Thursday, March 24, 2016

Apps for Weight Loss

I mentioned in my previous post that I'm about halfway through my goal of losing 15 lbs. This is not exactly my first time needing to lose weight. Let's face it - if you're human, chances are there's been at least one moment in your life where you needed to go on a quest of self-improvement. Luckily, it's just 15 lbs. this time around, and not the 130 lbs. I had to lose once before. The thing is, that although I am seeing success, in some ways this has been much harder than that 130 lb. weight loss journey. Since 15 lbs. is something I think more can relate to, a more common struggle than the 130 lb. struggle, I thought it a good idea to share some tips on what's been working for me.

When I had 130 lbs. to lose, the hardest part about losing the weight was all in my mind and soul. It was more about being ready to do it, to be willing to take on a challenge, to be unafraid of the outcome. Once I realized I had to do it and do it for real, I was able to take the bull by the horns. The actual doing it wasn't hard to figure out, when we think of the math and science behind it. If we remove all emotion and just look at the numbers....It's simple calories in vs calories out.

I often had people say that they have 10lbs to lose and were finding it very difficult - they couldn't understand how I could be successful in losing so much. The thing is, the less you have to lose, the harder it is to do so in many ways, because your caloric need isn't very high to begin with. I had lots of calories to work with so I didn't have to work as hard to trim down. I had an advantage over the average person looking to lose the 10lbs. Let me illustrate it further.

When I was a 28 year old woman, weighing in at almost 290lbs., I would burn over 2000 calories a day just living and breathing, even if I were to lay in bed all day. Once I got over myself and started to do the math and science, adding in activity to burn more calories, the amount of calories I could eat to have a deficit each day was still pretty generous. I did nothing to track it because it was simple science; if I didn't eat crap most of the time, I would lose weight.

But now, as an almost 36 year old woman ( I'm older!) who weighs a lot less (so I'm smaller too), my BMR is much less. I only have 1500 or so calories a day to work with. What complicates this is that I'm already really active, but how do I know how many calories that entitles me to in addition to my BMR? And I already eat healthy, most of the time, so cutting the crap out of the diet isn't the fix this time. I guess I'd been having too much of the good stuff. How do I know how much to cut? Or what to cut? Then there are all the factors that impact metabolism. Oh, and when you lose a few pounds, the math changes again. You think you have it figured out, but now you weigh less so you burn less with every activity. Unfortunately, the food doesn't change their calorie levels to balance it out.

We all have a tendency to overestimate how much we burn when we exercise. We also tend to underestimate the number of calories there are in food. We think, I ran, therefore I can eat all the food I want. But you can't outrun bad nutritional choices. You can easily negate the calorie burn of a workout with one bad choice.

So, because it's now suddenly complicated, I decided to seek help. When I worked at the gym, we got our clients to use an online platform for tracking. Unfortunately, the platform we used was not user-friendly and it turned me off of the idea of using an app. But I had heard people talk about the success of using an app of sorts so I didn't fully disregard the suggestion. An app can helps you make sense of the math, but also to hold yourself honest and accountable to your plan. After some research about a month ago (only some research, I didn't go on an extended search), I settled on an app that has proven to be easy to use and has worked well for me so far. I thought it worthwhile to share more here on this blog after I told a friend about it today - I realized I had a lot to say. The app is called Cronometer and no, they didn't ask me to write about them. This is my unbiased opinion. There very well could be something much better than what I've found, but it's working well for me so far.

Some of what I like about the app is that there's an desktop platform and also a smart phone version. The phone version cost me about $3 to download, but it was a worthwhile spend as it means I can track on the go as well. The app does all the math for me, updates my calorie allowance and burn from activity when I log a weight change, it generates reports on my progress, it knows all kinds of common and uncommon foods already so I don't have to add custom foods often, it remembers what I regularly eat and suggests (it knows I don't skip my morning coffee!), and I can add custom recipes that include all the ingredients for recipes I prepare at home and it generates the nutritional content of the recipe. It also goes beyond the basic macronutrient counting of carbs, fats, and proteins and tracks the micronutrients too. This is helpful for me as I've been iron deficient before. And you can also set your own targets for if you want to lose, maintain, or gain weight, but also targets for your macros that match your goals. So it doesn't shout at me about having a high carb ratio as a runner.

This isn't meant to be a review of the app I use, but rather, I thought I could offer a couple tips for using this app, or any other calorie tracking app you wish to use.
  1. Don't double-count them calories!
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is what you would burn even if you were to lay in bed all day, just so your body can maintain it's normal functioning. The question is how to account for the other stuff you do in your day that burns calories? My answer = make a choice - but don't double-count! Here are the choices:
    • Choice 1 -  Set your BMR as if you are sedentary so your allowance is just your basic BMR based on your age, sex, height, and weight. Then add all your activity yourself, add in your workouts and other higher-calorie-burning activities. To calculate your BMR, there are a gazillion calculators online to help you with this. Cronometer has one built in.
    • Choice 2 - There is also the option of using the Harris Benedict Equation which multiplies your BMR by an activity factor, based on how active you are. It then gives you an additional calorie allowance per day based on an assumed average. Do not add workouts on top of this - the equation is meant to offer an average of what you'd burn in a week and therefore what you can consume. If you set up your BMR including an activity factor, you can't double-count by also adding in this morning's run. Nice try! Again, lots of online calculators to help you know your activity factor, but Cronometer has it built in, if you choose to use it.
What works for me?
    • I go with option #1. It's a bit more work to log each workout, but I wanted to be more accurate with my tracking. The other thing is that when I do a big workout, I tend to be a bit hungrier that day and naturally I will eat a little more that day as a result. For example, when I do a long run, there are additional consumed calories with energy gels, post-workout protein, etc., and I may even eat a whole extra meal. It adds up to a bunch more calories. I don't want to feel bad for wanting more food that day than on a rest day because, well, I shouldn't feel bad. If I base my daily allowance on a weekly average, I will be "overeating" on those days.  But on that long run, I burned over a 1000 calories so it's more than OK. 
    • This same approach keeps me honest and on track on those days I am not active at all. If I am hungry in the evening and the app says I have almost reached my allowance for the day, I will have a controlled portion of say a bit of fruit or veg even though I might be craving something larger. Or if I really want a treat, I have to make sure to do something additional that's active like go for an evening brisk walk.
2. Plan for success and log your food and activity ahead of time!
I love love love this feature of Cronometer and it's something I recommend doing. Yes, you can log tomorrow before tomorrow happens. This comes in handy when you have meal planned in advance, know exactly what you're having the next day for one or more meals, or have your workout pre-planned. It saves time, logging everything daily, and then you know you're setting yourself up for success in your planning. I'll give you some examples:

I have been having smoothies for breakfast and have already logged my common recipes. I have leftovers of a big bowl salad I made today that I can have for lunch tomorrow. Again, the recipe is already logged. But now my friends have invited me out for a drink tomorrow. How do I not go over my limit once I factor in dinner too? I go into tomorrow's page, log the smoothie, log the salad, and log the beer that I am excited to indulge on with my friends! I have not had any of these things yet as tomorrow hasn't happened, but now I see what I have left to work with for deciding on my dinner. Or perhaps it offers insight into what I should aim to burn a bit in my workout, so it might alter my plan slightly now. Make sense?

Another example, I log all the things I want to take with me for snacks and meals for a work day, so I can see if I'm packing too much. I do this because let's face it, if it's in my lunchbag, I will eat it. It won't go back home with me. If in the process of logging it, I see that I've gone over what I should, I don't pack it. And in the case of me not eating something I thought I might, or not finishing it, I can simply delete it or edit the portion size later to match reality.

3. Always be conservative with your estimates

Maybe it's that I don't fully trust an app to know me and the machine my body is, or how it works? Maybe I don't trust myself to know my elementary school math with complete accuracy when it comes to basic units of measure. Or it's just because of my assumption that I mentioned above that we all have a tendency to overestimate how much we burn when we exercise and that we also tend to underestimate the number of calories there are in food. So if I ran for 45 minutes, I might log it as 40 minutes. Or if I am logging what I ate and I think I ate about a cup of something, I might log it as a cup and a half, because chances are, I am eyeballing it wrong, and I didn't use a measuring cup or scale to know for sure. I round up my calories in and round down my calories out.

I could go on and on, but I will stop here. If you read this and have additional questions, let me know. I would be happy to give you my two cents.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

11 days 'til the Fools

Well, we're almost there! The BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run is only 11 days away. I suppose I'm about as ready as one can be now. Nothing I can do now will change that anyway, except for rest. Rest is the best. Yayyyyyy, rest! I will still be running, but nothing far or crazy.

My last two weeks since my last post have been eventful. Like I mentioned, I felt really good after my 18km run at that time, and was looking forward to a recovery weekend for the St. Patty's 5K on March 12th -- a fun run at Stanley Park I was planning to run with my sister-in-law, Michele. But of course, something had to happen....the day before the St. Patty's my hip went out on me. It wasn't terrible, relative to when I've injured it bad, but it was a familiar first sign of trouble. I wasn't even doing anything stupid - I was simply sorting out my green attire to find the best costume for the event, felt a little pop, and couldn't stand straight....uh oh! How silly that I can run 18km and not feel any discomfort, but I can't leaf through a drawer to find green socks. I guess I bent somewhat awkwardly at some point - I don't know. What I do know is perhaps I didn't stretch as well as I should have after some of my workouts that week leading up to the incident. It feels fine at the time, but these little adhesions that seem negligible can add up to a world of pain if I don't work them out daily. I should have known better.

I called my chiropractor and thankfully, he was able to fit me in for a last minute appointment that same day. He knows me well and agreed that I was out but not the worst he's seen of me. He advised me that running the next day was not out of the question, if I make sure to go slow, warm up adequately, and spend time foam rolling, especially my silly, always-tight, glute meds. It's always good to have health providers who don't tell you you can't do what you love, but who know you're going to do it anyway. Find one who is also active and passionate about their own sport so they understand your drive and stubbornness. They know it's best to simply advise how you can do your sport safely. This way when they actually do say "don't do it", you know you have to heed their advice. But for this particular event, not running was not an option.

So I followed the advise closely....kinda. I spent much of the evening foam rolling and working out the kinks. The plan was to get to the race start nice and early so there'd be time for an adequate warm-up. I even brought my stick so I could work out any kinks that built up from the drive over. But let's just say we were delayed leaving home, delayed getting there, and then we didn't get to the park as early as we needed to avoid the pre-race road closures that were in effect. Long story short, we had to find somewhere to park downtown and run to the race. After some circling around to find a spot downtown, we ended up parking about a mile from the start line, and the race was starting any second. So the "warmup" that was intended to be easy and gradual ended up being full-on running immediately after we got out of the car. It did not feel good at first at all because I was very stiff from the drive, but thankfully, I loosened up eventually.

When we got to the startline, we were certainly adequately warmed up and I had little sign of hip discomfort (or I managed to ignore it). The race had started about 5 or 6 minutes ago, but they hadn't removed the timing plate - just the banners etc. The race organizers were a bit surprised to see us, but I just smiled, waved and yelled out to them,  "Hey, better late than never, right!" Luckily, we were able to join the event, and we didn't have to deal with crowds at all, because we were far away behind the whole crowd! We missed seeing the expanse of green costumes waiting to go, missed the fancy lead car etc. We didn't even get a chance to take a selfie before the race! But we made sure to take one on our first walk break.

Everything worked out OK in the end as we had all kinds of space to run. After a few minutes we caught up to the back of the pack and passed through. We spent the whole event passing people, so that was a great opportunity to see costumes and cheer people on; we got right in with the crowd so you'd never guess we were late. When we ran, it was at a decent pace. But we chose to walk up some of the uphill sections. Even though my hip felt good, I didn't want to push my luck. Even if I had the luck of the Irish on my side, the event was just about fun and it would be silly to do anything that could cause further injury so close to my big event. In the end, it added up to a finish time of about 34.5 minutes, which isn't too shabby considering how much we walked. But of course our gun time was quite a bit more. :) Our arrival to the finish line was right on time to be in the middle of the party. We certainly enjoyed all the festivities at the Stanley Park Pavilion. Pretty sure this event will be an annual tradition for us sisters!

Since the St. Patty's 5K, I've felt pretty good. I continue to foam roll every day and make sure I don't skimp on the stretching, even after short or easy workouts. The little hip incident is just a friendly reminder from my body, asking me not to neglect it, or to act like it's perfect and not in need of daily TLC. 

It did take some of my confidence away when I was tackling my 20km on Monday this week though. This would be my last long run before the half marathon and I was worried I wouldn't fare that well. I thought I would be stiff after and my hips would hate me. I was feeding myself with negative self-talk. Despite the worry and negativity, I put it aside and went out and did it. I even took on a pretty challenging route that would be uphill much of the second half. Fortunately, everything went smoothly! I mean look at me - don't I look happy? Note that this photo was taken at the lowest elevation point on my run, so after I had been running down some hills and hadn't started my ascent back up again...

So I'm as ready as I can be now. I am certain that I will finish strong, although I won't finish within a time even close to previous finish times. I will be lucky if I can finish in 2.5 hours. I don't care though. I'm going to do this, I will have fun and take pride in simply finishing and in being back to running distances again. Speed is relative, and it will come back if I want to try at it again. I am so happy just to be back again and to not be in pain. I had a scare, but so far my goal of an injury-free 2016 is working out well. Touch wood.

In other news, I have lost 7lbs in the last 4 weeks. I alluded to this quietly in my last post, but now that I am seeing results, I am happy to share a bit more. In 2015, due to workplace stress, I couldn't live the healthy lifestyle I am accustomed to. You know me to not be an excuse-maker, but it was hard as heck. I put on about 15lbs rather quickly and was ashamed considering how many think of me as a weight loss success. It was my first weight gained in almost 10 years. Once I switched careers in October 2015, it was easy to make some healthy changes to my life to eat healthier and get active again. I lost a little weight then, but only recently did I start taking it to the next level of actually trying to lose weight. I have a little bit of work to do yet, but I'm almost there and already feeling awesome and almost like myself again. My clothes fit like they should again.

Being lighter will make running easier again eventually (and I'll naturally be a bit faster with less of me to carry around), but in the process right now, actively losing weight is making running a bit harder. I assume it's because I don't have the same level of glycogen stores. Or so I think that's the reason anyway. I am not actively cutting carbs - still keeping my ratio high like I should as a runner, but overall, I am cutting calories, and being selective on the sources of those carbs. I find I bonk a bit earlier in my runs these days than when I normally would when training and simply trying to maintain my weight and eating what is optimal for performance. Once I bonk, my pace slows even more. Oh well, I will be there soon and being naturally faster will be me again. Or so I hope! For now, I just won't look at my watch except to see how far I've gone.

In the next 11 days before the half marathon, I will run, but nothing over 10km. Gym workouts will be all about mobility and easy recovery cardio, rather than anything strenuous or that would cause muscle fatigue. And I'm just going to keep being awesome, focusing on proper nutrition, positive self-talk, and getting plenty of sleep. I have one more hip adjustment scheduled for a few days before the event, and I should be good to go!

Thank you for following my journey

<3 Zahida

Monday, March 7, 2016

The April Fools Run!

One thing that pleases me a lot is when I talk about the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run and I get a positive reaction, followed by "Hey Zahida, I just registered!" This event is just awesome. What a lot of Vancouverites who hear about it might not realize though is that you can make it a day trip. Being an out-of-towner race doesn't mean a full weekend or bank account commitment. You can take the ferry in on the morning of and ferry back later the same day after your race (I suggest after a yummy brunch and shopping!). If your cost-conscious like me, you'll like knowing you only have to pay the ferry on the way there to the Sunshine Coast (it's considered a round trip fare), and if you walk on the ferry, you continue to save, and you'll be greeted with shuttle buses to the start line. You really don't even need your car! But if you want an excuse for a weekend getaway, this is one seriously beautiful part of BC and making a weekend out of the event is something I highly recommend.

The convenience factor, low-cost travel, low-cost race entry, and the excuse to visit the beautiful Sunshine Coast are just some of the reasons to consider this race. Another important reason for doing it is that the event itself is just seriously awesome. There are several things about this event that make me keep coming back, year after year. Here are a few of those reasons:
  • There's something for everyone!! There's great competition elite field at the front of the pack, and quite a fun crowd at the back. There's costumes, a half marathon relay, an early start for walkers, and a kids run. 
  • It's a beautiful course of rolling hills - I know what you're thinking, but every hill you go up, you come down. There is some uphill on this course, yes, but overall, the course is net downhill, and it's downhill all the way from 17km to the finish. It's a point-to-point course without any monotonous out-and-back sections. This certainly keeps things interesting for your mind, your legs, and for me and some of my friends who've run this one with me, these factors have aided some personal best finish times! 
  • Community friendliness - You really won't be greeted by more friendliness than on this course. So many community members come out to cheer, encourage you, high five you, and tell you you look great (even when you're sweating and don't think you look great!), there's a load of helpful volunteers all over the course too, and the finish line festivities are fantastic.
  • Event organization - The event directors for this event, Teresa and Larry Nightingale, are seriously awesome too! They're both talented runners so they know what makes a great event from a competitive level, and what makes a fun event on a recreational level. They know their community, and they've organized the event so well that the guesswork in planning your day or your weekend isn't there. From organizing shuttle buses to the start line and from the finish line, a great website, and offering suggestions for spectators, where to shower, where to eat, where to stay overnight if you want, etc. You're in good hands!
So I could go on, but I won't! Read all about it at and don't forget to register!

As for me, my training for the Fools Run is going really well. I couldn't be more pleased. As I have said, I am not expecting to have a best finish time here this year because I have slowed down and haven't been doing speed training. I've been focusing on getting my endurance up again safely (I never want to get injured again! or at least not for a while). I am simply trying to get my distance in so I can complete the race comfortably. I have to admit though that after last week's 16km run, I wasn't feeling confident at all that I could do this half marathon. I went out to Richmond to run the flat dyke trails, and after 14km, I completely bonked, had a cramp in my foot, and walked to the end of the route. I had a word with myself that I was quitting too quickly and tried to run, but my foot wouldn't relax itself. I told myself that I got the right number of miles in, even though 2km was walking. But inside I felt worried. A half marathon is 5km more than that! I'd be walking forever....

Yesterday I ran 18km, and because of the week before, I had to really psych myself up for it. I was worried, but I was also confident because I believe in my training. They say that when it comes to adaptation from a training run, it takes about 2 weeks before you feel its benefit. Which is why there's no sense killing yourself in training during those last two weeks before an event. I remembered that 2 weeks ago, I ran a solid 14km run. I used that, some positive self-talk, and the confidence and swagger of rocking a new outfit that looked great on me after losing a few pounds recently, and out the door I went. The run wasn't easy, but I paced myself very well, and ran strong the entire way.

The plan now is to continue with the plan of running 3-4 times a week, go to the gym 1-2 times a week. In terms of weekends, when I normally run long, I have decided that next weekend is a break. The St. Patrick's Day 5km is on Saturday. I am going to enjoy the event with my sister-in-law and instead of attempting to run long the next day, I am going to do a shorter Sunday run of nothing more than 10km, to allow some recovery. Then the next weekend, 2 weeks before the event, I'll conquer my last long run, with a 20km effort. I am no longer dreading it! And what follows this is the well-deserved pre-race training calm. Ahhh, I can almost taste it! :-)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My 21st 21K

I launched this blog in 2011, about 5 years ago when I was training for my "comeback half" - my third half marathon, which I completed in October of that year. It was called my comeback half because it was my first one in 7 years (since 2004), after my weight gain and loss journey.
Me rocking the fashion as a 22 year old first time half marathoner in 2003.

You know my story, so I don't need to rehash, but essentially, completing that race 5 years ago started a bit of an obsession with the sport, one I didn't have as the awkward 20-something girl (pictured above) who only ever ran by herself, owned no running gear, and didn't even know one other runner personally.

I'm the kind of girl that when she does something, she does it to the obsessive or extreme level. Only now am I learning the art of moderation. Needless to say, once this obsession caught fire, I ran so many half marathons, I lost count. I was eager to collect medals, better my times, socialize with friends, try different events, do the races everyone else was doing, etc., that I kept doing them. They were a no-brainer for an "easy week" when I was in marathon training mode because it injected fun and medals into my life. Ha! I just read what I said..."Easy Week". I repeat, "HA!"

Anyway, it's come to my realization that my upcoming half in April, the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run, is my 21st half marathon. My 21st 21K.  Or so I think. I remember when my 13th was (Oct 13th, 2013 - only because I thought this was a funny number coincidence especially since a half is 13.1 miles), and if I squint my brain, I can count 7 more that I have completed since then. My 20th came and went last summer without any pomp and circumstance. But given the distance of a half marathon is 21.1km, I have decided that the 21st is the actual milestone.

Nearing the finish line at my 13th half marathon, mentioned above. 
So why bother to make mention of this now if it's not a conventional milestone? I dunno. I needed something to talk about? I think it's that realizing this makes me feel proud. It's a "look how far you have come, Zahida" moment.

Since I started my journey here 5 years ago, sharing my story of triumph over my own health on this blog, I have felt the need to prove myself. Don't get me wrong, the community, friendships, conversation, accountability, encouragement, and all other results of this blog are amazing things I would not trade for the world. But publicly telling your story also puts this pressure on you to be an expert, an inspiration, and a success at all times. I took that to mean I had to keep getting better. You know, prove I could go from "mathlete to athlete" or from "couch to podium" to inspire those around me. Anything less than this would make me a fitness fraud, right? Of course not.

I lost sight that being human, being healthy, being comfortable in my own skin, being proud of my accomplishments, however small they may be - all of that is also fine, inspiring, and plenty to fuel my musings on a health-related blog. When I stop and think about what I have and continue to accomplish, it still is something noteworthy. My friend Monica put it to me so kindly, that what makes my fitness journey inspiring and that I am human. Speed as a runner is not the inspiring part, but the courage I have to continue to try, to keep pushing myself to learn, and my constant pursuit to better myself as a human being. Thank you, Monica!

So the old me would say, "oh my gosh, this is a milestone, I have to beat my PB I set in 2013. Time to train like a mad woman 'til I get there". That would make such a great story, wouldn't it? But let's be real, I'd likely hurt myself and my ego in the process.

The new me is much more sensible. She's enjoying her long runs and how she has enough left in the tank to socialize, do housework, or go for long walks shortly after, and how pain isn't part of the equation any more.

If my 21st 21K is my slowest yet, who cares? I will still be able to say I did it, and 20 others, and those marathons and other events too. Just doing it is awesome. And there will be much more awesome if I properly take care of myself, like I am doing now.

So, there you have it. Don't ask me what my finish time goal is for the April Fools Run. Just know that I will have a good time doing it and I am looking forward to it!

Come join the party; race day is 32 days away - Register before March 15th and save at
This Fool is In Training!