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Training For A Half Marathon

11 Aug

The other day, I realized how quickly the Big Sur Half Marathon is coming up. My first thought: “Ooh, I better get on training for that.” My second thought: “Okay Michelle, try not do something stupid like accidentally tear ANOTHER toenail off.”

I have  to log some serious mileage the next few months and am in the midst of hunting for a great training schedule. My friend passed this one along from Shape magazine, and it looks pretty doable. It also looks flexible enough that I can incorporate strength training, which I don’t plan to give up. (If you have any recommendations on schedules you like, please let me know!)

I’m so excited for this race. Not only will it be a fun girls’ weekend — I’m meeting up with my friend Kelly, who lives in Cali — but it will be a chance to put all the training I’ve been doing this past year to good use. I also figure it will be great motivation to keep running outside once the cooler weather hits. (It pains me just to write “cooler weather.” Sigh.)

As excited as I am, I have a few concerns, things like:

  • Will my right knee give me shooting pains again? About 10 years ago, I was halfway through training for a full marathon when my knee konked out on me. When I was 13 years old, I messed my knee up while tubing at the lake and ripped some “non-essential tissue,” according to my sports doctor. But in the midst of my marathon training, the shooting pain started. I couldn’t run for two months and missed the race. (I also determined that my “non-essential tissue” seemed pretty, um, essential.) Anyways, I’m hopeful that by cutting down to a half marathon — and by increasing my mileage slowly — I’ll protect my knee from injury.
  • Will I be able to handle the hilly race? Hills scare me, but I’m getting better thanks to advice from a running guru. He suggested I lean forward slightly and land more on the balls of my feet (as opposed to the heels) while running up heels. It’s a big help.
  • Will competing in the 2011 Wineman Duathlon, which I covered last year for Maclean’s, hinder my training? If the name doesn’t give it away, the duathlon involves two things: running and drinking. I had fun just watching the race last year and think I could handle the “sprint” distance, which is three miles and four beers. Here are a few athletes from last year’s event:
Actually, I retract my concern. Being in a race with Shawn Muldrew, No. 436 pictured above, I’ll probably vastly improve my running. Shawn, the reigning champ, set a new record last year — he ran six miles and chugged seven beers in less than 37 minutes. Less than 37 minutes! Amazing. The best I can hope for is just to not break any of the rules.
  • Last but not least, I need a new running hat. What colour should I buy? Stressful, I know.

Training starts soon, so I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes.



7 Ways To Improve Your Health

4 Aug

In June, I gave a presentation to a group of accountants at the Hyatt. The subject? How to slim down, power up and improve overall health and wellbeing.

I’ve written about health for a long time, for publications like the Calgary Herald (where I had a heath column for three years) and magazines like Chatelaine and Maclean’s.

So when I was asked to speak about health, I decided to talk about some of the top tips I’ve received from the experts — the advice that I incorporate into my own life and am always yakking about to friends and family.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, not only to share the advice but also to give you the heads up about a wicked presentation tool called Prezi.  I won’t try to explain it, but you can check out my Prezi here to see what it’s all about. Just hit the arrow at the bottom to scroll through or hit the home icon at the top of the pop-up menu on the right side to see it from afar.

Now, back to the advice. I grouped the seven tips into two categories: things we should all do a little less of and things we should all do a little more of. I based it all on interviews I’ve done with health gurus like Andrew Weil, John Berardi, Sam Graci and Dr. Oz.

Without further ado, here are the 3 things we should all do a little less of:

  • Drink booze. We all know alcohol has some downfalls, like containing empty calories, fueling drunken eating sessions (not to mention decisions) and being hard on the liver. But what really caught my attention was a series of studies that came out a few years ago and linked alcohol to cancer. The most comprehensive came from the World Cancer Research Fund and said that, ideally, we would all avoid alcohol. If we must drink, the organization recommends sticking to one drink a day for women, two a day for men.
  • Eat salt. Studies show that Canadians consume way too much salt and that roughly 3/4 of it comes from processed foods — not the salt you add to your own foods. That’s why it’s important to avoid packaged, processed foods and stick to whole, homemade foods as often as possible. And a little trick for when you’re eating out, a la Sam Graci: ask the chef to add no salt to your entree.
  • Eat white food. Andrew Weil says that consumption of white flour and sugar  is driving today’s obesity epidemic. So, it makes sense that his No. 1 weight loss tip is to stop eating all things made with white flour and sugar (or to reduce what you consume, as best you can).

And the 4 things we should all do a little more of:

  • Eat a high-quality, high-protein breakfast soon after waking. Eating a good breakfast first thing in the morning means you kickstart your metabolism and set yourself up for success throughout the day. Ditching high-sugar foods like cereal and instant, flavoured oatmeal is a good idea, as is adding good proteins like eggs, cottage cheese and lean turkey. Studies have shown that protein-rich breakfasts encourage greater weight loss and a smaller waist size. Tim Ferriss is a big believer in breakfast and adheres to the “30 within 30” rule: 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking. That’s a lot of protein, but it’s a good way to remember that incorporating protein at breakfast is key.
  • Eat veggies. John Berardi once told me he eats 10 to 15 servings of veggies a day. Impressive stuff. I’ve always tried to emulate his veggie-eating ways, by doing things like making a big green salad for breakfast and topping it with eggs or using grated veggies as “noodles’ in pasta dishes. (I’ve written about that before here.)
  • Lift weights. Strength training, whether with actual weights or just your own body weight, is so important. It’s good for building and maintaining muscle mass, it burns calories well after you’ve finished exercising and it gives your body that toned, strong look. Dr. Oz stresses that strength training is extra important as we age, because we produce less muscle-building hormones.
  • Sleep. Aim to get 7 to 8 hours a night and enlist the help of some sleeping tools, if need be. I use the Philips dawn simulator to wake up and I often use a sleeping mask to fall asleep. One tip: hide the mask before you have house parties, otherwise your friends will discover it, think it’s hilarious and hijack it for pictures. See evidence in the Prezi. Or just see below:

And that’s all, friends. I hope you were able to glean one or two helpful nuggets from this crazy long blog post. If not, I hope it lulled you into a restful sleep — something we all could use a little more of, anyway.


The Lunge and Grab

27 Jul

Someone came up to me at the gym the other day and said, “I always see you doing the craziest exercises. Where do you get them?”

Over the years, I’ve amassed some unique exercises. I’ve taken them from books, like Making The Cut by Jillian Michaels and The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss, and from countless classes, boot camps and personal training sessions.

The move that prompted the question at the gym was something I call “the lunge and grab.” I’m sure there’s an official name for it, but my trainer didn’t fill me in — he just gave me the rundown on how to do it and off I went. I’ve been incorporating it into my own workouts ever since, because it works a whole bunch of muscles at the same time.

Here’s how you do it: Place a weight on the ground in front of you, slightly to the right of where your right foot would land if you lunged forward.

Now, let’s all pretend that my can of black beans is a 15-pound weight, which is what I typically use at the gym. Cool? Cool.

(And I’m smiling not just because of the beans, but because my fabulous friend Jen was taking the pictures and making me laugh. Now, on to the exercise.)

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lunge forward with your right foot.

Lean down and grab the weight with your left hand.

While you’re holding the lunge, lift the weight up and across your body. At the top, your arm should be straight and your eyes should be on the beans, er, weight.

Lower the weight and place in the same spot on the ground.

Push yourself back and up out of the lunge. Perform 10 to 15 repetitions on the same side and then switch.

You’ll know it works because, for a couple of days afterwards, your legs and core will have that great post-workout burn goin’ on.

And if someone stops you to ask where you got the crazy exercise, feel free to tell them all about the Toque Girls blog.


Miso-Glazed Trout and Other Favourite Things

18 Jul

Hi! Chris here.

I just walked in from a wonderful weekend. I’m walking a bit straight-legged, as my quadriceps are attempting to mutiny from my body after all the hiking. Otherwise, all systems perfect.

This weekend, we did all those things that make Alberta wonderful on a sunny summer weekend — a combination of patios, friends, mountains and muddy legs that require major scrubbing.

Friday kicked off with a dinner with dear friends on the patio at my favourite restaurant, The Living Room.

We burned off those calories Saturday with a leg-burning hike up and down Mount Lady Macdonald, and drinks on the patio at the Iron Goat. Then, Sunday was my nephew’s baptism, a great family brunch (along with margaritas) and a recovery road bike ride in the mountains. We hobbled into Canmore’s Grizzly Paw Brewery for quesadillas and sandwiches for dinner.

Now I’m home, trying to write a blog post before my eyes slam shut on me. So how’s this? I’ll give you one of my go-to dinners — very good for girls who have been out of the house all weekend long and are in need of a dinner at home — and then I’m hitting the hay.

Miso-Glazed Trout

From Alive Magazine, April 2011

  • 4 rainbow or steelhead trout
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp white miso
  • 1 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp ginger, grated
  • 2 Tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
  • 2 sheets nori, sliced into 1/2 inch strips
  • Black sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Rise trout filets and pay dry with paper towel. In bowl, whisk together rice vinegar, miso, soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, and chili flakes.

Place trout on 4 pieces of parchment paper; brush with miso mixture, and top each with an equal amount of nori slices. Place fish packets on baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before opening and garnish with sesame seeds if desired.

Serves 4.

PS – A few photos from our hike…

Bug Bites and Boot Camps

27 Jun

I’m covered in mosquito bites this morning. My feet, my legs, my elbows, my back — the mosquitoes went to town on me this weekend.

I even have three on my face. I’m in my office this morning, covered in vinegar to make the itching stop. The vinegar works but I’m not convinced it’s worth the smell. Here’s my itchy, vinegary foot:

(Hmmm…I should’ve thought about that photo a little bit more before I took it. Note to self: makeup required before blog photos.)

I’m looking for tips — any recommendations for natural mosquito repellants/itch remedies that work?

I’ve yet to find a natural repellant that’s effective. I’ve read that eating a clove or two of garlic daily deters mosquitoes, and quite possibly deters husbands, friends and co-workers.

I got all these mosquito bites from new workout I tried and highly recommend, as long as you’re wearing mosquito repellant. Remember when we talked about tabata training and I thought my arms would fall off? Until now, I haven’t really been able to do a tabata workout properly without a trainer. The 20-seconds-on are too intense for me to monitor the timer properly. I end up cheating a lot.

The team at MotionTraxx came out with a new and free boot camp workout that’s based on tabata. It’s the first of three planned boot camp workouts. This one mixes squats, burpees, push-ups, planks and other forms of torture for a 45-minute workout.

It is a sponsored podcast so they do plug Gatorade G Series but that’s fine with me. It’s far cheaper than a trainer and almost as good.

The workout in itself isn’t super-intense so I kicked it off with six rounds of the stairs at Crescent Heights. That was overkill. I recommend combining the boot camp with easy to moderate cardio.

And, of course, bug spray.


Nike Free Run + 2

14 Jun

Meet my new addiction:

First, the obvious selling point: if I fall down in the dark and get trapped under one of the banana trees around our house, I’m easy to find. Just look for the shoelaces.

These Nike Free Run +2  are my new walking shoes. When it comes to long distance runs, I remain wholeheartedly a Mizuno Wave girl.  But the Waves aren’t great for long walks. Enter the Free Runs, the lightest shoes I’ve ever picked up. In fact, I thought they forgot to put them in the shoebox when I got them. There’s no tongue, just a mesh overlay. Apparently, these shoes were designed based on the “delicate anatomy of the foot” and promote a natural, barefoot stride.

Put simply, they’re just plain comfortable.

They’re also very good for running sprints. But I’m on holiday so sprints are not part of the conversation. But walking miles along the beach at sunset? I’m in.


Tabata Training

13 Jun

I am typing with my mose.


My nose. Sorry about that. I can’t reach backspace with my mose.

I’m typing with my mose because I can’t lift my arms. They’re too sore. If I try to touch the keyboard, they’re just going to break right off at the shoulder and roll across the floor.

Have you ever tried tabata training? My trainer introduced me this program. It was developed by the head coach of the Japanese speed-skating team. Izumi Tabata, Ph.D., a former researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports Tabata and his team studied the speed-skaters’ routine of short sprints combined with even shorter rests. They found this form of training increased maximum aerobic capacity — the body’s ability to consume oxygen — and anaerobic capacity — your ability to maintain a high pace for an extended period or to sprint. (Because Spencer, my brother, my brother-in-law and other science types will ask, here is the original reference.)

It’s ventrical-blowing-ly, leg-shaking-ly brutal – and quite awesome at the same time.

Basically, it’s a series of intervals of 20 seconds of intense activity followed by 10 seconds of rest, with the exercise repeated eight times (for a total four minutes), and consisting of  seven or eight different exercises.

You follow?

For instance, you could do a series of four-minutes each of sprinting intervals, TRX triceps, TRX pull-ups, lunges, step-ups, kettleball swings and abdominal leg lifts.

That’s the series my trainer did with me. At least that’s what I remember — my oxygen levels were running low near the end. Consider yourself warned: the first two rounds seem rather easy. But by round #8, self-strangulation with the TRX straps is awfully appealing.

Good luck!


Motivation to Exercise

18 May

Most days, I can’t wait to hit the gym. For the days when I’m feeling the urge to bail on my workout — and need extra motivation to exercise — I employ one of the following tactics. Don’t judge.

  • I think about how I’ll hit less traffic if I head to the gym after work. My drive home is a nightmare.
  • I make plans to meet a friend — I love meeting up with my co-Toque, Chris — at the gym. Even if we do our own workouts, it’s fun to be there together.
  • I load my iPod shuffle with new tunes.
  • I remind myself of the facts. My odds of running into cute, fit men while at the gym: high. My odds of running into them while sitting on my couch with a bag of peanut M&M’s: low. (If I belonged to a girls’-only gym, my attendance would plummet.)
  • I come up with little challenges for myself, like seeing if I can pound out more consecutive pushups than the last time or can run faster intervals on the treadmill.
  • I use a workout from iTunes, complete with a coach to talk me through the routine and music to keep me motivated. (I have an old OK Go Nike Treadmill Workout on high rotation.)
  • I think of how I’ll feel when I’m done my workout — happier than when I arrived, like in the picture below. As a rule, I don’t walk around giving random thumbs up, but, hey, I needed a picture for this blog post.
In extreme cases of “I don’t feel like going to the gym,” which strike a couple of times a year, I rely on a tried and true strategy: I buy new workout clothes. With new gear in my gym bag, it’s a guarantee that I’ll drag my butt there. Chris employs this tactic, as well, but she takes it one step further. She says that, when wearing her new workout gear for the first time, she exercises extra hard. Why? To infuse the clothes with an awesome “workout spirit.” That’s serious workout karma.

And, when all else fails in my quest to hit the gym, I do something drastic: I book a trip to Las Vegas. Thoughts of wearing little dresses and bikinis are all the motivation this girl needs.

Seeing as I recently booked a trip to Sin City, I’m highly motivated and will not be employing many of the aforementioned strategies soon. Except for the cute, fit guys thing. That’s pretty standard.


Things We Like Fridays

29 Apr

Photo by f8 photography

What a difference a year makes! One year ago this weekend, Chris’ sister Nicole and then boyfriend Martin married. Congrats N&M on your first anniversary.

On the list this week:

  • Hungry? Head over to Holt Renfrew Calgary where Crave has a pop-up shop today from 12:00-4:00. Whoopie pies and cupcakes!
  • We loved this article in the NY Times on What’s the best exercise? Turns out this horrible workout is good for us.
  • Holy smokes, Calgary has changed! Check out this photo of the downtown skyline in 1943.
  • Looking for recipe ideas? put together a great list of food blogs.
  • The Victoria’s Secret Grand Opening in Calgary will be May 5, with supermodels Candice Swanepoel and Doutzen Kroes representing the angels.
  • Wine Wednesdays at Sociale. How can you go wrong with $5 glasses of wine? That’s right. You can’t.
  • Friends who offer to make scones and PVR the royal wedding — and invite us over to share in the fun.
  • Have you checked out this great piece in Elle on international street styles? Let’s hear it for Vancouver girls.

Have a great weekend of royal wedding watching and whatever else you get up to!

~The Toque Girls

PS – I had to add some funny wedding highlights that you might not have seen. Have you seen the vicar who did cartwheels in the abbey after the ceremony? Check it out here. And the grimacing flower girl?

White Bean Salad with Tuna and Haricots Verts

19 Apr

Lately, I’ve been trying to eat more fish. No big reason, but I realized that eating steak for dinner three nights in a row — something I did a few weeks ago, thanks to business dinners and outings with friends — is a tad excessive.

So, I’ve been looking for interesting fish recipes. Flipping through my cookbooks, I settled on this one from Jillian Michaels’ book, Making the Cut.

The White Bean Salad with Tuna and Haricots Verts was great, minus one thing: the radicchio. I’d forgotten that radicchio has such a bitter taste when it’s raw. Next time, I’d swap the 2 cups of it out for something like arugula or Romaine lettuce.

Aside from that, I loved this salad and will be making it again.

White Bean Salad with Tuna and Haricots Verts

  • 2 cups haricots verts *regular, thin green beans do the trick
  • 1 8-ounce tuna steak
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 cups radicchio *you know my thoughts on this
  • 1 19-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 nitrate-free turkey bacon slices
  • 1/2 cup chopped Vidalia onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
1. Steam haricots verts, covered, 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
2. Sprinkle tuna with 1/8 tsp pepper. Heat olive oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tuna; cook 3 minutes on each side until desired degree of doneness.
3. Remove from pan; cut into bite-size pieces; place in a large bowl.
4. Add haricots verts, radicchio and beans to tuna; toss well.
5. Add bacon to pan. Cook over medium heat until crisp. Remove ban from pan; crumble. Add onion and garlic; cook 3 minutes or until soft, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Add remaining pepper, bacon, broth and the remaining ingredients. Drizzle dressing over salad; toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

On a fitness note, Making the Cut is an awesome book for anyone looking to mix up their routine. Jillian outlines 30 days of intense circuit-style workouts, with moves like Rock Star Jumps and Half-Crow Pushups. I like her workouts and always end up a sweaty mess, which is how I know I’ve been working hard.

Back to the salad. I hope you enjoy it and, should you opt to include the radicchio, know that you’ve been warned.


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