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 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, 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.