Maximizing your Energy & Recovery through FOOD!

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FOOD & RUNNING! With only 8 weeks left until Ottawa Race Weekend, it’s time to get on top of your meal prep & training plans! I love lots of colour in my food and try to pack as many nutrients as possible into each meal… I also loves mnemonics so here are my 5 top foods to cover your “BASES!” to maximize energy, endurance and recovery.

B – Beets: Packed with natural nitrates, beets help to improve peripheral circulation (i.e. blood flow to the arms and legs!) and get more oxygen and energy into working muscles. Beets are a great food to help maximize endurance and reduce muscle pain after hard training sessions!

A – Avocadoes: Avocados are rich in magnesium and potassium, two key electrolytes for helping with muscle and cardiovascular support during running and endurance sports. They are also full of healthy fats to aid in recovery and balance inflammation!

S – Spinach: Spinach and other dark leafy greens contain loads of calcium and magnesium, which are required to help the brain and nervous system to send “signals” to exercising muscles so they can contract and relax more efficiently. Magnesium especially is also extremely helpful to prevent cramps, spasms and tension in those hard-working tissues!

E – Eggs: Eggs are loaded with protein and healthy fats for muscle repair and aiding recovery from inflammation and injuries. They are also one of the few foods containing the unique nutrient “choline” which helps to strengthen the protective membranes in ALL cells, especially in brain and nerve tissue…. which also makes eggs a brain superfood! Go brains go!!

S – Sweet potato: This root veggie is a great source of the replenishing carbohydrates needed in endurance athletes as it helps maximize the energy stored in muscles known as “glycogen.” Glycogen is your quickest source of energy when running, and is also known to be key for preventing runners from “hitting the wall” which happens when your body runs out of stored glycogen. Sweet potatoes are also rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium, key electrolytes to help keep your body moving!

Pictured here: Sweet potato pancakes, over-easy eggs, avocado with lemon & sea salt, and a side spinach & beet salad with hemp seeds. Happy training and happy eating!!!


Your Brain: Taking Care and Taking Charge!

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This month’s focus at the Back to Health Wellness Centre is Mental Health, which is a subject that is very near and dear to my own heart. Mental health issues have typically been surrounded by stigma, misunderstanding, and confusion, but with growing rates of incidence there’s been a much bigger push to shed some light and love on this area.

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According to the Canadian Community Health Survey in 2012, 1 in every 10 Canadians is battling a major mental health or mood-related disorder. These include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), major depression, bipolar disorder, addictions and substance abuse. Many of these conditions are often lurking under the disguise of other health-related concerns.

I often see them in the form of chronic fatigue, insomnia, recurrent infections, digestive and hormonal imbalances. I’m sure we all know someone who’s fighting the battle, as many of us are fighting our own at the same time. The Bell “Let’s Talk” campaign has helped to get the conversation going, so let’s talk a bit more about some of the underlying problems and solutions!
Despite mental health being an extremely vulnerable subject, a growing body of research is showing that the only way to move forward from our shame and sense of vulnerability, is to be daring enough to speak our own truth and empathize with others who are going through the same things. Brene Brown is a researcher, author, and pioneer in the field of shame and vulnerability (check out her book “Daring Greatly”!), and has written numerous books on these subjects.
In honor of this notion, I will admit I have first-hand experience in battling recurrent anxiety and depression. Although running and exercise have always been a close friend of mine, and I’m well-trained to diagnose and manage others’ health concerns, I’m by no means an exception to the rule. I’ve spent many a sleepless night with a nervous system that refuses to shut down and have had countless mornings struggling to drag myself out of bed. I have a mother who has been struggling with her own mental health conditions, complicated by 20 years of chronic degeneration at the hands of Parkinson’s disease. I’m a self-employed, professional fixer and caregiver, middle-child from divorced parents, who grew up in a home with a certain amount of emotional volatility. It could be worse, but it could be better. I’ve known countless others going through situations far worse than my own, and have been inspired and humbled by their complex journeys. From my own experience, I highly recommend the support of a good counsellor or psychotherapist who can help to connect the dots, while giving tools and resources to work through the various complex factors that affect how our brains function!

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Moving on to the physical aspects, the brain itself is a complicated organ system. It requires physical nourishment in the form of food for energy, nutrients for form and function, exercise for circulation and sleep for regeneration. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to imbalances in serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, all neurotransmitters which function as your “feel-good” hormones to keep the brain calm, stable and able to respond appropriately to stress. While many medications are aimed at enhancing or subduing these specific pathways, there are a number of additional supports that can be used to balance mood and mental health. These include:

  1. Exercise – This is my #1 go-to strategy for a very broad category of conditions, but especially mental health! Exercise stimulates circulation of nutrients to the brain and releases natural endorphins to balance and regulate mood. Regularly engaging in physical activity (especially things you enjoy!) can help an anxious mind to find peace, and a depressed mind to create energy and renewed motivation. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes 5x/week, including a mix of resistance, cardio and flexibility exercises.

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  1. Protein & amino acids – Protein contains the building blocks required to form hormones, neurotransmitters, and to keep a steady supply of nutrients flowing to the brain to provide energy and a sense of calm. Protein can be found in animal sources (chicken, fish, eggs, lean red meat), pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy), and in smaller amounts in nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Aim for a minimum of 20 mg of protein 3x/day.
  2. Healthy fats – Seeing as your brain is primarily a big pile of fats, these high-energy molecules play a crucial role in the structure and energy production of the brain, as well as delivering its messages to the rest of the body. The omega-3 fatty acids in a good quality, high-potency fish oil make it one of the most wide-reaching of all supplements for overall health maintenance, but especially for mood and brain function. Other fats contained in coconut oil, avocados and walnuts are also excellent sources of healthy nervous system nutrients.
  3. Vitamin D – The sunshine vitamin is a key nutrient for the nervous system and is especially important for those who tend to get the “winter blues” (also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or “SAD”). In Canada, our colder climate drives many people indoors for the season and when combined with shorter daylight hours, natural vitamin D production drops drastically and deficiencies have a strong link to depression. Ask your doctor (or Naturopathic Doctor!) to check your vitamin D levels and recommend an ideal safe dosage for your needs. Better yet, bundle up and get outside anyways! We live in one of the best cities in the country for outdoor winter activities, so you’ll likely be happier embracing the winter than hiding from it!
  4. Relaxation Exercises – While the sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight” network, the parasympathetic nervous system is our “rest and digest” pathway. Many times people are living in sympathetic mode so often (due to stress, overscheduling, deadlines, worries, etc) that they have a hard time shutting this system off. This syndrome of “sympathetic overdrive” often show ups with anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic infections, infertility, and other symptoms reflecting a nervous system that can’t shut off. It may take a conscientious effort to shift into parasympathetic mode so we can re-train our body to “rest, digest and recharge.” Strategies to switch off the overdrive may include mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, yoga, reading, hypnotherapy, amidst other relaxation techniques. Pick one that works for you and aim to get in a minimum of 10 minutes before bedtime to help wind down. There’s a great app called “Headspace” that provides an easy-to-follow 10-minute per day meditation that fits right into that requirement!

Finding optimal mental health is an ongoing challenge that may require a different approach for each individual. With so many things influencing our brains and how they function, a tailored approach and a good support system can go a long way to helping you find your happy balance.

For a complimentary 15-minute consult or more information about how to take charge of your brain health, book an appointment with Dr. Kathy Van Zeyl, Naturopathic Doctor.

Holiday Survival Guide: Q & A With Dr. Kathy

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It’s holiday party season!  I sat down with holistic nutritionist and chef Amy Longard to talk about how to make the most of these events without overdoing it!  See below:

By Amy Longard ( )


With the holiday parties and gatherings in full swing, I wanted to be sure that I was ready and well equipped to handle the hustle and bustle of the season. My first instinct was to reach out to my friend Dr. Kathy Van Zeyl.  Dr. Kathy is a naturopathic doctor (ND) with expertise in areas such as sports medicine, energy balance, detoxification, weight loss and adrenal support.   Dr. Kathy and I met last year when we both started working at EPIC Fitness + Lifestyle.  From the day I met her, I loved her holistic and realistic approach to dealing with clients and I’ve been continually amazed by her ability to help people overcome daunting health challenges.

In the last year, I’ve gotten to know her both professionally and personally.  I’m lucky to have her as my ally for helping clients and also my go-to friend for dog walks. Even our pups have become pals!

Dr. Kathy is truly a wealth of knowledge and I knew she’d have lots of great information to share with us.  Without further ado, please read on to learn her tried and true strategies for staying healthy during the holidays. She touches on topics such as managing stress, strengthening your immune system, tips for avoiding craving, and more!

Amy: The holidays are upon us! What are your tips for staying stress free?
Kathy: Busy or high stress periods often lead to elevated release of the stress hormone “cortisol” from your hardworking, non-relenting adrenal glands.  These glands are always by your side (quite literally, they’re on both sides hanging out on top of your kidneys!), and help your body to adapt to stress.

Chronic high cortisol can lead to either over- or underactive adrenal function resulting in fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, weight gain and immune suppression amidst other issues.  We can’t always remove the stress, but we CAN change how your body responds to it!  Support your adrenal glands through stress with these tips to maximize stress resilience and keep these fantastic organs happy.

Sleep – get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, going to bed and waking at the same times consistently.  Both your melatonin and cortisol levels fluctuate on a circadian rhythm.  Consistency is key for regulating these two very important hormones so you can sleep when you need to, and stay awake and energized the rest of the time.

Eat for steady blood sugar – Include plenty of slowly-absorbing protein, healthy fats and nutrient-rich vegetables to stabilize blood glucose (your brain’s primary fuel source!) and decrease your body’s stress response from sugar levels that are either too high or too low.

Take 5… – As in 5 minutes before bed to do some deep breathing, stretching or meditation to relax the nervous system and calm your body’s stress response.  We can’t all fit an hour of yoga into our schedule, but 5 minutes a day is easier to find and can go a long way!

Move it! – One of my favourite prescriptions is EXERCISE (!!!) for all of the side-“benefits” that come along with it.  Pick something you enjoy whether it’s running (my favourite – yes, even in winter!!), hiking, skating, skiing, snow-shoeing, weight-lifting, yoga, Zumba, team sports, etc.  Pick something you really enjoy so you’ll be less likely to quit.  Movement can balance stress resilience, improve sleep and kickstart metabolism.  Even 20-30 minutes 3-5 times a week can give these benefits, so conquer the excuses and take some advice from Nike… JUST DO IT!!!

Amy: Once the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over, it’s not uncommon to get sick.  Do you have any advice on how to prevent this from happening?  
Kathy: For prevention, the key is managing stress (see above!).  If you’re starting to feel a cold coming, these quick tips can help strengthen your system to beat those bacteria and viruses out of your system.

Oil of oregano – If you’ve ever tried it before, you’ll know exactly why those pesky pathogens tend to bite the dust after taking it.  Oil of oregano is one of nature’s most potent antibiotics and a very effective side-kick for your immune system.  Try taking 3-5 drops 3 times a day at the first signs of a cold to give some antimicrobial support.  Can’t stand the taste?  A teaspoon of honey can ease the strong flavour and provide additional germ-fighting support!

Vitamin C – Although Vitamin C doesn’t prevent a cold, it can reduce the intensity and duration of sickness once it hits.  They key is in the dose!  To maximize vitamin C absorption, take 1000mg every 2-4 hours until you reach what we naturopaths lovingly refer to as “bowel tolerance.”  This is when stools start to soften as your digestive tract has reached its maximum absorption for vitamin C.  Keep this level in mind and for maximum immune and vitamin C efficiency, take one less dose than what caused stool softening.  The more the merrier, but only if you can absorb it!

Fluids – Include lots of water, soups and herbal teas such as ginger (especially for fevers), honey & lemon or licorice root.  A high fluid intake can decrease the thickness of mucous secretions so your hardworking immune system can trap and remove harmful germs from the body.  Sticking with fluids, low fibre, low fat and easily digestible foods (well-cooked proteins and vegetables!) also helps to minimize the work your body has to do to put these nutrients to good use.

Amy: Salty and sweet snacks are so readily available this time of year. Any suggestions to help curb the cravings? 
Kathy: Yes! The first step is recognizing where the craving comes from.  Here’s a quick breakdown of what these cravings may mean:

Sugar – These cravings often come with fluctuations in energy levels available in the bloodstream.  Low blood sugar from overconsumption of sugar and carbohydrates or underconsumption of other nutrients can trigger the brain to send ravenous hunger cues (ex. “feed me sugar now, I’m starving!!!”).   Instead, eat slow-absorbing nutrients (proteins, healthy fats, veggies and fibre) and try to do so every 4-5 hours.  Especially if you’re about to head out to a holiday party, eat something with protein or fibre first to reduce the hunger pangs and overindulging.  For a healthy substitute, try fresh fruit with almond butter, or chocolate avocado pudding made from avocadoes, cocoa powder and coconut milk to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Salt – Salt-seeking on the other hand is most commonly linked with elevated stress levels.  Over time from high stress and adrenal strain (see question # 1 above), blood pressure changes can take place and the adrenals will have a difficult time maintaining a consistent amount of pressure (adrenal glands release aldosterone to regulate blood pressure response).  As it’s often more common to see low blood pressure as a result of chronic stress, salt cravings are a natural way your body tries to readjust your blood pressure to normal.  Frequent salt cravers should pay attention to stress management and support their adrenals.  For a quick, healthy alternative, look for things like bean chips, guacamole, hummus or trail mix to satiate the cravings without overindulging in greasy snacks.

One more highly prevalent craving is chocolate.  Where does this come from?  Sometimes it’s the same link as with sugar cravings (low energy and brain fuel), but it may also be a sign of magnesium deficiency!  Cocoa powder is naturally high in magnesium, so chocolate cravings may be a way for your body to get the nutrients it’s lacking.  Refer back to the chocolate avocado pudding suggestion for a low sugar, high magnesium treat (as avocados also contain high magnesium levels!).

Amy: The holidays are synonymous with overindulgence. Despite best intentions, most of us fall victim to over eating or drinking a little bit too much.  Do you have any top secret naturopathic remedies you can share? 
Kathy: Perhaps…. Maybe… Ok the answer is YES, but just don’t tell anyone else because I want you to try your best to behave!  Obviously the first rule is try not to overindulge.  But when it’s too late these are my top go-to’s:

B vitamins – Used in just about all metabolic reactions, B vitamins can help to recover your energy and kickstart the metabolism and elimination of unwanted substances in the body.  These area best taken early in the day and don’t be surprised if your urine is bright yellow afterwards!  B vitamins naturally contain an orange or yellow pigment.

Lemon water – A great source of electrolytes and vitamin C, lemon water can help improve digestion, reduce acidity in the body, and rehydrate after excessive water loss due to alcohol.  Over the holidays try to start your day by squeezing out the juice from half a lemon and drink it with warm water on an empty stomach.  To save some time, pre-squeeze a bunch and keep it in a glass jar in the fridge!

Milk thistle – Your liver is the hardest working detoxification organ in your body, so give it some holiday loving if you’re going to load on the work!  Milk thistle extract (silymarin) helps to protect the liver against damage, regenerates damaged cells, and upregulates detoxification pathways.  Two key things to keep in mind any time you’re dealing with herbs are quality and safety – consult with a professional to make sure it doesn’t interact with any of your medications and source out a high quality herbal company you can trust.  We naturopaths are here for a reason!  Also I’ve got way too much information stored in my head, so come use some of it please!

Wishing you a happy, healthy, stress-free holiday and may the New Year bring along a new you!

Winter Running – Come join the crew!

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Winter is not just coming… It’s pretty much already here!  For some that means hanging up shoes, storing bikes for the winter and heading into hibernation.  However, as human beings we’re actually built to move, so packing in your athleticism for the season actually defies our inborn nature.  Staying active helps with not just surviving winter, but embracing and enjoying it!  Regular exercise can maintain energy and motivation while staving off common winter ailments including depression, seasonal affective disorder, fatigue, poor circulation, weight gain (helloooooo holiday parties!), blood sugar imbalances and other metabolic issues.

As a year-round outdoor runner, as well as a run-commuter, I have a radical idea for you… maybe keep the shoes out this year!?  I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about winter running, so here’s a quick rundown on what you need to know to pull it off successfully.

Tips on how to stay toasty and avoid getting soaked:

  • Dress in layers and check the temperature before heading out. Since it’s much colder (duh!) you’ll need to plan wisely to stay warm.
  • Avoid cotton (especially for shirts or socks!) and stick with tech fabrics or breathable materials like merino that wick away sweat to stay warm. Cotton tends to hold in moisture and will chill the dickens out of you!  Merino is amazingly warm, lightweight, breathable and doesn’t get smelly the same way synthetic materials do.  Yes, it’s more expensive, but worth the investment and also makes a great holiday gift for your favourite runner!
  • Add a base-layer in really cold temperatures to create a warm, dry barrier lying right next to the skin. My merino long underwear have been one of the most useful presents I’ve ever received, thanks to a smart and thoughtful sister who’s also an (extremely!) avid runner.
  • Get outerwear that’s weather-proof. A waterproof jacket keeps you warm and dry on cold runs and many use insulating materials that help wick away moisture.  A comfortable, insulated pair of winter running tights can help keep you warm, cut the wind’s drag forces and enhance muscle feedback to allow for smoother muscle contractions (i.e. you’ll feel stronger and faster) and improved circulation (i.e. less pain!).  For male runners, although wearing tights can be a mental barrier, even if you wear shorts over top for modesty you’ll usually be better off…  Also FYI, most female runners see tights as a sign of intelligence as we know it’s much more practical and your lower body won’t look and feel like a sail flapping around in the wind!

Running in winter can be slippery and the uneven footing can be a challenge.  Tips on how to tackle the terrain:

  • Focus on good form. You’ll actually have to, because if you don’t you’ll be on your butt sooner than you can say “snowcone!”  Many runners succumb to repetitive strain injuries from landing on their heels with their feet well out in front of their bodies.  In this position your ankles are less stable (more likely to roll!), your calves and Achilles tendon absorb more impact (more likely to lead to shin splints, Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis) AND you’re way more likely to slip and wipe out.  To correct improper form, try to lean your whole body forward very slightly from the hips and land with your feet directly underneath the rest of your body.  Your foot should contact the ground in the middle (not on the heel, not on the toes).  This puts your ankles, knees and hips in a much more stable landing position and also makes you less likely to fall.  If you want a good resource, the book “Chi Running” by Danny Dreyer does an amazing job of explaining proper running biomechanics and how to pull it off.  Not only will you feel more stable, but chronic joint pain will become a memory of the past.
  • Get good shoes. I know many runners that use the same shoes year-round without problems, but a good pair of winter runners can make a huge difference in terms of warmth, dryness, grip and ease of running.  Look for something with a deeper tread (trail runners are perfect for this) and ideally some form of weatherproofing.  No mesh, means no problems!  There are a number of companies that make shoes specifically for winter running (Saucony, Asics, Salomon and Brooks for example), all of which have a much hardier tread and often contain Goretex to keep your feet dry.  I, personally, just picked up a pair of Brooks Ghost GTX runners and so far am in love with them.  There are few things worse than running for hours in -30C with wet feet!
  • Watch where you’re going and let go of speed goals. The terrain of winter running often involves an ever-evolving mix of slush, soft fresh snow, hard-packed snow, slippery ice, hard-packed ice mixed with the occasional spot of pavement.  All require you to watch what’s going on under your feet so you don’t slip or roll an ankle.  It’s next to impossible to run “fast” outdoors in the winter, so plan to run at least 30 seconds per kilometer slower than on normal terrain, and instead of making pace goals just congratulate yourself on enduring the challenge of winter running.  You’re already wowing everyone for being willing to go out and run in this stuff, so kudos to you!

There will be days when it’s -30C (or even colder!) outside, you haven’t seen the sun shining in weeks, and your hot pot of coffee and snuggly slippers are calling your name.  Motivating yourself to get out the door can be challenging, so lastly…. Tips on how to stay motivated!

  • Get yourself a running buddy (or buddies!). Although many prefer the solitude of running alone, having a friend or group to run with can help to make it interesting and also keep you accountable.  There are lots of great running groups that keep their wheels (aka feet!) turning year-round – including the Running Room and my very own Meetup group the Somerset Runners!  Find them.  Push each other out the door.  Revel together in your awesomeness and commend yourself because you’re willing to do what many others won’t.
  • Congratulate yourself for every single kilometre. Again, just getting out the door can be a challenge.  Make a routine by having your running stuff set out the night before, putting it on first thing in the morning, and just go do it!  Any distance is better than no distance!  One kilometre is also more than the vast majority of other people run outdoors in Ottawa winter, so congratulate yourself for putting those shoes on and being hardcore!  Odds are you won’t want to stop after one kilometre anyways so enjoy the fresh air, renewed energy, and the after-run glow that makes all your co-workers wonder what makes you so much happier than them!
  • Plan a destination run. This could be a micro-destination such as running to Bushtukah for new gear, picking a brunch spot to reward a Sunday long run, or potentially even taking up running as your method of commuting (in which case, welcome to the crew!).  It may also mean planning for a destination race to motivate your training through the winter and potentially go somewhere warmer than Ottawa in the middle of the winter!  Not going to lie… I’ll be doing the Miami Half-Marathon at the end of January and I’ll definitely be wanting a mini-break from Ottawa winter by then.  You’ll also catch me at The Resolution Run, The Hypothermic Half-Marathon, and Around the Bay between December and April!
  • Cross-training: Mix it up.  If I’m being totally honest… and even though I love running… doing only running all the time in winter can get a bit boring.  Luckily, we have access to other winter sports that make for amazing cross-training for runners!  Snowshoeing helps to strengthen the quads and hip flexors, skating helps create powerful glutes and hamstrings, and cross-country skiing works just about every single muscle in your body while burning more calories than any other sport in existence!  We’re also fortunate to live in one of the few cities in the country that boasts a winter triathlon – the “Winterlude Triathlon” takes place at the beginning of February (when motivation is often the hardest to come by!) and consists of an 8km skate, 7km ski and a 5km run.  Why not have some fun, find some new muscles, and embrace all the challenges that Ottawa winters have to offer!

Hopefully this article helps encourage a few of you to keep at it, start at it, do it more safely, or at least to get your bodies moving this winter.  If energy or injuries get in your way, the Somerset Health & Wellness crew is here and happy to help you get back to health and staying active.  See you in the snow!


 Brooks Ghost GTX – my new favourite winter running shoe!!

My First Full Marathon! The 20th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Marathon

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In honour of my very first blog on this site, I thought I’d give a quick overview on my gradual buildup to this ultimate goal.  I’ve been active all my life, but have been running more seriously in the past three years.  It started off as cross-training for soccer season when I wanted to outrun other players to the ball… and in the end soccer turned out to be my speed-training so I could better my performance in races!

As many of us do, I had started my running “career” by tackling the occasional 5k race.  The excitement of racing, my competitive spirit, and the natural camaraderie amongst fellow runners got me hooked pretty quickly and I continued to increase my distances.  Over the following years I competed in numerous 5 & 10k’s, bumping up to 1/2 marathons and 30k distances, before finally coming to the realization that a full marathon was a very achievable goal.  So here’s a brief run-down on my first full!

First of all, Philadelphia is a beautiful city.  The opportunity just to walk around the city centre was amazing.  It’s known to have more statues and murals than any other city in the U.S., and the layout uses their beautiful City Hall as a focal point which pretty much every road leads toward (and you can see it from just about everywhere downtown, great for orientation purposes!).  The Art Museum (home of the famous “Rocky Steps”) is also a major focal point sitting right on the Schuylkill River and acting as a central hub for the start and finish of the race.  Our group took a stab at running the steps and doing some pretty extensive “Rocky-style” photo-shoots the day beforehand and were happy we did!

The race starts early, you enter security at 5am so there is enough time to clear the 30,000 runners that participate in the full and half-marathon.  I was happy to have travelled down to Philly with the East York Toronto Runner’s, so had plenty of entertainment in the two-hour wait before the race started.  Special note:  If you have to go to the washroom, go EARLY!!!!  There are plenty of porta-potties but with that many runners the lineups will always be massive.  I went an hour before the start and just barely made it out before  being funneled into our corrals.  Also, be sure to pack multiple layers to throw away.  We were frigid during our 5-7am wait, but during the race temperatures went up to 19C, 25C with the humidex!

The route itself offers a lot of variety and plenty to see.  The first half goes mostly through narrow city streets that are packed with spectators.  Being a rather petite person with mild claustrophobia, this was the most challenging part of the race for me mentally.  The full and half runners start together, and there are often  slower runners that you will be tempted to weave your way through.  Don’t bother!  It takes too much effort and the course will stay a narrow and crowded field until you get out of the central part of the city.  There is plenty to see in the mean time along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, you’ll run parallel to the Delaware River, past the Liberty Bell and City Hall a couple of times.  It gets even more exciting through University City where student congregations offer free beer to runners (note: it’s way too early in the race to carb-load with something THAT heavy and carbonated, just wait, there will be another beer offering at 19 miles if you’re brave and still tempted!).

You’ll finally see some trees and more open space out toward the Philadelphia Zoo, and will be either grateful or depressed when crossing the river when the half-marathons come to their finish line back at the Art Museum.  I was grateful… I prefer running in more scenic areas with fewer people, so the much wider and tree-lined path along the Schuylkill River was very much welcome!  The remainder of the route is 13.1 miles of out-and-back running.  Great because  there’s no way you can get lost (not that you would anyways!) and you’ll have the chance to see the elite runners finish, however can be daunting knowing you’ll be on the same stretch or road the remainder of the race.  This can get boring.  Combined with the fact you’ve already run 21.2k, this is known as one of the more difficult stretches because there is less crowd support sending you energy to speed your travels.  My suggestion is tune into the beauty of the river and the trail and get pumped for the orange slices and beer that await at 19-20 miles!  Of course, being a Naturopath I don’t necessarily promote the idea of mid-run beer, and having a sensitive stomach I don’t play around much with mid-run fuel during races (learned that one at the St. Catherine’s Chocolate Race!).  But if that’s what gets you through, go for it!  I was happy to stop and snap a photo of a fellow runner while he downed a glass.

My last 6 miles was pretty achey and tiring, but seeing that light at the end of the tunnel always seems to ramp up my energy.  I downed the rest of my fuel (I always bring Honey Stingers and Gu’s during races and long-runs, and will usually take one every 40 mins) and powered home to the finish.  The pain on crossing the finish line and stopping was pretty instantaneous, and I slowly but with pride hobbled my way to every food station in sight.  One of which was offering hot chicken broth, which was a nice change in addition to the usual fruit and power bars.  Of course, a trip to Philly wouldn’t be complete without an authentic post-race re-fuel Philly Cheesesteak, which was heaven in my mouth, dairy, gluten and all!  Overall, this was an amazing experience.  I don’t know that 42.2k is my favourite race distance yet, but I’m happy to report I can do it and finished in a respectable first-time effort of 4 hours and 15 seconds.  Next marathon goal:  crack 4 hours!ImageImageImageImageImage