic way of eating; and taking food of it's macro-biotic, alkalizing, whole foods pedestal. There's much more to the world than the fuel we nourish our bodies with. And I'm excited to rediscover that world.

Friday, October 8, 2010

LA or Paris; yes, it's a real question!

As you know, I'm coming back to Team in Training as a mentor this season! I have quite a few reasons I'm doing it, and I'll write about it soon; when I get permission from the people who inspired me! For now, I've a much lighter topic to discuss:

Where should Amanda run her marathon?? I'm so excited for this season because there are two really great locations and races I can do...my biggest problem is figuring out which one I want to run. I'm wavering between running in LA and Paris. Most of you are sitting there, wondering if all the green smoothies I've been drinking have gone to my head and messed with my head. You're thinking I'm an idiot and the choice is obvious. Go ahead, call me an idiot. Get it out of your system. Done? Good. Even though it would be AMAZING to run my first marathon in Paris, there are a lot of barriers I'd have to work through, and it would (at least temporarily) cause a lot more stress in my life. Also, there are some distinct advantages and bonuses that come with running in LA. I'll break it down for you.

Paris: It would be GORGEOUS to run in Paris; it sounds like such a dream come true! I've never been to Europe, and running my first marathon and taking my first trip across the ocean at the same time would blow my mind! I don't know if I could handle the excitement. Even if the race totally sucked, it would be an experience I'd remember for the rest of my life. The downside to running in Paris would be that the race is on April 10th next Spring, probably a week or two before I have finals. Because I'm going to college on Scholarship, I can't afford to let my grades fall; I'm not willing to miss more than a few days of school. Most likely, I would fly out the Thursday before the race and come back Sunday after the race. This means spending thousands of dollars to spend almost as many hours in the air as I am on the ground! I'm trying to picture the retributions of severe jet-lag in addition to post-marathon exhaustion, in addition to the stress of studying for finals! Worth it? You tell me! Also, Aaron (the love of my life and fellow partner in crime last season with Team in Training) won't be able to come with me if I race in Paris and I'd feel bad leaving him behind while I get to sweat and take in the picturesque scenery.

LA: Granted, it doesn't have the Eiffel Tower. But it does have something equally awesome; my family! Specifically, the most awesome people in my family: My Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt, Uncle, and two fabulous cousins! I haven't seen them much since I joined the military 6 years ago, and I would be so proud to have them see me complete my first marathon, and visit with them after. My oldest cousin, Nik, is an amazing runner, and I'd totally score cool points with him if I manage to make it through the coveted 26.2. My uncle is a really awesome athletic guy, and makes the crazy hike up Mt. Whitney every year and I'd love to have him welcome me into the club of badasses in the family :) I could wax poetic about the fabulousness of my aunt, my other cousin Julia, my grandma and grandpa all day, but suffice it to say I would be super excited to have them there. I could never give up knowing they'd be there at the finish line. Also, the LA marathon is on the 20th of March, which falls during my spring break! This rocks for a lot of reasons. I could fly out a few days before the race, adjust to the (fabulous) LA climate, and not have to worry about catching a flight back right after the race and studying for finals. Aaron would be able to come with me to LA, and we're tentatively planning a road trip through California up to Monterey, San Fransisco, and possibly Napa Valley over spring break if I do the LA Marathon.

So, which race should I do? Glamorous, exciting, once-in-a-lifetime, stressful, inconvenient Paris without Aaron? Or semi-exciting, relaxing, family-filled, road-trip California with Aaron?

Here are the websites for the two races!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

For Matt...I'm gonna do 26.2 and keep up the blog!

Certain people seem destined to inspire...I've always wanted to be one of them. The idea of motivating someone to motivate THEMSELVES makes me want to run into the street and do a happy dance. A lot of my enthusiasm stems from the fact that I've always sought out sources of inspiration from my friends, coaches, teammates, and teachers. Looking back over the years, I realize how lucky I've been to have such phenomenal influences. I'll be forever grateful for the impact they had on my life. A few weeks ago I turned 25, and decided now that I'm older, wiser, and totally have my act together *cough* I feel like it's only natural that I want to repay my karmic debt to the world. But I'm still figuring out how to do it.

As children, we're told that we're these incredibly special little snowflakes that have a unique gift to give to the world. We're told we're talented and beautiful and brilliant, and that it's impossible for us to do anything wrong. We imagined ourselves becoming astronauts, ballerinas, cowboys, and unicorn racers :) We knew that our dreams were completely within our reach because we'd been told they were for the vast majority of our young lives! Our existence was riddled with endless potential and untapped talent, waiting to unleash itself at the right moment.

Now, twenty-something years later, I'm attempting to embrace that child-like confidence, find my unique talent, and use it to help others. But I've got a secret, and I keep letting it hold me back. It's a voice in my head, a little whisper I like to call the "un-cheerleader" who keeps telling me I can't do it, whatever IT happens to be at the moment. Part of why I love running so much is that it's a time when I rarely, if ever, am forced to combat this voice. It's drowned out by the tiniest noise; the gentle swish of my shoes over wet grass, the stream softly gurgling alongside the running path, my own breathing. Often towards the end of my runs I'm inundated by thoughts like, "Wow, you're doing great! This is so much fun! You could do this forever! You should run a marathon! You should run an Ultra! You should do an Ironman!! You should start an organization called 'Couch to Ironman' and encourage others to embrace a healthy and active lifestyle, and accomplish something they never thought possible! " Sometimes this voice gets a little carried away with itself :p

Or I TOLD myself that the voice was getting carried away with itself. I find that the more I listen to that voice, the more I love my life. It's the voice that told me to apply to become an officer, to strive for straight A's in college, and to buy my two beagle puppies even though I wasn't sure if I could handle the responsibility. It's the voice that told me to become a vegan. It inspired me to join Team in Training last October to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society while training for a half-marathon in Moab. It encouraged me to run another half marathon last July in Copper Mountain, and (soon to be) the Denver Rock and Roll half-marathon next weekend. That positive attitude, along with other reasons, is what made me join Team in Training again this season, this time for a full marathon. I'm coming back this season as a mentor, meaning not only will I run a full marathon next spring (which has been my dream for years!) I get to HELP people...which is kind of a big deal for me :)

I'm hoping that as I tackle the next 26.2 miles (and the supplemental training miles that go along with it) I will learn to silence my "un-cheerleader" voice, or at least have the sensibility not to listen to it. Mostly I'm excited to find out what crazy ideas I come up with on the run, and take the initiative to tackle a few of the more "unrealistic" ones :)

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Proposal, and why I didn't run a marathon last May

I distinctly remember feeling very angry the day after the Colfax Marathon in Denver. Even more than what I did feel, I remember the way I didn't feel; satisfied, accomplished, exhausted, or sore. I even would have been happy to feel a bit nauseous, woozy, or like I'd been hit with a brick wall. But I didn't feel any of those things...because I didn't run in the Colfax Marathon. For the life of me I can't remember what I did that day; I probably blocked it from memory. I must have eaten at some point, maybe worked out, done some homework. The day was completely uneventful. Even as I write this, it kills me that May 16th isn't the historic date that I ran my first marathon. If, in the years to come, I do remember something about that day, it will be the fact that I didn't run those 26.2 miles. Mark Twain once said, "20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Smart man, that Twain. The pain from the experience (or lack thereof) is still fresh, and when I think about what I could have accomplished that day, pangs of regret take hold of my heart and squeeze until I can hardly breathe.

I'm a dreamer by nature. Even as a little girl, I can remember waking up in the morning, deciding what to be when I grew up, and planning my day around that goal. In my earlier years I wanted to be a dancer; I'd grab my tutu, leotard, and princess crown and march myself to the tile in front of the fireplace where I’d practice tap-dancing for hours. Never mind that I was one of the least coordinated girls in my class, or that I couldn’t remember routines we learned. I just made them up as I went along, and that meant my performance was original. Years later I decided that I would be a National Geographic photographer and journalist; there was a period of about six months where I carried around this little journal with me everywhere I went. I wrote stories on the local wildlife to send in to the magazine and drew pictures in the margins because I didn’t have a camera. My grandparents heard countless tales of my career-driven endeavors; when we visited their house my grandpa’s first question often was, “What are you going to be today? An astronaut?”

I’ve never let go of this habit of dreaming. I still wake up in the morning preparing for the goals I want to accomplish, and planning what I’m going to be when I grow up. Which is why, I think, Aaron wasn’t surprised when I told him I wanted to run a marathon. He even chose to join in the fun.
Our similarities and differences in personality make us the perfect pair to train for a marathon together. I possess ridiculous enthusiasm and cheerleader-like gusto, he has the stubbornness and work ethic of an ox (do oxes have work ethic? You get the idea…) Also, we both love to work out. And we both have a tendency to crack jokes about situations when they suck. I feel like this is essential when training for any endurance sport…and life in general now that I think about it. So we ran. And ran. And ran. To the point where we ran much farther than we’d ever run before, and in the back of my mind, farther than I’d thought possible. There was laughter, tears, and exhaustion. There were some blisters. There was indigestion. Thank God there wasn’t GDF (look it up if you don’t know). More than anything, there was a sense of accomplishment. Every weekend we had a new goal, a new reason to drag our sleepy selves out of bed at 6 in the morning. I felt so proud of myself, and so proud of Aaron. I remember watching his heels kick out behind him at the end of our first run marking the longest distance we’d ever gone. His stride was smooth and efficient, showing little sign of the 14 miles we’d put in. I remember jumping into his arms, and him lifting me high into the air. I remember knowing that this was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I guess he felt the same way.

We were a few weeks out from our first half-marathon, and I was burned out. Between intense midterms, raising funds for our race, and running, my brain and body were fizzling out on me. We didn’t get to run with our group that weekend, and decided to go for a long run that Monday. God must have known what was going to happen because the weather was phenomenal, and the world looked absolutely stunning. We headed out to a familiar trail close by our house, and I let my body fall into a slow jog, my breath falling into the steady rhythm reserved for long distance running. Fresh snow covered the ground in a dazzling blanket, sparkling like a thin layer of diamonds. Aaron dropped a few feet behind me, and I lost myself in the warm sunshine, the glorious mountains ahead of us. I didn’t notice he’d stopped until I heard him call out, “Wait, I have something in my shoe.” I shook myself out of my trance, and waited, somewhat impatiently, for him to dislodge whatever it was so we could continue along our wintery trek. Then I noticed that he was on one knee…I think I screamed before he could say anything. I covered my mouth and stared at him, wide-eyed, completely in shock. He told me how we’d been through so much together; getting through crazy work hours and shift changes, applying for our commissioning program, moving to Colorado, and now training for a marathon. He told me he wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, and asked if I would marry him. Of course I said yes!

Which is why I knew I couldn’t run the Colfax Marathon without him. He’d proposed to me while we trained for that race together, and that made it “our” race. It was about our long journey together, literally and figuratively, and I didn’t want to experience it without him. We ran our first half-marathon together; shortly before the race Aaron started to experience some serious foot pain. Because he’s one of the most stubborn people I know, he continued to run for over a month through the pain. I should have made him stop, but our plan was to just make it through the marathon and then take some serious time off so he could recover. Probably about a week out from the race, we knew it wasn’t going to happen. He was only cross-training during the week, and even that was starting to bother him. It was starting to hurt when he walked. I wondered if he’d cracked a bone in his foot. If he went through with the race, there was a good chance he’d do some permanent damage, and we both knew it wasn’t worth it. It’s so frustrating when life gets in the way of our ambitious plans. Which is why I was angry; not at him, not at his foot, but just at life. I knew I wanted to run that marathon. I also knew that emotionally I couldn’t get through that race without him. It wouldn’t have felt right, and would have tainted the magic of an event that we’d been training to do for nearly 6 months, and wanted to do for years.

So we didn’t run. And I questioned whether I wanted to continue running long distance at all. So much time and effort goes into it! Most people don’t realize that running for 3 or 4 hours on a Saturday not only takes the actual running time, but pre-run preparation, and post-run recovery (which can last all day depending on how much of a beating your body takes!) The truth is I don’t know why I like running. I’m not fast. My body takes forever to recover. The thought of ingesting another gel ever in my lifetime makes me want to puke. But we ran the Bolder Boulder 10k at the end of May (Aaron’s last run before starting physical therapy) and I loved it. I don’t know why I run, but I know that it makes me feel happy. I know it makes me plan, and makes me dream. So I’m starting over again, and it’ll be interesting to see how the runs are different when I do it on my own. Maybe it will be a good thing. I signed up for the Copper Mountain Half Marathon in Colorado on the 4th of July. I’m easing into the training, remembering to embrace the process and enjoy the runs to prevent early burnout. My tentative plan is to run the Denver Rock and Roll Marathon on October 17th…almost exactly a year after I started training the first time for my first marathon. I know I want to do it. I know it’s going to be hard. I know fate could step in and deliver unforeseeable events that will prevent me from running it.

Right now I’m searching for that little girl who knew, beyond a doubt, that she was going to do something great, and woke up every morning with the initiative to make it happen.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Being kind to me

As I approach my last two finals this week, I have to admit, I'm pretty burned out from all the studying, #2 pencils, and essay questions. Luckily, I have something to look wonderful to look forward to at the end of all this madness. Aaron and I will be getting a new puppy! It'll be the first time I've had my own dog, and you can't imagine how excited I am! He's a Pocket Beagle, and this is his most recent picture. He'll be 16 weeks old when we get him.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Another reason to wake up at 4 in the morning and run 26.2 miles

I’ve always loved training for races. But actually doing the race? Not so much. Practice is a peaceful time, where conversations with friends mingle with the thwak thwak thwak of shoes against pavement in an A Capella workout tune. Breathing is controlled, rhythmic, and relaxed. Everyone finishes around the same time, and we stand around for a while, exchanging high fives (still allowed after doing something athletic and/or outdoorsy) while congratulating each other on our collective awesomeness.
Racing, on the other hand, conjures up images of a gruesome battle; generally I frantically scramble after the person in front of me, gasping for air, praying for a miraculous burst of speed to propel me towards the finish line at the end. All to win…what? A victory over someone else going for the same goal? The knowledge that my good race could equate to someone else’s loss? No…I don’t like racing.

At least I didn’t, until last March where I ran the Moab half marathon and had one of the most amazing (and tiring!) days of my life! I ran it with this group called Team in Training; a group of people that train for races together and raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. My six-month experience with the group changed the way I look at working out; I’ve always been an exercise fanatic, relishing the emotional high I get from moving and pushing my body in ways I never thought possible. I’ve always made time in my day for exercise; it’s truly the best form of therapy, and it’s free! I know that after a long run or a particularly grueling round of Insanity (awesome workout! You have to try it!) life’s challenges become clear, and I know I can maneuver through the small and large obstacles of daily existence. I’ve always wanted my exercise habit/addiction to go towards something bigger, and Team in Training offered a way for me to do that.

What I took away from the experience more than anything was the support that the team offered each other. It was about raising money for a good cause, but it was also about community, friendship, and unconditional encouragement. Racing in Moab, I ran next to people from Team in Training around the country; they recognized my shirt and automatically cheered, or started a conversation, or offered words of encouragement. How cool is that!! It wasn’t just the people from Team in Training though; most everyone at the race was friendly and conversational, undaunted by the fact that we were standing around in 32 degree weather before the sun rose getting ready to run 13.1 miles. We were just a bunch of crazy people doing something kind of silly, and I thought that was monumentally cool. Running for a good cause shifted my focus from myself and killed 90 percent of my pre-race jitters and the long distance made my goal simply to finish, rather than a time goal. At the end of the run, I purposely looked away from the clock; the race had been so awesome I didn’t want to attach a number with it! Later that day, my uncle ended up text-congratulating me, including my time and placement in the message, spoiling my fun…but he didn’t know my plan, and I definitely appreciated the encouragement!!

That day unleashed the charity monster in me; I want to keep running/racing for something I believe in, so I can do something I love while helping others! I’m running my first marathon on May 16th and plan to do two things to help others on my long distance journey; first, I’m going to wear my No Meat Athlete t-shirt (it’s the coolest looking shirt with a running carrot on it! Go to nomeatathlete.com to look for your own.) to show that it’s totally possible to be fit while eating a plant based diet, saving animals, and helping the environment. Also, I’m going to donate my medal to this foundation called Medals4Mettle; a non-profit organization whose mission is to (I’m going to quote the website here because it explains better than I can) “celebrate and reward the individual and collective courage of all human beings by facilitating the gifting of marathon finisher’s medals from marathoners to people who have demonstrated similar mettle, or courage. The recipients can be any age and might have exhibited such mettle by dealing with disease, handicaps or any similar challenge. Marathon runners around the world, and others who have won medals, give their medals to Medals4Mettle. Then our nationwide network of physicians and others award these medals to those who might not be able to run a marathon, but are in their own marathon to continue to live their life. As marathoners run through the streets, large crowds cheer the runners for their effort. Medals4Mettle lets these runners, healthy enough to compete in such an event, to return the cheers to those who have supported them.”

I don’t know that I’m strong enough to complete a marathon by myself, but I feel like these organizations I’m supporting are actually carrying me along in my race, and I feel so grateful for that. Plus, it gives me another excuse to wake up at 4 in the morning and run 26.2 miles.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Why I decided to become a vegetarian

It happened on accident, actually.
At the time, I was training for my first half-marathon, and my first full marathon soon after that, and I was running on empty. As my Saturday morning runs got longer, I began to wake up with a sense of dread, petrified with the knowledge that I'd have to (once again) run farther than I'd ever run in my life. A person learns a lot about themselves on those long runs. Like that after running for a few hours, coherent speech becomes difficult, presumably because all the blood rushes from my face in order to support my shuffle-jogging legs. Yelling, on the other hand, is still totally possible at that time. Something about having extreme cotton mouth and numb tongue lends itself to the beautiful sound of cursing in the morning. I learned that counting cow patties on the side of a trail is wildly entertaining when I've run out of music and can't force myself to listen to Taylor Swift's "Fearless" for the 100th time, no matter how much it reminds me of my teeny-bopper years in high school. I learned that trying to listen to a book on tape while my ipod is set to shuffle will make me cry. After long runs, Aaron and I would drag our sorry behinds into his jeep, chug water, eat protein bars, and sweat. I would yell at the runners alongside the road (with the windows rolled up so they couldn't hear me), "What are you doing? Go home! This is madness!"
Like I said, I learned a lot about myself, and I didn't like most of it. Where had my unbridled passion for running gone? The sheer joy I got from the wind in my face, feet slapping against the pavement? Training for a long distance race took away a very integral part of my spirit, and I wanted it back.
And so began my search for my lost love. First, I bought the book, "Born to Run"; an amazing book about this tribe of Indian superathletes that live in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. I can't say enough about this book except if you love running, or want to love running, or think at some point in your life you might want to love running, you should read this book. My obsession was back in full swing just in time to run the most amazing half marathon in my life. But it wasn't enough. I wanted more. I wanted to know what it was about these ultramarathoners that made them so superhuman. How did they wake up one morning, decide to go for a little jog, and return home 50-100 miles later? It didn't seem possible. Yet, according to the author of the book, anyone can do it.
Here comes the vegetarian part. The more I read about these incredible human beings (Scott Jurek, Brendan Brazier) the more I noticed a common theme; a lot of them are vegetarians or vegans. To me, this seemed counter-intuitive. Everything I've learned about athletic performance is that we need protein to help our muscles recover and build strength. I was a vegetarian until I went to basic training; at which point I started passing out, and decided that I needed the meat to make it through such a stressful time for my body. After that I figured that even if I didn't like eating meat, it was necessary for me to be active and healthy. Yet all this new information I was absorbing told me different.
I read both "Thrive" and "Thrive Fitness" by Brendan Brazier, a vegan and professional Ironman Triathlete, and was enthused in his theory that eating the meat and overly processed food actually hinders, rather than helps athletic performance. I wanted to experiment myself, and see if it changing my diet helped my running, but was still skeptical. How could I know that these people weren't just incredibly talented, despite (rather than because) they were vegans and vegetarians? Michael Phelps is an Olympian swimmer, and his diet consists basically of pizza, energy drinks, and chocolate-chip pancakes. What if there are just certain people who are meant to be amazing athletes, and I'm stuck waddle-scooting my way through the last 12 miles of my long runs?
And then I got that final nudge to push me towards full blown vegetarianism. It's this awesome website called nomeatathlete.com, where Matt, a normal graduate student/runner also decided to go vegetarian, and found his athletic performance increase significantly after becoming a vegetarian. He actually achieved his longtime goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon less than a year after quitting meat entirely! Obviously, he worked and trained for years to qualify for Boston, but becoming a vegetarian definitely didn't hinder his performance. At the very least, I was looking for some indication that being a vegetarian wouldn't turn me into some kind of malnourished wallflower. I knew that if this guy, who was "normal" (in that he wasn't an Olympian or professional marathoner) could make a vegetarian diet work and still excel athletically, I could too. That did it for me. I became a vegetarian on Easter.
And it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. After my first week, I felt a definite boost in energy. I started looking up new recipes, and have had a blast with cooking unique dishes and making fun smoothies. I rarely get that "heavy" feeling after eating..the one where I feel like a bear that just wants to hibernate. I feel more positive. My skin doesn't break out any more. I just feel GOOD. Which makes me want to do good things.
I hadn't realized what a huge impact on the environment eating meat has, and it makes me feel good that I'm one less person contributing to that. The amount of land and resources wasted on turning animals into food is insane, and the more I read about it, the better I feel about being a vegetarian. Also, I like the idea that animals aren't being killed just so I can eat them. If I can be perfectly healthy and happy without eating meat, it feels selfish to keep doing it. And like I said, since I'm feeling so good, I just want to help everyone else feel good too; this includes animals!
When I found out that my friend Alexa, who is a gorgeous and healthy vegan, had joined this group called Team Vegan, that trains for races and raises awareness to the benefits of being a vegan, I knew I wanted to help out! I'm going to run the Bolder Boulder for Team Vegan, and see how everything goes from there. I'm not a complete vegan yet, although I'd like to be. I probably eat vegan 80-90 percent of the time, which is why I still call myself a vegetarian. Interestingly, I find that when I do eat foods with animal products, I feel more sluggish than when I don't. I'm not trying to criticize people who aren't vegans or vegetarians, or say that they are evil animal killers. I'm not going to burn down a dairy farm. I just wanted to let people know about something that makes me feel really happy, healthy and positive. As part of my goal to be the kindest person I can be, I thought it only fair that I share with others what a change I've felt, and maybe they would want to try it out too. Or at least incorporate more veggies into their diet, and see how awesome the green stuff is. I remember in 7th grade my friend Ali's brother and his friends nicknaming me "Veg" to make fun of me, and I'm proud to say I've earned the moniker once again.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

This is it!

It was green and brown. Which only confirmed what I’d been suspected since midnight the night before; I was definitely sick. The mystery goo I’d hacked into the sink displayed irrefutable evidence, as if my dizziness and my general feeling that I’d been beaten with a large tuna weren’t enough to make me believe it. I hate being sick more than almost anything else I can think of; what’s the point of it anyway? I just end up wrapping myself up in a blanket on the couch, staring gloomily out the window, and spending way too much energy consuming copious amounts of tea and water in a futile attempt to drown the evil micro-bugs that got me into my sad situation in the first place.
But, now that I’ve woken up gloriously free of all indications of illness, I realize that my forced hiatus from life the past few days was a good thing. For one thing, it gave me a chance to slow down and relax. Amid studying for midterms and finals, and a whirlwind-weekend family visit, I hadn’t been able to stop and take a breather. Also, I had the opportunity to think about how much has changed this past year, and how truly blessed I am.
A little less than a year ago, I was accepted into the AECP program, a commissioning program through the Air Force where they send me to college, pay for my degree, and I graduate as an officer. Because I joined the Air Force two weeks out of high school, and because my boyfriend of two and a half years, Aaron, also made the program, I was more than ecstatic for the opportunity to experience college for the first time. I moved to Boulder, Colorado; a place filled with an abundance of natural beauty and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors! I ran my first half marathon with Team in Training and will be running my first full-marathon in a few weeks. I’ve nearly made it through my first year of college, and managed to make decent grades while not missing out on the amazing restaurants and activities the city has to offer. And last March, Aaron asked me to marry him! (Which was the reason for the family trip last weekend, Aaron needed to meet the rest of my family. They absolutely adored him, and who could blame them?)
When I stop and think about it, I’ve been incredibly fortunate, and had a multitude of kindness placed at my feet. More and more this past year, I’ve had the burning desire to pay back the great karmic favor. My ultimate goal is to be as kind to the environment, to others (both people and animals), and to myself as I can. I want to create this blog to encourage others to do the same, and show that kindness begets more kindness and breeds happiness. I’ve never felt better about my life than when I choose to do kind things; my half-marathon with Team in Training, when I decided to become a vegetarian last Easter, and when I said yes to Aaron’s beautiful marriage proposal (more on that later!) have been the three most physically, emotionally, and spiritually rewarding decisions I’ve made this year. I’m excited to begin my effort in earnest to be a kind person, and I hope to motivate others to do the same! The weather is gorgeous this Sunday morning, and I’m going to do myself a bit of kindness by taking a short run in the sunshine.