My First Half Ironman Adventure: Part 2, RACE DAY!

In case you missed it, here’s Part 1: TRAINING!

I will be forever grateful to endurance sports for teaching me the power of positivity. You can train your body physically as much as you want, but training the mind is so much more important. I firmly believe that being kind in thoughts and actions, not just toward others, but toward ourselves is the key to happiness. I’m sharing this here because being conscious of the type of thoughts I accept and embrace has had a profound effect on my athletic endeavors (and life in general) over the past year and a half. My attitude towards racing has changed a lot since getting into triathlon. It’s the work you put in before race day that is most important. All of those quiet hours you spend at the lake, on the roads, trails, in the gym or wherever, getting to know yourself, becoming the person you want to become, strengthening your body and your mind — those are what count. Of course we all want to have a good race, but race day is just the cherry on top of the whole journey. In the week leading up to yesterday, people kept asking me how I was feeling. Honestly, I don’t know that I ever gave a coherant answer because it’s not really a feeling I could describe. After spending months of ups and downs working so hard, I just wanted to see what I could do. I wanted to be out there with all the other athletes who love the same sport. I wanted to experience the feeling of sprinting down that finisher’s chute, knowing I poured my heart into it. I’m so grateful I got to do just that.

So, details! The night before the race, I laid out all my gear on the living room floor and walked through my transition/nutrition plan. While doing so, I realized I was out of Gu — d’oh!!! Fortunately, a local sports store was still open and they had plenty. Yea, I know I should use whole foods for fuel, but shhhh. I’m lazy and I trained with Gu and Cliff Bars, ok? We all have our vices. I also discovered a few weeks ago that my wet suit was way too big, but I really didn’t feel like spending $300 to replace it, so I just went with it. It wasn’t ideal, but it ended up okay. After my usual pre-race ritual of eating pasta w/ chickpeas and watching an episode of Gilmore Girls, it was time for bed! IMG_3704

3 a.m. rolled around and I got up feeling chipper and excited. I loaded up the car, ate a slice of bread with some jelly, and double checked my lists. I had the idea to write a few positive words on my arm in sharpie, and I am SO glad that I did. If I could share one tip with everyone gearing up for a big race, it’d be to do this. I must have looked at my arm 87,000 times throughout the race, and every time I did it gave me a happy boost. I decided on one word for each discipline:

1.) Courage for the swim.

2.) Strength for the bike.

3.) Love for the run. I wanted to complete the last leg of this journey entirely with my heart. Running just means so much to me.
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I also wrote the words Dream Catcher on my arm because it’s the name of a “Set It Off” song, and I wanted it in my head. There’s a line that says, “Does it seem out of reach? Hit the ground and run with both your feet.” and I knew it would help get me through. Have I mentioned that endurance sports are riddled with ridiculous mind games? We all have our tricks.

The car ride to the venue was filled with fun songs and obviously lots of car dancing. It was still pitch black when I got there, but cars were steadily trickling in. I set up my transition area, then headed down to look at the water and breathe. Despite being nervous and excited, this was the most peaceful I have ever felt before a race. I was just SO happy to be there and even happier to feel like I deserved to be there. No matter how the day went, it had been an incredible experience getting to that start line. IMG_3706

I headed back to the transition area to put on my wetsuit and choke down a few dates before the pre-swim meeting. As I looked up, I ended up locking eyes with one of my high school boyfriends who was standing on the other side of the fence– how random! We both cocked our heads to the side at the same time, gave each other a “what?? Huh??” look, and laughed. Turns out he was there to cheer on his girlfriend who was also competing. After a quick chat, I waved him goodbye and headed down the hill to get in a quick warm up swim, and wait for the start.

As I mentioned, endurance sports are all about playing mind games with yourself. Whenever I started getting nervous, I closed my eyes and pictured people I care about. It’s a weird trick, but picturing the smiles of wonderful people in my life always helps me stay calm. Finally, it was time to start! A girl started singing the national anthem, but then she forgot the words… so all of the athletes started singing with her. (This is why I love the triathlon community.) My brother and LB ran over 5 minutes before my swim wave started, with huge smiles and giant hugs. It was such a boost getting to see them at the start line!!!

I love these people so very much.

I love these people so very much.

We all piled into the corral, heard the “GO! GO! GO!” and jumped in. Unfortunately, this course was a loop swim, so right as we were starting, all the swim waves before us were looping around in the same spot, so everything was chaos. The most important thing in open water swimming is to stay calm, but I was definitely struggling with panic for the first 5 minutes. Arms and legs were flying on all sides, you couldn’t see anything with all the splashing, seaweed was getting wrapped around our bodies, it was insane. I just told myself to keep my heart rate down and sight every two strokes until I could push past people. I swam hard and finally broke free of the crowd and was able to get up a steady rhythm. I was so incredibly impressed with the course organizers for supplying us with adequate sight buoys. I was able to swim straight the entire time because they were so well placed. Thank you, race directors!!

I remember feeling so much joy during the swim. It was the discipline I was most confident about, and I kind of didn’t want to get out. But after no time at all, we were rounding the last turn buoy and heading for shore! A quick run up the big hill to the transition area, and it was time for some quality time with my bike :) IMG_3720

The bike course was challenging, but it wasn’t really as bad as I anticipated. There were plenty of good hills, but no super, super steep climbs. I’m a mediocre biker, so it’s always the hardest part, but I ended up averaging about 16 mph, which is quite good for me. Not going to lie, the bike course was a mind-EFF because you bike 30 miles (yay!!) and then realize you have to do another loop (no!!). My quads started yelling around that point, so I knew I needed to find a way to distract myself. I’m about to enter the TMI portion of this post –sorry, not sorry! Anyone who knows me knows that I have the tiniest little bird bladder on the planet. I had to pee the ENTIRE ride (which feels terrible every time you go over a bump, by the way), which spawned a very long, humorous commentary in my head about what to do about it that kept me laughing. People probably thought I was nuts. I also forgot I put my phone in my camelbak, so of course I got two text messages in the middle of the ride. Whoops! You’re not supposed to have any electronic devices, but it’s not like I was playing music, so I think it’s ok. Mile 40 was about the time I started going crazy, so I decided to start belting out some songs (Re-reading this is making me realize that I’m the most obnoxious athlete ever.). Most notable were “White Dress” by Parachute (“IIIIIIIIII wanna looooooveee youuuuu mooooooorrreeee!”), and “Crazy About You” by Artist Vs. Poet. Honestly, when you’re biking for over 3 hours, you have to find ways to entertain yourself. I spent a lot of time just appreciating the scenery, saying hi to the horses I rode past, and genuinely feeling happy to be there. I tried to compartmentalize each discipline, and not think about running 13.1 miles after. You really just have to focus on the task at hand and know that you’ll handle each piece as it comes. IMG_3718

Finally, I crested the last hill and was ready to start the run! After racking my bike, I grabbed my other camelback, race bib, and sneakers, collected solid high fives from my bro and LB, and raced out of the chute feeling super strong and full of smiles. I was averaging a 9 min/mile pace, and I knew I needed to slow it down because it was getting really, really hot out — PLUS, I still had to pee! Finally, at mile 4, at the very top of a big hill I saw a porta-potty, and I swear it had a brilliant glow and angels singing around it. Anyway, that was the only minute during the whole thing that I wasn’t running. I had made a race plan with myself that if I was really hurting, I’d do a 3 minute run, 1 minute walk strategy, but I always hate doing stuff like that because all the lactic acid builds up in your legs and it makes everything so much harder. Fortunately, I didn’t need to! I was so surprised how strong I felt throughout this entire race. I ended up running the whole thing, and felt really good on all the hills. I also really liked the run course because since it was a loop, you were always surrounded by other athletes. There were a ton of people who were very clearly hurting and walking, so it gave me a chance to yell words of encouragement and smile or clap for them. And you know, every time I did that, they beamed giant smiles at me. I’ve never felt so inspired like that before. All these incredible athletes just pushing with everything they have to finish. It was amazing to experience. The volunteers were phenomenal too. There was a turnaround where they had set up a boombox, so naturally I started dancing and singing, and the volunteers all joined in! Love it when that happens!

Around the 5/10 mile markers they had a long line of motivating signs that kept me laughing. Stuff like, “Your butt looks fantastic!” and “You’re smart…….” *10 feet later* “……And pretty!”. I should also mention that they offered sponges soaked in ice cold water, and they were such a life saver. There was barely any shade towards the end, and lots and lots of hills, so the heat was a concern. My calves started cramping around mile 11.5, but I knew if I took another Gu and kept drinking water I would be able to stay fairly steady. Because of the heat, I didn’t bother shooting for a pace time, I just focused on keeping my heart rate down and my breathing calm. Looking at the words on my arm reminded me just how much I love this sport, and how much I truly was running every step from the heart.

Finally, I could hear the cheers of the crowd, and I could see the venue in the distance. But the last .5 miles were up a giant hill. AGH! That was the only part of the race I was frustrated with. My calves hurt and I was sooo close. But before I knew it, I was rounding the corner and sprinting down that finishers chute, hearing the announcer call my name, seeing Nicholas and LB yelling for me, and feeling that whoosh of overwheming emotion. I did it!

Finishing!

Finishing!

IMG_3707All in all, the whole day was amazing. I feel a huge amount of gratitude for my family who came to support me with hugs and love, and to my friends who tracked my race or texted me well wishes. 900 miles, 5-6 months, endless hours of training. It’s been an incredible journey.

Thanks for reading my story! It was a day I will never, ever forget. <3

P.s. If you didn’t see it, here’s Part 1, TRAINING

And as always, Remember to breathe.

My First Half Ironman Adventure: Part 1, TRAINING

1.25 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run. That’s what yesterday held and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all. Even though it lasted over 6 straight hours, I feel like the whole thing flew by so fast! It was honestly one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I’m trying to figure out how to capture the feeling of it all in words. (Note: If you don’t care about the training portion, feel free to skip to Part 2: RACE DAY). Here goes!

This whole adventure started over a year ago when the idea of doing a long-course triathlon popped into my head. I thought a lot about the kind of experience I wanted to have, and I decided I wanted a community-type atmosphere rather than an Ironman branded event, at least for my first time. So, I landed on the Pumpkinman Half Iron. I knew it was extremely well organized, had great race swag, and since my bro and LB did the sprint last year, I knew how cool the venue was (Plus, pumpkin decorations everywhere? Um, yes!). I finally signed up in December, and it’s been at the forefront of my mind ever since.

So… training? In February, I participated in a beautiful 10-mile race along the coast as an incentive to keep my running endurance up over the winter. I fully admit that I did not bike a single time from October until March, but I did keep swimming at the pool once a week after last season ended. I had about a month of pre-season training in March where I started biking on my indoor trainer, getting back into pilates, lifting, and transitioning back into a structured routine. April 1st marked the “official” start to my training plan, but really it’d been going on for a while before that.

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Dis is da best gym :)

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We spent a lot of hours together this summer.

I created my own training plan based (very, very, very loosely) on Matt Fitzgerald’s post on Triathlon.com. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know that I believe in structure with a lot of flexibility when it comes to training. It’s so important to listen to your body and adjust your plan based on feel. In general, if you have a bike ride planned on Wednesday, but you really just feel like swimming, go swim and adjust your schedule accordingly. There were a few times where I had speed workouts planned on the trainer or in the pool in the mornings, but I just wasn’t feeling them. So, instead, I’d drive up to the lake after work and play outside instead. It kept things fresh, and I didn’t feel like I was a slave to my training plan. As long as you get all your workouts in during the week, do what you feel like doing. Were there a lot of days where I pushed through fatigue? Of course. But that’s because I wanted to train my body and mind to be able to do so in a race situation. Yes, there are going to be days where you have to push your butt out the door when you don’t necessarily feel like it. But there’s a difference between being burned out and being lazy. It’s important to recognize the distinction.

Instead of typing out 5 months worth of workouts, I’ll just post pics of my dry-erase workout boards. I have to apologize in advance because sometimes the numbers refer to mileage, and sometimes they refer to time — I know what they mean, but it’s probably hard for anyone else to discern! If you have questions, please feel free to ask! Anyway, every week was different, but they all followed the same structure: Speed work in the middle of the week, endurance work on the weekends, bike-run bricks every other week, and a ton of pilates. The mid-week bike workouts were mostly from triathlon.com. Mid-week runs were mostly Over-Unders, intervals, or tempo runs, and mid-week swims were generally 40-60 minutes of 200 yard sprints, intervals, and drills. I made lots of time for fun activities too, like yoga classes and stand-up paddle boarding. Remember, fitness is all about balance! I should also mention that my friend introduced me to something called PiYo. Since I usually have to stop heavy weightlifting once my mileage gets above a certain point, I rely on bodyweight exercises to keep strong. I noticed huge strength/flexibility increases once I started doing this program, and I highly recommend it.

AprilMayJuneJulyAugust

You’ll notice that there are a few periods of time where I had several rest days in a row. I suffered a shoulder injury that took a really long time to heal (still hasn’t, actually), and I had to take a little bit of time off here and there to rest it. Also, there were A LOT of super highs and super lows throughout this training period. Triathlon can be a really lonely sport. In general, I like training alone, but sometimes taking on something so huge and spending hours upon hours upon hours with just yourself and your thoughts can be hard. I started to struggle a lot in July when it got hot and it completely stopped being fun. At one point I even “decided” I wasn’t going to go through with this race at all. I think I always knew in the back of my mind that I would bounce back, but there were two days in July where I fully intended to just walk away. I remember talking to a few people about it, and everyone was supportive of the idea of me not doing it, but I think subconsciously I wanted someone to push me. Finally, I went paddleboarding with my brother, and our conversation turned things around for me. I don’t even necessarily think it was about the words he said, because he was supportive either way, but talking to him helped me realize how much I really wanted that finish line. So, thanks, bro!

Anyway, the most important piece of this training that I want to share is that although I worked really, really hard, I also made time to have a life. Even during August when every aspect of my life got extremely busy, I still made it a point to go on dates, spend time with friends who were in town, travel, and see my family. Balance, balance, balance. Ok, time for Part 2: RACE DAY!

Have any questions about the training process, or have your own story to share? Leave me a comment! I love hearing from folks!

And as always, Remember to breathe.

 

Freelance Writing

Hi, friends! Just a quick little update to tell y’all that I’ve been a bit quiet here because I’ve been blogging for those cool folks over at One Green Planet. I talk all about plant fuel, athletics, and health stuff on the site, so feel free to check it out! http://www.onegreenplanet.org/author/jen_porto

And as always, Remember to Breathe.

Open Water Swimming Tips for Triathletes

Every time someone finds out I enjoy triathlons, they remark the same way, “Oh, that sounds like fun, but I could never do the swim.” Somehow I’m in a minority of people who love to swim, but only kinda-sorta like the bike. (Sidenote: Seriously though, why is the bike portion 56 miles, yet the swim is only one? Ugh.) Since open water swimming is a sore spot for a lot of folks, I thought I’d share some tips with y’all to help you conquer the weakness — and hey, if you love biking, please feel free to share some tips with me, please and thanks.

1.) Stay Calm: Everything in swimming comes down to three things: Form, breath, and pace. In fact, that’s true for most things in fitness. But the only way you can focus on those things is if you stay calm. That’s a lot easier to do when you’re in a pool where there are straight lines at the bottom, a lifeguard next to you, and you’re about 2 feet from an edge to grab onto at any given moment. So, when you step into the lake or the ocean, you have to keep your mind clear. Tell yourself that there is no creature from the black lagoon waiting for you at the bottom. Focus on your breathing, and count your strokes. Whenever I feel myself start to panic a bit, I clear my mind and focus on my strokes and my breath: 1-2-3-4-5 *breathe* 1-2-3-4-5 *breathe*. Swimming is extremely meditative if you let it be that way.

Swim caps make me look like an alien.

Swim caps make me look like an alien.

2.) Be Confident: Depending on where you’re swimming, the current can be a bit unpredictable. The best thing you can do is have confidence in your strength, and go with it. Anecdote time! Last summer, one of my races was an ocean swim, and I wanted to practice at the race venue. I went alone (which, incidentally, I really don’t recommend ever doing), and swam straight out into the middle of the cove. I was about 20 minutes or so from shore when the tide changed — Oh, frick! It would have been pretty easy to panic in that moment since no one knew I was swimming there, and it wasn’t a popular swimming spot. But, I’d been training all summer, so I stayed calm, and put confidence in my strength to get me back to shore safely. Basically, everything about that situation was stupid except for my strategy to get back. If you’re in a race situation, and people are bumping into you, and the waves are crashing everywhere, you just have to think strong. Trust that you deserve to be there, and power through it. It’s kind of silly, but you have to treat open water like it’s an animal that can smell fear. If you’re intimidated, it’s going to be that much harder. Be stronger than the water, so to speak. And remember, you can always doggy paddle or turn on your back if you really need to.

3.) Practice: This is probably the most obvious of all the tips you’ll ever receive in your life, but it’s still true. Open water swimming is quite a bit different than being in a pool. Yes, your form is the same, but you have to follow sight buoys, maneuver waves and people, and get comfortable with seeing a whole lot of nothing when you put your head under water. The only way to get comfortable is to do it. If you don’t live somewhere where that’s easily achievable, try to schedule a few extra days to your trip before your race so you can at least have a few practice sessions. For sighting, I found this website to be pretty helpful. If you find that you’re having a hard time, try just standing with your torso out of the water and going through the motions with your arms and your breathing, so you get used to the timing. Then try the motions with your face in the water, but with your feet touching the ground. That will help you feel more comfortable having your head under water when it’s dark. The more you practice, the better you’ll be.

Let swimming be peaceful instead of scary

Let swimming be peaceful instead of scary

Here are some links for help with proper form and a workout to help you with pace.

Is there anything else you’re curious about? Any other advice you’d like me to share? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, Remember to breathe.

Beginner Half Marathon Training Plan

Half marathons are super cool. They’re long enough that they’re a big accomplishment, but not so long that you’ll be knocked on your butt recovering for days after. I think there’s a misconception about distance running, though — people seem to think that you have to run 5-6 days a week to be ready for a half marathon, and that’s totally untrue (of course, if that’s your jam then go for it)! Since some of my friends expressed interest in tackling their first 13.1, I thought this would be a great opportunity to share the plan I created for my first half (remember that story?) It’s loosely based on Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 plan, but tailored to the athlete who likes variety and doesn’t want to run more than 3x a week. Everyone’s body is different, but I believe that if you can run a 5k, then this 12-week plan will be perfect for getting you across that finish line feeling strong.

First thing’s first: this training plan allows for a fair amount of variety in your activities, BUT you must understand the importance of consistency over time. What does that mean? That means, feel free to mix up your non-running days with yoga, lifting, cycling, kickboxing, or whatever else you like, but don’t overwhelm yourself and start skipping workouts. Yes, sometimes life happens and you might have to do your mid-week run on a Thursday instead of Wednesday, but in general, try not to tinker with your training schedule too much. If you find that heavy lifting sessions are zonking your legs and compromising your runs, then dial it back. Maybe schedule a second rest day in there instead. Use your intuition. And the most important rule of all: DON’T CHEAT ON YOUR LONG RUNS. The long run is where you build endurance. They increase in mileage each week, so pick a day of the week that you can consistently have time for these and stick to it. **Note: Run your long-runs at 30-90 seconds slower than race pace. Take your time.

You’ll notice that on Monday, it switches from 30-20-10 to sprints & HIIT around week 6. Feel free to keep doing 30-20-10 or any other running speed workout of your choice. That’s mostly in there because I find that switching things up a little keeps it from getting stale. But do whatever you feel works best for you. Wednesday switches back and forth between moderate runs and goal race pace runs.

Above all, be patient and trust the process. Small increases each week will get you where you want to go. Oh, and remember to have fun :)

 

Week           M                    T                   W                 TR                 F                 S            Su

1             30-20-10            Lift            3m  Run          Rest        Cross Train       4m        Pilates

2            30-20-10            Lift           3m  pace           Rest        Cross Train       5m        Pilates

3            30-20-10           Lift            3m  Run            Rest       Cross  Train       6m        Pilates

4           30-20-10            Lift            3m  pace           Rest       Cross Train        7m         Pilates

5          30-20-10             Lift            3m  Run           Rest       Cross Train        8m         Pilates

6     Sprints & HIIT        Lift           4m  Run            Rest        Cross Train      5k Race    Pilates

7    Sprints & HIIT         Lift           4m  Run            Rest         Cross Train        9m          Pilates

8     Sprints & HIIT       Lift           4m  pace            Rest          Cross Train      10m        Pilates

9     Sprints & HIIT       Lift           5m  Run             Rest          Cross Train      11m        Pilates

10    30-20-10               Lift           5m  Run              Rest          Cross Train    10k Race  Pilates

11     30-20-10               Lift           5m  pace            Rest         Cross Train      12m        Pilates

1 2    3m & Core           Rest           2m  Run             1m             Pilates            Rest         RACE!

 

All of the training schedules I’ve created over the past couple of years have used the same basic principles outlined in this training plan: Speed work, pace work, long/ slow distance to build endurance, strength training, and stretch/rest days, so I hope it can help you prepare for your own endeavors. Now, pick a race and get going!

Got questions? Did I miss something? Are you digging this plan? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, Remember to breathe.

 

 

Disclaimer: I am not a certified coach. Workouts I post on this site are what work for me and my body, and you should use your own judgment about attempting them. Consult your healthcare professional before starting a new diet or exercise regimen. 

Bike-Run Brick Workout!

Triathlon season makes me the happiest kid on the planet. Especially right now because I get to wake up with the sun, and the weather is still reasonably cool. Ahhh, the best! Long workouts are tougher as the weather becomes more hot and humid, so I’m soaking up as much of this month as I can. Today’s session was so much fun, I couldn’t not share it with you all. If you’re looking for something different to spice things up, or if you’re a triathlete and want to work on your bricks, hopefully you’ll enjoy this as much as I did!

Bricks are workouts that combine two or more athletic disciplines. In this case, biking and running. They are especially important for triathletes because it helps the body become accustomed to the bike-run transition so you can avoid running on legs that feel like lead. Even if you’re not a triathlete, bricks are advantageous; they help you strengthen different muscles in the same workout and allow your body to adjust to different types of demands. Plus, they’re fun :)

For this, I set up my bike on my indoor trainer and ran hard outside, but do whatever is most convenient for you!

Total time: 60 minutes(ish)

Warmup: Bike 5 minutes easy

Main Set:

-Bike 10 minutes hard effort

-Run 1 mile

-Bike 5 minutes easy, 5 minutes hard effort

- Run 1 mile

-Bike 5 minutes easy, 5 minutes hard effort

-Run 1 mile

Cool Down: Bike 5 minutes easy

Feel free to play around with this to fit your fitness level and goals. For example, you could:

1.) Include three 30-second sprints in each mile run

2.) Run the first mile easy, second mile moderate, third mile hard effort

3.) Add 15-second pickups at the end of each minute on the bike portions

4.) Alternate biking hard with biking easy every minute for 10 minutes

5.) Do two rounds of bike-run, rather than three

There are endless ways to customize this to fit your needs. Have fun, work hard, and try something new :)

Triathlon transition area -- everyone was out on their bikes!

Triathlon transition area — everyone was out on their bikes!

Did you try this brick workout? Leave a comment and let me know how it went!

And as always, Remember to breathe.

 

Disclaimer: I am not a certified coach. Workouts I post on this site are what work for me and my body, and you should use your own judgment about attempting them. Consult your healthcare professional before starting a new diet or exercise regimen. 

 

Pilates Fun!

Happy spring, friends! It’s a little ridiculous that I’ve had this blog for 3.5 years and I’ve never once featured the amazingness of pilates, so today, I’m correcting that. Ready to change your life? Cool, let’s go!

Picture 5

Pilates is hands down one of the most incredibly beneficial forms of exercise you can do. It stretches while strengthening your muscles, helps improve your balance and posture, teaches you to use your breath to ease through movements, and helps you build strong core muscles, which are SO important for everything single activity you do. As if that’s not enough, it’s an energizing workout. You should leave a pilates class feeling calm and ready to take on the day, rather than exhausted like some other types of exercises. It’s especially perfect for people who are new to the fitness world because it teaches essential movements, without being overwhelming. Plus, you can do it from the comfort of your own home, which is great if you’re not quite ready to venture into a gym. And by the way, don’t think it’s just for women. I see a lot of men in my classes, and they always do great. Health welcomes all ages and genders :)

In my own life, pilates is the foundation for everything I do. It’s the reason I am able to be a distance runner. It’s the reason I could comfortably swim on day 1 of training last year, despite never swimming competitively in my life. It helps me retain proper form and timing when I lift weights. And when I first became interested in fitness, pilates is what helped me become strong and confident enough to venture into other forms of exercise.

Teaser is everyone's fav.

A blurry version of Teaser :)

In any type of workout routine, stretch/strength days are truly important to include. If you’re like me and you have a hard time being patient enough for yoga, this is a great alternative (Although, I recently took an Iyengar yoga class with LB that was amazing, so maybe there’s hope yet!).

So, of course I’m going to provide some YouTube recommendations so you can start your pilates journey right away, but first I think it’s important to state a few key points:

1.) Breath and proper form are the most important things in pilates. Exhaling through a movement can make everything instantly easier. Adjusting your body 1 inch during another movement can make everything instantly harder. This is why I really recommend going to a pilates studio at least once if you’re a beginner so a certified instructor can help show you the proper way to perform the exercises. If you can’t do that, try and find a YouTube video that offers modifications for moves, or provides breathing instructions for each movement.

2.) Be patient. Like anything, it takes time to become comfortable, especially if you’re new to it. If you can’t do something with proper posture, modify the exercise. For example, if you’re unable to balance in a High V pose at first, you can bend your knees to 90 degrees and keep them at chest height. Do what you can and leave the rest. The great thing about pilates is that you can reap benefits no matter what your ability level is.

3.) Keep your core engaged at all times! Don’t let your stomach just be chillin’. It’s a workout, remember? Keep it tight and strong.

Ready to try it out? Choose one of the videos below based on your ability level:

Beginner: 

I LOVE Ellen Barrett! This video is perfect for beginners because she offers modifications, and gives you breathing cues. Even if you’re not a beginner, I recommend it. This is actually the very first pilates video I ever did and I still incorporate it into my routine every once in a while before a big race, or if I’m in the mood for an oldie-but-a-goodie.

Beginner/Intermediate:

Aside from the weird green unitards, this video is great because it includes a lot of very standard pilates moves. Plus, it’s only 20 minutes. If you’re just starting out, this video can help you become familiar with a lot of traditional exercises.

Intermediate:

No, really, I love Ellen Barrett. Haha. How cool is ballet pilates?! I sent this to a friend of mine who just started getting into pilates, and she told me that this video was challenging, so I’m rating it as intermediate. I work this into my routine about once/week, and it’s been great for maintaining calf strength. Let me know what you think!

Intermediate/Advanced:

This video is great because it’s broken up into 10 minute segments based on body part. I like to do this if I’m in a rush and want to focus on one area. I wouldn’t call it crazy advanced, but some of the moves can be challenging.

Advanced:

Full disclosure, this one is nuts. Enjoy.

 

If you try any of these, please feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you think! How has pilates played a role in your life? Do you have any questions or want more recommendations? Let me know, I love hearing from you all!

And as always, Remember to Breathe.

Choose Kindness

This post is admittedly going to be different than others I have written in the past, but I think it is the most important of them all. Health is so much more than being physically fit or seeing that “magic number” on the scale (By the way, do yourself a favor and throw your scale away. Seriously. Throw. It. Out. Not because you’re afraid of what it says, but because it can’t tell you anything important about yourself.). True health is about a positive unity between your mind, body, and spirit. So many people focus on spending hours in the gym, carefully measuring out portions in the kitchen, or scrupulously marking down progress in notebooks that they forget how important it is to work on what’s going on inside the mind. And really, that’s where true progress really starts.

When I was growing up, my mom always used to tell me, “Thoughts are things.” Her point was that your thoughts ultimately create your entire reality. And it’s so unbelievably true! How you perceive yourself, how you perceive others, what you perceive to be threatening or exciting — these things make up your world. You can change your body, you can change your house or your car or your clothes, but real change starts from within. A few years ago when I struggled during training for my first half marathon, I eventually realized that altering my thoughts and taking all the pressure off of myself ultimately led to having one of the greatest, most rewarding experiences of my life. It wasn’t just about how far I could run, it was about feeling the joy of being alive. That lesson is true for absolutely everything in life. Maybe you’re someone who feels continually frustrated with your body. Or maybe you are someone who has finally reached a goal weight, but now you find yourself more miserably tied to schedules and macros and the scale than you ever were before. The solution is this: Understand that life is too freaking short to be unhappy. Adjust your thoughts and always choose to come from a place of kindness.

What do I mean by that? I mean that whenever you start to pass judgment on someone (whether that’s yourself or someone else), take a step back. Are those thoughts coming from a place of kindness? Are you adding something positive to the world by thinking them? If not, stop them in their tracks. Think about the situation with compassion. It’s important to understand this because thoughts induce action. When you start thinking kind, everything inside of you starts to shift. You start to glow from the inside out, and it affects everything in your life. That doesn’t mean that life is always easy. It doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to have sad days. But it means that you actively work to see the positive in a situation and in others. Eventually, it becomes automatic. Remember that fear gives power to things that are not real. Focus on what is real and good. When you feel gratitude, you start to see the little miracles in every day. I know this post may sound a little hippyish, but honestly, who cares? Joy is the most important facet of life-long health. Period.

The point I’m trying to make is this: when you are ready to stop the self-sabotage, when you’re ready to commit to living your best life, when you’re ready to radiate happiness, start by choosing kindness. Tell yourself and believe that You Are Enough. You are not on this planet to simply exist, you are here to LIVE. And living starts with positivity. Listen to my mom because she’s always right: Thoughts are things. :)

I’ll leave you with this thought from a book called “A Course In Miracles” that really resonated with me: “A miracle is never lost. It touches many people you do not even know and sometimes produces undreamed of changes in forces of which you are not even aware. The miracle will always bless YOU.”  There is nothing to be lost from being kind. It will only positively impact you and those around you. And if you ask me, that’s pretty darn cool. Here’s to a life filled with peace, love, and happiness.

And as always, Remember to breathe.

Look for the beauty in every day.

Look for the beauty in every day.

 

A Beginner’s Guide to Vegan Living

Happy 2014 everybody! While I whole-heartedly believe that every day is the best day to invest in health and happiness, there’s nothing quite like a new year to inspire a fresh start. Until now, I haven’t said much about plant-based living in this blog, but it’s hands-down the best decision I’ve ever made. So, if you’re considering making a change this year, read on to learn more about how veg life can help you achieve your fitness goals!

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Hi, Miriam! <3

For some reason, no one ever believes me when I say being a vegan athlete is both easy and affordable. Let’s be honest here: I rarely have enough patience to make meals requiring a prep time longer than 15 minutes…so when I say it’s easy, I really mean it’s easy. For those who don’t know, dietary veganism (as defined by those smarty-pants contributors at Wikipedia) is the practice of abstaining from including animal products (meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, and other animal-derived substances) in one’s diet. Before I share the major details, grocery must-haves, and two deliciously simple recipes with you, I think I should first address the biggest question: Why Go Vegan? 

I have to preface this whole post by saying that since we’re all built differently, what works for one person might not work for another. But from a health standpoint, veganism rocks. In addition to increased mental focus, many people experience dramatic improvements in athletic performance, faster recovery times, and more restful sleep. It’s possible this is because plant-based foods require less energy to digest than meat or dairy, so the body is able to be more efficient. More interestingly, an overwhelming number of people have reported that switching to a plant-based diet helped them recover from an eating disorder. This is particularly relevant to binge eaters; Even though it’s certainly simple to create scrumptiously unhealthy vegan desserts, many convenience trigger foods are eliminated. That’s not to say that veganism can CURE an eating disorder, but it’s possible it could aid in the recovery process. Other benefits of a vegan diet include a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer. Pretty rad, right? Of course, all of these things rely on eating balanced meals. This website offers easy solutions for the most common obstacles people face when eliminating animal products: http://www.vegkitchen.com/nutrition/vegan-athlete/.

One of the greatest benefits of adopting this lifestyle is the positive effect it has on mental health. I won’t dedicate too much time discussing the ethical and environmental impact of going vegan in this post (though I strongly encourage everyone to educate themselves by watching Earthlings for free HERE), but eating animal products can have a huge impact on depression. It’s no secret that factory farming is a pretty disturbing business. Phrases like “Free-Range” or “Fed a vegetarian diet!” mean practically nothing because regulations on these terms are so loose. The animals still suffer abuse, and when stressed they release hormones and other toxic substances that remain in them all the way to your plate. So, essentially you’re ingesting those hormones into your own body. With that in mind, it makes sense that so many folks feel a much greater sense of peace and happiness after switching to this lifestyle.

So, now that you’re well-versed in some of the perks of being plant-fueled, I think it’s about time to answer the 4 major questions that most people ask. Here we go!

1.) But Where Will I Get My Protein??!?!?!?!:

 You probably already know that beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds are the main sources of protein for a vegan. There’s also tempeh, tofu, and other soy products if that’s your thing. But did you know that vegan protein powder exists too? These types of powders are actually extra awesome because most of them only have one ingredient rather than a lot of the sugars, soy, or other random additives that can be found in many whey or casein options. It takes trial and error to find the kind that best suits your taste, so here are a few to consider with the brands I recommend most (all available on Amazon):

A.) Brown Rice Protein- I recommend SunWarrior brand

B.) Hemp Protein – Nutiva

C.) Yellow Pea Protein – Now Sports

D.) All-In-One Nutritional Shakes – Vega. I can’t recommend this brand highly enough. The shakes have several flavors, no freaky ingredients, are low in carbs and sugar, and are absolutely DELICIOUS. They’re great for travel because you can just add water, but I usually have mine with unsweetened vanilla almond milk and it is literally like getting to drink a chocolate milkshake every day. It’s pricier than some other brands, but for the taste and quality, it’s worth it.

2.) Aren’t vegans weak and scrawny?

Only the ones who don’t work out or eat properly. Whether you’re an endurance runner, body builder, triathlete, or a regular gym rat, you can dominate your workouts and crush your goals while being vegan. If you need proof, just look at the pros. Scott Jurek, author of the well-known book “Eat and Run”, is an elite ultra-marathoner; Alexander Dargatz was the 2005 Body-Building World Champion; Dave Scott is a six-time IronMan Triathlon World Champion; Edwin Moses is a four-time Olympic Gold Medalist in Track and Field. So…. No, vegans aren’t weak and scrawny.

3.) What do vegans eat? Isn’t it expensive?

You can eat SO MUCH as a vegan! So many people think that this lifestyle is too extreme or too limiting, but I can honestly say I have never once felt that way. In fact, I eat more variety and delicious meals than I ever did as an omnivore. Think about some of your favorite dishes…Ok, got them in your mind? Chances are they can be easily veganized. Take tacos for example: Instead of meat you can heat and crumble up chickpeas, tempeh, or seitan (a type of wheat that is scarily similar in texture to beef) and mix it with some taco seasoning. Throw it on a warm tortilla with some guacamole, vegan cheese, and veggies, and you have a delicious mexican dinner. It’s really easy to recreate your favorites, especially since there are a lot of vegan substitutes for things like butter, milk, and cheese. Or if you’re cooking and need to use eggs as a binding ingredient, you can mix 1 TBS of flaxmeal with 3 TBS warm water and it works the same way. There really, truly are so many options. *Helpful Tip: Try to always keep homemade veggie burgers, Lara bars, soups, or other leftovers in the freezer for use on days when you’re traveling or in a rush*

As for cost, it’s actually about the same or cheaper. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already a pretty healthy eater. You likely already buy fresh produce and nuts, which are the most expensive items. Non-dairy milks such as Coconut, Almond, Rice, or Soy are comparable to regular milk, maybe about a dollar more expensive. The major difference is in the protein source. Depending on where you shop, a pack of chicken breasts will cost anywhere from $4-8. A can of beans costs $.80. That’s a pretty significant amount of savings, and if you buy in bulk you save even more. I suppose it could be more expensive to eat a plant-based diet if you were to go out and buy a ton of faux meat products…but eating excessive processed food isn’t a great idea anyway– vegan or not. Embrace those leafy greens!

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Did someone say leafy greens?! Mmmmmm.

4.) Why don’t you eat eggs and milk?

The answer to this really depends on the individual you ask. Some of the reason is because of the stress hormones I mentioned earlier. A lot of it is because many people are lactose averse without even realizing it. Humans are the only species that drink milk after childhood, and we’re not even drinking the milk of our own kind. That’s a little weird, isn’t it? For a lot of people, eliminating dairy gets rid of bloating and digestive issues. There’s also been a lot of research that shows milk not only leeches calcium from your bones, but is also linked to cancer (*Note: It’s pretty easy to get adequate calcium from plant sources like kale, broccoli, or collard greens). For the majority of vegans, however, the choice comes down to ethics. Cows are impregnated repeatedly so they’ll continue to produce milk, but when they give birth, their calves are immediately taken from them and slaughtered. The conditions for both egg-laying hens and dairy cows are not compassionate, and when their production slows, they’re sold to slaughter houses as well. So basically, the egg and dairy industries are immediately tied to meat production, and that’s a major reason why vegans choose to abstain.

5.) OK, But Where Do I Start?

If you’re considering giving veganism a try or if you just want to learn more about the food system, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed about where to start. Don’t worry, the internet is your best friend. Here’s a list of great resources:

Films:

Vegucated, Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, Food Matters, Food, Inc. (Most of these are available to stream on Netflix)

Blogs/Organizations: 

Mercy For AnimalsOh She GlowsPost Punk KitchenVegan LunchboxVegan Outreach (Note: While I am not personally a supporter of PETA, they do offer a lot of handy food information that is great for new vegans HERE)

You can also follow me on pinterest where I post a lot of dinner and dessert recipes: http://www.pinterest.com/jentoyourhealth. There are a ton of great books out there as well, such as the 30-Day Vegan Challenge by Colleen Patrick Goudreau. Once you have an idea of what sorts of meals you want to make, it’s time to hit the grocery store. Everyone likes different things, but here’s a basic list of some of my grocery must-haves to give you some ideas:

Fruit:  Apples, Bananas, Berries, Unsweetened apple sauce, Raisins/Dates
Veggies: Carrots, Lettuce, Spinach, Kale, Onions, Bell Peppers, Cauliflower, Sweet Potato, Broccoli
Beans: White, Black, Chickpeas, Lentils
Dairy Alternatives: Almond milk, Earth Balance (vegan butter), Daiya (Shredded cheese), Canned coconut milk
Miscellaneous: Quinoa, Hummus, Oatmeal, Bread (Check the label for eggs/honey), Coconut flour, Flax meal, Tempeh or Tofu if you aren’t avoiding soy

Now that you’ve got the building blocks, I challenge you to give veganism a try—even if it’s just for a week! You never know what something is really like until you try it. Ok, ok, I know this post wouldn’t be complete without a couple of recipes, right? Both are simple, delicious, and filled with protein. Enjoy!

JP’s 4-Bean Chili

Ingredients:

  1. 1 TBS olive oil (to sauté with)
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 4 garlic cloves, minced
  4.  1 Green and 1 Red bell pepper, diced
  5. 2 cans diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  6. 1 can tomato paste
  7. 1 cup marinara sauce or 1 can tomato sauce
  8. 2 TBS chili powder
  9. 1 tsp cumin
  10. 2 tsp black pepper
  11. 1 tsp red pepper
  12. 1 can chili beans (do not drain)
  13. 1 can black beans, 1 can white beans, 1 can chickpeas (rinsed and drained)

Directions:

1.)   In a pot, sauté onion, garlic, and bell peppers until onion turns translucent

2.)   In a separate bowl, combine the 2 cans of diced tomatoes with the can of tomato paste

3.)   Add tomato mixture and all other ingredients to the pot

4.)   Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

 

Spinach and Broccoli Chickpea Curry

Ingredients:

1.)   1 TBS olive oil (to sauté with)

2.)   ½ onion, diced

3.)   2 cans chickpeas or beans of your choice (I sometimes like to use cannellini)

4.)   2-3 garlic cloves, minced

5.)   1 TBS ginger

6.)   1 tsp curry powder

7.)   1 can lite coconut milk (*Note: you must use the canned kind, not the kind from a carton!)

8.)   1 cup marinara sauce or chunky salsa

9.)    1 cup of chopped broccoli

10.) Handful of torn spinach

Directions

1.)   In a large skillet, heat oil and sauté onion and garlic.

2.)   When it turns translucent, add all other ingredients EXCEPT spinach

3.)   Cook 20 minutes, stirring often until thick

4.)   Add spinach and cook until it wilts

5.)   Serve on a bed of lettuce, rice, or quinoa

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Here’s to a happy, healthy 2014! By the way, I’m always available by comment or email if you have questions or need advice, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

And as always, Remember to breathe.

Fit For Life

The days are getting shorter again, and if you’re on the east coast like me, you’re experiencing winter’s familiar chill. It’s that time of year when your brain starts to go into hibernation mode and your motivation to work out goes straight out the window. So, how is anyone supposed to stay motivated?! Well, I’mma share three (not-so) secret tips with you:

  1. Do what you love
  2. Keep your routine fresh
  3. Listen to your body and your schedule.

Do What You Love: Sure, you can start a 60-day fitness program. Yes, you can plan to slog your hours away on a step-mill every week.  But if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’ll never stick with it. Long-term health and happiness relies on finding the activities that you enjoy, and figuring out how to integrate them into your daily routine. Life is short; Why spend it forcing yourself to do things you don’t like? (And if you don’t like working out at all, try exploring a bit. There truly is something for everyone.) Of course there are going to be days when it’s harder to get to the gym than others — that’s normal. But I can promise you that if you enjoy your workouts, it’s going to be a heck of a lot easier to get your brain on board than if you’re dreading what’s in front of you. And on those days when your bed is super warm but you know it’s going to benefit you mentally and physically to get your body moving, give this mantra a try: “Don’t think, just do”.

Now, I’ll admit, when you’re training for a specific event, occasionally you have to do things you don’t want to do. (Hill sprints, anyone? Blargh.) That’s just part of the game. However, ask yourself why you’re training for that event or that goal. Know it beforehand so you can draw from that during the hard times. As Coby Linder from Say Anything once said, “when your ‘why’ is strong enough, you can tolerate any ‘how'”. For me, I know that if I have to incorporate a less-awesome workout in my training, but it will help me reach my goal and it’s only once a week for x amount of weeks, then I can totally deal with that. The biggest thing is to sign up for events that you’ll actually enjoy training for. If you’re going to hate the process, why choose that particular goal? For example, I’ve had people tell me they hate running, but they want to run a marathon. K, well, why? Do you want to learn to love running, or is it just that you want to say you did it? Do what will make your soul happy. This summer, I had the most amazing time training for my Olympic Triathlon. There were a LOT of early mornings and a LOT of long workouts on weekends, but I had more fun than I’ve ever had training for anything because I loved what I was doing. Yes, sometimes it was rough getting up at 5:30 am to go on a 2-hour bike ride before work; but, once I was cruising along watching the sun rise, I was all smiles. In the end, reflecting on all of the quiet weekends spent in the lake and on the roads makes me just as happy as reflecting on race day. It’s all about finding what you love.

Who wouldn't want to swim here?!

Who wouldn’t want to swim here?!

Keep Your Routine Fresh: Depending on your goals and your schedule, try changing up your routine a few times per year. Maybe during the winter, you spend more time in the gym lifting, taking fitness classes, or doing at-home workouts. In the spring/summer, you can get outside more and go mountain biking, or hiking, or swimming. In the fall, you can enjoy the fresh breezes and enter a 5k, or take an out-door yoga class. Or, if you’re a gym rat year-round, try out some different lifting/cardio routines a few times per year. Whatever you need to do to keep your workout from getting stale. Your muscles and mind will both appreciate the change.

Listen to Your Body and Your Schedule: This really ties into what I talked about at the beginning of this post. Always listen to your body and give yourself options. If you’ve had 4 hard workouts in a row one week, and everything is screaming at you to stay in bed on the 5th day, then stay in bed! If you’re scheduled to have a heavy lifting day, but you really feel like doing yoga instead, then do yoga! Respect yourself enough to listen to what your body wants and respond accordingly. The same thing goes for fitting workouts into your schedule. If you know that it’s absolutely impossible for you to get up early when it’s dark outside, then find a different time to do it. Do some pilates in your office on your lunch break, take a kickboxing class after work, or break up your workouts into 15 minute sessions and spread them out throughout the day. Work WITH yourself instead of against yourself. This goes for training too. When I looked up triathlon training schedules last spring, I didn’t like ANY of them. I knew they wouldn’t work with my schedule or my body, so I made my own. It all comes back to knowing yourself, and doing what works best for YOU.

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Keeping a workout schedule where you can easily see and edit it is an easy way to both stay motivated and re-work your plans if something comes up.

If you want to be fit for life, learn to do what you love. What sorts of activities are you planning to do this winter? Do you have any tips to share? Comment or email!

And as always, Remember to breathe.

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