Stronger body, Stronger life

How Taking Great Care of Your Body Can Strengthen Your Mind, Your Spirit and Your Purpose

Recently, I had the honor and pleasure of speaking on this topic at a women’s retreat. I really enjoyed having the chance to meet these wonderful women and share my story. My hope was (is) that it might inspire even one woman to make positive changes. So here ’tis…


This is my mother, Eunice. When she died in 1995, she was morbidly obese, chain smoked, had drinking and gambling problems (at least I considered them problems…she considered them hobbies), and hadn’t been to a doctor until her cancer was too advanced for her to stand a chance. She was also a terrific mother, with a huge heart, who went to church religiously, delivered meals to the elderly and was greatly loved by many for her outgoing spirit and absurd sense of humor. Who knows, perhaps if she had taken better care of her body, my son Griffin would have had the chance to know her spirit. Or perhaps not. Regardless, I’m certain that witnessing her terrible physical decline has been a powerful influence on where I am today, at 45, in by far the best physical shape of my life, talking to you about the power of a strong body in building a strong life.


If genetics and environment are responsible for one’s bodily strength as an adult, I was in serious trouble on both counts. My brothers and I grew up with a kitchen pantry that magically replenished itself with Captain Crunch, Lucky Charms, Cheetos, Doritos and all the other -itos. Fried ring bologna and liver sausage were permanently on the menu, along with a German delicacy of bacon wrapped in beef slathered in gravy. I had learned to swallow carrots whole, but didn’t know green vegetables existed until I was 20. It’s not shocking, then, that by third grade or so, I was wearing a combination of clothes from the “chubby” section at JC Penney, and clothing made *specially* for me.


As an adult, although I learned better nutrition in college (thank you, God) and always liked exercise, I hit the big “200″ on the scale in the year 2000, shortly after I moved to Milwaukee with a Moroccan who liked to feed me and throw things. Fortunately that chapter was short. And all photographic evidence has been systematically destroyed.

I hired a nutritionist and a personal trainer. I love the nutritionist to this day for helping me fit in my dress…that I wore when I married the personal trainer.

I found the lost weight again when I was pregnant with our son, two weeks later. I went from a full on vegan diet to summer sausage and pickle sandwiches, and gained 60 pounds. I don’t know what the statute of limitations is on calling weight “baby weight,” but I’m fairly certain it’s less than 8 years. Yet as recently as 18 months ago, I remained 40 pounds overweight, mostly sedentary, and not a happy camper. (Oddly enough, there are also few remaining photos from this time period…)

Seeking a healthful weight and a strong body has been a life-long roller coaster ride. And then..a light bulb went on.


Everyone’s bodily gifts are different. And everyone’s journey to find the light will be different. In my case, I was asked to run a half marathon on a charity team in honor of a beautiful baby boy named Paxton Andrews, who was battling cancer. I wasn’t a runner, and hadn’t attempted it in over a decade. But, the right inspiration can overcome almost anything, and four months later, I crossed my first half marathon finish line.

My run raised over $2,000 for MACC Fund, to fight childhood cancer. Sadly, however, Paxton ended his battle with cancer that July, at just four months old. And pediatric cancer research remains woefully underfunded. NOT. ACCEPTABLE. I encourage you to learn more about the Paxton Andrews Foundation and support their amazing work.

Last year, I joined the Racers Against Childhood Cancer running and triathlon team, to continue doing what I can to help raise funds. (My page is here and your support in any amount is appreciated from the bottom of my heart.) In the past six months, I’ve done my second half marathon, ridden a century (100 miles) on my bike, and learned to swim. I’m in training for the Door County Half Iron Distance triathlon this July…a 1.2 mile swim followed by a 56-mile bike ride followed by a half marathon…and for a fall marathon. With every intention of doing a full IronMan triathlon one day. Maybe soon…maybe when I am 70.


The ability to do all of this is a HUGE GIFT. For many people, including some of my friends, it is sadly not a possibility. Which makes it that much MORE of a gift. I am trying to keep that top of mind. And I am trying to make the most of it while it lasts.


If running is your thing, when you start, your body might only want to run a block or two. If you persist, it can run like you never thought possible. It can run three, five, ten, 13.1, twenty or more miles. And, in doing so, completely change your view of WHAT IS POSSIBLE. Which is the real magic. If running is not your thing, try biking or swimming or roller derby or anything that intrigues YOU. Just try something, and then try something else, until you find some things you love.


My happy place…the weight room

I cannot recommend it highly enough. For anyone of any age. But particularly as we age, it is VITAL to help us maintain muscle mass and metabolism and bone density. You don’t necessarily have to go to the gym and pump iron, if you aren’t comfortable doing that, though I recommend it. Use your body and do pushups and squats and other body weight exercises, at a minimum.


You can exercise all day long, and if you’re pumping junk into your body, you’re still going to feel like junk. Eat real, unprocessed food. And do what you need to do to hold yourself accountable for the quality and the amount of what you’re eating. There’s an app for that…it’s called MyFitnessPal. Answer to question asked in retreat: NO, LEAN CUISINE IS NOT REAL FOOD.


I promise you, as your body gets stronger, your life will be stronger in sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo many ways.

Foremost among them: even when you think you CAN’T do something…there’s NO WAY…you will come to learn that you CAN. I can remember thinking “there is no way I will ever be able to run 5 miles.” Then, eventually, I ran 20. This new knowledge that you CAN will replace the conversation in your head about why you can’t, and create all sorts of new possibility.

As my friend Lynn, who just added a strength training program to her world, said, “Staying fit and strong means there are less “no”s in your life.” I LOVE that thought.

As Heidi, who just lost 100 pounds, said, “I just can feel my strength…when I work out, I feel strong. It’s a feeling of confidence that I can accomplish big things because I have gotten myself to be really healthy.”

Then there’s Deb, who ran her first marathon in 2012: “The biggest benefit was increased confidence and the knowledge that I’m strong enough to take on just about anything. At one point I could not run a mile, but then I ran 26.2. Slowly yes, but it took a lot of physical and more mental strength to do it. You gain confidence that the next step will be a steady one. You gain confidence that the next step will bring amazing people into your life. You gain confidence that what you’re doing isn’t selfish or self-serving but that you’re actually influencing others.”

And Tracey: “I feel like it has given me confidence more than anything. I went from being a shy, introverted stay-at-home mom to not only running ultramarathons, but organizing races, teaching bootcamps, coaching, and actually getting excited about meeting new people. I think it translates to so many more things in life outside of just being physically strong.”

So, yes, a stronger body CAN bring NEW CONFIDENCE and POWER and PURPOSE and MEANING to your entire life.

If you’re a parent, it can help make you the kind of positive, energetic parent that you want to be. And you will pass the knowledge that you CAN do big things on to your children. If you’re a professional, it can help make you the kind of positive, energetic, confident professional that you want to be. Whatever you are, whatever you do, I promise you that discovering the power and strength of your body will make you a better one.

I don’t know about you, but I want to see just how strong and beautiful my body can get before I die. And what more I can do with it.So, regardless of what your bodily gift is and what your journey of choice is – I encourage you to not waste it.


Dear Nadia: STFU

So last weekend I gave that talk, that I think was fairly inspirational and very positive (which I will edit and post this week, I swear). This weekend, I’m busy dealing with the negative voice of me, inside my own head, which is super LOUD and uncooperative and not even remotely helpful right now. She’s been beating the CRAP out of me, actually.

No, I’m not developing a split personality…no need to start calling me Sybil. The voice is just…me. The younger, fatter me. The me that was a fat kid and couldn’t dive like the other kids could (and still can’t…or rather doesn’t know how). The me that didn’t know yet that I could run well and bike well and swim well. Yes, even freaking SWIM.

I think this voice should have a name…so I’m calling her “Nadia”. She sounded something like this, this morning on the treadmill, where I was attempting to do a relatively speedy 5K (somewhat naively, as I am still getting over a cold).

Nadia: “God, you’re fat. There’s no WAY you can hold this pace.”
*stops treadmill*
*long pause*
*starts treadmill*
Nadia: “Seriously? You’re trying this again, just at a slightly slower pace? Not happening, fatty. You should really just walk or something.”
*stops treadmill*
*long pause*
*starts treadmill*
Nadia (laughing): “REALLY? Still trying, huh? That’s admirable but you’re NEVER going to finish this. Just give it up.”

After 10 minutes or so of this, I realized something…I’m really, REALLY tired of Nadia.

In fact…I’m done with her.

She makes me sad. (Truth be told, I sobbed for about 10 minutes after finishing the run. But I DID finish the run, and at a good pace for the last mile, to make sure she didn’t win.) She makes me tired. She brings me down. I don’t know why she has been there for SO long, but she has outlived her purpose, whatever it was, and she needs to go now.

So, right here, right now, I am telling her once and for all: SHUT. THE. F$&!. UP.

I am good.
I am fit.
I can run.
I can bike (HELLYEAH I can bike. EVEN HILLLLLLLLLZ.)
I can SWIM, bitch.

That doesn’t mean I can’t get better, and fitter, and faster and….swimmier. It just means that there is NOTHING WRONG with me right NOW. GODDAMMIT.

Hasta la vista, Nadia.

How do you get rid of YOUR negative self talk?

Trying something new: #YMCAMKE

Pumped to be adding a new workout home to my roster…YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee. Disclosure…I’ve been given a free family membership to the YMCA to try it out for six months and share my experiences there. Even though I’ve never been a member before, I’ve always heard great things about the Y, so I’m super happy to both try it out and to help.

I’ve always wanted to try the Y. I’ve belonged to the WAC (Wisconsin Athletic Club) since I moved here ten-ish years ago. I met my husband there, and he still works as a trainer there. I also belong to cheapo-gym-that-says-it’s-not-a-gym, Planet Fitness, because it’s right across the street from my office…well, now the Downtown YMCA is, too, and it’s a LOT nicer than PF. So, YAY. With three places to choose from, and a home workout room that is shaping up to be pretty sweet, too (thanks for the treadmill, Santa!) I really can’t make any excuses, like, EVER. EV-ER.

I’ll be going mostly to the Downtown YMCA, where I’m excited to use the track (six laps to a mile) and hopefully get in some TRX and kettlebell classes. Strength training FTW! I’ll also be taking G to the West Suburban YMCA to swim and for swim lessons…they are a pretty great deal. He wants to try martial arts classes, too, and they have a ton of other great programs. He is going crazy to go in and get his very own membership card.

Lately I’ve been noticing that a LOT of my friends go to the YMCA of Milwaukee…more than I realized. Erica and Kirsten, go there. Eileen in my bike group the Bella Donnas teaches a great Y-Cycle class, I’m told. Deb swims there. Tracey and Sun are trying it out too. So, here’s to trying new things!

Like (*gulp*) triathlons…Olympic and Half Iron distance. More about that later.

Trying anything new this year? Have you tried the YMCA?

Set BIG fitness goals. Goals that make you want to puke.


A wise friend (Sheila, I think?) posted that goals that aren’t written down are just wishes. And I agree, writing them down starts the process of making them real. So it shall be done, this New Year’s morning before dawn. I LOVE A NEW YEAR. Don’t you love a new year, a fresh start?!

2013 was a GOOD year, injuries and all. I lost over 20 pounds (34 total now since 2012), set new 5K and half marathon PRs, finished my first century, and, quite unexpectedly, learned to *really* swim. Equally important, I met some new running and tri friends, joined Badgerland Striders and a tri group. So, now 2014 is here and PRAISE GOD the Christmas cookies are GONE. There’s a little extra squish around my middle to prove it. Squish aside, I consider myself a fairly fit person. And 2014 is going to be the year I get *REALLY* FIT…specifically:

“Racing Weight” lean… 16-18% body fat fit, to be precise. Which is likely a weight loss of another 9-ish pounds. (It’s true what they say, these last pounds really are the hardest, but I know as training really gets cranked up here it’ll happen.)

This morning already – against my better judgement – I registered for my first two triathlons. Olympic distance in June and HALF FREAKING IRON distance in July. GULP. I really do kind of want to puke right now, but honestly, if at least one of your goals doesn’t make you nervous as hell, you’re not aiming high enough IMHO. I also plan to do a fall marathon, which no longer seems scary *at all* compared to a triathlon swim.

To make these goals real, there are a whole host of sub-goals on which I’ll need to focus…

Keeping my son G involved and engaged and spending as much time with him as I possibly can! Being nice to my husband, who is a huuuuuge part of my support system. Being nice to MYSELF…loving my body for what it can do in spite of the (temporary!) extra squish around my middle. Eating extreeeeeeeemely well for fueling and recovery. GETTING. MORE. SLEEP. HAVING MORE FUN along the way. Managing money very carefully to support/save for the god-awful-expensive triathlon habit…that’s next on today’s agenda, after a healthy breakfast and some agility drills on the track. And a nap. :)

All right then. What BIG, vomity goals have you set for yourself for 2014? GO GET EM.

CYGA review: a nice, easy change of pace

Some days, when the cat alarm went off at 11PM and you were up until 2AM, you think to yourself, that long Saturday sunrise run probably isn’t happening…what can I do that would be easier, but still a decent workout, and maybe, dare I say, even a little bit FUN? On days like that, you might want to take a combination cycling + yoga class. This has been trendy for a while now, and seems to be getting even hotter…I’m seeing it all over the place, especially going into the winter, indoor riding season.

I decided to finally check out CYGA, located on Oakland Avenue in Shorewood. CYGA, which has been around for nearly a year, preaches a “FourCore” philosophy: strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. This, I like. I’m all about building strength and endurance right now (going into 2014 with my eye on a half-Iron-distance tri)…and often lack the time and/or patience to spend enough time stretching, working on flexibility and balance.

It’s a nice, intimate, little studio experience. The bikes, while a little “creaky,” had computers showing cadence etc. which was great. The teacher, Kurt, was also great…I remembered him from yoga classes at Yama Yoga years ago. The “standard” CYGA class is 30 minutes of cycling (on spinning-type bikes) followed by 30 minutes of yoga. It left me wanting more cycling, but the upside is that you do give yourself a really great stretch afterwards. They do offer some “extended” class options, with a slightly longer cycle and a slightly longer yoga session, which I would recommend over the standard class if you want a good workout. (They also offer classes that are just either cycling, or yoga.) But for a nice, easy change of pace, or an active recovery day, the regular CYGA class is good.

All in all, I left feeling like I got a little bit of leg strength work in and a really good warm up……for a nice long run.

Time for a good Fall detox: day one

Photo credit: John Pozadzides, Flickr Creative Commons


Since finishing my fall races/events a month ago, I’ve been getting lazy about my eating habits. And over the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed my energy levels and mood both tanking big time … and my stress level and weight starting to creep up. Clear signs that it’s time to hit the nutritional reset button with a good Fall cleanse. If you want to feel AMAZING you might want to think about doing it with me (as some others are…Lisa and Amanda, this blog’s for you!) or doing a cleanse that best suits you.


I’m still training moderately hard so am not taking on the full-blown Clean program that I’ve done a couple of times before. And I considered the Whole 30 program that’s popular right now; however, for me personally, eliminating whole grains and legumes makes no sense. I don’t like meat enough to go “Paleo” and I don’t think it’s necessary. But – different strokes. Do what works for YOU. It may take some exploration.

Personally, for the next two weeks (until it’s time for my 45th birthday cupcake!) I’m eliminating ALL PROCESSED FOOD, including but not limited to processed sugar. I need to eat WAY more vegetables than I have been. And I’m reducing my dairy, but keeping some milk and yogurt in, to ensure I get enough calcium and vitamin D and keep my bones strong, especially heading into Vitamin-D-deficiency-season here in the great white North. I use a little bit of honey, agave or maple syrup when I need a little bit of sweet. And I still get my morning coffee or a chai tea – NOT the hyper-sweetened coffee shop variety – if I want it.


So what do I eat/recommend, as some of you have asked?

Much of what turns me on about clean eating right now is inspired by having recently read the book Eat and Run, by vegan ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek. I’m not a vegan (though I once was, for a few years). At times in my training I want MEAT. And at times, it grosses me out. Last night I ate a cheeseburger (which rarely happens) and today the thought of that makes me want to vomit so I’m having veggie chili. In general my way of eating is very in line with Scott’s, and the recipes in his book alone are worth the cover price. Here are a couple of sample recipes, from his website. The lentil mushroom burgers are outstanding.

I also just finished reading Born to Run by Chris McDougall, finally, and I love to eat the way he describes: salads (even for breakfast), greens, pinto beans, corn tortillas, squash, chia seeds…mmmm. Maybe it’s the time I’ve spent in “out there” parts of Mexico in the past but this diet is very appealing to me. But it’s not all I eat. Here are just a few of my “tried and true”, go-to food choices. Please share YOURS in the comments!


This Just Peachy Green Smoothie from the Skinny Taste blog (one of my favorites) became a staple for me this summer and I started my day with it today on detox day one. It’s incredibly refreshing and restorative. I like it with the hemp seeds and also make it with chia seeds. We always have these ingredients on hand so it’s easy to throw together.

And here’s a Green Machine Smoothie recommended by Erin Ulicki that I’ll be making this week. It’s got pineapple which another food that’s great for inflammation/runners, and ginger. Good stuff!

I am also trying to drink at least one fresh-squeezed juice per day, usually green juice or ginger beet juice . The green juice – “cancer’s kryptonite!” – just helped cure my day one detox headache. And the beet juice is supposed to increase stamina by boosting blood flow, when you drink it before a workout. Excited to try that out.


I like a banana before a workout, or during a long workout…high in sugar, yes, but personally I am not concerned about naturally-occuring fruit sugar. I eat an apple almost every day…especially helpful during processed-food detox. I eat berries often…blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, either fresh or frozen in a smoothie. And I drink tart cherry juice almost every day because it’s great for inflammation and has been proven to enhance recovery in runners. Also, it’s YUMMY.


Eating enough veggies is KEY to any good detox and to making sure your body is working well…put them in anything and everything. I try to get leafy greens in my body at LEAST twice a day if not three times.

One of the green breakfast smoothies is a great way to start the day right. In a time pinch, I’ll often lightly sautee a huge pile of spinach and scramble in a couple of eggs/egg whites…VERY filling and satisfying. At least once or twice a week, I’ll eat a pile of chard sauteed with some garlic, with a nice piece of fish like five-spice tilapia or wild salmon on top, for dinner. I’m also planning to keep kale chips on hand for snacks (just as good with only salt and pepper as with fresh parm and chili powder, as in the recipe).

Heidi Ketroser Massey suggested “I roast tons of veggies (with whole garlic cloves-lots of ‘em!) With olive oil and perhaps salt and pepper. But you gotta eat a lot to get full. I might do 4 bell pepers, 2 onions, maybe some mushrooms, or asparagus, and a whole head of garlic. When I fill up on that, I’m really satisfied…” I plan to do this (minus the onions, for me) and throw them on top of a salad. Roasted BEETS are delicious too!

I also bought a couple of acorn squash today and am looking forward to baking those bad boys up with a *touch* of maple syrup. Also, a baked sweet potato is a great standby, very filling, meal or snack.


Soups are a huge part of my diet, especially soups with legumes and lots of veggies. It’s easy to make up a pot of soup and eat if for lunch for a few days…it’s a great convenience food. Very Green Lentil Soup is a great go-to detox food. When I need something a little spicier we make Wheatberry Black Bean Chili. The wheat berries have a nice nutty flavor but you could also substitute quinoa.


If I need more for breakfast than a smoothie, I’ll often eat Jillian Michaels’ Steel Cut Oats with Apples and Pecans.

I eat a LOT of beans and lentils, whether or not I’m detoxing. Scott Jurek’s Smoky Chipotle Refried Beans will be a HUGE staple for me during this detox. Here’s his recipe, though I highly recommend you get your hands on his book.

3 cups dried pinto beans
1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
Half inch piece dried Kombu seaweed (optional…definitely recommend)
1-2 dried whole chipotle peppers or canned chipotles in adobo to taste
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons dried epazote (we did not use this, but added cilantro instead)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 and a half teaspoons sea salt

Soak the beans in water to cover by 2 inches, 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse the beans in a colander a few times, then transfer to a large pot. Add the onion, garlic, seaweed, chipotles, and spices. Add water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium-low heat for about 1 hour, or until the beans are soft and cooked through.

Drain the beans, reserving 4 cups of the liquid, remove the seaweed. Remove the chiles, or leave one in if spicier beans are desired. Cool the beans for 15 minutes, then place in a food processor along with half cup of the liquid and process until smooth. If desired, you may thin the beans with additional cooking liquid.

Return the pureed beans to the pot with the olive oil and salt. Simmer over low to medium-low heat for 20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Serve warm.

Makes 7 cups, 8-10 servings.

NOTE: I do not puree the beans. I like them better partly intact so I just smush them up a little bit. And I like them a littler spicier, too, so am adding more chipotles.

Once you’ve got the killer beans, eat them a) on natural corn tortillas b) with some quinoa, preferably with lots of veggies chopped up and thrown in.

I’ve got more great whole grain recipes I’ll share another time…curried quinoa with veggies…and my absolute favorite, millet cakes.


Here’s a sample day…this is about 1,800 calories, since I ran 5 miles this morning. On a “normal” day I’m targeting about 1,400-1,600 calories right now.

Pre run: Just Peachy Green Smoothie
Post run: Tart cherry juice and two dates each stuffed with 1 t. almond butter
Lunch: Lentil soup with greens
Snack: 1 ounce cashews, half a LaraBar and an apple
Dinner: Veggie chili, two corn tortillas, and green veggie juice


So this has been a very long post but I hope useful for some of you! If you’re doing this or another detox, let me know how it’s going and if I can help in any way. And I’d LOVE to hear what YOU eat in the comments…link to your favorite detox-appropriate recipes if you got ‘em!

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