Monday, May 27, 2013

10K: Round Two

This past weekend, I ran the 10K race during the Ottawa Race Weekend. Before I get into that, I wanted to write a bit about what I learned at the running expo that took place at the Ottawa Convention Centre where runners picked up their running bibs. (Taking these pictures always excites me so much and I just LOVE the Ottawa <3 Boston sign in the corner!)

Aside from the usual mini displays of last minute running items you could buy (like in case you forgot that you need running shoes to run...?), there was also a corner dedicated to hosting a guest speaker. That guest speaker was John Stanton, president of the Running Room, and he was pretty awesome.  Here he is, and I'm not quite sure what he's demonstrating here...

Among the many tips he shared with us (though mostly geared towards those running the marathon), I found these to be most valuable to anyone starting to run, or looking to sharpen their regime.  Without further ado, some running tips:

1. Stretch only after you run. Stretching your muscles sends a signal to your body to calm the nervous system. This is great after your run, to tell your body to chill out.  You don't want to calm your body before your run, so use your running warm up segment for stretching purposes.

2. Try to end your run the way you started it.  That is, cool down the way you started- with a jog. Never stop running abruptly. Keep moving.

3. After your run, it's okay to feel dizzy.  It's not okay to faint. 

4. It's okay to hit a wall.  This is a period of time where your body switches its source of energy. Give it a few minutes (don't give up), check that you aren't dehydrated (have a few sips of water, if possible) or that your energy isn't completely depleted (maybe you need a quick gel pack), and keep at it. The wall will break in a few minutes. 

5. A decrease in 1-2% of your body's water will lead to fatigue (!!!)

6. If you're doing endurance training, you absolutely need to replenish with food high in Iron and Vitamin C.

So that's that - some great tips to rejuvenate your running techniques, and some stuff to help you feel better about running in general :)

And so with that, on to my 10K running experience:

So, it seems I didn't train as hard as I thought.  I was almost late for the race too, and almost twisted my ankle climbing the fence to get into my corral group...oh and I ran with a splinter in my foot lol jeez...

I expected for the race to be just like a regular run, but I forgot how competitive I get while running, and how painful it is for me to watch dozens of runners pass me by while I take a walking break. It kills me.  Watching that pace bunny disappear further into the crowd until I can't even see his ears really hurts.  For that reason, I never take full breaks as I would normally do while on a regular run. I just can't. (And yes, I'm working on it!)  So, given all that, I ended up putting my body through an unexpected beating, with endurance and speed combined, and that wasn't a very healthy thing to do.  But onto nicer things...
Towards the end of my run, I definitely hit a mini wall. I say it's a mini wall because the race itself was relatively short, but it certainly didn't feel little. I started to walk while everyone around me ran. I walked and walked and walked and slowly felt my face drooping into a frown when suddenly, I saw someone's hand stretch out towards me. I looked up and saw a man cheering me on.  As I walked past him, I couldn't help but make a face like "PARDON??"  to which he yelled "RUN! KEEP RUNNING! GO!"  and at that exact moment, he gestured for me to stretch out my hand, and high-fived me.  It was like a jolt of love, of energy, or that inexplicable commoradery that I have only ever seen while running. I felt my face turn back into a huge smile, thanked him and burst into a run.  The wall was still there, but I was too happy to care.  The last 3 km of my run were difficult, but I couldn't stop smiling. The signs, the people, the smiles, the clapping, the bells, the outstreched hands waiting to encourage us...what a beautiful reflection of humanity.  I finished at 0:53:13 beating last year's 10K time by a whopping 5 minutes, which means, given my lack of training this time around, that I am just in better overall shape, which is the best gift my body could ever give me.  Despite feeling really sick after the run, I'm really happy with my time (and I still don't even know how I managed to do that!), and am really looking forward to training for the half marathon in September!  Yep, I signed up for the Army Run. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

so salmon, kale, and quinoa walk into a bar...

....and I cook them and have them for dinner.

Sometimes, I don't want feel like guessing what type of food is healthy. Sometimes I want to take the most cliché health staples and throw them together for a meal that's guaranteed to be good for me, but doesn't take three years to put together.  Enter the three amigos: salmon, kale, and quinoa. If you aren't familiar with these three foods, they're like the Downton Abbey/Blue Ivy/pastels of the grastronomical empire. Here's a quick synopsis of why (although there are far many more reasons than just these):

Salmon: contains omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) which are really, really great for your heart.

Kale: is intensely packed with vitamins A, C, K (and I thiiiink some others), and is a powerful antioxidant!

Quinoa: is rich in fibre, iron, and magnesium (among a ton of other nutrients) and is a good source of protein

If you're picking up veggies, fish, and grains, you really can't pick a better trio.
Anyway, now that your interest is (hopefully) piqued, here's a super easy dinner to make and Instagram ad nauseum *just me*:

Salmon, Kale, and Quinoa on a Plate:


Kale salad:

Head of kale
2 tbsps olive oil
2 tsp Himalayan salt
1 tsp pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
Optional: grated parmesan


1 (preferrably wild) salmon steak
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
maple syrup to taste (optional)


1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
1 Knorr vegetable or chicken stock cube

What you gotta do:

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. Combine the dressing ingredients for your kale and massage them into the leaves, tearing into bite size pieces.  Set aside.

3. Pour a tiny bit of olive oil onto an oven-safe dish, place the salmon, and rub the teaspoon of olive oil on top. Sprinkle salt and pepper, and, if it's a special night, drizzle a bit of maple syrup on top. Throw into the oven and set your timer to 20 minutes.

4. Bring your 2 cups of water to a boil in a small pot.  Add the stock cube and the cup of quinoa. Cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the quinoa has absorbed all the water. If it looks a bit runny by the time your 15 minutes runs out, turn the element off and let it sit a few minutes. All of the water should be absorbed.

5. Check that your salmon is a very pale pink (cooked) before you take it out, place it on a plate with the kale (sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese if you wish) and quinoa, and have an amazing, healthy, and easy dinner, Instagram included...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

rainy running

With Race Weekend fast approaching, and in light of my recent four day running hiatus (in favor of a wonderfully relaxing weekend in Caledon, Ontario!!), the pressure is really on to keep my running stamina up. This is the last week leading up to my 10K run, so I basically couldn't get out of running today.  Tomorrow is a scheduled day off so that I can eat food and think about things I would like to eat in the future, Thursday is my mandatory second day of running plus spinning, Friday I have rowing practice, and then Saturday's the big day. So, since I can't do back to back runs anyway (even if I did cancel my day of thinking about/eating food in the present/future), it was really today or bust. So, of course when I absolutely can't get out of running, it rains. It rained like all sorts of metaphorical felines and maybe even some heavier, more industrial sized farm animals too. Luckily, I changed into my running clothes before I had a chance to see what was really happening outside, and truthfully, I did stand by the doors of my building for about five minutes, concocting last minute negotiations with myself as to when else I could fit in that run. But, there was nothing to do but go. And so I ran, and I got soaked, and it was very uncomfortable but one exciting thing I can report is that somehow, for some weird reason, it makes running feel easier.  Maybe it's because you're focusing on how uncomfortable your face is, make up running off you like a mime act gone wrong. Maybe it's because the rain keeps you cool. I don't know what the reason is for feeling so great, but I barely took a break at all, and only noticed how attractively crimson my face and chest were when I was changing back into my work clothes. My speed was better, my lungs felt fresh (you would only find that weird until that hot summer day when your lungs feel like a paper bag set on fire), and gosh darn it, it was just fun being the only one out on the path.  Slash it was a little scary slash I figured rapists wouldn't want to get soaked like this slash I just hoped for the best. Here I am at the beginning of my run, being all "oh look at this drizzle hehe"....

 .....30 minutes later, my face has become an abstract painting as I wring out my t-shirt mid-run.  There is no photo of that, fortunately.
Oh, and here I am, about ten minutes into the run. Don't let the photo deceive you: you could barely see through the rain! (shoes are now aquariums...hopefully not permanently...)

You know, I have a strong aversion to being uncomfortable, and though I definitely was uncomfortable running in the middle of a rain-a-thon, I would highly recommend it to everyone! Variety is the spice of life or if you're not into sayings, just think how hardcore you'll look to anyone eating a grilled cheese sandwich while sitting in their diaper on the bus. You, stallion of endurance, majestically slamming the puddles like insects under your fervent gallop*. You, unbridled, a champion of athleticism, wincing while boldly piercing rain droplets with your stoicism, passing them as they collect on your glistening biceps and rock solid calves*. You- a rain runner.

*I did not resemble any of this. My appearance was more akin to a wet eggplant rolling down a moderately slanted hill.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Athletic Club: TAC Physique

Imagine the following scenario:  You enter a ballet studio. A warm afternoon sunshine falls onto the pale, polished wood floor from the windows by the ceiling. A ballet bar runs across the length of the room. Sultry Latin music fills the air. A single chicken breast lays at the back of the room. I am that chicken breast.

Or such is the extent of my flexibility, grace, or endurance, as I've come to learn this afternoon at the TAC Physique class at The Athletic Club.  Never mind that I decided to stock up on booze before my favorite liquor store supposedly goes on strike tonight, and subsequently decided to nonchalantly walk into the gym with two bottles of red wine, already adding to my confusing image, but I, despite my best efforts, looked ridiculous all around.

TAC Physique is described as a toning class focused around ballet-style movements. The instructor took us from dumbell-heavy toning moves, to squats, to push ups, to pliés, to something called a Second Position, to high ballerina-style kicks, to side kicks and twists and lunges and then I died. Or at least I thought I was going to.  How can running endurance be so different from toning endurance? Look, I didn't think I was a pro, but I thought I would at least look like this:

And instead, well, you get it:

I can't remember the last time my muscles felt like they were tearing, but they began to burn about ten minutes into the workout.  Hamstrings, why you gotta be like that? I thought we was close, with all that running!  But anyway, that's just TAC Physique for you - an intense (but actually really fun) muscle-toning class where you feel like you've got all the grace in the world (thanks to the legitimacy of the ballet bar) despite all the sweat running down your chin.  I'd love to go back, although admittedly, I could barely handle the 40 minute lunch time class I did, so I'm not sure I can handle the full evening hour-long version. 

Thank God there's wine.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

writers vs. storytellers

Yesterday, while on the bus, I happened to be sitting beside a woman with an e-reader, and in typical fashion, taking advantage of my creepy reflective aviators, I read several pages of her book with her. It seemed to be a drama revolving around politics, and some of it went something like this:

"Rachel was definitely nervous now."

"He ran across the street really quickly."

"They both gasped at the same time and you could even see that his palms were getting sweaty."

This reminded me of a recent book I read which included lines like:

"There were fancy dishes on the table and you could take anything you wanted."


"She remembered her sister back home and became sadder."

The turbo-dork inside me shuddered with each of these lines.  I mean, Rachel was definitely nervous now? How do we know that? Was she unsure of her nervousness before? Was she only sweating ever so mildly prior to this moment of clarity? And then he ran across the street...quickly? Do you mean he jogged? Did he sprint? Why would you settle on the most basic of adverbs to describe his running when you could explain what triggered his pace in one word, instead? Then they both gasped at the same time, and suddenly a third person (YOU) appeared with the ability to see the condition of his palms. This happens all the time, apparently. 

And as for the aforementioned book I read recently, I was told it was "a really, really good read", and after reading it, I was:

Here's the thing: both of the authors are "best-selling authors". Both books are likely flying off the shelves, or are at least worthy of being recommended to e-readers. One of the books even has a movie made after it.  But oh my God, the books are so badly written.  So why are they so popular? I think it's all in the storytelling.  A good storyteller captures his audience with a sequence of exciting, gripping events, all presented with fluidity of narrative motion and a sort of fast-paced thought-process that makes you feel like you're basically watching a movie made of words. A good storyteller can tell you what happened NOW, and what happened NEXT, and how that ended.  A good storyteller doesn't have time to focus on the little aesthetic details, unless they relate directly to the story and help move things along. A storyteller, however, is not (always) a writer.

A writer is someone for whom the words are a craft, not a means to a transmission of an event.  A writer molds the words, keeping in mind their texture, shape, smell, and all those other pretentious things bearded people discuss at coffee houses. A writer is an observer, an analyzer, and the person for whom it's all in the details. For writers, stories are kept in vaults until all the right words are found, and the Rubik's cube aligns to precisely capture every idea in its absolute purest, yet most saturated form.  Each word waits to be tailored like a suit, each sentence is revised until it's able to say its absolute capacity with just one little breath, and each chapter of a writer's book contains the writer's uttermost potential (hopefully). 

Some books are meant to be fast reads, and that's because they transmit very simple action-like messages that make us feel not only like we've watched a paper-movie, but also make us feel accomplished for, well, reading a book.  I'd attribute a lot of the success of these best sellers to that exactly: the opportunity for me to say I read a book, without actually having had to absorb the words too much as long as I got that in Chapter One Betty found a sword, and in Chapters Two to Eleven, she killed a man and then grew a set of wings and died. I got the story, I've moved on, I've crossed the book off my checklist. Next.
Fast food, fast books.

Although, there are some really great novels out there that fall into the 'fast read' category, so I don't want to be a hater about anything that isn't Dostoevsky.  I don't mean to say that this type of novel is unnecessary or "bad", but rather that I personally believe there is a real distinction between writing to tell a story and writing because you're a writer.

And, actually, I sometimes prefer the 'fast read' to a 'better-crafted' book, simply because I have a really hard time focusing on a story, though I could really use a beach read, for example.  I have a stack of books by my bed that I've been waiting to read for years, two of which are:

The first one I've been putting off reading because it's just too.damn.hard to comprehend, and I keep losing my train of thought while I'm reading it because it's super hardcore French, and the second one has been an exercise in meditation because I've been getting off track imagining every paragraph that describes a certain situation.  So there, the secret's out: I don't read a lot, mainly because I devote a lot of attention to the books that I read, and can't often find enough time to sit down and have a good ol' focus sesh.

And as for what type of person I think I am: I think of myself as someone who always sort of drunkenly weaves in between these two types. I try to make every word I write feel special, but you just never know what'll turn out.  It's kinda like a potato.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Athletic Club: Zumba

By now, I may have mentioned Anais a few times, as my fitness inspiration-provider. Now she's taken that term to a literal level by gifting me with a one month pass to The Athletic Club, where the pool water is of salt, and the reception area has a waterfall. Monthly membership at this gym is almost triple what I pay at the Y (complimentary rag included), so needless to say I wouldn't ever have tried it otherwise. I decided to check out their group fitness schedule, and to take the opportunity to try as many of the different classes as I could.  Remember how I was saying that, typically, Zumba gives me as much of a workout as applying deodorant?  Well, on Mother's Day, my mom (who, being a supreme baller, has a full membership at this club) convinced us to try their version of it. It's been two days since I attended this class and I still feel like this:

I am exhausted, and so, so, so sore. The class is amazingly, painfully intense.  The room is dark, illuminated only by disco lights and either a strobe light or my personal seizure, and the music is loud, Latin, and fast. You have to keep with the rhythm, and there's a muscle-contracting step for every beat, so you're never just standing around reading the paper. The only breaks you get are between songs, and if you don't take the 4 seconds to grab water, you'll be very, very sorry.  The moves are different for every song and make you feel like Shakira, or at least Pit Bull, and maybe you do look like those people, but, having caught my reflection in the mirror, that is definitely not the case for me. Grateful for the lack of lighting, I barely kept up with the shaking, twisting, reaching, slamming, jumping, and...hooting. Yes, people hoot. Or woop, I guess. It's pretty funny once you get into it, and gives you that little bit of encouragement when you're ready to sashay the hell outta there. I saw a few people walking to the back of the room midway through the workout. During the remainder of the class, while we shook our chests at the mirror and straddled imaginary stallions, they squatted and shuffled their feet in gentle defeat. My pride would not let me join them, though my heart screamed to stop.

I would highly recommend this Zumba class for anyone who's looking for a workout that, as Zumba always promises, feels more like a party.  I'm really looking forward to the rest of this month's line-up!

Monday, May 13, 2013

missed connections

This is the story of how I came on to a Mexican man.  The story takes place in Varadero, where we went on a family trip just a couple weeks ago. It was day two of eight, which is important to note because usually this type of shit only happens towards the end, which sort of makes going home exciting since all you want to do is escape the mess you’ve made...but this time it happened at the beginning, making the rest of the trip exciting in the way you might be excited to know that someone is coming for you with a knife.  

It was dinner time, and we were hungry. The three of us (myself, my mom, and my sister) arrived at the restaurant and, as usual, began looking for an unoccupied table.  Sure, the regular tables were free: the ones directly in front of the freshly produced cutlery bin that smells like hot retainers; the table at the very entrance of the restaurant which serves as a visual display of tonight’s menu for every person who walks through the main doors (“Oh look, she got the beef. It’s beef night. Oh, oh and beside her beef…I knew it- the paella’s out. Look, Randy, paella.”) Then there are the deserted tables surrounding diarrhea-covered families comprised of wailing children and their seemingly-deaf parents, and the tables that, for some deeply mysterious reason are just never cleaned.  So, what do we have left? The coveted tables by the windows. 
And, suddenly, I spot one: a perfectly clean, unoccupied table by the window and out of children’s harm’s way, with a little red carnation in the middle in a little white vase.  Let me just preface the next part with: all of this really happened. I’m not making this up.

I quickly walk over to this table  (it’s maybe 8 feet away) illuminated by the heavens above, and pull out the chair in front of me. Right at that moment, a tall blonde woman violently enters my line of vision, sprints towards this very table, and SITS IN THE CHAIR. She waves at someone and, momentarily, a tall guy comes over and sits in the chair across from her. They start unfolding their napkins and I just stare at them, my hand still on the back of the chair, so stunned by the situation that I am literally catatonic.  Then I turn to look at my sister who, just like me, is looking like a taxidermied squirrel (complete with frozen look of bewilderment), and then we both turn to look at my mom who is standing back there, 8 feet away, looking like this:

We sat at some random table, between the cutlery and diarrhea, and everyone was quiet, and then my mom was all “I can’t even believe this shit” and I was all “FOR REALZ” because by now we were feeding off each other’s anger, and then we were quiet some more and then she said what I was really, really hoping she’d say: “I’m gonna go talk to them.  They can’t get away with that.”
And that, online friends, is where everything truly went wrong. 

We were on our way to the buffet area when my mom suddenly sped up and marched towards the stolen table.  My sister, in typical fashion, looked away pretending she was but a lost bystander, and I, in typical fashion, bit the inside of my right cheek.  What wrath would my mother lay on these shameless hooligans? I couldn’t wait to hear it. And…then…this happened:

My mom:  $#$*&^@%!
Woman: ??
My mom: You don’t speak Russian?
Woman: ??
My mom (to man): Where are you from?
Man: Mexico..
My mom (now to me): Ohhh, okay. *wink*

WHAT????  A WINK??   WHY WHY WHY??? And what happens next??  I could do nothing but look at the couple, who had put down their utensils and were now looking up at us with Mexican confusion, and then looked at my mom…and winked back. Apparently, when failing to produce an adequate original thought, my brain felt that copying my mom's inexplicable gesture was the next best thing. So, there was the original inquisition, then there was an exchange of winking, and then, there was me pivoting on my heels and walking away, my mom and sister following. We were officially the three musketeers of failure.  (Take THIS, jerks! Nobody steals OUR table! Where are you from? WINK! the buffet, comrades!) 

I passed the deviled eggs, and circled the trays of canned carrots, but nothing enticed me: all I could think about was the awkwardness that we had created. I felt incomplete. I had unfinished business. I knew I could've said something better, something more poignant, something zingy, something to make them think twice about stealing people's seats like that. I stuck a fork into the tower of tuna, but it just didn't feel right.  Just then, my mom walked up to me and said: "Let it go. Be the bigger person." 

And, you know what? I'm trying. I'm trying to let it go, but all I can hear is the sound of our eyelids flapping in a nightmarish recollection of our obscure winking. I must fix this. Still, I should be the bigger person. I will just scoop up some tomatoes, and I will be the bigger person. Grab a little rice and be the bigger person. Oh look it's ice cream I love ice cream be the bigger person oh my gosh is that sprinkles? how did they... be the bigger person be the bigger person. Suddenly, I see them, standing in the line for fried beef, probably preparing to swoop in and scoop the next person's portion into their pants. Something overcomes me- call it adrenaline, or maybe I'm just ghetto.  Something overpowers all of my reasoning, and I robotically walk over to them, except I don't know what to say, and the woman just happens to be distracted by a recently-materialized platter of moldy cheeses, so it's just the man looking at me now, and so I, with every ounce of courage in my shaking body, contort my face into the shape of what I think is a dirty look.  I start by looking down at his feet, then slowly draw my eyes up, squinting the left one, and smiling in the way I once saw DeNiro smile at someone he had very little respect for. You know, like a half smile that's kinda like "keep the change, you filthy animal".

But also with..

I told you. I don't know what is happening to me at this point.

The man's expression shows little recognition as he stares back at me, so I decide to drop my gaze back down, only to realize that I have officially completed what is called the Elevator Scan. Omg barf.  All of this is happening really, really slowly, and I'm walking by him with the fluidity of an interpretive dancer (I do not know why), and finally, the man can no longer hide his confusion/fear/arousal(?) and says, quite loudly:


I passed him, then I passed the chicken station, then the waiters, then I walked past the front doors, and out of the restaurant. It suddenly became clear to me that I had managed to both harass and hit on an innocent man who clearly had only arrived at the original scene to find his wife lovingly sitting at a table waiting for him, while a strange Russian family touched the back of her chair in silence.
The rest of the week was a mix of terror and dread. Each time we passed each other at the buffet, I burst into a tiny fire. There was no explaining any of our collective behaviour- it was a stew of anger, multiculturalism, and perhaps even one-sided arousal. The best scenario I could hope for was him thinking I was crazy. Crazy in love, maybe, or just the kind of crazy you might get knowing that someone stole your table. I'd gladly take the latter.

running in varadero

You know how I was all excited about the Nike Running chip and was super psyched about how great it is when you’re away from a data zone and still want to track your runs?  Well, that just totally blew up in my face when, on a second trip to Cuba last week, the chip refused to work.  My phone wouldn't recognize it, and no matter how much I paced around the pool trying to activate the sensor (I'm sure everyone enjoyed that), it just wouldn't work, so I was:

After collecting myself, I decided to go running anyway and to just stop when I felt sick.  I turned on my regular Nike Running app just to see what would happen and GUESS WHAT…it tracks your runs without GPS! What is this thing??? I have downloaded a unicorn.
Just in case I couldn't prove my super respectable dedication later, I took some pictures along the way each time I ran. I won’t lie, it wasn’t pretty because as it turns out, running in a tropical location isn’t easy: it’s always, always, always hot.  It’s hot at sunrise, hot at sunset, hot at night.  The hot air seemed to compress my lungs and I felt like the temperature was pressing down on me as I ran. On my last planned running day, I defiantly hit up the gym to run on a treadmill. That’s how I roll.


So, lessons learned on this trip: 
1. Nike Running app works without GPS !!!! (woohoo, I say, at kilometer number seven:)

2. Be careful not to overexert yourself (I felt extremely sick one day after running just 5K which, back home, is a very easy run for me)(taking a photo of yourself is a very good excuse to take a long break, by the way...)

3. When you pass the surrounding resorts, you see really cute things like this:

...and stunning things like this:

4. Running on the beach means you can also jump in the water to cool off. Just wear your bathing suit under your sweats :)