Seasons of Renewal and Refinement

Spring is upon us (though the recent weather would have you believe otherwise) and that means one thing for me: running season is in full swing! Three weeks until I kick off the 2013 spring marathon season with the good old Boston Marathon. In case you were concerned, I’m still getting on my yoga mat six days per week. I go in cycles with my yoga practice and distance running, and it kind follows suit with the changing of the seasons. During the summer and winter months, I focus on progressing in my yoga practice and maintaining my running. Spring and fall are seasons to increase my endurance on the roads and maintain the state of my current yoga practice. It’s not that I’m not putting in the work on my yoga mat, it’s that my goals vary throughout the year.

There are so many more layers to practicing yoga than learning and mastering new postures, and running helps to keep that in perspective for me. Running humbles me and keeps my competitive nature in check. I still get on my mat six days per week, but during my “running seasons” I don’t have the expectation of progressing further in my practice.  I guess that isn’t exactly the correct way to phrase it. I hope to progress, but not in the sense of acquiring new asanas. My focus shifts to reinforcing the use of breath and bandhas to guide movements and develop fluidity in my current practice, which is really where the emphasis should be anyway. Running serves as a reminder that there are more facets to having a daily ashtanga practice than just mastering asanas. I suppose you could say that my “running seasons” serve as seasons of renewal and refinement in my yoga practice.

When I’m in running mode, my practice changes and assumes a whole new identity. My body adapts to the added stress and strain that is associated with long distance running. Warming up takes much longer, and my muscles are often stiffer and angrier than usual. There are days where I never feel comfortable in a forward fold, or my heels refuse to leave the ground in kurmasana.  My tight hamstrings are capable of carrying me far when my feet hit the pavement, but also produce significantly bent legs in postures like titibasana and vashistasana. But you know what? I’m completely a-okay with that. I’m a distance runner, and that’s my choice. I could quit running anytime, but I don’t want to. I make no apologies for it and believe it adds a different type of strength, grace, and character to my practice that I am proud to call my own.  Getting on my mat everyday regardless of whether I ran six miles or 60 miles that week will absolutely make a difference in my body and more importantly, my mind.

For me, running also serves as a reminder of the many valuable lessons I’ve learned on my yoga mat. Some of the most important lessons I’ve encountered touch on permanence and perfection. Nothing in life is permanent, so why expect permanence in your yoga practice? Running compels me to detach from postures and transitions I’ve grown comfortable with or accustomed to performing.

Sure, it’s entirely possible (and likely) that if I discontinued running, I’d have more consistency and flexibility in my practice. I can, however, tell you this: I can’t think of anyone in my circle of yoga friends that hasn’t encountered a lesson regarding permanence, regardless of the presence of “extra curricular” athletic activities in their daily lives. One day, you may be fortunate enough to find yourself effortlessly dropping back and standing up from a back bend, but the next day you’re lucky if you can successfully lift up in urdhva dhanurasana. You finally “get” that jump back you’ve been working towards for years, and then suddenly you are back to touching your toe before landing in chatwari. If you think about it, it’s synonymous with life and everything you experience off of your mat – nothing is permanent and everything changes. C’est la vie.

If everything changes, so should your definition of perfection. Runners often measure success by logging the “perfect” amount of miles, and performing the “perfect” types of workouts at the “perfect” pace in order to run “perfect” races. Everything seems to be going “perfectly” until you find yourself nursing an injury, recovering from an illness, or just too busy with life to put in the work necessary to obtain your level of “perfection”. It’s life. Running helps me moderate the need for perfection and encourages me to alter my idea of what “perfect” is in all aspects of life. It teaches me to toss my standards out the window and acknowledge that obtaining perfection in my asanas isn’t the only element of the practice.

Each time you accomplish a goal or conquer an asana, there is always another layer or level you work towards, so be content with your capabilities of each day. Redefining perfection means realizing that perfection doesn’t come from actual asanas and can’t be measured by a forward fold or an arm balance. It comes from making time to get on your mat as often as possible and acknowledging what your body needs each day. Some days, it could be kapotasana, while other days it could be samastitihi. Realize that perfection comes from finding peace and acceptance in any circumstance, not in how far you can crank your leg behind your head or how slowly you can lower in karadavasana.

I’m not saying that because I run and practice yoga I’m totally at peace with everything and and have it all together, because I don’t.  In reality, who does? I’m certainly not saying that you have to be a runner or pursue something other than a daily yoga practice, either. I’m not even saying that you have to practice yoga. My point is you have to do what makes you happy in order to be happy and content with your life. For me, the lessons I learn while logging countless miles and hours on my mat help me grow and evolve as a person. It helps define who I am, influences the choices that I make, steers me towards the people choose to associate with and how I handle struggles I encounter in my daily life. I still experience hardships and frustration often but knowing my strength and capabilities help make overcoming situations easier. Running season is absolutely in full swing, and I am loving every minute of it.

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Boston #3: The Countdown is ON!

Last Friday, I was sitting at my desk and looked over at the calendar hanging on the wall. It was March 15. One month until the big day…Marathon Monday! It’s hard to believe that this will be my third time lining up at the starting line in Hopkinton with 26,895 other runners for the Boston Marathon. I can’t wait.

In the world of distance runners, running Boston is almost like a rite of passage for some and ends up on the “to do” lists of many individuals all over the world. The course is spectacular, crowd support is unmatched, and the energy is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Let’s not forget about one of the the biggest elements: in order to gain entry, participants have to run a qualifying time (or run it for a charity, of course). When it comes to most distance runners, this is like dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit. Oh yeah, and Addias is the merchandise sponsor for the race, so you walk away with some pretty sweet gear. I would be totally lying if I said I don’t proudly sport my Boston swag and rock my obligatory jacket with the best of them. I’ll be honest: I earned it, and it was never an easy feat for me.

My history with this historical race is somewhat rocky, so it often comes as a surprise when I say it’s my favorite marathon. My love for this renowned race has little to do with it’s reputation, and it’s not the [entire] reason this race holds a special place with me among all of the rest. Just like my daily ashtanga yoga practice, the Boston Marathon is another chapter in my life that continues to challenge me and teach me important life lessons.

My relationship with the Boston Marathon was never an easy one, and I hit numerous obstacles and road blocks along the way. Even when I decided to run my first full marathon, I had no idea what the significance of running Boston actually was – I just thought it was another marathon, like the New York or Chicago. It was after I crossed the finish line of my first marathon (Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco) just shy of five hours where I realized what it all meant. Before my first attempt at the daunting 26.2, I consistently ran decently paced shorter distance races and often placed in my age group at local events. My ego needed a good reality check because as the date of my first marathon grew closer, I trained very casually – almost arrogantly. Finishing with an overall pace around the 11 minute mile mark was humbling and motivating. Although Boston seemed like a joke to me at that point, improving my marathon time to be more consistent with my shorter distance races was my more immediate goal.

Boston still never crossed my mind as I signed up for my second marathon. When I crossed the finish line almost 45 minutes faster than my first full marathon, I thought, “Hmmmm. Well, that was better.” I ran my third marathon a month later in 3:46, which left me feeling as though Boston was a distant possibility. Since this was prior to the BAA (Boston Athletic Association) implementing new qualifying standards, I was only 6 minutes away from reaching the 3:40 finish time, so I set out to qualify at a fall marathon during 2009. I targeted the Baltimore Marathon as my potential BQ, but felt defeated when I crossed the finish line in 4:08. After training all summer, I ran slower. I could argue that the weather and how I felt that morning played a factor, but the bottom line is that though I was training hard, I wasn’t training smart.  A month later, I headed to San Antonio and somehow qualified by the skin of my teeth. I was on cloud nine as I walked back to our hotel, grabbed my wallet and went directly to the BAA web site. It was November 15, 2009. Boston registration was closed because it sold out two days earlier.

There was a silver lining. Fortunately, your qualifying time is good for 18 months. Since I qualified in November, my time made me eligible to participate in the 2010 and 2011 events. On the day Boston registration opened for the 2011 race, I took the day off of work and registered. The moment the race registration opened everyone attempting to register was faced with another baffling situation: the link provided didn’t function properly and would reset your form instead of submitting it. Everyone trying to sign up was freaking out, and I was glued to my computer until they fixed it a few hours later. I’ll never regret my decision to stay home from work to sign up that day because the race was sold out by 3pm, which prompted the BAA to change the qualifying standards for future races.

During the fall of 2010, I started following an actual training plan rather than just winging it. I was already in training for several fall marathons in 2010 and ended up running another qualifying time in November at the Outer Banks Marathon, running a 3:37. Since the old qualifying times were still eligible for entry at this point, the race secured me a spot for the 2012 race. As the fall 2010 race season came to an end, so did my running. I was sidelined with a stress fracture in my right tibia. I was still able to get through some half assed training and run Boston for the first time, but my love for the sport faded in the process. So many things had gone wrong by the time I actually got to cross the finish line that I failed to appreciate what I’d accomplished. I loved the course and participating in the actual event, but my negative attitude put a damper on the experience. Instead, I felt defeated and burned out, rather than motivated and inspired.

I went an entire summer without lacing up my running shoes and swore I was done running. When Boston registration rolled around, I thought, “Whatever. I qualified. I guess I’ll sign up.” With my negative attitude, I didn’t deserve to get accepted into the 2012 race. I wasn’t even sure I’d get in because the BAA implemented a system where they accepted the faster runners first, but somehow I made the cut. I often wonder if I would have ever started running again had I been denied entry into the 2012 race. Being accepted into the 2012 field basically forced me to start running again, and prompted me to run the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon with a friend looking to complete her first race. It was a long process, but the very race that knocked me down and left me feeling defeated also restored my enthusiasm and love for running.

By the time Boston 2012 rolled around, I was starting to feel the excitement once again. I hadn’t trained too hard, but I was enjoying the simple act of running and building up my endurance. As I prepared for the race, I had no intention of ever qualifying or running the race again after 2012. On Marathon Monday, temperatures were soaring around 90 degrees, with uncharacteristically high humidity levels. Running that race in those conditions was one of the most challenging experiences, and it ended up being one of my slowest marathon times. It was also one of the most fun and memorable experiences to date. The race officials, spectators, and local community members were so accommodating and went to great lengths to ensure that runners had the resources necessary to cross the finish line. The camaraderie among runners is something that I love about the sport to begin with, but the way everyone supported each other on the course that day still brings tears to my eyes. My time was pretty ugly, but I felt excited, inspired, and restored. As I came through the finish line on Boyleston Street I thought, “I need one more shot here.” This meant I needed to hit a new qualifying time, a 3:35. And so I did, in September 2012 at the VIA Marathon, running a 3:33.

Which brings me to today. Less than a month to go. I don’t have a pace goal set for this race – my only goal is to finish strong and enjoy the experience from start to finish. There are too many variables that make Boston a poor choice for me to try to set a personal record or run a crazy fast race. Boston is my warm up for my spring races this year and will jump start my excitement for the races I’m registered for that follow it. Most importantly, I don’t care to set a PR in Boston because I want to enjoy every second on the course and appreciate the experience, especially in the event that it’s my last time there. I have yet to qualify for Boston #4…although it is something that’s already crossed my mind.

If I can keep my body strong and healthy, this year will be the most meaningful for me as I cross the finish line. Whether you ever run Boston (or even aspire to run it) doesn’t make you any more or less of a runner. It’s what you take away from the experience – really, it’s what you take away from any experience. To me, Boston began as a distant goal I chose to pursue that led to a series of obstacles and challenges that I had to overcome. It’s a race that caused me to face up to problems and situations in all aspects of my life, both physically and emotionally. Spending countless hours and miles training, calculating splits, and developing race strategies caused me to look deeper within myself and face up to my weaknesses. It reinforced the fact you can’t take shortcuts or slack off if you want to accomplish steep goals, and there are no substitutes for hard work. It tried my patience, put my ego in check and tested my love for running. For some, it’s just another race. For me, it’s an affirmation that anyone can accomplish anything they set out to do, if they want it badly enough. It’s how I learned that quitting is never an option, and there is always a way to overcome difficulties. Boston literally taught me that what doesn’t kill you not only makes you stronger, but it changes you for the better. Earning my jacket is an accomplishment that instills a sense of humility and pride all at the same time.

And that, my friends, is why I will always love good old Beantown.

Catalyst Juice Cleanse Review

It came, we drank, and we conquered! Saturday morning arrived, and I actually didn’t begin drinking my juices until close to 11am. Since I’m training for an unhealthy amount of full spring marathons, I had to get in a 16 mile run that morning. I was afraid of what the green juice would do to my sensitive stomach, so I woke up and drank my hot lemon water and some coffee (yes, I still drank coffee…bad cleanser) and headed out. I usually don’t eat much before running anyway, but I can’t remember ever doing a long run on a completely empty stomach.

Much to my surprise, I felt great on my run. I had to do a “Fartlek + Progression Run” – I ran the first six miles at an easy pace, and then did five miles of intervals (fartleks). The sprints were 90 second sprints followed by a 90 second recovery over a five mile duration. After the five miles were complete, I ran two miles at an easy pace, and then three miles at a hard pace. I had some friends to run with to make it more interesting and we spent the morning on the Bethlehem Towpath. Probably not the best way to kick off a juice cleanse, but Boston is in less than a month. It needed to happen.

The Juices

So getting back to the cleanse and how the juices tasted. The day started with a green juice, and I’d been incorporating green juice in the morning before the cleanse began to prepare. Although Catalyst makes a decent blend, I prefer my own green juice recipe. They use similar ingredients to mine: cucumber, celery, apple, parsley, spinach, lemon, lime, and ginger. For some reason, mine seems to be more flavorful. It almost seemed as though their juice tasted a bit watered down, which was not the case for the rest of their juices. Overall, I didn’t mind drinking the green juice throughout the cleanse. It’s the only juice of the bunch that we drank twice per day – juice # 1 and juice #5.

Next up was the spicy lemonade, which is just  lemon, agave, and cayanne. That one was pretty spectacular and much tastier than my own concoction. I looked forward to this juice each day and tried my best not to chug it when it was time to drink it. Mmmmm. I already miss it.

I enjoyed the third drink of the day, which came as a surprise. It was a sweet carrot juice consisting of carrot, apple, celery, lemon, and lime. I’m not a huge fan of raw carrots by themselves.  I eat them, but they aren’t my first choice raw veggie. However, I’d absolutely try recreating this juice in my juicer and looked forward to it.

The carrot juice was followed up by a beet juice, complete with beet, apple, lemon, and lime. It tasted like any other beet juice I’ve experienced from other cleanses or from my own juicer, but it had an aftertaste. Not a bad aftertaste…just a noticeable taste. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t my number one most favorite juice ever in the whole entire world. It was followed up by a second green juice, identical to juice #1.

The grand finale to each day was well worth the wait. Creamy vanilla cashew milk, made with cashews, agave, and cinnamon. It tasted like melted ice cream and I wished I could have an unlimited supply of it! Absolutely another drink I’ll be working to re-create in my kitchen. I’d actually like to try creating it and replacing the agave with dates, since I have a slight obsession with those.

Thoughts/Reactions

On the start day of the cleanse, I ran 16 miles and attended a surprise 30th birthday party. After getting through that day, the rest of the cleanse seemed like a walk in the park. First of all, I usually couple my long run days as my day to eat some junk food. I don’t go over the top, but it’s the one day where I don’t feel guilty if I have a few fries, visit my favorite restaurant (yep, the dumpling house!) or bake some kind of decadent dessert (which is why long run day often occurs on same day as my Pinterest recipe creations…how sneaky). The cleanse wasn’t too challenging until the birthday party on Saturday night. There was food. Good food. Everywhere. If I hadn’t run 16 miles that morning, I probably wouldn’t have minded so much. But I stuck with it.

Saturday’s long run caught up with me physically on Sunday. Though I was never actually hungry throughout the day, I was freezing cold and exhausted. I was out all day and actually heated up some organic veggie broth when I got home just to warm up. It tasted like it was prepared by a gourmet chef. I could have done some hot lemon water, but I just needed something different. I had plans to go for a run that afternoon but bagged it since I was pretty beat. Other than the fatigue, I felt pretty good. Sunday is also my day to go to the market, which I still did so I could be prepared to come off of the cleanse successfully.

I slept like a rock on Sunday night and woke up feeling refreshed on Monday. Looking back on the experience, I feel as though Monday was the easiest day. After work, I squeezed in the five mile run that I skipped on Sunday and a nice yoga practice. After all of that, I came home and prepped some foods for the next morning, and didn’t even feel the urge to taste them. I was ready to eat solid foods again, but I was feeling pretty good about the experience.

This was the fourth time I’ve done a juice cleanse. Each time, I was never actually hungry throughout the duration. I’ve created a short list of things NOT to do while cleansing:  1.) Run long distances. 2.) Attend a party where you’ll be surrounded by food and people stuffing their faces. 3.) Go food shopping…at The Fresh Market, nonetheless. Like I don’t want to eat everything there on a normal basis.

The only aspect of the experience that was different with my body this time was the feeling of exhaustion on Sunday. Usually, I feel clear and energized. This was the first time that I ran a long distance while completing a cleanse, so I know that had a lot to do with it. With less than a month until the Boston Marathon, I’m happy with the timing of this experience. I came away from this with exactly what I’d hoped for: to kick off my 30’s and spring clean my system, get some vegetables back into my diet, and come up with some new recipes for the work week. Success!

Catalyst Juice Cleanse: Pre-Cleanse Day #3

So my final day before the actual cleanse was on Friday, March 15. By the time day #3 rolled around, I was ready to start on my juices. For the final day before the cleanse, I completely eliminated all cooked foods to prepare my system for three days of juice. I’m definitely not a “raw foodie” by nature and enjoy the warmth and taste of cooked food, so I actually think this day was the most challenging.

Breakfast: Fruit

My books about cleansing recommend choosing one type of fruit for breakfast, specifically watermelon or papaya. I chose papaya –  good pick. The texture was nice and rich so it was filling and satisfying. So hot lemon water, a very little bit of coffee and papaya held me off until lunch.

Lunch: Gazpacho

I think I’d like this better in the summertime. Gazpacho is a very simple Spanish style vegetable soup served cold. Problem is, I was eating it at work and I was already freezing from the temperature in the building. It was full of tomatoes, orange peppers, yellow peppers, cucumber, garlic, and avocado. The flavor was really good with nice texture and great color, so I’ll definitely make this in the summer for a refreshing meal.

Dinner: Shaved Fennel Salad

I’m not usually a fan of fennel. At least, not when it’s by itself, which is kind of what this was. Just a fennel bulb, thinly sliced with lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed it, and I would absolutely make this in the future. It was a pretty light meal but it kept me pretty full.

Snacks: Spicy Lemonade, Fruit, and Raw Nuts

Lemonade, a banana and some raw cashews.

Pre- Cleanse Day #2 Reaction/Thoughts

I’m still not into the whole raw food diet. I’ve considered it in the past and incorporate raw foods into my diet, but I never went 100% raw. The only thing I actually found I was craving the day before the cleanse was cooked foods. And eggs, for some reason. I don’t even really eat eggs – I usually eat tofu instead – so I think it was more of a protein craving. Interestingly enough, I ate dinner around 5pm and then went to a concert, and I didn’t get home until after 10pm. I wasn’t starving when I got home, which surprised me since dinner was so minimal. By the end of day #3, both Asha and I were ready to cleanse!

Catalyst Juice Cleanse: Pre-Cleanse Day #2

Another day of juice cleanse preparations…the juice cleanse is scheduled to arrive on Friday to begin first thing Saturday morning! Today I focused on eating as many raw foods as possible. The only “cooked” items were the tortillas wraps in my lunch, the edamame in the hummus, and the steamed artichoke with my dinner.

Breakfast: “Watery” Fruits

Started off my day with hot lemon water and apples for breakfast. Yep, apples are considered a watery fruit. They seem pretty dense, but they are actually 84% water. I know, boring choice. No fun smoothies or interesting juices to report on. It was nice to have a grab and go kind of breakfast with no dishes to clean up afterwards (you should see my kitchen on the mornings where I use my juicer). Surprisingly enough, the apples kept me full all morning through lunchtime. I usually prefer smoothies, sprouted grain toast with almond butter, or some sort of oatmeal/hot cereal but my goal today was to go as raw as possible. So, apples for breakfast it was.

Lunch: Veggie Tacos

I was browsing through one of my books about cleansing when I was designing my pre-cleanse menu and happened upon this delicious idea. I used organic brown rice tortilla wraps, and filled them with shredded romaine, homemade guacamole, and homemade pico de gallo. Um, yes please! Once I’m done cleansing I would make this again but add rice, beans, or quinoa to make this dish more substantial. I happened to have brown rice tortillas in the house, so I used those. Food for Life, the brand I prefer, makes sprouted grain and sprouted corn tortillas that I’d also use in the future. It was packed with tons of flavor and I really enjoyed it.

Dinner: Greenmarket Salad with Basic Vinaigrette and Steamed Artichokes with Lemon Aioli

My husband is the best sport about all of this. I make the same meals for him that I’ll make for myself, even throughout my cleanse preparations. He jokes, “If you’re cleansing, I guess I’m cleansing.” I didn’t go as far as to order him his own juices, but he’s been eating dinner with me each night. As a matter of fact, he handled the sea veggie salad from day 1 way better than I did. So when dinner rolled around last night, he just went with it…and loved every bite of it!

I made a basic salad with mixed greens, tomatoes, red onion, fresh dill, fresh mint, sprouts, snow peas, and avocado with a basic vinaigrette dressing. All safe, delicious choices. Let’s talk about the artichokes. I’ve always loved them, but I grew up stuffing them with cheese, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, olive oil and transforming them from a healthy vegetable to a heavy side dish. Don’t get me wrong – I love them when prepared like that, and I’m sure I will make them that way again. This time, I steamed them in water with a few slices of lemon, and served it with a vegan Lemon Aioli. It was outstanding, and I was full by the time I finished dinner. This is something I’m definitely planning to prepare for dinner again regularly.

Lemon Aioli

  • ½ cup raw cashews, soaked for 1 hour
  • ¼ cup of water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mustard seeds
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Blend all the ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth and well emulsified.

Snacks: Spicy Lemonade and Spicy Edamame Hummus

Enough about the lemonade. Edamame hummus! I replaced the chickpeas with shelled, cooked edamame. Of course, the usual ingredients like tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and cayanne pepper still went in with it. I ate a serving with celery in the afternoon. I’ll definitely be keeping a batch of this on hand in my refrigerator.

Spicy Edamame Hummus
Makes about 10 ounces

  • 3 ¼ cups water
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 cup frozen, shelled edamame (8oz)
  • ½ cup sesame tahini
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • Pinch cayenne

In a saucepan, place 3 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of the salt; bring to a boil. Add the edamame and allow for the water to come back to a boil. Cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Drain the edamame and place in a high speed blender or food processor with the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth and serve.

Pre- Cleanse Day #2 Reaction/Thoughts

I really enjoyed everything I ate today, and loved the variety. I would eat like this everyday, except I would prefer something different for breakfast. Over the past few days, I’ve had a lot of energy when running and felt lighter and more flexible in my yoga practice. I thought I was imagining it, but when I was at the yoga studio last night the teacher adjusted me in several postures and asked if I stopped running. She was surprised to hear that I’ve actually been running more miles since the last time she saw me. She thought I was much more open and flexible in my practice. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, when I wasn’t incorporating as many fruits and veggies into my diet, I found myself to be stiffer when on my mat and less energetic when running.

As for Asha, she ate a very similar diet today, with fresh juices, a vegan burrito, hummus, and roasted spaghetti squash for dinner. This was day 2 with no meat or dairy, and she is definitely missing those items from her diet! One observation we both had: when we woke up after day #2, we both felt kind of bloated – the opposite of how we felt after day #1. It makes sense, since most of our day was filled with the kinds of vegetables that would cause that to happen.

Other than the sea vegetable experience on day #1, I’d say the first two days were a success. I didn’t want to eat my hand off by the end of either day and I had tons of energy. I’m realizing that I snack more than necessary, and have some new food ideas for me to eat at work.

Catalyst Juice Cleanse: Pre-Cleanse Day #1

To prepare for the Catalyst Cleanse, I’ve been eliminating junk from my diet over the past week and a half. I don’t really eat too much junk, processed foods or meat (though I’m definitely not a vegetarian), but I made sure to be more mindful of my food choices as I began preparing to cleanse.  I’m three days away from the start of the Catalyst Cleanse, so now I’m really phasing out lots of foods. My regular diet is very similar to how I ate today, but I’m documenting it all anyway. Besides, it gives me a reason to talk about any of the new recipes I’m trying!

My partner in crime for this cleanse, Asha, is also prepping for our three days of juice. Her diet was similar to mine today and included fresh juices, tomatoes, avocados, nuts, and tilapia. She isn’t a vegetarian and consumes meat and dairy on a daily basis. Starting today, she will be eliminating meat and dairy from her diet for the next nine days. I’m interested to hear about her reaction to this whole ordeal.

Breakfast: Banana-Vanilla-Cinnamon Smoothie

I started the day by whipping up a smoothie in my brand new Vitamix (happy birthday to ME!). I tossed in ice, bananas, a healthy dose of cinnamon, part of a vanilla bean and some pure vanilla extract. YUM! There wasn’t really much to it, but it was delicious and kept me full for the morning. I thought I’d need to add some liquid or some extra sweetener, but it was excellent just the way it was.

Lunch: Lentil Salad

Whenever I make lentils (which is often), I prefer to use red lentils. This time,  I chose green ones because I thought the texture and flavor would work well with this salad. It’s cooked lentils, roasted red peppers, onions, garlic, basil, walnuts and dandelion leaves. For the dressing, I used some good balsamic, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos , extra virgin olive oil, and fresh lemon juice. It is filling, energizing, and packed with loads of flavor. I ate it for lunch the past few days and noticed that I had tons of energy in my training runs and yoga practice. Win!

Dinner: Sea Vegetable Salad with Ginger-Miso Dressing and Asian Cold Noodles with Spicy Almond Dressing

I really got to break in my Vitamix for this one.  It’s definitely going to be my weapon of choice when I make dressings and dips because it whipped everything up effortlessly. I’ve made these noodles before – they are pretty tasty and I like the texture. Sea Vegetable Salad…well…that’s another story.

Sea Vegetable  Salad is pretty straightforward and simple to make. I used wakame and nori and added some mixed greens, cucumbers, and jicama (a Mexican turnip), so it really had a variety of vegetables in the salad. Thank GOD. I really like nori, but the wakame really ruined it for me.I know I should regularly incorporate more sea veggies into my diet and that was my intention when I decided make this for dinner. The only time I ever eat them is when I go out for sushi. I don’t like them enough to eat them otherwise. I’m not someone who is bothered by the texture of food, but I really hate the texture of sea vegetables. Maybe I just don’t know how to prepare them correctly. It wasn’t a total fail, because the Ginger-Miso dressing, is pretty spectacular.

Ginger Miso Dressing
Makes about 12 oz

  • ½ cup mellow white miso paste
  • 1/3 cup agave nectar
  • 1/3 cup apple cidar vinegar
  • ¼ cup cold-pressed sesame oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon or lime juice (I used limes because I use lemon in  everything else!)
  • ¼ cup ginger, peeled and chopped

Blend all ingredients until smooth.

Asian Cold Noodles are buckwheat soba noodles topped with lots of chopped fresh veggies (cucumbers, scallions, red bell peppers, and mung bean sprouts) and a homemade spicy almond dressing. I typically prefer udon noodles to soba noodles and sometimes use those instead. The dressing for this dish is another keeper:

Spicy Almond Dressing
Makes about 8 oz

  • ½ cup raw or roasted almond butter
  • 6 tablespoons of tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of Nama Shoyu or Bragg Liquid Aminos
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons of agave nectar
  • ¾ teaspoon ginger, peeled and chopped
  • ¼ – ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt

Blend all ingredients in a high speed blender until completely smooth.

Snacks: Spicy Lemonade and a Larabar

Nothing new or fancy here – these kinds of things are in my diet on a regular basis. I love the kicked up lemonade so I’ve been making it everyday. I also really cut back my coffee consumption in the past week and a half. Previously, I was drinking 4-5 cups per day. I’ve been drinking hot lemon water in the morning and only a half cup of coffee, and then herbal teas all day. I still love my afternoon caffeine fix, so I head to Starbucks after work. Instead of ordering a tall coffee (12 ounces), I started drinking the “short” size (8 ounces). I can’t give up my cup of delicious Pike Roast with soy milk altogether…at least not yet!

Pre- Cleanse Day #1 Reaction/Thoughts

Though I’ve done juice cleanses in the past, I never really got creative with my pre and post cleansing meals. Besides taking a few days to clean out my system, my secondary intention is to find more creative options to incorporate during the work week. Summer is so much easier, with endless varieties of produce available and an unlimited amount of time for cooking and meal preparation (the benefit of being a teacher).

Besides enjoying my food selection today (well, except for the Sea Veggie salad), I feel pretty great. I’m sure part of it is due to cleaning up my diet for the past week and a half anyway, but I feel very energetic and prepared for tomorrow. I wasn’t hungry at any point, but what I ate was very similar to the kinds of meals I would prepare on a regular basis. This was Asha’s first day with no meat or dairy and her first thought was that she felt less bloated, lighter, and empty. Not hungry, but she described it as feeling empty. However, since she usually incorporates meat into her diet, this was something she missed when dinner rolled around. Since she had tilapia, I think it helped with her transition. She’s also been eliminating junk over the past week and choosing to consume more natural foods, so yesterday wasn’t as challenging as she expected.

I’ve got another interesting menu planned for tomorrow, so I’m excited to see how things progress!

Spring Cleaning! Drink Clean + Live Clean.

It happens every year. I get busy, and taking care of myself becomes secondary. I begin slacking in the nutrition department, become annoyed with winter running and lack the motivation to get on my yoga mat. Healthy foods seem boring among all of the heavy winter foods and baked goods.  I get sick of the winter fruits and vegetables and miss the variety of produce available in the summer months. I begin to crave comfort foods and gravitate towards the same recipes.  My foods slowly begin to lose their colors as I eliminate seasonal fruits and veggies. Usually, this occurs during the busy holiday season. By January 1, I’ve gained a few pounds and begin to get back on track.

But not this year. I made it through the holidays without skipping a beat. January arrived and I began running again (I took a three week hiatus to recover from my fall marathons) and continued my yoga practice. Everything was great until about halfway through February, when chaos ensued. I missed a few runs, and I skipped a few practices. I wasn’t cooking quite as much as I liked and ate out a little too frequently. I was feeling exhausted and unable to get out of bed in the morning, my complexion looked dull and there were dark circles under my eyes. My body finally decided that it had enough and revolted by catching possibly the worst cold I’ve ever had.  I’m pretty sure it was my body’s way of saying, WTF?

Lots of rest and relaxation did the trick for recovery, and I was feeling better in time for my 30th birthday. Yep, 30! Hitting a nice round number made me stop and think of where I was at different milestones in my life, and how I came to be where I am now. To be honest, I’ve never felt better at any other point in time. I am grateful for my health and the ability to be active, and I don’t want to lose that. So, to kick off my 30th birthday and start this new decade off the right way, I’m going to start by cleaning up my act. I’m going to do a three day juice fast. A good friend of mine turned 30 a few days before me, and she is also going to do it. I’m excited.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done a juice cleanse, and I actually really enjoy them. Surprisingly, I’m never actually hungry when I’m cleansing (and trust me, I am ALWAYS hungry), but I crave the act of eating. I’ve also found that it boosts my energy levels, promotes mental clarity, and makes me much more alert. However, fasting takes some preparation – especially given the current state of my diet. For example, I didn’t just wake up yesterday, throw some fruits and veggies in my juicer and declare that I’m cleansing. I did, however, purchase lots of colorful produce so I could incorporate a fresh juice into my diet daily until I officially begin my fast.

Although I own a juicer, it’s winter. Buying produce for my juice cleanse is not necessarily the most cost effective route, and I work all day long. Let’s be real: I can’t just whip out my juicer at work every time I’m ready to “eat”. If you choose to make your own juice, you should drink it soon after preparing it. Household juicers don’t have the same capabilities as commercial juicers. The juice begins to oxidize, causing it lose it’s nutritional value. So unless I can sit home and make juice all day long, it isn’t really practical right now. Enter option number two: the Catalyst Cleanse.

In the past, I’ve done the BluePrintCleanse (BPC) several times. I enjoy the juices and the philosophy behind their cleanse. I even have a book written by the BPC founders that contains some excellent juice and food recipes. I highly recommend it and loved the experience each time I’ve completed that cleanse. However, there are other cleanses out there that use the same philosophy and are more convenient for me. So this time around, I’m going to give the Catalyst Cleanse a shot.

The juices from the Catalyst Cleanse are similar to those found with the BPC. They are prepared the same way – with a hydraulic press. How is that different from the juices flowing from the Breville in my kitchen? Hydraulic-pressed juice comes from five thousand pounds of pressure being applied to vegetables and fruits. This allows juicers to extract juice without sacrificing powerful vitamins, trace minerals and enzymes. They introduce very little air as they’re extracting juice, so oxidation and nutrient degradation are minimized. As a result, juice from a hydraulic press juice extractor will stay fresh, delicious and nutritious longer than the juice produced by other types of juicers.

Another benefit to choosing the Catalyst Cleanse is it’s proximity to my home. I’m choosing to have it shipped to me this time around, but the company is located in Philadelphia. If I like it, I can save a few bucks next time by swinging by their juice bar and picking it up when I’m in Philly. In my research, I read some negative reviews about their customer service, but I’ve already had a very positive experience in that department. I’ve been communicating via email with one of their representatives. They’ve been extremely helpful and quick to respond to my questions, and even honored a promotion from last year to make trying out this cleanse more cost effective. So far, I give them two thumbs up and I’m looking forward to tasting their juices.

Our cleanses are being delivered on March 15, and the cleansing will begin on March 16. We chose their Signature Cleanse, which is six juices per day that you drink in order:

Juice 1 & 4 — Signature Green Juice: cucumber, celery, apple, parsley, spinach, lemon, lime, and ginger
Juice 2 — Spicy Lemonade: lemon, agave, and cayanne
Juice 3 — Sweet Carrot Juice: carrot, apple, celery, lemon, and lime
Juice 5 — Better Beet Juice: beet, apple, lemon, and lime
Juice 6 — Creamy Vanilla Cashew: cashew, agave, and cinnamon

To prepare, I’m starting to eliminate any processed foods that are infiltrating my diet. I’m not in super strict mode just yet because I started far enough in advance that I can gradually phase everything out. As it gets closer to the start date of the actual cleanse, I’ll mainly be eating fruits and veggies to prepare my body.  In the past, I never actually eliminated caffeine. This time around, I’m going to do it. I drink way too much coffee, and I’d like to cut back. This is the perfect way to kick that off, too.

To make the transition go a little more smoothly, I also began incorporating some cleansing items into my diet. Earlier this week, I began starting my day with hot lemon water, and making a green juice as my breakfast (recipe follows). The spicy lemonade in most cleanses is something I actually enjoy, so I’ve been sipping on my version of this drink daily. Last night, I tossed some fruits and veggies in my juicer and made a beet juice for dinner. Yum.

Interestingly enough, any feelings of fatigue and bloating I had prior to starting this are pretty much gone. Any traces of my cold have magically disappeared. My energy levels are high and I’m feeling great, which is how I usually feel when my diet isn’t in a rut. It’s like a reminder of why I regularly make healthy choices and limit junk food. Sure, I enjoy the occasional treat (cupcakes, anyone?)  but I’m pretty good at balancing it all out in the grand scheme of things. However, I’m ready for a reset to celebrate hitting 30 and to kick off the spring season.

Green Juice

  • 2 Apples
  • Large handful of spinach
  • A few stalks of kale
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1 lemon
  • Small handful of parsley
  • Small knob of ginger

I usually peel the lemon and use an apple corer to cut the apple into chunks, and then toss it all in my juicer. Skim off any foam, admire the pretty green color and enjoy!

Spicy Lemonade

  • 2 Lemons
  • 1 Tablespoon of agave
  • Cayanne pepper (I usually throw in about 1/4 teaspoon because I love the kick, but feel free to adjust as necessary)
  • 16 oz. filtered water

Put all ingredients in a bottle (preferably a glass one) shake it up and sip.

Stay tuned for more posts with my thoughts on the Catalyst Cleanse as I give it a try next week!