5 Reasons the Whole30 is Not the Anti-Diet It Claims to Be

This post is also an article I wrote for my grad school’s student-managed newsletter, The Friedman Sprout, and is also published on their website. Head on over there to read more nutrition folks’ writing about topics they’re passionate about, from policy to agriculture to delicious recipes. I am among a wealth of talent and experience at Tufts, that’s for sure!

————- Published March 1st, 2017 ————-

I’m calling it: 2017 is the year of the non-diet.

As a dietitian who ardently discourages short-term dieting, I was thrilled to read many articles posted around the new year with titles like “Things to Add, Not Take Away in 2017,” and “Why I’m Resolving Not to Change This Year.” Taking a step more powerful than simply abstaining from resolution season, influencers like these authors resolved to embrace the positive, stay present, and not encourage the cycle of self-loathing that the “losing weight” resolutions tend to result in year after year.

Right alongside these posts, though, was an overwhelming amount of press exonerating the Whole30—a 30-day food and beverage “clean eating” diet.

The founders of the Whole30, however, adamantly claim it is not a diet. Even though participants are advised to “cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days” (including legumes, dairy, all grains, sugar, MSG, and additives like carrageenan), followers are encouraged to avoid the scale and focus on learning how food makes them feel rather than how much weight they gain or lose.

But our culture is still hungry for weight loss. The possibility of losing weight ahead of her sister’s wedding was “the deciding factor” for my friend Lucy (name changed for privacy), who read the entire Whole30 book cover to cover, and fought her “sugar dragon” for 30 days in adherence to the Whole30 protocol (only to eat M&M’s on day 31, she admits).

“Whole30 focuses on foods in their whole forms which is positive for people who are learning how to incorporate more unprocessed foods in their diet,” Allison Knott, registered dietitian explains. “However, the elimination of certain groups of foods like beans/legumes and grains may have negative health implications if continued over the long-term.”

Diets like these trick consumers into thinking they are forming a healthier relationship with food. Though weight loss is de-emphasized, a trio of restriction, fear, and control are in the driver’s seat and could potentially steer dieters toward a downward, disordered-eating .

I still think 2017 is the year of the non-diet, but before we get there we need to unmask the Whole30 and call it what it is: an unsustainable, unhealthy, fad diet.

 

1: It is focused on “can” and “cannot”

The Whole30 targets perfectly nutritious foods for most people (grains, beans and legumes, and dairy) as foods to avoid entirely, relegating them to the same level of value as boxed mac and cheese, frozen pizza, and Kool-Aid. And most bodies are perfectly capable of handling these foods. They provide a convenient, affordable, and satisfying means of getting calcium, vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus, and nutrient-dense protein. The Whole30 eliminates almost all the plant-based protein options for vegans and vegetarians. While the point of eliminating these foods, creators Hartwig and Hartwig explain, is to reduce inflammation and improve gut health, nowhere in the book or website do they provide scientific studies that show removing grains, beans and dairy does this for most people. But we’ll get to that later.

The Whole30 also instructs that participants not eat any added sugar or sweeteners (real or artificial), MSG (monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer that has been weakly linked to brain and nervous system disruption), or carrageenan (a thickener derived from seaweed and is plentiful in the world of nut milks and frozen desserts; conflicting evidence has both suggested and refuted the possibility that it is associated with cancer and inflammatory diseases), sulfites (like those in wine), or alcohol. Not even a lick, as they are very clear to explain, or you must start the entire 30-day journey from the beginning once more.

“I couldn’t go longer than 30 days without a hit of chocolate,” Lucy told me, explaining why she was dedicated to following the program exactly.

Why take issue with focusing on “good” and “bad,” “can” and “cannot” foods? As soon as a moral value is assigned, the potential for establishing a normal relationship to food and eating is disrupted. “The diet encourages following the restrictive pattern for a solid 30 days. That means if there is a single slip-up, as in you eat peanut butter (for example), then you must start over. I consider this to be a punishment which does not lend itself to developing a healthy relationship with food and may backfire, especially for individuals struggling with underlying disordered eating patterns,” Knott argues.

How will a person feel on day 31, adding brown rice alongside their salmon and spinach salad after having restricted it for a month? Likely not neutral. Restrictive dietary patterns tend to lead to overconsumption down the road, and it is not uncommon for people to fall back in to old habits, like my friend Lucy. “People often do several Whole30 repetitions to reinforce healthier eating habits,” she explained.

Knott relates the diet to other time-bound, trendy cleanses. “There’s little science to support the need for a “cleansing diet,” she says. “Unless there is a food intolerance, allergy, or other medical reason for eliminating food groups then it’s best to learn how to incorporate a balance of foods in the diet in a sustainable, individualized way.”

While no one is arguing that consuming less sugar, MSG and alcohol are unsound health goals, making the message one of hard-and-fast, black-and-white, “absolutely don’t go near or even think about touching that” is an unsustainable, unhealthy, and inflexible way to relate to food for a lifetime.

2: It requires a lot of brainpower

After eight years of existence, the Whole30 now comes with a pretty widespread social-media support system. There is plenty of research to back up social support in any major lifestyle change as a major key to success. Thanks to this, more people than ever before (like my friend Lucy, who participated alongside her engaged sister) can make it through the 30 days without “failing.”

But the Whole30 turns the concept of moderation and balance on its head. Perfection is necessary and preparation is key. Having an endless supply of chopped vegetables, stocks for soups, meat, and eggs by the pound and meals planned and prepared for the week, if not longer, is pretty much required if you don’t want to make a mistake and start over. The Whole30 discourages between-meal snacking, (why?) and cutting out sugar, grains, and dairy eliminates many grab-and-go emergency options that come in handy on busy days. So, dieters better be ready when hunger hits.

Should the average Joe looking to improve his nutrition need to scour the internet for “compliant” recipes and plan every meal of every day in advance? While the Whole30 may help those unfamiliar with cooking wholesome, unprocessed meals at home jumpstart a healthy habit, learning about cooking, especially for beginners, should be flexible. It doesn’t have to come with a rule book. In fact, I think that’s inviting entirely too much brain power that could be used in so many other unique and fulfilling ways to be spent thinking, worrying, and obsessing about food. Food is important, but it is only one facet of wellness. The Whole30 seems to brush aside the intractable and significant influence of stress in favor of a “perfect” diet, which may or may not be nutritionally adequate, anyway.

The language used by Whole30 creators to rationalize the rigidity of the diet could make anyone feel like a chastised puppy in the corner. “It’s not hard,” they say, and then proceed to compare its difficulty to losing a child or a parent. Okay, sure, compared to a major life stressor, altering one’s diet is a walk in the park. But changing habits is hard work that requires mental energy every single day. Eating, and choosing what to eat, is a constant battle for many people and it doesn’t have to be. Life is hard enough without diet rules. The last thing anyone needs is to transform a natural and fulfilling component of it (read: food) into a mental war zone with contrived rules and harsh consequences.

3: It is elitist

When was the last time you overheard a stranger complain about healthy eating being expensive? Most likely, the protester was envisioning a diet akin to the Whole30. Grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, clarified butter, organic produce…no dry staples like beans, rice or peanut butter. Healthy eating does not exist on a pedestal. It does not have to be expensive, but it certainly can be depending on where you choose to (or can) shop. Let’s set a few things straight: You don’t need grass-fed gelatin powder in your smoothies to be healthy. You don’t need organic coconut oil to be healthy. You don’t need exotic fruits and free-range eggs to be healthy. Maybe these foods mean more than just nutrition, signifying important changes to be made within our food system. But it terms of nutrition, sometimes the best a person can do for himself and his family is buy conventional produce, whole grains in bulk, and Perdue chicken breast on sale because otherwise they would be running to the drive thru or microwaving a packet of ramen noodles for dinner. A diet like the Whole30, which emphasizes foods of the “highest quality,” does nothing more than shame and isolate those who can’t sustain the standard it imposes, further cementing their belief that healthy eating is unattainable.

 

4: It is socially isolating

Imagine with me: I am participating in the Whole30 and doing great for the first week eating fully compliant meals. Then comes the weekend, and “oh no” it’s a football weekend and all I want to do is relax with my friends like I love to do. For me, that typically involves a beer or two, shared appetizers (even some carrots and celery!) and lots of laughs. The Whole30 creators would likely laugh in my face and tell me to suck it up for my own good and just munch on the veggies and maybe some meatballs. (“But are those grass-fed and did you use jarred sauce to make them? I bet there’s a gram of sugar hiding in there somewhere.”)

But it is just a month—certainly anyone can abstain from these type of events for a mere 30 days (remember, “it’s not hard”)—but then what? Do you just return to your normal patterns? Or do you, more likely, go back to them feeling so cheated from a month of restraint that you drink and eat so much more than you might have if you’d maintained a sense of moderation?

Of course, there are people comfortable with declining the food-centric aspect of social life, for whom turning down a glass of wine with cheese in favor of seltzer and crudités is no big deal. And perhaps our social events have become a bit too food centric, anyway. Either way, using food rules to isolate one’s self from friends and family sounds an awful lot like the pathway to an eating disorder, and the sense of deprivation most people likely feel in these situations can snowball into chronic stress that overshadows any short-term, nutrition-related “win.”

Although, maybe we should get all our friends to drink seltzer water and eat crudités at football games.

 

5: It is not scientifically sound

Most of The Whole30’s success has come from word of mouth, stories, and endorsements from those who successfully made it through the program and felt “better” afterwards. The website, dismayingly, does not house a single citation or study referenced in creation of the diet.

It’s important to note that the Whole30 did not exist 20 years ago. The Whole30 is not a pattern of eating that is replicated in any society on earth, and it doesn’t seem to be based off any research suggesting that it is indeed a superior choice. At the end of the day, this is a business, created by Sports Nutritionists (a credential anyone can get by taking an online test, regardless of one’s background in nutrition—which neither of them has) part of the multi-billion-dollar diet industry. Pinpointing three major food groups as causing inflammation and hormonal imbalance is quite an extreme statement to make without any research to back it up.

What does the science actually show? Knott, who counsels clients in her Tennessee-based private practice reminds us that, “consuming a plant-based diet, including grains and beans/legumes, is known to contribute to a lower risk for chronic disease like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Grains and beans/legumes are a source of fiber, protein, and B vitamins such as folate. They’re also a source of phytochemicals which may play a role in cancer prevention.”

The Whole30 proposes eliminating grains because they contain phytates, plant chemicals that reduce the absorbability of nutrients like magnesium and zinc in our bodies. While it’s true that both grains and legumes contain phytates, so do certain nuts and some vegetables allowed on the diet, like almonds. It is possible to reduce the amount of phytates in an eaten food by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting grains and legumes, but research from within the last 20 years suggests that phytates may actually play a key role as antioxidants. In a diverse and balanced diet, phytates in foods like grains and legumes do not present a major micronutrient threat. Further, new findings from Tufts scientists provide more that whole grains in particular improve immune and inflammatory markers related to the microbiome.

Legumes in the Whole30 are eliminated because some of their carbohydrates aren’t as well-digested and absorbed in the small intestine. Some people are highly sensitive to these types of carbohydrates, and may experience severe digestive irritation like excessive gas, bloating, constipation, etc. Strategies such as the FODMAP approach are used with these folks under professional supervision to ensure they continue to get high-quality, well-tolerated fiber in their diets, and only eliminate those foods which cause distress. For others, elimination of these types of carbohydrates is unsound. Undigested fibers like those in legumes are also known as prebiotics, and help to feed the healthy bacteria in our gut. Eliminating this beneficial food group to improve gut health goes directly against the growing base of scientific evidence surrounding the microbiota.

Dairy, for those without an allergy or intolerance, has been shown to provide many benefits when incorporated into a balanced and varied diet, including weight stabilization and blood sugar control. The diet also fails to recognize the important health benefits associated with fermented dairy products like yogurt.

In terms of the diet’s long-term sustainability, Knott adds, “There’s plenty of research to support that restrictive diets fail. Many who adopt this way of eating will likely lose weight only to see it return after the diet ends.”

 

Let’s not forget its few redeeming qualities

For everything wrong with the Whole30, there are a few aspects of the diet that should stick. The concept of getting more in touch with food beyond a label, reducing added sugars, and alcohol is a good one and something that everyone should be encouraged to do. Focusing on cooking more from scratch, relying less on processed foods, and learning about how food influences your mood and energy levels are habits everyone should work to incorporate into a healthy life.

Knott agrees, adding, “I do like that the diet emphasizes the importance of not weighing yourself. We know that weight is a minor piece to the puzzle and other metrics are more appropriate for measuring health such as fitness, lean muscle mass, and biometric screenings.”

Improving the nutritional quality of your diet should not eliminate whole food groups like dairy, grains, and legumes. It should not have a time stamp on its end date, and rather, should be a lifelong journey focusing on flexibility, moderation, and balance. Lower your intake of processed foods, sugars, and alcohol and increase the variety of whole foods. Et voilà! A healthy diet that won’t yell at you for screwing up.

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Thanks to Allison Knott MS, RDN, LDN for contributing expertise. Knott is a private practice dietitian and owner of ANEWtrition, LLC based in Tennessee. She graduated from the Nutrition Communications program at Friedman in 2012.

Presidents Day Thoughts

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Good morning, friends!

Sorry I have been absent for over a month now. Life did it’s funny thing where you think you’re super comfortable and happy and then it pulls out the rug from under your feet and you wind up on your butt, sore, and wondering how to stand back up.

Not going to get super detailed here, but suffice it to say I’m finally feeling like I’m finding my way back to a routine and getting back to a happy place.

I also turned 25 recently, and after a quarter century, decided to ring it in with some fun

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Doors have been opening, and I recently started working for a wonderful little food company in Boston you may have heard of: 88 Acres. They (we?) make small-batch granola bars that are nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and basically safe for most people with common food allergies. They also make a “seednola” from unused edge pieces of the bars, and specialty seed butters (chocolate sunflower, vanilla spice sunflower and pumpkin seed). 88 Acres is very responsible about sourcing and makes sure that all the ingredients come from single-crop distributors to prevent cross-contamination. 88 Acres is all about the seeds, using a blend of pumpkin, sunflower and coarse-ground flax seeds as the base of their products. It’s been very interesting in the short time I’ve been there to learn about scaling a small business with big goals, working with labeling and thinking about the future of food and added sugar claims, etc. What am I doing for them? They want to build out the nutrition library on their website to serve as a resource for their consumers, so I’ll be adding to that with blog posts and topic pages. I’m also establishing a firmer partnership between the brand and registered dietitians, because 88 Acres is serious about offering a nutritious, YUMMY option for people with restrictive diets and wants RD’s to be able to refer to them as a trusted brand in their wheelhouse. If you’re a dietitian and want to learn more about 88 Acres products, send me an email and we can get the ball rolling 🙂

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True hill running takes Maine Mountains (Pictured at Sugarloaf Mountain in ME)

Other things on my mind: to train or not to train for marathon #2. For so long, it was a no-brainer. Of course I’d sign up for another marathon. I had my eyes on the Twin Cities Marathon because the timing seemed perfect, the course seemed perfect, and I’d be able to get another trip home out of the deal. But as registration opening inched closer, I started to reconsider. Do I really have enough time to train for a marathon? These days I’m barely home enough to cook a solid dinner. With 3+ jobs and part-time school, I’m pulled in a lot of different directions and having flexibility with my workouts has been essential. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to add on one more big thing to my plate. Because training for a marathon is a big thing, and this time around, I know I’d want to take it seriously – get faster, get smarter, run better.

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Made history on January 21st in the Boston Common to march for women, science, facts, and common decency

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So on February 2nd, I didn’t sign up. I had until February 6th until the price increased, but I still haven’t signed up. I’ve been getting more comfortable with the idea of sticking to half marathons this year. 2017: the year of 13.1. I feel like I can PR this year if I keep my goals focused. I’m still working with Heather and have a training plan coming my way very soon to begin training for the Maine Coast Half Marathon in May, which I convinced a few Boston pals to train for and run with me.

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I just haven’t been running very much. 5-6 miles feels long, and satisfying, and if I went any longer I still feel like I’m risking injury. Probably because I’m not really running consistently. I think the major difference is that when I was training for the marathon over the summer, I would be running almost every day for about 30 minutes at least. That kept my legs used to the work of running, so when I headed out for longer runs on the weekend it wasn’t such a huge thing. Off-season has been weird. I feel like I took too much time off but then again never really got back on. I’ve been cycling a lot at the indoor studio I work at because it’s convenient. I did a 30-day yoga workshop in January and really stepped up my namaste game. Now, I’m trying to balance everything out with more strength and resistance training, especially since my IT band (I think) has been whining and I want to nip that in the bud as soon as possible.

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Miss You

So, next steps include getting new running shoes, breaking them in, and getting back on the training plan bandwagon. I am looking forward to having more to be accountable to – to stick to a schedule and train smart, since without a schedule I tend to mess things up for myself.

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Turmeric Rice Pudding

turmericI’m not sure if this qualifies as a recipe or just a fun idea for using up leftover rice, but either way it makes a delicious snack and was particularly wonderful on this gloomy New England Wednesday.

Sidenote -> the weather here in Boston is throwing me off so much. It cycles between freezing and 60 and sunny within a week, and now we’re facing a week of January rain. There is nothing more depressing to me than January rain. I am obviously not built for the pacific northwest (which is what I fear New England is turning in to with all this global climate change).

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Turmeric is gaining speed in the food and health world these days thanks to it’s solid reputation as an immune-boosting and inflammation-reducing herb. Turmeric is a primary component of curry powder, and its yellow tint, which comes from the antioxidant component called curcumin, is not only great at staining fingers but coloring foods. It’s actually now used as the primary coloring agent in Kraft Macaroni and Cheese– go figure!

It’s been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to treat illnesses such as pain, fatigue and rheumatism, and is commonly taken as a supplement today to treat inflammation, arthritis, stomach, liver and gallbladder conditions, among others. Few strong scientific studies have indicated that turmeric actually reduces inflammation in the human body, though like any nutrient or plant chemical, but remember it’s hard for even the strongest and most well-designed studies to truly prove cause and effect. More research is always warranted in the field of nutrition, and there’s lots currently happening with this lovely yellow spice.

Some interesting things in the literature that have been associated with turmeric intake:

  • Reduced number of heart attacks after bypass surgery
  • Controlled osteoarthritic knee pain as effectively as ibuprofen
  • Reduced skin irritation after radiation treatments for breast cancer

The University of Maryland Medical Center has a great resource available of the current Turmeric research in case you’re interested in learning more.

Personally, I love the color that turmeric provides. I find that it has a very mild flavor and gives food just a little bit of smokiness and warmth. For this recipe, I added about a teaspoon of turmeric to the water that I cooked the brown rice in, but you could also add the turmeric to the rice after it is cooked. I used leftover rice to make this, but you could verywell cook up a batch of rice just to make this darn recipe if you so please.

This quick little recipe is a great pre-workout snack to have about 1 hour-45 minutes before activity. The rice and dates provide a quick source of carbohydrates, while the nuts and cinnamon will help to buffer an intense spike in blood sugar and sustain that energy out for a longer duration during a workout. Use brown rice to get the full benefit of the grain, but white rice can be helpful if wanting to limit fiber (ie. right before a run or long workout). Shorter grain rice is better at soaking up liquids and makes more of a pudding-like consistency when cooked here, but all grain lengths will work.

This would also be a delicious side dish to some baked chicken or curry-spiced fish. I might even have it with my leftover peanut stew for dinner tonight.

Ingredients for one serving

  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice (I cooked mine in turmeric. If you didn’t, add about 1/2 teaspoon to the rice)
  • 1 medjool date, pitted and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1/3 cup milk of choice (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1.5 tablespoons chopped pecans (or nut of choice)

Mix all ingredients together in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for at least 3 minutes until milk is absorbed into rice and has softened the nuts. Fluff with a fork and enjoy!

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Step one: Add one pitted and chopped medjool date per half cup of cooked rice.

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Step two: Add a sprinkling of cinnamon to suit your taste (I like a lot of cinnamon), about 1.5 tablespoons of chopped pecans (or whatever nut you have on hand), and about 1/3 cup of almond milk (or whatever milk you have on hand)

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Step 3: Microwave for at least 3 minutes, until the milk boils and softens the rice and nuts.

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Step 4: Fluff with a fork, and enjoy!

 

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(Lazy) Day (Off) in the Life // Jan 12, 2017

So I know this is kind of a weird concept, but I secretly love reading these type of blog posts and watching others’ “Day in the life” vlogs on youtube. There is just something exciting about seeing someone else go about the mundane routine of life, and often I’m inspired to try on certain things I see others do in their lives in my own. Nothing like some good ol’ social learning, right? Haha, let’s not make this more academic than it needs to be. I’ve been thinking about jumping on the bandwagon with a day in the life post, showing how I deal with life as a real-live-human and not some ball of perfection and still maintain sanity and health. IT IS POSSIBLE. Health does not equal perfection. Okay, end rant. Let’s get into it. Here’s a “Day in the Life” of me, one day after getting gum graft surgery. I took the day off from all work activities and thought I would be in a lot worse shape than I actually was. Oddly enough, I still haven’t experienced any major pain associated with the procedure. I just have this weird putty stuff over both of the incision points in my mouth that is there to protect the stitches. It’s gross and tastes like rubber and I constantly want to take it out, but I guess I’d rather have that discomfort than any amount of pain. I’m happily able to eat a lot more foods than I thought I’d be able to. This is cake compared to my wisdom teeth removal recovery a few years ago. Definitely do not want to go back there any time soon.

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2:00am-7:30am – toss and turn despite taking an emergen-ZZ melatonin before bed. Not sure if the asprin was wearing off from the day before or if I just had some unresolved anxiety, but I kept waking up and wanting to get the day started only to realize it was still the middle of the night. By 7:30, I of course felt like I could continue to sleep in bed forever but decided to get moving.

7:30am – Day 11 Yoga Revolution with Adrienne. This 30 minute practice focused on aligning breathing with movement via lots of sun salutations. I was glad that I decided to do it right in the morning, because it was a great gentle wake-up, and transition into the day.

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8:00am – Breakfast + Coffee + Gut Shot (this was on sale at WF so I splurged – I actually really love the taste, I’m on a major ginger kick these days. Plus I like the thought of getting in a few extra probiotics while I’m on this short stint of antibiotics). I went back and forth between doing a yogurt bowl and a smoothie bowl, and I finally decided on the smoothie bowl just so I could sneak some greens in. My mouth was feeling surprisingly normal. Like, zero pain. I decided not to take another asprin and just let it ride. I discovered that I can actually chew some medium-soft things (like sweet potato skins, perfect bars, bananas) so that has made me feel a lot better. I was afraid this recovery was going to be similar to wisdom-teeth surgery and have me unable to handle anything with more texture than a smoothie. Not the case!

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Might come as a surprise, but I’m really not much of a smoothie person. I definitely remember a phase of my life about 5 years ago when I would be happy having a smoothie for every meal of the day, but over time I’ve just come to really appreciate texture and variety in my meals and just don’t get the same satisfaction out of smoothies. I definitely need to eat them with a spoon and usually like to put a bunch of toppings on them to get that texture factor. I do think smoothies are a perfect way to get in a lot of nutrients when you might not feel like eating (immediately post-workout, as a breakfast for people with subdued morning appetites, or when chewing power is limited), but it’s important to think about balancing what you throw into the blender. Even though smoothies are great because they retain the fiber of whatever ingredients you use (as opposed to juices, where the fiber is discarded), blending up a lot of fruit without thinking about protein or fat will result in a quick dose of carbohydrates (and depending on how much fruit you blend up, possibly a whopping amount of sugar) but not much staying power.

This bowl of sunshine included:

  • 2 Leaves of curly kale (stems removed)
  • 1 Frozen Banana
  • ¾ of the container of Kite Hill Almond Milk yogurt in vanilla flavor (used ¼ of the container last night to top a sweet potato)
  • ½ tbsp. of chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground flax
  • 1/8 cup raw oats
  • A little water to blend

Because this was a meal, I made sure to put in a good portion of natural protein and fat, poured it into a cute bowl, topped with a few easy to chew toppings, and felt very satisfied when it was gone.

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9:00am – 11:00am – Calls and emails. Started writing a bit of an educational piece for the Tufts Athletics department but got distracted by a call to catch up with my mom. After hanging up, realized I was pretty hungry for a snack and ready to get out of the house for a trip to the grocery store. It was a whopping 60 degrees today in Cambridge and the last thing I wanted to do was be stuck in the house. Also finished off the rest of this kombucha-type tonic drink leftover from yesterday. Again with the ginger!

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11:15am – Nosh on half of some lemon-blueberry chia pudding I had put together the night before. I added a sample packet of hemp protein so it was very filling. Ate the rest of the banana I had used to top the smoothie bowl earlier. Felt revived and ready to take on Trader Joe’s! Since it was so nice out, I didn’t need to take a coat and just enjoyed the walk listening to the audiobook version of Big Fat Surprise. Have any of you guys read this? I am behind the curve on this one but I finally decided to take the plunge since this whole saturated fat thing has been the prize of nutrition media lately, and back in October at FNCE an equal amount of dietitians surveyed in one presentation said they did not believe saturated fat was the strongest predictor of heart disease in the diet. OI times are a ‘changin

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12:00ish – scavenge Trader Joe’s and enjoy a rare not-so-busy trip since it’s smack dab in the middle of the day Thursday. This is good, because it’s less stressful, but also notsogood because I have more time to mull over “do I need this?” and end up saying “why not, you’re here just get it!” for lots of items. Including THE LAST BOX of Pumpkin O’s. PRAISE! I thought they would have stopped selling these long ago. I’m not sure if I scored the last box of the season or if they will be restocking soon, but either way I felt like that was enough of a win for the day. Walk out of TJ’s with a bulging backpack. a huge KIND reusable bag and a little bit of a hole in my pocket.

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1:00pm – after putting away all the groceries, I decided to get right into making one of the fun foods I had been considering whipping up during my time off. Beet hummus! I love working beets in to my diet, especially while training since I like feeling that they might be helping build my endurance (beets and beet root juice have been linked to increased VO2 max when taken regularly). I also love hummus. So this works since I’m not training. It’s also pink, which is happy and fun. The hummus turned out a little less bright pink than I’d hoped and a little more…. Cat vomit pink but I tried to put that out of my mind when I sat down to eat it a little later with the fluffiest Trader Joe’s whole wheat flatbread. These things are SO GOOD. Ate it with a dollop of Cedar’s Zesty Lemon hummus on the side as well.

I used the recipe straight from the Run Fast Eat Slow cookbook, but really you don’t even need a recipe to make good hummus. Just add a can of chickpeas into a food processor, add beets if that’s the kind you’re making (I used 3 of the pre-cooked variety because they were small and I was too lazy to roast my own beets), and add tahini if you’d like (it’s optional – sometimes I don’t add tahini and up the garlic flavor and I absolutely love it), garlic, salt and olive oil and voila!

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2:00pm – Think about working more on the Athletics piece but feel uninspired and decide to watch a few episodes of GIRLS while eating above hummus and flatbread snack. I recently discovered that I can watch past episodes of GIRLS on demand fo’ free with our cable package so that’s been happening a lot…

2:45pm – remember that I wanted to bake some bread/muffins and head back into the kitchen to get started. I open to the Run Fast Eat Slow ginger molasses bread and the recipe comes together super easily. I was glad that I got a knob of fresh ginger at Trader Joe’s and was actually using it because too often I feel like I buy fresh ginger and never touch it only to let it turn woody and inedible. Realized I did not have any golden raisins that the recipe called for, but I did have some dried Naturebox peach slices that I thought about using instead. I chopped them up super-fine since they are pretty dry and added those in, with a few extra slices on top for the prettiness factor. Pop the bread in the oven at 350 and wait wait wait. Watch some Gilmore Girls (the new one on Netflix that I kind of hate but can’t stop watching). Work a little bit more on the Athletics writing piece, follow up with a few emails.

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3:30pm – bread is done and out of the oven and I think I overbaked it a little, whoops! I of course have to try a piece right away and it’s very molassessy and kind of dry. Not very sweet, which makes sense since the only sugar in there is the molasses. I feel like it will be good as a breakfast bread, warmed with some cream cheese on top. Or maybe with some almond butter if I had any (oh no, more grocery shopping ideas, make it stop!)

4:00pm – Lay in bed a bit to take a breather and realize I’m kind of wiped out. End up napping for a good 45 minutes. Oops.

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The rest of the evening was a happy blur of making Katie’s delicious African Almond Stew, (which I turned into a peanut stew) and making my kitchen smell amazing, watching more Gilmore Girls and eventually enjoying the stew with a cheap bottle of Chardonnay + some quality company from my man. We went between watching the Wild absolutely CRUSH the Canadiens (HELLO) to watching the Netflix documentary about General Tso’s Chicken (so odd, don’t really know if I learned anything, though our conversation tended to veer off into the political landscape once or twice so who knows, might have missed some main points). Finally topped off the night sharing spoonfuls of Coconut Almond Chocolate Chip Talenti (girls, find someone who will bring you Talenti after you have gum surgery à keeper) and a whole bottle of lemon-infused water before bed. (nerdy me is excited to have another Talenti container to use for overnight oats when it’s all gone)

Yesterday was a verryyyy unusual Thursday and it is RARE for me to spend so much time at home, lounging around and cooking things. It felt so weird, and uncomfortable sometimes, to not have anything to do. I often find myself reminding myself to take it easy – that it’s OK to not be going full-speed ahead every second of the day. It’s OK to not be totally inspired to write an education piece today because one of these days I will be and it will turn out fine. I am so grateful for the yoga practice that I’ve started and maintained this year not only for helping me maintain physical flexibility, strength and openness, major support systems for preventing injury while running a lot. But more that it has taught me to slow down and focus on the moment. It sounds SO cheesy but it actually is so helpful. I realized how often I would tend to think about what was next on my list and feel so behind. Focusing on breathing and how it feels to be alive and awake in the present moment helps put everything in perspective, and makes you realize that it’s OK if things don’t go according to plan because life isn’t necessarily linear and each development in life takes it’s own sweet journey that can move up and down, slow and fast, and we aren’t in control of so much of it. Really, it’s just taught me to be more OK with imperfection and taking my hands off from time to time.

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If you haven’t already started Adrienne’s 31-day yoga video series, it’s not too late! I so highly recommend it and I think starting to practice yoga at home, as opposed to starting with public yoga classes, is so wise and really helps you focus on your own body. I started one of these in the middle of February last year and it set me off on such a great path. When I miss a day, sometimes I do two the next day. Sometimes I just skip and come back to the ones I’ve missed later. But I find that I’m so much a better person when I find the time to fit 25-35 minutes of this into my day. Usually in the morning or right before I go to bed, but sometimes it’s right when I get home from work, or before I run an errand, or after a spin class. The best part is that you can do it anywhere, it’s approachable, and it makes a difference.

Namaste, folks and happy FRIDAY!

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2016 in Memories || 2017 in Resolutions

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I vividly remember last December 31st. I spent the beginning of the day on a wild goose chase run around Boston taking selfies in front of landmarks like a fool in order to win some last-minute, NHL-Sponsored tickets to the Winter Classic. I was 20 minutes shy of the last prize (which probably was not tickets) and spent the rest of the day deciding whether or not I wanted to get dressed up and go out to ring in 2016. I remember being so excited for the new year to usher in the changes on the horizon. I was ready to leave 2015 behind, for no real reason in particular, and jump in to 2016 full-force, as a newly registered dietitian, freshly admitted graduate student, and chock full of a directed purpose for my next steps in life. It didn’t take long for life to voice its chaotic, demanding cry, straining me to figure out a balance between work, school, friends, family and my own sanity. Even though 2016, was, for most people I talk to, not winning any medals, it had its shiny moments. There’s nothing like reflecting on the past 12 months to remind you how fast time can move and how quickly we can forget the little wins. With the help of the photos stored on my phone, here are the highlights of my 2016, bulleted in memories.

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January 2016
  • Started graduate school full time at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in the Nutrition Communication program
  • Road tripped up to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine for a weekend of snow and fun with my new classmates
  • Gave up drinking for a month (made it 3 weeks until I decided eliminating fun things from my life was not for me and re-adopted the moderation stance, as well as a new identity as a lightweight)
February 2016
  • Turned 24, got my hair blown out and went out to a fancy dinner + drinks with friends old and new.
  • Celebrated my first Valentine’s day as someone’s real Valentine.
  • Ran for student council co-chair and got elected.
March 2016
  • Went to the Boston Beer and Cheese festival and got entirely too drunk off of craft beer and fancy cheese (culminating in getting kicked out from one of my favorite pizza restaurants. I am still ashamed).
April 2016
  • Attended an Inside Tracker event and listened to Mike Wardian, Tawnee Prazak and Brogan Graham speak and felt all the running feels.
  • Watched the Boston Marathon and had the first thought that “I could do this”
  • Volunteered with Food for Free at their fundraising soup event to support and learn more about the community-based food rescue organization.
  • Said an amicable goodbye to a short-lived relationship with a good guy.
May 2016
  • Started the blog A Balanced Pace.
  • Thought I might have developed a dairy intolerance.
  • Signed up to run the New York City Marathon in November, committing to raise $3,000 for Action for Healthy Kids
  • Road-tripped to Burlington and Ran the Vermont City Marathon HALF as a relay with my roommate.
  • Realized I probably didn’t have a dairy intolerance.
  • Found my current running coach, Heather, after reading blogs and discovering her super refreshing perspective and advocacy for balance and health-focused training.
  • Traveled back to Minnesota (after missing my flight in Chicago and bumming around, stranded, in the airport for 5 hours) for my best friend’s bachelorette weekend up north at a beautiful lake house.
  • Finished my first full-time semester of graduate school a little too overwhelmed and decided to back down to part time.
June 2016
  • Stood beside my best friend as a bridesmaid while she married her then-fiance, now-hubby on our gorgeous hometown Lake Minnetonka.
  • Went on a whirlwind drive from Minneapolis to Chicago, stopping in Madison and Kenosha to see friends and family.
July 2016
  • Organized and put on a flop of a fundraiser and learned lots of lessons about running for charity and effectively raising money.
  • Hosted my mom, dad, grandma and aunt in Boston for the 4th of July. Did all the touristy things that you do in the city that hosted the first independence day ever.
  • Decided to step down from my position as co-chair of student council for the coming year.
  • Saw the Twins beat the Red Sox in Fenway with my aunt and cousins from Minnesota.
  • Went on some of the hottest morning 2+ hour runs and felt like a badass.
August 2016
  • Went to the beach, laid in the sun, explored new restaurants in Boston and Cambridge with friends.
  • Went to a COUNTRY concert at Gillette Stadium.
  • Started working at Turnstyle.
  • Chopped my hair into a short bob.
  • Went on my last first Bumble date 🙂
September 2016
  • Got ordained and officiated the small, gorgeous wedding of my best friend from college and her hubby in Madison, Wisconsin.
  • Visited Chicago and a few good friends – ate lots of good food.
  • Went apple picking and went home with WAY too many apples – none of which were wasted.
  • Started my second semester of graduate school.
October 2016
  • Volunteered at a local food festival in an “ask the expert” role, and fielded lots of interesting questions from a variety of folks in attendance.
  • Attended my first FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo) as a fully-fledged Registered Dietitian, got blown away/weighed down with free food samples and educated on all sorts of nutrition topics.
  • Strained my foot on my first bad long run and realized it was an issue that was going to need to be seriously addressed.
  • Tried and failed to run the Boston Half Marathon.
  • Bought new running shoes, did not run very much.
  • Started water-jogging.
  • Gave up drinking (by and large).
November 2016
  • Ran my first marathon, finished smiling, drank a cider, and started thinking about running another one someday.
  • Voted in the presidential election.
  • Cried about the presidential election.
  • Cried with classmates, coworkers and friends about the presidential election.
  • Traveled back to visit family in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving and realized family > politics.
  • Went to my first badger football game as an alum, and rode the rollercoaster of watching Wisconsin almost lose to Minnesota (but jumped around and sang with pride in the 5th quarter when they didn’t)
  • Went to an impromptu friendsgiving with beloved old friends in Madison.
December 2016
  • Started an internship working with the Tufts Athletics Department as their Sports Performance Nutritionist in a developing role.
  • Finished my second semester of graduate school, almost thought I failed statistics but was happily incorrect about that fear.
  • Realized that I’m ‘officially’ no longer single. Winky face.

Now onto the next year.

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New Years Resolutions have become the guaranteed cliche headline undoubtedly already flooding your feeds and news outlet sidebars this week. Even though I could spend hours arguing that we should approach goal setting as an ongoing process, and that the last week of December does not have to be a farewell to all that is fun and exciting in life, there is something intoxicating about the first day of a new year and the allure of a fresh start. In reality, there are no fresh starts. Life moves along and forward with drudging certainty no matter what the calendar says. Real life is messy and there are no hard and fast boundary lines keeping all of the baggage of 2016 from seeping into the fresh new order of 2017. Moving forward and improving aspects of our lives is a process that happens day in and day out, but starting the year off with a few clear goals in mind can keep the good motion in motion. If this is the only time you remember to reflect on all you’ve accomplished and assess your status as the person you hope to be, I think setting a few goals in January to mark a new year is better than not setting any goals at all.

These are goals I’ve been working on and mulling over for months. January 1st does not signify the “start date” and December 31st is no “deadline”. These are goals that represent where I’m at on the 2017 year mark on the timeline of my life. These are not drastic goals. They don’t signify a major change in character or lifestyle. Some are more concrete than others. Many are simple additions that will bring me closer to that floaty dream of “the life I’ve always imagined”. All of them are feasible, and all of them make me smile.

Personal

  • Continue to hone in on intuitive eating and nurture my own relationship with food and my body.
  • Read BOOKS. My list is already about a mile long and growing by the day, so it’s about time I start chopping a few off. Most of them are focused on eating behavior, economics, and other nerdy topics, but I do have a few fictional recommendations in there and always welcome suggestions. I tried the whole Audible.com thing and really it just doesn’t do it for me. It’s too easy for me to zone out and realize I’m not listening, and I can’t just miss whole chunks of a book, that’s not cool. Must read words, that’s a need.
  • Run Marathon #2: Faster. With my first 26.2 under my belt, there’s only one direction to go and that’s forward. Since I didn’t go into the first one with any sort of time goal, I feel like I can definitely push myself to prune up in race #2. I’m looking forward to the training, the strategizing, the running. More to come with my plans for this race, but I already have a few ideas brewing that will hopefully be solidifying very soon.

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Etc.

  • Call distant friends weekly. It is way too easy for me to disconnect and be hard to reach. I want to make it a priority to stay in touch with those I care about even if they are far away.
  • Post more recipes to the blog. Start a recipe index and make food more of a feature of A Balanced Pace!

 

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What are your new year goals or resolutions? Do you believe in the power of fresh starts?

Back in Action

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Needless to say, blogging has been the pot relegated to the back burner among the other pots and pans on the range of life at the moment (how’s that metaphor feel going down?)

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After finishing the marathon, I admit I was ready to take a break from structured running and the recaps that went along with it. It was nice not to attach any extra accountability to my running, and to be quite honest, I didn’t do a whole lot of running at all. Of course, the first few weeks were full of recovery and taking it slow, walking mostly and doing quite a bit of easy yoga. But soon I got antsy to work out. My first real run after the marathon felt AMAZING despite only running a short 30 minutes and not even making it fully across the Mass Avenue bridge. My ankle and foot had calmed down quite a bit since the full 26.2 jaunt, and I wanted so badly just to jump back in to a casual running routine, but they weren’t fully back to complete painlessness and I had to remember that I couldn’t expect to just jump back in to where I started pre-marathon training. My body had endured quite a bit of stress, more than I’d ever put myself through at one time before, and I would just have to be patient and avoid making anything worse for myself. Easier said than done.

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Working at the spin studio was a cursed blessing at that time, and I was all to easy to tempt right back into taking classes since they were free. I took a bootcamp class that left me sore for a full week before Thanksgiving. But I did enjoy the flexibility that having no real training plan afforded me and went to spin classes and yoga classes whenever I so pleased.

I didn’t run too much.

Coming off of race day, Heather agreed to put in some training notes in for the rest of the month, which I mostly followed 🙂 During my Thanksgiving trip back to family in Wisconsin, I had agreed to run the 2-mile Turkey Trot with my parents and brother. 2 Miles was what I knew my body could handle, and a totally appropriate effort to be comfortable with. But of course, I couldn’t just sit there and only run 2 miles when there was a 10k option that I had run the year earlier and I knew I’d be vegging out the rest of the day watching football and eating sweet potato casserole. So as anyone probably could have predicted, I ran the 6.2 miles of the 10k, and by mile 4 knew I had bit off more than I could chew. My legs still felt weak and finishing that race brought back memories from mile 24. It felt fabulous to be done, and I’m glad I had that learning lesson that yes – I had to be taking things slower and that would have to be OK with me. I ran a few more times that week – little ones – that still felt a little questionable but overall good just because I had run.

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That was pretty much the peak amount of running I’ve done. After getting back from Thanksgiving, coursework amped up as the semester came to a close, I started working on my new internship with the undergraduate athletic department at Tufts, and work at the dietary assessment unit was as busy as ever. It was nice not to have the added pressure to need to fit in this or that workout in to my day – I could take a rest day and it would be totally fine. I battled a few colds and bouts of the flu that couched me, but a few key yoga classes served as my life elixir, and overall I think just have enjoyed a little less intense exercise regimen over the past month and a half.

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That being said, I am more than ready to start adding some structure back to my running routine. I’ve decided on a spring half marathon with a few friends up on the coast of Maine that I can only imagine will have the most gorgeous sea views. I’ve been off a training plan for the winter, but will start back with Heather in her Spring Training group using a 14-week plan and as a part of a support group of other runners also training for spring races. It won’t be as individualized of training as I had over the summer, but it will be a great middle ground between me just doing what I think I should do to train and having a daily dialogue with a coach to plan each week. I’m hoping to maybe PR the race …?? but really not going into it with any super serious goals. It’s honestly hard to imagine running a PR after growing so accustomed to this 9:30ish comfortable pace that is a full minute per mile slower than my first two half marathons. I haven’t really tried pushing myself or incorporating any true tempo runs into the runs that I have managed – I’ve mostly stuck to easy runs at a low heart rate just to keep my aerobic fitness in check, and build up even more of a base for the future marathon on my horizon… Hoping that these spin classes and bootcamp HIIT classes I’ve been jiving on are building some extra oomph in my runner-muscles and maybe can bring back some speed. To be determined!

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New York City Marathon 2016: Race Day.

HOLY CRAP.

I did it.

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I finished (One of 51,000+!) And I can still walk.

After the rollercoaster of a month that was October, an extended taper and lots of training plan adjustments, I RAN the New York City Marathon and surprised myself with how great I felt. (Warning: this post contains a large amount of pride. Read with caution)

OK – it might be a little bit easier for me to say that now, as I’m sitting at home two days later, but really – heading into race day I had been preparing myself for the worst. True to form, my last shakeout run –just 15 minutes of jogging around Central Park on Saturday before the race — had me worrying about my knee of all things. My knee has not bothered me once this entire training session and it chooses the day before the race to start giving me pains? My ankle was a little whiney too. The excitement of the weekend started to give way to nerves as the sun set on Saturday and the reality that the next time I’d see my parents would be mid-way through my 26.2 mile trek around Manhattan. Nowhere to go but forward.

Thankfully, I had swiped a few samples of KT tape from the Action for Healthy Kids fundraisers lunch on Saturday and looked up a video for how to apply it for Posterior Tibial Tendonitis. Even though my ankle didn’t necessarily hurt, I was down to support it as much as possible (compression socks, arch-supporting insoles…) and the miraculous tape made me feel so much better instantly. Never will I ever scoff at another runner wearing tape in weird places – that stuff WORKS and thank the Lord for whoever invented it.

So I ran. I ran the whole damn thing and stopped once to stretch out the backs of my knees (forgive me for not knowing the anatomical term here) that were really tightening up around mile 22 (the worst). Besides that, I kept pushing forward. I took a swig from my bottle at every water station and ate a little bit of fuel every 30-or-so minutes (closer to every 20 minutes towards the end) and never hit the wall. It HURT to keep going, especially after mile 23 when the finish line felt so close, but with every additional pounding stride, so very far. But finishing that race was the most rewarding thing I think I’ve ever done and it definitely won’t be my last.

Without further ado – on to the official

RECAP

The Taper (October 23 – November 5th)

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My “official” taper week was really the peak of a month-long taper, full of alternative workouts that avoided putting any strain on my ankle, like water jogging (actually not that bad after the first few tries) and PT-style hip and core work. After the disaster that was the Boston Half Marathon in the beginning of the month, I had tried some shorter runs that felt OK but still pretty uncomfortable and made me question whether or not I could actually run 26 miles when running 3 miles made me want to ice my foot. After failing to finish one of my last longer runs, making it 10 of my planned 13 or so miles before calling it quits because I was afraid I’d really screw myself over if I kept going, Heather suggested I see an MD and get a lowdown and an expert opinion about how to move forward. His opinion: a diagnosis of Posterior Tibial Tendonitis and a prognosis of “you can run the marathon but you better get yourself some arch support and make anti-inflammation the name of your game” (not a direct quote). The minute I put those arch supports in my shoes (not even exaggerating here) I felt a wave of relief. Whatever pain I experienced just walking or twisting my foot went away. I did some internal cartwheels and walked out of the store happy as a clam and so happy I would actually be running this race.

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So my real taper happened after I broke in the inserts – literally wore them every day in whatever shoe I had on – and had a breakthrough 30 minute run that was entirely painless, save for a few protesting stomach cramps that I always get whenever I try to run late in the day. I interspersed a few short runs between cross-training and a few rest days tried my hardest to actually get sleep and keep stress at bay. Unfortunately, the timing of my peak taper week also happened to be when I had a major assignment due and not very much time to work on it so I was low on sleep and high on stress and feeling notsogreat about my tapering status. I wanted to go in to race weekend feeling refreshed as clean laundry and was feeling more like a crumpled up sock than anything. My last “long” run did feel great, though, and soon enough I found myself boarding the bus to NY and confirming my lodging arrangements with my friend Tori who was such a peach to let me crash on an air mattress in her studio for the weekend.

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Friday and Saturday I happily chowed down on allthecarbs but made an effort to make most of them plant-based and high (but not too high) in fiber since that’s what my body was used to eating. Definitely had to get a bagel for breakfast in New York though – that was a must, no grain shame whatsoever. The Action for Healthy Kids luncheon was held at Nanoosh, a mediterranean sandwich shop, where they had soooo many delicious things to eat: falafel wraps, build-your-own kale salads, tzatziki sauce, to-die-for hummus and fluffy pita, pickles and more. The hardest part of Saturday was watching the Badgers football game at Mad River, a Wisconsin bar in the Upper East Side, not drinking beers with my fellow Sconnies. Definitely a good thing I got to sip on all that water for a few hours, though. #hydration.

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All the wonderful Action for Healthy Kids runners meeting for lunch!

 

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Seth and JD, the Team Healthy Kids coaches

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After my last little shakeout around Central Park that afternoon, I felt OK (see phantom pains above) but ready to really rest. I knew I wasn’t supposed to walk a whole bunch the day before the race, but between the expo, the lunch, the game, and my lil run, I hit my 15,000 steps and my legs were feeling a little too heavy for comfort. We headed back to my parents’ hotel where I taped up my foot, iced it and elevated it one last time, and got my last meal at a delicious new place Fresh&Co –> I went with the Wild Ginger brown rice bowl with Tofu and had a few bites of my mom’s vegan poke bowl (made with tomato sushi!). Finished off the night with a half pint of raspberries, organized everything I’d need in the morning, and went to bed.

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Sunday — Race Day (November 6th)

I set my alarm for 6:10 but ended up waking up at 5:50. Thanks to great luck (not sure if it’s like this every year..) Sunday was also daylight savings and afforded me an extra hour of much needed sleep. I woke up feeling quite refreshed for sleeping on an air mattress (it was actually super comfortable Tori!!) and had a game-on attitude as soon as I pulled on my capris. I double checked that I had everything I needed and that everything was fully charged, put together my breakfast — this time using two HUGE slices of bread from Paris Baguette (they had the perfect little loaves available at a store close to my parents’ hotel) with a packet of Justin’s honey peanut butter and a perfectly ripe whole foods bananas (they have the best bananas IMO). To tide me over until I would eat my breakfast sandwich on the Ferry (3 hours before my start time of 10:40) I took a big bite out of a pumpkin spice RX bar I had packed and a few last swigs from my water bottle, said goodbye to Tori and told her I’d text her when I finished!

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The Starting Village

I had chosen to take a Ferry to Staten Island back in July but only because all of the busses were sold out. This ended up being a pretty solid option anyway, because the Ferry was a straight shot on the Subway from the Upper East Side and I was able to hop right on a ferry even though I was a half hour early. I ate my breakfast and soaked up the distant view of the Verrazano Bridge – the first mile of the race. The easy ferry ended up being a blessing, since the busses from the ferry drop site to the starting village took what felt like forever and a day. First we shuffled through the ferry station, herded ourselves into a slowly moving line and finally on to full busses driving back-to-back in stop and go traffic for just about an hour before we reached the village. Some first-wave people around me on the bus actually ended up convincing the driver to let them off because their corrals had supposedly already closed and we were still half a mile away moving at a snails pace. I chatted with someone next to me from Brooklyn who was running the race for the second time and tried to remind myself I had plenty of time before my 10:15 corral closing time. It was 9:00 when I finally got to the starting village.

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The village was fairly easy to navigate, and happily had PLENTY of porta-potties. I visited them three times and never waited more than 5 minutes in line. I had been regretting my decision to wait for coffee since the commute was much longer than I anticipated and was beginning to feel headachy, but quickly bee-lined for the free dunkin’ once I checked my bag. I also drank two little 8-oz bottles of water because I was also regretting not bringing along any plain water with me – all I had was my pre-mixed skratch water that I wanted to save for the race.

Anyway, the amount of time I had between arriving at the village and getting to my corral was actually great. I never felt like I was sitting around or too cold – the weather was PERFECT. I wore a throwaway sweatshirt and pajama bottoms over my race outfit and tossed them in donation bins before doing a quick 10-minute run around whatever open space I could find. Stretched out a bit, and finally made my way over to corral A – happy to discover I was in the front of my wave with a perfect view of the starting line and the bridge. I hadn’t had success on Saturday finding crafty materials to write my name on my shirt as had been so frequently suggested by anyone who ever mentioned running this race, but fabulously ended up talking with someone who had extra KT tape and a sharpie that I was able to fashion a “nametag” out of. Actually better, since I didn’t end up ruining my shirt and still got to hear personal cheers of encouragement throughout the course (ended up being a major key).

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Miles 1-6

I knew I had to run slow. Slow and steady, nice and easy, like I could have a conversation and run forever. The first mile runs at an incline over the Verrazano so slow was easily achieved. I let people pass by me and saw a weird array of dropped goods – hats, gloves, clif bars, empty energy gels already – people stopping to take pictures of the crazy views of the New York skyline. I just let it all soak in and kept moving forward. I was really doing this. The first mile buzzed on my watch and told me I was running a 10:56 pace. OK – that was slow, but I knew I could crank it up a little bit. So far all systems were go – my ankle pain was virtually a thing of the past.

After speeding through the second mile a little faster than planned at 9:20/mile I found my stride and kept the next six miles steady around 9:55. The people of Brooklyn were wonderful – full of life and humor and encouragement. It was SUNNY and I realized I might actually be hot during the race even though I was wearing a tank top (really glad I didn’t end up wearing a layer underneath). I didn’t wear my headphones and let the crowds and the music on the sidelines carry me on. Over the first few miles I saw the 4:30 pace group pass me, then forgot about it and later saw the 4:15 pace group within reach. Keeping those groups in mind helped me control my pace and slow down when necessary. There were so many runners. For the most part I didn’t need to dodge or weave through too many people and really tried to keep my pace consistent even though many continued to pass me. I thought my parents had told me they would be somewhere between mile 4-6 and so I kept my eyes to the sides in case I saw their allegedly “bright green signs” but to no avail.

Since I naturally ended up passing the 3 mile mark around 30 minutes in, my first planned fueling time, I decided I would divide the race up into 3-mile chunks. Every 3 miles I would make sure I had something to eat, and knock another section of the race off of my mental checklist. I started with 4 honey stinger chews and did a quick mental check that I would have enough to eat if I fueled every 3 miles – about 8 times. Each mile marker had its own hydration station, so I reminded myself to take a swig of my bottle as I ran through each one even though I wasn’t necessarily thirsty. Throughout the summer training, I had learned that keeping ahead of signs of hunger/thirst was key for maintaining energy. Once you get those signs from your body in the middle of a long run, it’s hardly possible to keep running with the same effort and overcome whatever deficit you’re facing.

Reaching mile 6, I was still feeling pretty good though my back was tense for some reason. It felt like I needed a massage. I had never felt that on a run before, and figured I just needed to relax a bit, and tried to focus on easing up on swinging my arms and channeled the yoga poses that had me dropping my shoulders and lengthening my neck. Could have killed for a foam roller, but kept going.

Miles 7-14

These miles ran me through shade and sun as I made my way further north through Brooklyn and finally Queens. Apparently my parents were actually positioned right around mile 10, what I remember as one of my favorite lengths of the course. It was shady and the crowds were great. I’m not super familiar with that part of Brooklyn, but it seemed to be a more youthful area, with lots of twenty-somethings screaming out at all of us passing by. I started to feel my left leg getting a little tight and my pace slowed down from the high 9’s to the low 10’s. I kept up my fueling/hydration strategy and dipped into my first larabar, eating about 1/3 of it at each 30-minute interval.

I had planned on not using my headphones until at least reaching the half way point, but with my increasingly heavy legs and thinning crowds, I needed a little extra somethin’ right around mile 12. The music did help push me through and kept me going up and through the sunny roads of Queens. This part of the race is really a blur now, but I think I was just in the zone – thinking about all the training I had done over the summer and how it had just become routine – get up, go run/workout/do whatever I needed to do to get to where I was at that moment. And I reveled in the fact that it was working. During these miles, I thought about all I had learned about working through the toughest parts of my training runs and prepared for the inevitably harder miles ahead of me.

Miles 15-19

This was a weird interval. I was anxious to run over the infamously quiet Queensboro bridge and fly into the wall of sound as we entered Manhattan. I wasn’t even really aware that the bridge was a hill (THANK YOU Boston for training my legs on bridges!) but my right leg kept doing a weird snapping thing every now and then that wasn’t painful, but just made me perk up a little like, “woah what was that, that’s weird”. Thankfully, it never turned into anything. I chomped a little bit more on some chews, soaked in the lyrics of the music in my headphones, and dodged around the runners that chose to take the bridge to walk. I considered walking a bit, but decided that no – I was running. I felt good (relatively speaking) and like my legs could keep moving. I was going to keep running.

The “wall of cheers” was a bit underwhelming running in to Manhattan (thanks to my high expectations), but still fired me up anyway. The next straight shot up 1st ave was the most energizing part of the course for me. From mile 16-18 I took out my headphones and soaked in all of the people on the sidelines shouting out to me that I looked strong and to keep it up. I’m pretty sure the photo at the top of the post was taken right around this time. I couldn’t help from smiling. It felt so amazing.

 

I had pre-arranged to meet my parents in between mile 17 and 18 at a specific intersection that served as my mantra as I flew through the city blocks. We had arranged to swap water bottles – my empty one for a full one they would have pre-mixed with a packet of skratch. Once the golden intersection was one block away, I edged to the left of the road and loosened my water bottle. I slowed down a bit and scanned the crowd but did not see them. I pointed my arm up to see if anyone would should my name, but nope. I moved on. Since it wasn’t very hot, I hadn’t even needed to finish my bottle at that point and figured I would be able to stay hydrated with straight water for the rest of the race. I had a volunteer fill up the rest of my bottle with water at the next water station and finally realized that I had less than 10 miles left. I could SO do this.

But as we reached the north of Manhattan and ran over a bridge into the Bronx, I entered into the lowest part of the race for me. The bridge was steep and sunny and felt so long. I put my headphones back in and hunkered down into my head, and tried to harness the energy of the race to keep my motivation up.

Miles 20-26.2

Definitely the hardest part of the race. Mile 20 wasn’t even so bad. It was mile 22-24 that got me. Once I realized I had the last 10k left, I knew I would finish and that I would run to the finish. I could handle another 10k. I knew I had it in the tank, thanks to starting slow and fueling regularly. But mile 22 was still so far from 26, even though I had less than 5 miles left. Mile 23 was worse. A 5k, that’s all I had left. But it was still another 30+ minutes of running I had in front of me and my legs were begging me to stop. Just when I wanted to start walking, someone would call my name from the sideline, or I would see a funny sign, and I would WAKE UP and realize I was running the NYC marathon and why not just keep running? I was this close anyway, I had come this far, I was going to run even if it hurt. Everyone was hurting at that point. It was time to join the club.

Between mile 23 and 24, just as we turned into Central Park, I saw my parents. I saw their green signs first, and then waved and decided to run over and say hi. I gave them a quick hug and shrugged off the water bottle since I was set with my water. Seeing them was the perfect jolt of energy I needed running into the last leg in Central Park. I decided to kick it up. Why not? I was almost done. I had more fuel if I needed it. I wanted to finish strong and this was my chance.

The Central Park hills were real, though. Going down was worse than going up. I like going up-hill – I practiced with up-hill. Going downhill was pounding and hard on my knees and the backs of my knees that I could tell would be very sore when I stopped moving. FINALLY I reached mile 25. 1.2 miles left. 1.2 MILES. SO CLOSE. I took the last of my energy chews and drank more water and kept a steady pace until I saw the 26 mile mark, where I decided that I would finally push it to the end. Mile 26 wrapped us around the bottom of Central Park and some absolutely wonderful spectators – I can’t imagine what we must all have looked like at that point – in so much pain but so excited to be close to the finish line. I finally got my adrenaline rush to the end, amped up by the live music and increasing crowds, and picked up to as much of a sprint as I could manage to finish (with a smile!) in 4 hours, 29 minutes and 10 seconds.

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Though I didn’t go into it with any sort of time goal whatsoever (basically because I didn’t feel like doing all those pace calculations), I was so proud of myself for finishing in under 4 and a half hours (just barely!). I was so proud of my pacing, of my fueling, and never hitting the wall. I was proud that I didn’t stop running, and didn’t need to make any pit-stops, and so overwhelmingly thankful for my coach and the training plan she set up for me. IT WORKED LIKE A CHARM. Despite the ankle hiccup, following the plan got me to that finish line feeling awesome. I walked to get my medal, gave a woman who I heard on the verge of tears a big hug and almost started crying with her, and pulled out my remaining larabar and basically ate it in 30 seconds. I did the damn thing. THANK YOU HEATHER.

Of course, once I met up with my family what seemed like hours later, I had one thing on my mind: shower. Then ice. Then pizza. In that order. I had talked about getting a beer for so long but when the time came, I really just wanted a cider. So I got one and savored it, and savored the pizza. And then I ate a pint of ice cream. Hey, I just ran a marathon, give me a break.

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2 days out and I actually feel pretty much back to normal. My legs are still a little tight, but I can walk-even trot-down stairs without much fighting back. The 5-hour bus ride back was not ideal, but led me back to my foam roller that I immediately put to use. I slept, I took two days off of work, I walked around and did a quick 20 minutes on the elliptical. I ate lots of carbs and then lots of protein and BOOM. I feel great. I’m ready to train for the next one… someday.