NYC Marathon–the 9 week countdown

The end of this week will mark my official halfway point of my NYC Marathon training. I’m starting to write about it a little late in the game, but, you know, all this training means I’ve been PRETTY busy…but now that I’m getting into the real swing of things, I can start to make the time now! I’ve been loosely following the Hal Higdon Novice 2 program. This will be my first (and maybe last) marathon, but I’ve run several half marathons in the past, and I’ve been running in some form for the past 3 or so years, so I thought Novice 2 was the right fit for me. By “loosely” following I mean that the program suggests workouts 5 days a week with 2 rest days–and I’ve been working out 6 days a week with 1 rest day. I also switch around some days to suit my needs, and for any of the 3 mile days I’ve bene doing 4 instead. I think, when training to run 26.2, the minimum mileage for a single run should probably be 4.

This past weekend was my longest run ever. Since I’ve only ever run half marathons, anything beyond 13.1 is new territory for me. I ran 15 really tough miles along the Hudson River on Saturday, stopping once to fill my water bottle in a fountain. Yes–I do bring water with me if I’m going over 8-ish miles. I needed it. Summer running has been brutal this year. It’s been ridiculously hot and humid this Summer, of course. This is the first year I can remember that I’m actually excited for the Fall. Those last 2 miles this weekend were probably the most brutal 2 miles I’ve ever run in my life. Getting to past 15 and running another 11 is going to be a challenge. I’ve also found that working out 6 times a week is taking a toll on me. I’m pretty exhausted, and it definitely takes a lot of getting used to . Especially when you don’t want to compromise on going out, having a few drinks, and sometimes staying out a little (too) late.

While I’m no running expert, I have found that, throughout my training, many of my friends have been asking me advice about getting into running, training for events, nutrition, etc. Soooooo I figured I’d start writing it all down. Over the next 9+ weeks, that’s exactly what I’ll start to do here.

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Why Food Revolution Day Matters

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I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes life gets in the way of eating healthy. For the past four years, I’ve been working full-time and taking classes for my MBA part-time, and two years ago I also found myself starting to write for and edit StartSomeGood’s blog part-time. Convenience became the name of the game and, while I was a physically healthy weight throughout this entire period of time, I doubt that I could call myself healthy from the inside, out. Lean cuisines, Skippy peanut butter, and Morningstar veggie-everything ruled my life. At the time, health to me was all about counting calories and limiting my cravings. And I was unhappy.

While I do acknowledge that I could’ve been in a worse situation—I was thin and at no risk for any diet or weight-related diseases—I didn’t feel great and I could see my relationship with real food slipping away. For goodness sake, I had only Ikea kitchen knives up until a couple of years ago! I attribute my healthy weight during that time period to my portion control abilities and the naturally constricting limitations of a vegetarian diet—I could eat that sodium-laced Lean Cuisine, but I couldn’t eat a package of over processed Tyson chicken nuggets so, I suppose I was a bit better off than some people (again, I suppose). But, again, I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t healthy on the inside. I was hungry and lacking energy and I wasn’t active.

Anyway, I digress. I can’t exactly pinpoint what changed and when, but REAL food came back into my life and has literally become my obsession. I find myself scrolling through recipes on Sprouted Kitchen and Oh She Glows for hours on end. Real food is beautiful and, when cooked right, brings out the most amazing natural flavors. Real food is FILLING and I can eat more of it because I know it’s helping to make me healthy. I’m no saint—I can’t say I don’t have a couple of bags of tortilla chips in my pantry at any given time or that I don’t have a few Trader Joe’s frozen meals as back-up for lazy days—but in general I find myself craving real food more and more. I even recently discovered a hidden love for brussels sprouts—go figure!

And the results are really noticeable! I may have actually gained a few pounds from my skinniest Lean Cuisine eating days, but I’m still the same size I was a few years ago. I’m just healthier. I have more energy. I’m super active. I attribute this mostly to all the long hours training to run half marathons and eating whole foods rich in healthy fats (i.e. avocados, coconut oil, cashews, etc.) that have allowed me to replace my fat with muscle. In fact, I’m positive my body fat percentage is lower now even though I don’t have the measurements to prove it. I couldn’t power through 13.1 miles on a frozen meal, but I can with a healthy helping of whole grains and a side of delicious green veggies (I must admit, I looooove carbo loading before a big race).

Now I eat a mostly vegan diet (when I cook, that is—meals out are another story…goat cheese and good burrata are my weaknesses). Vegetarianism and veganism, however are not the answer to health. I know plenty of “junk food” veg friends. The key is a diet rich in real, whole, fresh foods. I recently got the results back from a blood test that I had as part of my annual physical and I was pleased to find I am not deficient in any vitamins even though I choose a mostly plant-based diet. That and my cholesterol was lowered significantly from my last blood test two years ago. Guys—I’m telling you this works! I am happy because I no longer feel limited. And now when I do satisfy a craving for some takeout pizza every now and again, I literally don’t like the way it makes me feel after and I don’t crave it again for a long time.

All that AND my relationship with the kitchen grown drastically over the last few years. I find my cooking skills are evolving and I’m learning how to adapt recipes and make them my own. I am starting to love cooking. Discovering this passion has given me some serious direction in life and for that I am seriously grateful.

So, my point is, Food Revolution Day is May 17th. Check out foodrevolutionday.com to see what you can do to get involved. Go cook something! Host a dinner party. Cook a meal with your kids. Spread the news around your friends’ news feeds. Go ahead; annoy the crap out of them. They’ll appreciate it in the end. Help yourself and others discover a love for REAL FOOD!

What will I be doing? Loading up on some complex carbs to prep for my run in the NYRR Brooklyn Half Marathon the next morning! But don’t worry; I’ll cook up a nice side of kale too. 🙂

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my rooftop herb garden

Making Time For Our Health

Busy, busy, busy….everyone is just so busy! 

I genuinely believe in the benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet. But, lately, I’ve been seriously letting myself slip. On any given day, I have several projects to work on, errands, work, school, exercise, friends–the list seriously never ends. I’ll be the first to admit–when life gets in the way, it genuinely becomes difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. After all, eating healthy requires planning meals ahead of time, shopping every few days, prepping ingredients, cooking, cleaning up after yourself. These tasks start to become arduous when they get in the way of your productivity. When you are tired and hungry it becomes SO tempting to pop a processed meal into the oven or microwave and in five minutes, voila, dinner!

You are tired and still have 5 hours left of work to do before you can go to sleep, so you grab a soda or a latte or an energy drink to keep yourself awake. You’re up until 2 am so snacking starts to seem genuinely innocent. You don’t have anything in the fridge so all of a sudden you start letting yourself eat foods with ingredients like yellow #5, high fructose corn syrup, and maltodextrin. You don’t know what these are, but you know they aren’t found in nature and you don’t have the time or energy to care. You start to feel an overwhelming sense of exhaustion and your skin is dull and your nails are flaky and weak. You are too lethargic to exercise. Your weight slowly starts creeping up on you…so slowly that you don’t even realize it. All of a sudden, even your “fat” pants are starting to feel tight. Sound familiar?

Well, it sure does to me. I’ve been eating j-u-n-k lately and I’m not okay with it. Even that seemingly harmless can of lentil soup has 600 mg of sodium (per serving!!) in it. For someone who advocates health, for someone who aspires to bring healthy fresh foods to families living in food deserts, for someone who believes so strongly in the benefits of a plant-based diet, I’ve been seriously slacking.  

My first back on track meal comes courtesy of Kid Tested Firefighter Approved–cute name, amazing plant-based recipes! Tonight, I made Portobello Mushroom Pizzas and boy were they delicious. The only thing I changed was that I used artichokes instead of olives because olives have a lot of sodium and fat. Also, I didn’t have time to soak cashews overnight so I boiled water, turned off the heat, and let the cashews sit in the hot water for 45 minutes while I prepped the ingredients (when time is of the essence–get a little creative!) Also, the recipe is for 3 servings so I only used 1/3 of each ingredient. 

MmmMmmm good!

All in all, the meal took me about 1 1/2 hours to make. Yes, that’s a bit long on a normal day for me, but I think the important thing is to plan meals out ahead of time. Make use of that Google Calendar and start planning out your meals a week ahead of time. Then, when you have a less hectic day, you can prep a few things for the week! Since I had some time tonight, I made a delicious Chickpea Ratatouille that will be my lunch tomorrow and worked on a few blog related things while I let it bake. 

So let’s get back on track! Planning is key–set out your meal plan at least a few days ahead of time and soon you’ll find yourself able to better prioritize your health. Let’s give it a shot!

October Challenge: The Weekday Vegan

I’m sure some of you know the concept of being a weekday vegetarian–Mr. Hill’s TED Talk is a much more eloquent explanation than I could possibly give about its benefits, personally and environmentally. Anyway, I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 15 years now, and the concept of weekday vegetarianism is great for some, but at this point I’m well beyond meat cravings. We all have different reasons for not eating meat. For me, what started off as simply advocating for the rights of animals evolved into a desire to be healthy while fostering a healthy environment by my early twenties. And, let me tell you, when I was a 15-year-old vegetarian, I was nowhere near eating healthy. Pizza, fries, Ralph’s cream ices, and Cheez-its were all staples of my vegetarian diet. But, hey, I was 15 and played softball every single day of my life–who could blame me? Anyway, I digress.

Lately I’ve been feeling pretty extreme fatigue even though I get about 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night. Some of it may have to do with not getting into a deep enough sleep, but I try to fix that with melatonin when I know I’m sleeping enough hours to justify taking it. Anyway, the point is–I can’t afford for this to be happening. I’m a busy girl–a day job, a blogger, a runner, and a grad student, among other things–like, you know, being a friend and daughter and sister. I need to have energy and I need to be healthy. I place a great emphasis on health and am actually mostly vegan, but I have an unhealthy relationship with goat cheese that just won’t allow me to take the full plunge. So, what’s a girl to do?

I’ve been obsessing over Oh She Glows all weekend (please check that site out, it’s amazing…Ah-mah-zing) and it gave me an idea–for the month of October, I’m going to experiment with a weekday vegan and gluten free diet–basically a plant-based non-processed food diet. Why no dairy, eggs, or gluten? I’m trying to figure out if any of these are the culprits behind my fatigue. Also, I just think any little bit helps and if I’m plant-based 5 out of 7 days of the week, I’m doing a pretty darn good job of staying healthy and doing what I can to beat my fatigue. I’m not the most amazing cook in the world, but I’m also not the worst. My latest concoction (mother tested and approved btw–so you KNOW it’s good) was roasted butternut squash with caramelized onions and baby portobello mushrooms, all stir fried with tofu shirataki noodles (better-known as miracle noodles, they are low carb and gluten free)  So, starting this week, I’m giving it a shot. Let’s see how this goes–feel free to try along with me, or just be a weekday vegetarian, or just try Meatless Mondays 🙂

MMmMmm-Mother Approved

 

An Ode to Brussels Sprouts

Ask yourself–when is the last time you challenged yourself to try something you normally wouldn’t try?

For me, I think it was about a week ago. I saw my roommate making brussels sprouts and I thought to myself–that is seriously gross. And then, I really started to think. Why were they so revolting to me? Have I ever really given brussels sprouts a fair chance? What do I really have against these little green mini-cabbages? I’ve had delicious brussels sprouts before at restaurants, but I’d always attributed it to a fluke or some seriously skilled chefs. My childhood self thought they were gross and that is the category they would stay in because, after all, my childhood self is right about everything (duh!).

The thing is, we all have these preconceived notions about what we think something will taste like, how we assume certain people will act, and how we believe a certain scenario will turn out and, most of the time, we couldn’t be further from correct. Where does this come from? Why did I just assume that brussels sprouts were disgusting?

We have a tendency as human beings to frame things into different categories without ever really validating how these decisions are made. Vegans are hippies, jocks aren’t smart, skydiving is extremely dangerous. Well, I’ve been a vegetarian for over half my life (and mostly vegan) but, while I do enjoy a good Jefferson Airplane tune, I also spend my weekdays at an office job while earning my MBA degree at night. Check out some of these brilliant athletes, according to AOL Sporting News–a degree from Yale in biophysics and biochemistry–not too shabby. And, according to the United States Parachute Association, fatalities over the past five years have averaged about one fatality per every 141,509 jumps, mostly due to human error rather than equipment failure. Look at how wrong we were!

My point is, many times our perceptions, without the proper validations, can be grossly inaccurate. So I went to the store, bought a bunch of brussels sprouts, googled ways to prepare them, did my best chef impression, and, voila, delicious and nutritious brussels sprouts. Instantly, my perception was transformed! Now, I can’t get enough of these beautiful green spheres of mouth-watering deliciousness. I’m serious–I eat them like they’re going out of production.

So in conclusion, I issue this ‘challenge’, if you may, for lack of a better word. Go against the grain. Question the norm. Challenge your preconceived notions. Do your homework. Don’t knock it before you try it. Don’t be scared, skeptical, critical, judgmental, or negative until you really know the what, when, where, why, and how. Do something different. You might just discover your very own brussels sprout.

Viva El Peru!

A few weeks ago, my friends and I spent a week and a half exploring the beautiful country of Peru, wandering around the Cusco area and spending four days hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Just to get some perspective, trekking the Inca Trail was the most physically challenging thing I’ve done, hands down, in my entire life (and I run half marathons so I’m in decent shape). The trail ranged from about 3,000 m above sea level to about 4,200 m above sea level at its highest point. It was cold and the stairs were steep. I felt dirty about 95% of the time and I barely slept. The ground we slept on was hard and uneven and we didn’t shower for 4 days. I got altitude sickness. And I wouldn’t take back even one second of it.

Day one was absolutely the easiest (and the cleanest). We hiked for about 5 hours and it was relatively flat. We had a luggage issue so we started later than everyone else but it was actually a lot nicer that way because we didn’t run into any other hikers on the trail. I was really surprised to find that people actually live along the trail. The children that live along the trail actually wake up really early on school days and walk miles to the nearest school. That makes me feel pretty lazy for hitting snooze a few times before I get up on most mornings. I spent most of that night literally paralyzed in fear because I heard a creature outside our tent. I thought it was a rabid dog or a wolf and I swear I heard it growling. I was terrified to make any loud or sudden movements. Come to find out in the morning, that creature was a mule. Clearly, I’m a nature person.

To make up for a casual day one, day two was easily the hardest. We spent about 5 to 6 straight hours climbing steep hills and jagged, steep stairs to reach the trail’s highest point. Mind you, when you are hiking at over 3,000 meters, the air is so thin it is very hard to breathe and you get winded much more easily. Breaks were frequent and welcome. Once we reached the top, Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,200 m, we thought we could celebrate a job well done. Little did we know we still had over 2 hours of downhill/downstairs. Going down steep and uneven stairs like that is a lot harder than you would think–and not easy on the knees or ankles. This steep descent was also the reason for my altitude sickness. By the time we got to camp around 3 pm I spent the next 2 hours in and out of consciousness, trying to sleep off the nausea and headache.

I should probably mention how absolutely gorgeous the trail is before I keep sounding like I am complaining. All the physical pain and exhaustion I endured throughout the entire hike was well worth seeing views that most of the world will never get to see. It’s really really special and I genuinely mean that. Each day we witnessed a new terrain, more beautiful than the last.

Day three was almost as difficult as day 2 but also probably my favorite day (minus the rain). We started on an hour long ascent up MORE stairs–in the rain. Stone stairs + rain = a pretty slippery situation. When we got to the top of the pass, we performed a ceremony to thank the mountain gods and make a wish. Then, we spent hours hiking through the jungle, which was unanimously the most beautiful part of the trek for everyone. Day 3 ended with us descending down 3,000 extremely steep steps and reaching a beautiful Inca ruin overlooking the mountains with the Urubamba River cutting through them.

At this point I was tired, sore, dirty, and greasy. I hadn’t showered or used a proper bathroom in days. This was the most low maintenance thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. And, mind you, we had porters carrying our bags. If you want to feel extremely humbled, just think about these porters. It is their job to carry 50 pounds worth of the stuff that we use for camping–our clothes, our tents, our food, etc. I was tired and cranky and wanted a shower and some heat. These men have been portering for years, trekking the same trail over and over again, faster than any of the tourists who are carrying much less.

Day 4, we woke up at 3:30 am so that we could wait on line to start the trek to the Sun Gate, which is the first view of Machu Picchu. Even the fog completely covering Machu Picchu couldn’t take away from the beauty. When we got to Machu Picchu, everyone who came via train looked like they smelled very good and were so clean. But I had accomplished something that few can say they have. I had fought through the doubt and the pain and realized I could finish anything I put my mind to–and that is something I’ll never forget. I’d take the grease and dirt over a boring train ride any day.

Machu Picchu

A Celebration of Life and Love

I sit here a little anxious, knowing I have so much work to do. But every time I go to start my homework, I get distracted by my thoughts. In the least cliché way possible, I need to get this thought out, just share it so it’s not sitting here clouding my head while I try to work. Life is so precious–so so precious. These past couple of years, more than ever, have taught me that. I’ve seen a perfectly strong and healthy former classmate and teammate fight off an extremely serious lung infection due to MRSA. A few years ago, I witnessed another former teammate lose her battle with cancer in the prime of her life. And now I’ve seen my beautiful, kind, and loving second cousin pass on suddenly due to cancer at such a young age, leaving behind two daughters and countless loving family and friends.

My cousin Nancy who, up until a few years ago, I never met, was my friend. I met her at a family reunion right before I was starting my first year of college. I told her I was going to Ramapo and she was so excited–she lived only a few short minutes away over in Franklin Lakes. I got her number and she insisted that I call and come by to visit so she could cook me dinner and I could hang out with her and her family–her husband and two daughters Kayla and Emily. One minute, she knows me only as Louis’ daughter. The next, she’s inviting me into her home for dinner. That’s just Nancy, always warm, friendly, open, and welcoming. I spent many a night in that home during college, always so thankful for a nice, home-cooked meal. Nancy was an amazing mother. Kayla and Emily were the sweetest, most well-behaved and intelligent young girls I had ever seen. Now, they are young women who have lost a mother way too soon.

I regret so much the fact that I lost touch with Nancy after I graduated. I regret that I was too scared to call her when I found out she had cancer last year, not wanting to bother her during such a vulnerable time. I regret that I wasn’t able to visit her before she passed away. I want her to know that she has been in my thoughts every single day since I found out that she had cancer. She will surely be missed by everyone who has ever been blessed by her presence.

So I leave off with this thought before I sign off and get back to the reality that is homework. Don’t ever take life for granted. I know how lucky I am but I also know how quickly everything can slip away. Cherish each moment that you spend with the ones you love and remember how lucky you are that they are in your life. Appreciate everyone you love every minute of the day.

Trials, Trails, and Travels.


Always looking for a new adventure–this one involves Peru, hiking the Inca Trail, 3 nights of below freezing camping, learning how to be extremely low maintenance, and traveling with some great friends (Ashley, Robby, Tejal) for the first time. I’m sure one can really learn a lot about herself while sleeping in a tent in 30 degree weather after spending three straight days doing nothing but hiking at 10,000 ft + altitudes–I’ll get back to you on that.

Leading up to this trip, I’ve mostly been planning and stressing out about what I have to buy–a warm sleeping bag, hiking boots, warm clothes, water purifying tablets, wool socks (I’m clearly not an avid hiker by any means)–but today I took a minute to sit down and think about the bigger picture.

One, I realize just how lucky I am to be able to spend my free time traveling the world and exploring new places. So many people all over the world cannot afford these same luxuries and, hence, spend their entire lives in one place. It’s a weird thing, feeling happy and sad at the same time. Happy for what I am able to experience in life but also sad for others who cannot experience what I am able to. I was told by a friend that the porters working on our trek love little gifts given by the hikers. After his hike, he gave his porters some of his hiking clothes and they were elated–such a simple gesture left such a huge impression. Not being able to experience travel themselves, they revel in the fact that people from all over the world give them simple trinkets that they can collect. I’m thinking I need to get myself to the closest souvenir shop and buy a few “I ❤ NY” t-shirts for my trip now.

Two, travel is a driver of harmony. In my humble opinion, experiencing new cultures and ways of thinking is one of the biggest driving factors for a harmonious world. Think about it–experiences lead to understanding, understanding leads to acceptance, acceptance leads to harmony.

My point is–let’s all travel a little more! Our very own way of contributing to a smaller, more peaceful and collaborative world.

Buon Viaggio!

Taken in Marseille, France

Running Down My Brooklyn Dream

The Brooklyn Half Marathon is just a few short days away and I’ve got a serious case of nerves and excitement. It’s funny, these races just never seem to get any easier. This will be my third half–my first was Staten Island back in September 2011 and my second was the NYC Half in March this year. What I love is that feeling I get around mile 10 when I start to feel like giving up–I just want to break stride and start to walk for a bit–but I know that, just like any challenge I face in life, I have to go at it full-force and I refuse to break that stride no matter how much it hurts. And, boy, does it start to hurt!

There are so many beneficial aspects to running that go beyond physical. Running is good for the soul. It has been my therapy that gets me through a tough day and is a constant reminder that I can achieve anything that I set out to achieve if I just work hard enough. This time last year, I just finished up my first official 5K (that’s just over 3 miles) and in the same year, I was able to stretch to 13.1. Let me tell you, that isn’t easy and it requires a lot of discipline and hard work. That being said, I better head to sleep so I can get in an early 4 miler before work tomorrow!

Take a look at the course map on the NYRR site–this is going to be amazing. I can’t wait to cross the finish line at Coney Island and spend the rest of the day (which looks like it’s going to be a beautiful one!!!) riding all the rides at Luna Park.

May this post work as an inspiration to anyone who is trying to run down their own dream–you’ll find it on the other side of the finish line.

 


World Give Day

As you can imagine, being the Blog Coordinator for a social venture that exists to connect different types of people from all over the world comes with the opportunity to connect with a ton of amazing people and projects. Most recently, I was given the opportunity to connect with the people that bring us World Give Day through its partnership with StartSomeGood. The result was something truly inspiring.

For a few weeks, I reached out to various entrepreneurs that successfully raised funds through StartSomeGood and asked them to respond to this statement:

Small gift, big impact: tell us about a time when you saw a small act of giving create lots of unexpected joy.

The response I received was so overwhelming. Originally, I hoped that I could get four to five entrepreneurs to respond to me so that I could fashion together a single blog post as part of our World Give Day partnership. Instead, all ten entrepreneurs I reached out to responded with unbelievable enthusiasm. Ten stories was way too much for one small post but I couldn’t have anyone’s story go untold. After collaborating with the StartSomeGood communications team, I decided to keep all the stories and split the post into two parts over two weeks. Both posts got picked up by World Give Day and were republished from StartSomeGood’s blog onto the World Give Day site:

StartSomeGood Celebrates World Give Day-Part 1

StartSomeGood Celebrates World Give Day-Part 2

The best part of this experience? Connecting with so many individuals who I admire and aspire to be like one day; getting to read their stories and be part of a movement that celebrates people like Yanti Turang, Ehon Chan, and all the other amazing people I interviewed for their generosity and goodwill.

And with that I leave you all with one simple question: How will you celebrate World Give Day this year on May 4th?