Distance or steady-state running is so much more fraught for me than going to the gym or doing other kinds of workouts. Some of this is because running is undoubtedly physically challenging for my short achilles tendons and asthma, but a large, perhaps larger, factor is mental: my expectations.

When you go for a training run, you have very explicit expectations for yourself on time, distance, and pace. While workouts almost always have specific goals too, falling short of those goals is significantly less difficult in the gym than on a run: not doing the last set feels very different psychologically from literally not making it home. It can be a challenge for me to stay positive during training with such high expectations, and it’s so easy to be hard on yourself when you’re tracking every step and minute.

First runs – the run you take after a long break, or perhaps your first run ever – are especially sensitive. Your expectations for yourself are likely not going to match your abilities. Plus, it’s easy to mentally view the whole success of your training, and even your race, on this first try. But really, the only thing that’s important about this first run is that you do it. Here are some steps I took to ensure that my first run ended triumphantly, and wasn’t bogged down by heavy expectations. These tips also apply to any run in which you want to take some pressure off: the run after an especially bad one, for example, or when you’re simply feeling like training has been more chore than joy.

1. Choose a route that makes you happy and isn’t too familiar.

This run is meant to remind you how much you love running, and excite you for the training journey ahead. An easy way to do that is to pick a route that will bliss you out. I chose a route that I don’t get to run very often, partly because it’s a hometown path that makes me feel very content, but also because it doesn’t have any major associations with my past training. If I had run a route that I used constantly last year it would have been too easy to make compare and criticize myself.

2. Don’t set a pace or distance goal.

Set low or no expectations! This run is all about re-introducing yourself to running. The worst thing you can do is set specific goals about what you will or won’t be able to do: you honestly don’t know where you’re at, and you have some time to find out. I recommend simply choosing a low-key time (~30 minutes) and doing a simple out and back.

3. Don’t use a run tracker, or if you do, only hear your elapsed time.

It’s likely that you won’t be very impressed by your pace on this run, and there’s nothing to be gained by hearing it. Being told by Nike+ every few minutes that your pace is slower than you’re used to is either going to bum you out, or make you run too hard, neither of which are setting you up for a good second run.

4. Pick a playlist that is very positive.

We all have songs that make us feel great while we’re running. For this first run I made a playlist that was nothing but positive and it helped me feel like I was flying even though I was most likely flailing. (The playlist below is 50 min long)

5. Remember how much you enjoy this!

There will be training days that feel like dragging bricks, and mornings where you swear you will never run again, but this is not one of them. This run should remind you of how lucky you are to be able to run, and how different it is than being on the treadmill inside. Finish with a smile and know that your speed and form can be improved, but you’re already strong mentally with no training at all. 



In a previous post I bemoaned how difficult training for a race is: the progress is slow, the training is hard, and it goes on forever.

Am I crazy for deciding to do this again? No. Here’s why I’m excited to run the Lululemon Seawheeze again, and how you can ensure you have an incredible first-half marathon experience this year as well.

1. Vancouver is my favorite place in the world. It is my hometown, and my heart literally swells with joy when I land there. Accomplishing something impossible here felt like being on top of the world.

The Tip: If you’re signing up for your first race, do it somewhere that makes you excited, not just around the block. You’ll be running where you live endlessly in training, and running in a city you love, or a place that makes you happy, will make your victory so much more meaningful. Not to mention you’ll get to explore 13.1 miles of it on race day!

The Seawheeze route in Vancouver is stunning.

The Seawheeze route in Vancouver is stunning.

2. I’ll have friends training for races during the same time period, so we’ll be on the same page.

→ The Tip: Training is tedious. I should probably stop stressing this, but no, it is. Having good friends to share training plans or run stories with will make your 3+ months of training much more enjoyable. You’re going to spend a lot more time than you expect telling people about your running, and if they’re running too, neither of you can get bored.


3. Having company on race day (and pre-race day) makes it more of a celebration than a daunting task.

→ The Tip: Going to race-events alone is a surefire way to feel more nervous that you need to be: it’s still dark, you’re about to do something that scares you, and you’re surrounded by strangers. You don’t need to be running with someone throughout the race (I don’t – I am the slowest!), but just being in it with someone you care about makes that 5am morning so much less terrifying. I recommend even having a pre-race sleepover, so you can both be on the same wavelength. You don’t want your race experience to feel like a trek before you even reach the starting line.


4. Running goals are about more than weight loss

→ The Tip: This might sound counterintuitive on a weight-loss blog, but I’m referring to performance goals vs. aesthetic goals. When I’m doing insanity or hammering out intervals on the treadmill, I am solely motivated by the HIIT workout’s function to make me smaller. Training for a race means working towards goals aside from your appearance, and it’s important to remember that your body is doing a lot of amazing things even if it’s not the shape you want it to be yet.


5. Running regularly forces you to be out in the world in an amazing new way

→ The Tip: Because of training, I ran in four countries and countless cities, and it was amazing. Having to run in whichever city I happened to be in for 5 months gave me a whole new way to experience the world. Working out in the hotel gym is a completely anonymous experience, but needing to find a route and run outside in a new place couldn’t be more distinctive. On business trips, I saw so much more of the cities I was in. Visiting friends, I got to experience their neighbourhoods and be out in the community. Even at home, I got to explore San Francisco in a whole new way. This is truly something to treasure about training, and it’s not something you’ll get on a treadmill.

Training in England

Training in San Francisco




Why the Stair Mill?

The Stair Mill (aka Stair Climber – the rotating stair machine) is one of my favorite ways to do High Intensity Interval training. Unlike most cardio machines (with the exception of the treadmill), you have to work against gravity to move your body, increasing your calorie burn by requiring your core and major leg muscles to work hard. Even if you don’t feel like tackling a H.I.I.T. routine on this machine, I highly recommend trying it out the next time you’re thinking about getting on the elliptical or the bike.

Why High Intensity Intervals?

High Intensity Interval training is widely thought to be the most effective way to burn fat. When you’re working at close to maximum effort, your muscles require more oxygen than you can bring in during that intense activity. After the workout, your body needs to “catch up”on all that oxygen consumption to return to normal, so your metabolism must work overtime for hours after you’ve left the gym. This is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

Because you’re exercising at such a high intensity, you also don’t need to workout for very long; your heart rate is going to be way higher and burn more calories than the equivalent time doing lower intensity work. Studies show that doing just 27 minutes of H.I.I.T. 3 times a week accomplishes the same anaerobic and aeorbic improvement as 60 minutes of cardio 5 times a week!

The intervals are important: you can’t sustain maximum effort for a full 30 minutes. When I started to measure my heart rate regularly this year, I was amazed at being able to observe how effective these intervals are. As you’ll see below (particularly the last 10 minutes), even if I am only doing challenging work for 50% of the workout, my heart-rate remains in the max-effort zone during those slow intervals as well. If you can gun it for a minute, than you can spend the next minute walking, and still burn the same amount of calories as if you were still sprinting. I find this efficiency very appealing, and sometimes it’s also easier for me mentally to take it one minute at a time rather than face a 60 minute run, even if the H.I.I.T. workout will actually be harder.

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During the last 10 minutes of the workout, you’re not actually exerting at maximum intensity anymore, but your heart rate remains very high. The graph below shoes my heart rate during this workout, and check out those last 10 minutes – even though I wasn’t sprinting the whole time, my heart was working as hard as if I was. I didn’t fully “get” H.I.I.T. workouts until I saw this data.

hr graph

Pilates Ab Routine

This was a pretty challenging routine (Abs on Fire is an accurate name) but can easily be modified by reducing the reps in half. The printable workout is below, but you can follow along with Cassey by doing the video here.

Not every day is a HIIT sprint kind of day, both literally and figuratively. I call this a “Slow Burn” elliptical workout because you don’t have to move very fast to get a great cardio workout. The high resistance means your heart rate stays quite high (in the 160s throughout: “hard” cardio level on my HRM), and the variation makes the time fly by. This is the perfect cardio routine if you’re not really feeling it – you trick yourself into working pretty hard. I went into it planning to do only 20 minutes and ended up doing 40!

elliptical workout

This looks complicated but it’s just minutes 10 – 20 repeated as many times as you feel like.

I was feeling good after completing the surprise 40 minute cardio, so I ended up doing this great full-body strength routine from @iamfitmiss. It took about30 – 35 minutes and was a good mix of upper and lower body work.

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What you’ll need

  • White index cards or similar sized cardstock

  • 1-3 different papers in Valentines colors (I used dark pink polka dots, light pink, and hot pink)

  • Pink or red and white striped paper (for Bumblebee’s stripes)

  • Ballpoint Glue pen

  • Fine tipped black pen

  • Loose red or dark pink glitter

  • (Optional) red or pink cardstock for card backing

  • (Optional) envelopes

This year I wanted to make a cute and silly card reminiscent of corny Valentine’s puns. My first thought was to do “I choo choo choose you” trains, but I was concerend about the amount of shapes needed. “Bee Mine” Bumblees seemed much simpler – and despite the somewhat long sounded list above, were actually quite simple to make!

1. Cut out Bumbleebee shaps

  • I used four different colors/patters for the Bee, but you could also do it with just 1 if you draw stripes on the belly

  • You need: 1 circle for the Bee body, 1 smaller circle for the head, and two hearts for the wings. Easy!


2. Assemble the bee!

3. Add antenae , eyes, and stinger using black pen.


4. Using a glue pen, add hearts on your antenae, and write your Valentine’s name and message. (I Choose “Bee Mine?” since I was making quite a bunch, but “Bee my Valentine” is even better).

5. Pour glitter over your card, using a bent piece of cardstock underneath to easily catch and pour the glitter back into the pot.


6. Optional – Mount your white index card on a piece of colored card stock for added heft and color.


Why weight-loss is a lot like running a marathon

Last year around this time I took a leap of faith and signed up for my first half-marathon – the 2013 Lululemon SeaWheeze. This week, I took the leap again, and while it’s significantly less scary after you have a few races under your belt, there’s something about running that gets to me like no other workout can.

Still in shock post SeWheeze last summer

When I started to run regularly last year in preparation for the the August race, it was hard. As someone who had primarily used the treadmill for short and sweet interval training, getting outside and running – indefinitely, with no breaks – was outside my comfort zone. As someone with short achilles tendons and weird feet, it was way outside my comfort zone.

Despite being uncomfortable, my early runs went pretty well. I quickly fell in love with the experience of running outside, and was able to gradually increase my distance and pace without any major setbacks. Running felt good – sweaty, wheezy, super challenging at times, but good.

But then, there are the bad runs. And the bad weeks. For a beginner still riding the highs of a new (running) relationship, they can be hard to recover from. It’s all too easy to give up on something as challenging (and let’s be honest, tedious) as running when there are so many different ways to sweat.

After a few months of other challenges, running regularly again somehow feels more daunting than tackling an Insanity workout or a spin class. When you do something over and over – which you must when you’re training – it’s impossible to sustain constant improvement. There are bad runs; there are a lot of bad runs. But you still have to get up and go running the next day.

This doesn’t sound especially fun, does it? But there is a victory in training for something like a half-marathon unparalleled by challenging workouts in the gym. It’s only through all that repetition that someone can evolve from a never-runner to a 13.1 mile runner. Likewise, as I am slowly realizing this year, weight loss is more like running than like anything else. Making the right choices day in and day out doesn’t result in much right away, but you know that if you don’t do it, you have no hope of achieving the goal. I hope that by starting to run again I will remember how to appreciate the process; you don’t train for a marathon in a week, and you don’t lose weight by dieting for a day either.

Sometimes you need to give yourself a thumbs up.

Sometimes you need to give yourself a thumbs up.

It’s too bad you can’t get a Masters in knowing everything the internet says about workout out and losing weight. After years of studying for this imaginary exam, I seem to know everything about fitness and food and still haven’t accomplished my weight-loss goal.

Now that I know everything I’m supposed to be doing and why, I figure it’s time to actually use this knowledge and start feeling confident about my body. This blog is a way to share fitness and food ideas, and to hold myself accountable to my weight-loss goals. In 2014, I’d rather be a fit person than a phD in fitness knowledge.