*By Natalie Taylor*
Running has always been an activity I’ve loved. In elementary school, we had a pretty strict cross country running coach who led us to national championships in races. (Shout out to my St. John’s Cross Country crew!) Running, then, was part of my daily life. As I’ve gotten older, eating as part of my job kind of replaced it, but I realized how much I missed moving around and being out in nature so I decided to get back into it. The running groups in the city seemed very intimidating so I came up with an “attainable running” plan for myself. No crazy paces; no 6 a.m. wake-up calls; no feeling left behind because I’m too slow. Here are a few ways I made running a part of my life again and some tips to stick to it:
1. Come Up With A Good Plan. I wanted to work my way up to running so for the first little while I walked for an hour a few times a week and found this learn-to-run plan to assist me. Interval training has really helped me keep my pace and not be too hard on myself. When I look back at it now, I see how far I’ve come from doing two minute running intervals to five minute running intervals. I’ve learned to do what I’m comfortable with and if I’m not following the plan exactly (i.e. doing five rounds instead of six rounds of an interval), I won’t beat myself up over it.
2. Find Running Partners. This may be difficult, but if you can find people who are equally committed and who can go at your pace they will be the key in keeping you motivated during your program. In the cold winter months, having my girlfriends meet me once a week to stick to the plan helped me run the other two times a week. It also fostered a bond between us and made us feel accomplished. The Running Room has running clinics and couch to 5 km programs. There’s also great places like Bond Running (founded by some members of the Parkdale Road Runners Group) and Whistle App to find like-minded exercise partners.
3. Commit. Truly focusing on the intent to commit and how I want to feel after exercise has enabled me to stick to a routine. Similar to my pace, I promised myself that I wouldn’t beat myself up over it if I couldn’t get to run three days a week. If I was able to get out once a week at the least, then that was good for me. Movement is movement. Similarly, the more I ran, the more I wanted to run.
4. Use Running As A Way To Explore. As an explorer, I use running as a way to see Toronto with a different lens. I’ve really connected with the trails here whether it’s going back to the ravine I ran through as a kid; to High Park with my girlfriends; to Moore Park before a pitstop at the Evergreen Brickworks farmers market or finding new places like Trillium Park at Ontario Place. Discovering new scenery gets me out of my head and makes me wonder and appreciate the incredible natural spaces we have. That said, regular running spots like Riverdale Park and Withrow Park make me appreciate my neighbourhood and the stunning views of Toronto’s skyline.
5. Flesh Out An Eating/Hydration Plan So You Can Go The Extra Mile. This is really important and for my running routine, but since I’m still trying to figure it all out I sought the advice of an expert. Here’s what Nanci Guest, a Sports Dietician with Power Play Nutrition, Training, and Genetics, has to say about what to eat pre and post run:
- Pre-run meals and snacks should be high in FUEL (carbohydrates): low fiber fruit (banana, watermelon, pineapple, dates, raisins), toast with light spread of peanut butter and crushed raspberries or slices strawberries, low fat/low fiber bagels, cereal, small portion of pasta or rice & beans, low fat milk or yogurt, light cheese and lower fat cheese and crackers etc. For quick-digesting, fat-free carbs try CLIF BLOKS Energy Chews which provide quick energy to your muscles pre-run and during your run so you can run faster/farther without getting an upset tummy.
- Post-run is a time for high quality protein to repair your muscles and help re-generate mitochondrial or endurance exercise proteins that are key to improving aerobic capacity and performance. CLIF BUILDERS Bars are a tasty, high quality 20 grams of protein which can be eaten right away (1/2 bar for lighter runners 100-120 lbs, whole bar for 150 lbs +) and then followed by a nice lean protein and veggies meal 1-2 hrs later.
Given Nanci’s advice, I decided to try the new Salted Watermelon CLIF BLOKS on a morning when I didn’t have a chance to eat breakfast before a run and was worried they wouldn’t fill me up. I was wrong: the three BLOKS satiated me for three hours and since they have electrolytes, I didn’t have to drink as much (I usually take a litre of water on long run/walks with me). Bonus: they tasted like watermelon Jolly Ranchers! I also love that the packaging is thin and portable so you can actually run with it or put it in your small pack.
When I was hungry later in the morning, I opted for the CLIF Nut Butter Filled bar, which helped replenish my nutrient supplies. Regular protein or energy bars are usually packed with sugar and end up not being super healthy, but CLIF Nut Butter Filled is an organic energy bar (made in Canada!) with under 10 grams of sugar. It’s also non-GMO with no partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavours; super important when you’re trying to eat clean. As I love sweet and savoury foods, the chocolate peanut butter flavour is now my go-to. But there are other delicious CLIF Nut Butter Filled bar flavours too: Chocolate Hazelnut Butter, Coconut Almond Butter and Peanut Butter (I don’t know if CLIF Bar has a magic recipe, but their PB bars are so good!). Products like these prevent me from getting hangry and boost my energy levels throughout the day so I’ll be incorporating them more into my routine. They’re also great for travel adventures and hikes, as Solmaz has attested here.
I hope you enjoyed my tips and are motivated to get out there and go the extra mile, whatever that may mean to you! Thank you for reading about my running journey; it’s been cathartic to get back to myself and the activities that have brought me joy and motivation in the past.
A huge thanks to CLIF Bar for sponsoring this post. As always, reviews and opinions are my own.