Movember – No Mustaches Here!

Mo-vember has become a very popular tradition in the month of November. It’s a very fun way to help raise awareness for an important cause but Mo-vember has never really been a big thing in my household. This is the first year we’re even participating in the event. Well, I am not participating, technically, as I lack the special ability to grow face hair (thankfully).

I’ve seen a lot of marketing of ‘alternative to Mo-vember’ options for women out there. NoBra-vember was particularly amusing. I decided to do my own thing, maybe it will catch on, maybe it won’t, but to me, it was a great motivator in a month when motivation is at its lowest and chocolate treats abound.

Enter “Move-mber”! For the month of November, I’ve committed to get up, get out, and get moving, in some way, every day. Those of you who follow Rapunzel’s Adventures on Facebook have probably seen the updates as the month progresses. Hopefully, this sheds some light on those daily (seemingly random) updates.

I’d love for others to join me in my Move-mber initiative, it’s open to anyone and everyone. There’s no need to go to the gym, specifically, or feel obligated to run through a snow storm. The goal is just to find ways, within your physical limits, to increase your activity each day. On rest days, even, I make an effort to walk every hour or to use my work breaks to take the stairs when I wouldn’t otherwise. Anything that’s more than what you usually do is perfect. It’s all about staying motivated and not letting the grayness of November keep you on the couch.

Come and join me in Move-mber!

[Infographic] 10 Exercise/Health Myths

Exercise Myths

A lot of these myths are things I encounter when talking about fitness with people, especially the cardio and scale points. While I have trouble adhering to some of these things (marathon training kind of flies in the face of limiting oneself to 20 minutes of cardio), I know the reasoning behind it.

How many of these facts are new to you? Would they change how you approach your own workouts?

Everyday Tools to Improve Health

We can’t all dedicate full-time committment to health activities. Realistically, most of us have work schedules that prevent us from gym visits 2-3 times a day with a well-scheduled eating routine. Meetings come up, your boss has a deadline, or there’s a family commitment that falls right when you would normally hit the gym. Has anyone else noticed that most family functions revolve around meals? I’m thinking of you, Thanksgiving!

When I worked in retail and food service, I was on my feet all the time, often for 8 or more hour shifts at a time. I was running around filling orders or stocking shelves. I was at my leanest when I had those active movement jobs. I also learned I could eat what I wanted without gaining weight.

When I got my first office job, that changed. Quite quickly I noticed that the food I would eat was not shedding as fast as it had been. It’s not surprising since my activity level had dropped significantly. Here I am, almost 6 years later, and still working in an office and still looking for ways to make the lack of activity at work impact my health less.

So how do you accomplish that? Most of my changes are not exercises but changes that help with blood flow, stress level, and nutrition. Since all of those tie into overall health, they’re still going to have a positive impact on you.

  1. Take regular walk breaks– My watch beeps every hour on the hour. I set it that way to help me as I can easily lose track of time when working on projects (even still I’m almost always late for lunch). Since it’s already beeping, the logical step was to merge something with that beeping. Enter walk breaks. Statistics show that most static job workers should be taking breaks from computer tasks, and sitting specifically, once every 45 minutes to an hour. These breaks should be no less than 2 minutes in length and, ideally, you are walking or moving around for those two minutes (no standing in one place!).How I approach that is to take a quick 2-minute walk around my floor, or down to the main floor and back, when my watch beep goes off. This helps keep my glutes engaged and awake as well as giving my brain a chance to relax. Don’t forget, our glutes shut down with too much sitting. I speak from experience, waking those muscles back up from hibernation is not fun!
  2. Drink water as a habit– Does anyone else find, especially in the winter, that homes and offices can get very dehydrating? I’m always thirsty in the winter no matter how much water I drink. Keep in mind, often the feelings of hunger is masking thirst. This suggestion breaks down into two parts:
    1. When hungry, drink waterIf you feel the pangs of hunger, try drinking a small-medium cup of cool or cold water. Wait 15-20 minutes and see if that helps with your hunger. The body often mistakes thirst for hunger, resulting in over-eating and dehydration (which can lead to water retention).
    2. Drink when you can – My building at work has no good sources of drinking water. It’s old, the pipes are poorly maintained, and the water fountains don’t work. It’s very easy to become dehydrated at my work as the nearest source of drinking water is 2 buildings over. Luckily for me, the route to the mail room passes no less than 4 newly updated water fountains. To ensure I was getting a solid amount of water each day, I would always bring my work water bottle (I have one for work, one in my car for the gym, one for the gym when not using my car, and 2 for running that I keep at home) with me on my mail route. The other rule with that mail trip is that I always drink a big serving at every water fountain I pass. That’s 4 on the way to the mailroom, 4 on the way back, and a filled water bottle to last me until the next day’s trip.
  3. Take the stairs – Yes, this is an often-mentioned suggestion, but how many of us actually do this? I do, but I have no choice, there are no elevators in my building. This option is not feasible for everyone, so only do this if it doesn’t cause you pain! Two years ago, when I started at the gym, I couldn’t take the stairs at work without finishing out-of-breath and exhausted, but every day I would repeat that until it became less challenging. Then, my trainer told me to take it to the next step. Two stairs at a time! That was a whole new challenge. I treat stairs as the opportunity to work on my lunge form and to engage both my glutes and my hamstrings (weak spots for me). Focus on pushing up, through the heel of the foot in front and contracting with your glute to push through the motion, just as you would a normal lunge.
  4. Spend your lunch outside – I’m guilty of not always doing this step. Sometimes I like to just lock myself inside and catch up on my social networks. It is always refreshing when I do get out for lunch though. Take a quick walk around, or just sit in the sun/shade and forget you’re going to have to return to work in half an hour. The mini mental break will do wonders to cut your stress, which can be a contributing factor to visceral fat (the fat around our abs), and allow your mind to relax. When we focus too hard and too long, we can’t always think through problems as well, so this break allows your mind to recoup some energy to increase post-lunch productivity.
  5. Find outdoor routes around work – The above mail route can be completed through a series of building connections or a more direct route outside. I always choose the outdoor route (even if it means missing 2 of my water stations, in which case I double up on the 2 I do pass). Like the lunch break suggestion, taking a walk outside has a freeing effect on the mind and can really rejuvenate the psyche. This option could be challenging for some work environments, so feel free to adapt this to just going outside and visiting nearby businesses. The

So there you have it, my steps to adding some health-increasing habits to the everyday lifestyle. Remember, you have to adopt any task on a regular basis for a minimum of 2-4 weeks before it becomes a habit and begins to produce results.

Feel free to share more tips and tricks to adding health to a busy lifestyle in the comments!

September 15 – Metabolic Legs

I had a couple of exercise goals this weekend to get back into my workout routine as well as trying to break through my plateau. Plateaus are just depressing and they can really kill any motivation if you let them.

In the hopes of bringing something new and challenging to the table, I opted to try a metabolic workout this weekend. I’m new to metabolic training as a whole, only having done a couple of metabolic workouts before, but the general goal is to do short but strong whole body cardio movements (burpees, weight squats, rowing, sprinting, box/sled pushes, etc.) so that the whole body is engaged. With metabolic workouts, you’re trying to keep a high intensity in your routine, so you should be sweaty with a high heart rate well before the end of a set. If you aren’t, you’re not pushing hard enough.

That’s part of the reason I tend to balk at metabolic workouts. I don’t mind getting sweaty, but when my heart rate increases rapidly or through movements where my arms are engaged (holding weights up during cardio, burpees, etc.), I have a very difficult time breathing. I suffer from a case of exercise-induced asthma which pretty much stops me in my tracks after not too long. I’ll save that discussion for another time, but suffice to say, metabolic workouts are the bane of my asthma where weight or resistance training is not. It took a lot more mentally to push through this workout than it does most just in light of my fear of suffocation or passing out. Yes, you do push yourself as hard as you can, but no one really benefits from passing out, do they? I decided I wouldn’t let my fear of collapsing stop me from trying my hardest.

For breaks, I took 5-10 minutes (usually around 5-8 minutes) between sets for recovery. That’s a long time, but the reality is, recovery is key so that you’re able to complete the next set. With resistance training, 1-2 minutes at most is what you’re looking for between sets, but with a metabolic workout, you would not be in good shape to complete the following set if you did that short a break.

Also, I always made two slow-paced laps around the workout room before stopping for water or sitting down to stretch. It helped to bring my heart rate down, allowing me to breathe consistently again, as well as kept the blood flowing in my legs. If I had sat or laid down right away for a period of time, my legs would have seized up (more than they were already doing) and that would have made any further sets even harder. As much as it feels like you just want to lay down for 5-10 minutes, you have to try to walk it off for the first bit. It really does make a difference.

Metabolic Workout – 4 sets (timed) with 5-10 minute walking breaks between each

Bench Jumps: 20 reps – you want to land as softly as possible on the bench, avoiding a loud ‘slam!’ sound on landing. I often have mental challenges with these due to a fear of tripping or falling off the bench. Putting them at the start really helps to prevent it from psyching me out through the rest of the work out. As always, remember to contract the core (abs) when jumping.
Jumping Lunges: 20 reps – even though you’re doing these in fast succession, remember to get into a full lunge position and land on both feet at the same time. I’m prone to landing one and then the other which can not only put too much weight on one leg and knee, it can throw off your balance. Be sure to avoid leaning forward by keeping a pelvic tilt and a straight back in your lunge position.
Burpees: 20 reps – you have to contract the abs while doing these and that is something with which I still struggle. Unlike the video, I add a jump when coming up each time, for extra leg engagement and cardio. I find the key for getting through these is to pace myself. While I am doing this routine for time, by not going as fast as possible in the start, I have enough energy to get through the full 20 reps. If I went all out at the start, I would maybe get 5 done before I had to stop and catch my breath.
Squats: 20 reps – form is key with squats. Avoid leaning forward or shifting your weight to the front part of your foot. You want your chest to be up and facing forward with your butt back (as if you’re about to sit on a chair). If you’ve done deadlifts before, it’s similar to the form in terms of keeping your butt out behind you with your back up. The goal is to get to at least 90 degrees on your squats every time.
Jumping Squats: 10 reps – form is just as important but you will be coming onto the fore-foot a bit in order to push-off for the jumps. You want to get as close to 90 degrees as possible, still, and don’t let your upper body tilt forward (facing towards the ground).
Box Push: 2 passes @ 45 pounds – a pass is along one whole side of the gym, for me, so the distance can vary if you have a smaller space. When pushing the box or sled, you want to remember to keep the hips down (you don’t want your but high in the air or your back to be curved inward). Remember to push from the glutes and to sprint as hard as you can for both pushes.

When I did these for time, I had negative splits which really encouraged me but I found I almost became too focussed on the time as each set passed. If you have someone who can time you, it may be best to have them record it without telling you so you don’t feel pressured to keep up or beat your previous time. Some might like that pressure, but I found it distracting in the last few sets.

My splits:
Set 1: 5:32.74
Set 2: 5:28.79
Set 3: 5:26.30
Set 4: 5:22.54

[Re-Blog] Women are dying to be thin

I’m always skeptical of infographics since they’re often skewed to support a bias, and while this one is probably no different, I think it raises some good questions about how women perceive their bodies.

Saturday Shake Up: “Chocolate-Covered Strawberries”

So in talking with Vicky (of menubyvicky), we realized that often some of the little things in our routines, things we do to improve the impact of our health regimen or things we’ve learned through experience or research, are often things others may not have come across that could be beneficial to them. This could be anything like knowing about foam rollers for runners or the benefits of some fats over others. There is always going to be something new to learn and share.

With that in mind, and inspired by Vicky’s wonderful suggestion, I’ve decided to share my experiences (and recipes, as simple as they are) with protein shakes. These recipes are very simple and straight forward, but for many who have never made a protein shake before, it may be daunting to figure out solid recipes that you like. It often takes a little trial and error to figure out what your body likes, as well.

When I talk about protein shakes, by the way, I don’t mean the sugar-filled meal replacement drinks you see on the shelves. Even the ‘high protein’ options there have so much sugar (and very little protein) that you might as well blend a chocolate bar and a multi-vitamin together.

I also want to encourage readers and fellow bloggers to send in their own shake recipes or substitutions. I’m always on the look-out for new recipes, especially for ways to incorporate more protein into my routine, and I’ll be looking to post some of your ideas (linking back or crediting to you, whichever you prefer) to share with others. Please send any submissions to me at rapunzels.adventures@gmail.com.

So, for my first Saturday Shake Up post, I’m sharing a recipe I had to improvise in order to use up left-over strawberry protein powder (which I’ve realized I can’t stand on its own).

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries Shakes
Yields: about 2 large glasses

Ingredients

  • 1-2 cups of cold water
  • 1 scoop of chocolate whey protein
  • 1/2 scoop of strawberry whey protein
  • 2-4 frozen strawberries
  • almond milk as preferred

There isn’t a specific order that you must follow in terms of blending the ingredients, but my preferred order goes like this:

  1. Add water (adjust the water to your preference of thinner or thicker shakes)
  2. Add chocolate and strawberry protein powders (ideally, each should be around 25 – 30 grams of protein per full scoop)
  3. Add frozen strawberries
  4. Add almond milk (optional)

If you can’t or don’t want to use the strawberries, use a few ice cubes instead and increase the strawberry protein portion to a full scoop. If your scoops come out to more than 30 grams of protein each, only use half scoops so you’re not wasting protein (as was mentioned in Protein Part 1, we can only absorb around 30 grams at a time) unless you’re splitting the shake with someone or saving half for later. Both are really good options!

You can also sub in more strawberries in lieu of the strawberry protein powder or a couple of small pieces of dark chocolate in lieu of the chocolate protein powder. Please don’t substitute both though since the goal is to get some protein in this shake. If you can’t do almond milk, use 2% instead of skim as skim often has more sugar (aka carbs) than 2%. Start off with a little almond milk, if you’ve never had it, so it doesn’t overwhelm your shake. It can take a couple of uses to grow accustomed to almond milk, but it’s much better in shakes than on its own.

Well there you go! Our first Saturday Shake Up! Feel free to let me know in the comments what you thought of it and if you have a recipe you’d like to share, shoot me an e-mail.

Protein Part One: Why and How Much?

I’ve been talking with a lot of fellow runners and fitness pursuers lately about food and diet changes. It has had me thinking more about the common misconceptions out there about ‘healthy’ eating. I was speaking with one friend about little changes in what she consumes and when I mentioned increasing protein, I could see her immediately react with nervousness and she said something that has stuck with me for a while: “I’m not going to be training to be a runner.”

It’s probably because I have been so immersed in learning about the various macronutrients out there that her comment struck me as bizarre. I didn’t realize, until then, that some people don’t really know what certain macronutrients do and how they work into the different fitness routines.

Protein is good for everyone. Period. It has more effect for those who actively do some sort of resistance/weight training, less so in terms of cardio. So let’s look at protein more closely. This will probably be broken into a few segments since there’s a lot of information.

Why Do We Need Protein?

Like with the various fat discussions, the basic answer to why protein is good for us comes down to the composition of protein. It is made of various amino acid chains. Amino acids are the foundation and bricks of muscle. You can’t build or maintain muscle without protein. Amino acids also regulate hormones, enzymes, and immune chemicals. Normally, we can make 12 of the various amino acids internally. The other 8, considered essential amino acids, we have to get from outside sources.

Healthy fats (like Omega-3), including, unfortunately, unhealthy fats, and protein encourage the body to feel full which in turn helps decrease cravings and overall caloric intake. As well, protein has the highest thermic effect of all macronutrients. What that means while we burn energy (ie. calories) to process what we eat, protein takes the most energy and therefore we burn more caloric fuel to process protein than we do carbohydrates or fats.

Carbohydrates can have strong effects on insulin and blood sugar, but when consumed with sufficient amounts of protein, the effect is significantly decreased.

How Much Protein Should We Have?

Currently, the daily recommendation for sedentary individuals, to maintain day-to-day functions, is around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight or 0.5 grams per pound of body weight. The amount increases to 1.4-2 grams per kilogram of ‘desired’ body weight for active people going as high as 1 gram per pound of ‘desired’ body weight.

I would use caution when looking at ‘desired’ body weight, though. If all that matters is the number on the scale, the above works against you. For example, if I’m 160 pounds and my desired body weight is 130 pounds, by limiting my protein intake to only 130 grams of protein a day, I will drop weight, but that weight will come partially from my muscles. Your body will use muscle tissue as fuel, if need be, and by not feeding your muscles the ‘bricks’ it needs to keep itself building up, then they will become smaller. As muscle weighs more than fat, this effect will result in a lower scale weight.

A better rule to live by, for active individuals, is about 20-30 grams per meal for women and 30-40 grams per meal for men. Overall, 30% of your food on a given day should be protein. The normal maximum amount that can be absorbed at one time on average is about 30-40 grams. This varies based on the overall available muscle mass.

It’s better to have excess protein rather than excess carbohydrates. Carbohydrates convert into glycogen to fuel the muscles during any high intensity activity. If the glycogen is not used within a short time span, it is then stored for later use as fat.

As we know above, protein takes more calories/energy to process and this is partially because protein goes through many more phases before going to storage (if it goes there at all). Any extra protein in the system is first converted to glycogen as fuel for muscles. Any extra is then changed again and used to build up lean muscle mass to a finite amount (varying based on muscle size, so less so for women). After that, it is converted back into glycogen and stored in the muscle as fuel if it is not used right away. It is only after that point, that is could potentially be stored as fat. Keep in mind each step in this process requires converting the protein which in turn burns calories.

In comparing protein to carbohyrdates in terms of processing, it’s easy to see that overloading on carbs can quickly lead to fat store build up. There is 1 step in the conversion process. With protein, there is 4-5 steps that it goes through before it could potentially enter the fat stores of the body. Protein, in addition to going to the muscles first and staying longer, takes 4-5 times more energy to process so it burns way more calories on the way which in turn creates more places for the protein fuel to go before becoming fat.

Is it possible to have too much of protein? Yes, probably it is. It’s possible to have too much of anything, really. The key thing here though is that the limit of ‘too much’ in terms of protein is extremely high and much harder to reach than the limit of carbohydrates or fats. The average person would be very hard pressed to hit that limit without intense over-supplementation. Hitting the carbohydrate limit is easy and the majority of us do it ever day, especially when we fail to combine carbohydrate consumption with high intensity interval training of some kind (not steady-state cardio).

In part two, I’ll tackle the various sources of protein, the traps of ‘high protein’ labels, and ways to increase protein in your daily meals.

Also, keep an eye out this weekend for the start-up of my (protein) shake series!

Trans Fat: The Evil Fat

This post is going to be pretty short since the information sums up really well: Don’t consume trans fat.

Don’t worry, that wasn’t the entire post, but if you only take one thing away today from my post, that should be the one.

What is Trans Fat?

Trans fat is a highly processed, hydrogenated version of unstaturated fat. It’s man-made to increase shelf-life and to add taste to foods and other consumable products. It is not found naturally unlike saturated and unsaturated fats. This means our body wasn’t meant to process it and that consuming it forces our body to attempt to break down a foreign substance. Trans fats also pack very densely into our storage cells, allowing our body to store more of it.

Trans fat is known to increase the risks of:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic diseases
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Lymphoma
  • Alzheimer’s

Because trans fat is a fat, it competes with other fats for the fat receptors in the body. This is an issue for two reasons. When trans fat attaches to a fat receptor, our body is taking it in, but that also means one less receptor for our body to take in the good fats like Omega-3.

In my post about Omega-3 and Omega-6, I wrote about the competition between the two fats and trying to add more balance, aiming towards a ratio of 4-1:1 of Omega-3 to Omega-6. That is because you have a finite number of fat receptors and they will take what is there. Increasing the amount of Omega-3 increases the chances of more Omega-3 in your system and, by proxy, reducing the amount of Omega-6 in your system.

The same works with trans fat versus Omega-3. The more trans fat attached to receptors, the less receptors for your Omega-3 intake. Since Omega-3 is linked to increases in HDL (good cholesterol) and decreases in LDL (bad cholesterol), this competition with trans fat also has a negative effect on your cholesterol levels. Trans fat lowers HDL, significantly. A single meal high in trans fat can contribute to the progression of heart disease. There is no ‘consume in moderation’ when it comes to trans fat.

Sources of Trans Fat

Trans fat (and it’s evil partner high fructose corn syrup) can be found in many various items:

  • Margarine
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Shortening, including any pre-packaged baked goods such as:
    • Crackers
    • Cookies
    • Doughnuts
    • Cakes
    • Pastries
    • Muffins
    • Croissants
    • Snack foods
    • Fried foods (french fries and breaded foods)

On the topic of that last note, frying in ‘trans fat free’ oil is bull. Period. Food items, including oil, change properties when heated or cooled, especially at extreme temperatures. Heating and maintaining oils to the temperatures needed to fry a food item, changes the oil’s structure so that it, essentially, becomes a trans fat.  I think it’s great that fast food places want to move towards healthier offerings, but realistically, that isn’t going to happen while food is prepared in giant vats of oil.

It can be hard to pass up the convenience of fast food, and I will be the first to admit I have a weakness for McDonald’s sausage and egg mcmuffins, as bad as they are for me, but there is no middle ground with trans fat. Every little bit does hurt you, and there is no way to balance it out health-wise.

Race Report – Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon, June 3, 2012

2012 Inaugural Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon Medal

I just got back into town after running the Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon this morning. Before I get to the race report though, I had share the overall punchline from my experiences both here and at the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half Marathon last month.

The Toronto race has been around for 30 or so years. The race I ran this morning was the first time for this one. As most racers will tell you, inaugural races can have kinks, hiccups, and issues that need to get worked out and often have changes after the first time through. What would I change? Nothing. Nothing that the race organizers can control would have made this race better for me. This race was run so smoothly, you’d have never known it was inaugural. Goodlife last month was so mismanaged and poorly thought out it could have been the first time it was run (and, in my opinion, should be the last time the organizers are allowed to organize anything). Night and day, these two races were at opposite ends of the spectrum of experience and this one out-shone in every category. Now, having cleared my brain, here is my full race report:

Race Report – Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon June 3, 2012

Niagara Falls

Canada’s side of Niagara Falls

Pre-Race: Packet pick-up was at the Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Ontario on Friday and Saturday. We arrived around 3:00 pm on Saturday, 3 hours before the pick-up was to close. The parking was free and the building was easy to locate. We had no trouble finding it from out of town and finding a spot. A greeter at the door of the resort asked us if we were here for the race, even though I had nothing on identifying me as a racer. She was very helpful in telling us where to go. Very well-informed!

When I got to the packet pick-up, it was a rather small set-up compared to a lot of races I’ve been to, but it wasn’t supposed to be an expo, so that was fine with me. The layout was perfect. As you progressed through the room, first there was a list with names and bib numbers. They weren’t sent out beforehand so everyone would need that information. Then came the bib distribution lines, which were organized by number and they had arranged safety pins in sets of 4. They looked like they had tons of extras, as well. A great sign given how close to the end of the pick-up we were. Then came tag activation and the goody bags. The team seemed to have many shirts available still, as well, so I was able to get a shirt in my size without any hassle. The bottle of wine was last and representatives from Chateau du Charmes explained a little about the product. I also got a time band from the Running Room representatives.

The goody bag contained flyers for other races as well as:

  • 1 bottle of Chateau du Charmes wine and 2-for-1 voucher for Chateau due Charmes wine-tasting.
  • 1 regular-sized bottle of 2-in-1 Finesse shampoo/conditioner
  • 24 press-on toenails (to cover your black runner’s toenails)
  • 2 bamboo make-up compacts
  • nail clippers
  • pack of teeth cleaners/flossers
  • 2-for-1 admission to Clifton Hill attractions
  • 40$ gift certificate for the Skylon Tower rotating restaurant
  • 10$ off a Shock Absorber bra from the Running Room
  • package of Werther’s Original
  • package of Campino candies
  • gift certificates for activities at Great Wolf Lodge, like mini golf
  • personalized tracker bib
  • pink, reusable bag with race logo
  • Brooks athletic t-shirt with race logo (really comfy!)

    Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon Swag Bag

    The contents of the awesome goody/swag bag for the race.

As a racer would exit, a gentleman was at the door with maps of Niagara Falls, which highlighted points of interest in the city. He would ask each racer where she was staying, and proceed to draw on the map the best directions from their specific hotel to the parking/race start line. He also advised us on which roads would be closed for the race. This is something I didn’t need, as I had looked into it already, but it was great of the organizers to think of out-of-towners!

Race Day: Since I wasn’t relying on a shuttle that may or may not have room for me, I was able to set my alarms/wake up calls for a much later, 6:00 am wake-up time. It was heaven! I had followed the weather reports closely to see that it was still set to rain this morning, up to a 50% chance of precipitation, so I put away my sunscreen and got out the running pants in place of my normal skirt. Since I had planned time into my prep for sunscreen, I was able to snuggle back under my covers for a bit to warm up before going out.

I drove to the parking lot for the race, which was a first for me. Usually, I rely on race shuttles for fear of nerves making me a terrible driver. Although I had registered for this race back in January, I hadn’t really decided to run it until yesterday due to many issues, mostly my knee injury, so the nerves hadn’t had a chance to set in. The drive and parking were both a breeze. The hotel valet brought the car up at 7:10 and I was parked at the race by 7:30. I stayed in the car for a bit, sorting out how I would carry all I wanted to carry without my handy running skirt pocket.

The race MC

Francis, the MC/bride, and her new husband.

The start area was still pretty bare just before 8:00 (start time) but I had fun listening to the MC, Francis, talk about her wedding. She had been married just last night and she was announcing the event in her wedding dress while her groom, in his tux, was on stage with her.

Start Wine

The Start “Wine” of the race.

We shuffled into the Start “Wine” area about 10 minutes before 8:00 am. Then something else happened that I had hoped for (but was disappointed) at the Toronto Half Marathon, they preformed our national anthem. A young lady from British Columbia sang it beautifully and a spectator’s husky near me was howling along. It made me proud to be there. They don’t play it in the U.S. races I do, obviously, so I was disappointed that my first Canadian race had failed to do it.

The racers were then split alongside each side of the corral while a drumming group from the local school marched down the middle. The race official start was delayed by 15 minutes as organizers wanted to give the racers still trying to park a chance to get to the start. Two racers behind me (Sour Puss A & B as I called them) were complaining about having to wait and how they shouldn’t be punished for other people’s mistakes. They also were ranting about the race organization, the MC, and pretty much everything else. I’ve never heard any racer so negative over things that have little consequence. This wasn’t an elite competition and they were stacked well behind the 2:15 pace bunny, so I don’t think 15 minutes of standing was going to kill them. I, on the other hand, was very happy to see that the organizers were waiting. I thought that was very considerate of them and demonstrated that they cared about their racers, all of them, and not just the elite runners.

The race course was an out-and-back style of racing following only a couple of roads the whole way. It was a good and bad thing because on the way back, you knew the terrain as well as the distance, but the downside is you get to see all the runners ahead of you, including the pace bunny you had lofty hopes of following. It does allow you to cheer for runners ahead and behind you which I thoroughly enjoyed doing as I’m an avid shouter/cheerer.

Course map

The course map

After the runners pass the turn off for the start area, the course is almost entirely flat. There is 1 bridge, with a Tim Hortons, but otherwise, it felt and looked flat. The first 5 kilometres or so was not so much, but it was over fast enough and it had the scenic Niagara Falls to distract you.

Niagara Falls skyline

The Niagara Falls skyline.

Once on the flat part, I encountered the two issues I had with this specific race, unrelated to my form, energy, or health issues: strong, constant headwind and bugs. The entirety of the last 14 kilometres of the course runs alongside the water, right at the edge essentially. The flat open surface allowed to strong headwinds both directions making it harder to push through near the end. The moisture also encouraged bugs and there were plenty of those. I’m a huge scaredy-cat when it comes to bugs of any kind so this was definitely also working against me.

Physically, I ran into only some minor issues, and most of that related to my calf seizing up again (as it did in Toronto last month). I’ve narrowed it down to water, or lack thereof, being the main issue. I ran out, to be blunt, and while the water stations were available, my body can’t handle Niagara tap water, so I had to make do with what I had.

Luckily, I had something even more awesome than water to save me in the last kilometres of the race: TIMBITS! We passed them going out but they were a life-saver on the way back. I was watching the horizon for when we’d cross the bridge since I knew they were waiting there for me, calling out to me. That got me to around mark 18/19 when the light rain started up. Then the mantra became: “Rain won’t stop me, I’m running the Mickey!” That got me the rest of the way to the Finish “Wine”. It made me laugh more running to it than leaving it.

Finish Wine

The Finish Wine of the race.

Post-Race: The finish area was well laid out with the chute continuing for a bit through the medal area and then around in a U-turn to the recovery chute.

First came the Aquafina water bottles (not cups!) handed out to everyone who passed through. After that was the tent that normally has food items for racers. This is another spot where the organizers shone even compared to RunDisney!

All the food goodies (apple, orange, banana, and, packaged in their own bag, 2 Tim Horton’s chocolate chip chookies) were packed inside one easily carried take-out box the style of a timbits box. Inside, the goodies were arranged in pink tissue paper. At the end of the food goody tent, racers were given a small carton of chocolate milk.

Honestly, why can’t all races have a box for my items. I’m usually walking around carrying all this stuff in my arms while trying to get photos with my medal and friends or family. This made things so much easier that I’m surprised I haven’t seen it done before!

After-race food

The food and drink items given out at the Finish ‘Wine’.
Inlay: Contents of the food box pictured in the top left.

The parking was not the nightmare I thought it would be at the end of the race, either. I was done and on my way in minutes. The route to the parking was very simple from most hotels and even a blind out-of-towner like myself would have been hard pressed to get lost. Not relying on shuttles (or having your shuttle get stuck in traffic and leave you in the middle of an unfamiliar city, ala Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half Marathon) was a blessing. I was able to get back to the hotel and up to my room before I had even found my shuttle last time. This allowed me to shower and clean up before heading to IHOP for breakfast and then checking out. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed driving to the race and having access to a car for my ride back. No losing anything on a bus or having to wait in a long line with sore legs. I was in the shower and cleaned up before many of my fellow racers were even back to the hotel.

2012 Inaugural Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon Medal

2012 Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon Medal
Inlay: Close-up of medal detailing

Summary: Even though the weather was supposed to be bad, it held out and the climate was perfect for running. No sun to overheat us, wind to keep us refreshed, and lovely scenery made the course a dream even for a recovering, under-trained racer like me. I hit a personal best on this course, on top of it all too! My chip time was 2:20:30, just over 2 minutes and 30 seconds faster than my previous best, and over 8 minutes faster than the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half Marathon. I would recommend this race to anyone. It was a great time and I loved it!

Saturated Fat: The Mid-Way Fat

Apologies for the mini-hiatus. Injuries, work, life in general conspired against me. Things are more or less under control again so back to the posting!

Recently, I suffered a set-back in my running training. In particular, I injured my knee (with a leg press machine no less!) and I have been working on recovery for it given I have a half marathon coming up this weekend. The decision of going is still up in the air at this point.

So how is this all related to the post today? Well, one of the things I’ve been doing to help my joints recover and strengthen is focussing on my Omega-3 intake. The average person should be getting 3 grams a day. Runners, athletes, and active people who work their joints more frequently should be getting three times that. So as I gulped down my 2 tablespoons of Omega-3 oil, I remembered that I had promised to discuss the other siblings in the Fat family.

Thus, here we are! Saturated fats. I’ll be blunt here: saturated fats, while not the worst fat sibling, are really not your best friend when compared to the golden child, unsaturated. That being said, saturated fats are not nearly as unhealthy as previously thought and certainly do not compare to trans fats on the unhealthy scale. You can have saturated fats in your diet and still call it healthy. Tran fats serve no nutritional value and any trans fat added to a diet pretty much drags it down into the non-healthy spectrum. We’ll leave trans fat alone today, though, since it’s saturated fat’s turn in the spotlight!

Saturated Fat

The first thing we’re probably all asking is, “What really makes saturated fat different from unsaturated?” And no, the answer isn’t as simple as the ‘un’ in front since that really doesn’t help those of us who flunked science (and even those of us who didn’t).

When we talked about unsaturated fats, we looked at their form at the molecular level. Unsaturated fats are better because they break down easily due to a kink/weakness in their form that allows for easier processing and absorption. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature due to this ‘kink’. Saturated fats don’t have this kink in their form. They’re more sturdy and that makes them more compact. An example of this is in the room temperature scenario above. Where unsaturated fats are liquid or viscous, saturated fats remaind solid. That’s why natural nut butters, like peanut butter, need to be refridgerated to keep their form, and tend to separate in room temperature settings. The normal jar of Skippy, Kraft, or Jif can sit in your cupboard and not change. Most of these brands have started to make ‘natural’ or Omega-3 versions of their recipes but the price is often quite more for less product. It’s worth it, if you must have peanut butter, since the ‘more product’ aspect of the cupboard versions, is really not going to add healthy value to your diet. Adding more of something that is less healthy for you doesn’t provide much of a bonus.

Why is Saturated Fat Suddenly ‘Healthy’?

Well, it’s not, really. It’s just less unhealthy than previously thought, and often the rest of the diet affects the health value as well. The main issues associated with excessive saturated fat intake, like increased body fat, cardiovascular disease, and blood lipid issues, are often present when saturated fat is joined with a diet that is high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and when the intake of saturated and unsaturated fats is not balanced.

The key here is to avoid combining low unsaturated fat intake with high saturated fat intake, high sugar, and refined carbohydrates. The best solution, in my opinion, is to cut the carbs and sugar, and increase the Omega-3s. If you’re not sold on the benefits of Omega-3 and unsaturated fats, check out the post I linked earlier. Fat can be your friend!

The Side-Effects of Too Much Saturated Fat

Diets that have too much unsaturated fat are linked to heart disease. This is linked to the increase in LDL cholesterol (which Omega-3 helps control and lower). Along with heart disease, unbalanced or high levels saturarated fat diets are associated with:

  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Breast cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Prostate cancer
  • Mutliple sclerosis

Sources of Saturated Fat

So we know we want to avoid excess saturated fat, keeping it in check with our unsaturated best friend, Omega-3, but to do that, we need to know from where we get our saturated fat.

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Coconut oil
  • Butter
  • Palm oil
  • Beef

Just because something is a source of saturated fat, does not mean we should avoid it and it is bad for us. We know coconut oil is good for us as is beef, both in moderation. The stearic acid in things like beef, lowers LDL (bad cholesterol). Lauric acid (found in coconut oil) increases HDL (good cholesterol, also in Omega-3) as well as boosting the immune system.

Coconut oil is also a good oil for cooking as it doesn’t break down like most oils do when heated. Oils that break down while cooking change their structures, often becoming trans fats even if they did not start that way, losing most of their health benefits. Interally, coconut oil is processed by the body differently, being used as energy first, unlike most other oils. Often, when coconut oil has been linked to negative effects on the body, it was refined/processed coconut oil that was used.

Beef that is fed grain has higher levels of saturated fat than beef that is fed grass. It is also shown that grain-fed beef has higher levels of Omega-6 (which we already get in excess) than grass-fed beef.

Hopefully, the above helps show that not all saturated fats are equal and there are ways to keep your fat ratio balanced. Saturated fats may not be your friend, but they’re definitely better than trans fats, which I’ll tackle next time.