What Would You Give?

Posted on March 7, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


For years I have not observed Lent. At first because I dropped out of the church, and then later, when I dribbled back in, because I got tired of seeing Lent trivialized. It’s not the latest diet, the Lenten 15, say, a plan to drop those last stubborn pounds in anticipation of swimsuit season. And it’s not an excuse to cut out meat on Fridays, only to show up at your local fish monger and indulge in lobster.

I, of course, have done these things in the name of Lent. Deprived myself of chocolate and Fritos or wine and beer in an effort to reach an objective that was personal and selfish, not communal and considerate of others.  I have established my goal, created my plan, and expected my God to follow along granting my desire. Like Aladdin’s genie, but maybe not so blue.

I have thought that if I could demonstrate to God my ability to deprive myself of certain things, then He would reward me. With what, I wasn’t sure. Nice things, a great job. Happiness, maybe. A medal.

I have even made running my idol, expecting God to affix wings to my heels.

But, as Woody Allen asserts, if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.

What I’m figuring out, I think, is to focus not on the goal or the plan but, rather, on the gift, the ability God has given me. Like writing. Compassion and empathy. Mercy. And even running. And to remember that these gifts are not mine to keep. Gifts are meant to be given.

So the question I face this Lenten season is not what do I deprive myself of. Not exactly. I know that I can be self-disciplined. But what do I give of myself. What can I offer to others so they can be happier, better, stronger? How can I bring someone joy or compassion or love? Consciously and deliberately. Not accidentally or incidentally.

It’s Ash Wednesday today, the day I write this, and I’m still not sure how to observe Lent. A funny word, “observe.” Implying that we will hang around and passively watch something happen rather than actively participate.  But action is required. It is the end of reflection.

And, I think, it’s never too late to pare ourselves down to the bone, to become less in order to give more.

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Where’s the Margarita Stop? (Part 2)

Posted on August 9, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

pickled jalapenos

There was no margarita stop, but we survived last weekend’s Tour de Jalapeno anyway. Although this was a 26-mile race, the event lasted 2 days—at least for us.

Day 1

Saturday morning 4:15 am my alarm rattles me out of bed.  It’s the morning of my very first bike race, and I am moderately excited.  It is difficult to be extremely excited about much of anything but coffee at this very early hour, so I pour myself a cup and sit on the dining room floor with my dogs, staring vacantly into the kitchen until cup #1 kicks in.

Robert, moderately excited upon arising at 4:45 am, completely misses the fact that there is a fresh pot of coffee waiting to help him kickstart his morning.  He sees it at 5:25 am, as we are walking out the door.

We’re on the road at 5:45. Our excitement meter has moved up a notch from moderate but has not yet landed on extreme.  We at least smile but are not yet ready to chat.

We approach San Marcos.  The race day instruction sheet is in my hand, and I am reading the directions to Robert.   They are very clearly marked.  As we head east to Martindale, we both comment on how strange it is that there is not much traffic. Not one other car with bikes. We’d think by now—it’s 6:45 and start time is 7:30—there’d be a steady stream of cars down the country roads and into the parking area. There is none.

We follow the directions on the race day instruction sheet, still firmly gripped in my hand, turning left and left and finally right—and pull up to a gate. It is closed and locked.  We are confused. This is the place. Why is it vacant?

Robert slaps his hand to his forehead and swears.  I look down at the paper in my hand, very clearly marked.  The race is tomorrow.

Day 2

I wake up at 4:13 am, minutes before my alarm.  Today my excitement jolts me out of bed.  On Saturday we made the best of the day and took the opportunity to drive the route.  It is beautiful. Rolling hills, cows, mist settling on the sunflowers at daybreak.  We even spot a Mexican eagle standing in a field.  My excitement level is bordering on extreme from the get-go. CaracaraEatingSnakeTX309JT1

Now that we’re old hands at pre-race prep (even though yesterday was a false positive, it still counts), we shave 5 minutes off our prep time and hit the road at 5:40.  Before we get on the highway, we see vehicles loaded with bikes.  This is a good sign.

We chat excitedly for most of the drive and arrive at the race site 10 minutes earlier than yesterday.  A line of headlights thread through the country roads behind us as we park the car. We are in the right place, and on the right day.

We finish assembling our gear from the back of the car.  Since neither of us has been in a bike race, we watch others to see how it’s done.  I am used to pinning my race bib on the front of my shirt.  Slapping a sticker on my bike. Getting body marked.  The guy parked next to us is clearly an experienced cyclist. He is as sleek as his bike, unpacks his stuff confidently.  He is kind enough to tell me where to put things.

As we gather near the start line, I realize how different I am than real cyclists.  Like the guy parked next to us, most of the people here are sleek and have colorful clothing that inevitably match each other and their bikes.  I do not.  I survey feet and notice that I am the only person wearing bike shoes with laces.  Anxiety curls my stomach and I wonder if I should take Alka Seltzer now instead of later.

Redemption Race Productions runs unique and fun races.  This one has 4 events:  26-mile race, 26-mile jalapeno race, 26 mile tour, and 50 mile tour.  An orange wristband distinguishes the jalapeno racers from the smart racers.  We get one minute deducted from our race time for each jalapeno we eat.  We start in waves according to event—smart racers, jalapeno racers, 26 tour, and 50 tour—and I quickly fall to the back of the pack.  The first aid stop is 8 miles out.  Before I reach it I am passed by some of the tourers, including a six-pack.  I am briefly sucked along behind them as they pass me and disappear into the horizon.

When I get to the first stop, many of the other jalapeno racers are still there.  A ripple of excitement stirs the crowd.  Some brave person has already stopped in, devoured 20 jalapenos, and moved on.  Volunteers meet each of us with a cup of 5 pickled jalapenos. I quickly consume the first cup and ask for a second. To my surprise, it’s not that bad, even if there are no margaritas. I pause after the 2nd cup and wonder if I should take another.  Although I feel fine right now, we have 10 miles to ride to the next stop and I have never eaten anything hot before riding. My stomach may be OK now but may very well rebel somewhere between here and there.  I drink water, get my wristband marked, forget to wash my sticky hands, and ride on.

The jalapeno heat actually feels good as I ride and probably makes me pedal faster.  My stomach is holding out just fine.  I cruise past the sunflowers and try to remember which field we saw the eagle in.  But somewhere around mile 13 the pickled part of pickled jalapenos gets my attention.  I don’t feel sick, but I can taste pickledness.  I push on to the next stop, just before mile 18.

The brave racer-eater has cruised through long before I get there, devouring 15 more jalapenos.  That’s 35 jalapenos he has eaten. I bow my head in admiration and take 1 cup.  I try to calculate my pace, the number of cyclists I’ve passed, those who have passed me, and realize that racing, jalapenos, and math do not mix.  I stop at 1 cup—5 jalapenos—and move on, happy that I can eat 15 jalapenos and still ride my bike in the hot sun, up the rolling hills we now face.

Before this race, the longest distance I have ridden is somewhere between 22 and 23 miles.  I hit mile 23 at the bottom of a very big hill, which I whiz down so fast smiling so big that a bug may be lodged in my teeth. It is difficult to tell.  It might very well be a jalapeno seed I feel instead. I am so excited when I reach this point—rolling into uncharted territory on my bike—that I forget about the jalapenos and the race and the eagle and simply ride.

The race ends in the gated community where we started.  It’s a long haul around the lake to the back of the neighborhood, about 1.5 miles with a headwind.  I am pedaling as fast as I can and out of the corner of my eye notice someone not too far behind me.  I pedal harder. I can’t let whoever this is pass me at the finish line!  I push myself as hard as I can, the taste of pickled-sourness rising in my throat, and cross the finish line first at 19 mph. I am stunned and wonder if I should eat jalapenos every time I ride.

Robert is waiting, smiling, having finished at least 10 minutes and 20 jalapenos before me.  We rack our bikes, rummage for the bottle of precautionary Pepto Bismol, and mingle at the after-race party, fully stocked with jalapeno kielbasa.  We are incredibly excited to find that we both medaled in our age group.

We are determined to be back next year. At least now we have a jalapeno training plan—and a year to find a portable margarita machine.

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Where’s the Margarita Stop?

Posted on August 2, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


It’s official. I am entering my very first bike race ever, this Saturday:  The Tour de Jalapeno in Martindale, Texas, a little town I had never heard of until yesterday when I pulled out the race instructions to figure out where the heck I’ll be going.

The Tour de Jalapeno is a 26-mile race with a twist.  Pickled jalapenos are offered at each of 2 aid stations.  Eat as many as you want—you get 1 minute deducted from your race time for each jalapeno you swallow.  But there’s a hotter twist.  Mixed in with the pickled jalapenos is the real thing:  Big ole jalapenos spicy enough to blister your tongue.

Who would be crazy enough to eat spicy peppers in the middle of a race?  Particularly in August–in Texas–when it’s supposed to be 100ish degrees?  I don’t know either, but I’d like to find out. Which is why I’m doing it.

That’s not entirely true.  I do know one person who would do such a crazy thing.  My boyfriend.

Robert bought his very first bike about a month ago, and he loves riding.  So much so, that he clocked in more miles in July than I have all summer.  So much so, that it was his idea to enter this race.  Not necessarily because it is a race, but because it is a race with jalapenos. (On a stick?) He is one of those crazy people who eat all kinds of hot and spicy things, just for kicks.  It’s a wonder his taste buds aren’t seared right out of his mouth.

The Tour de Jalapeno is not only Robert’s first official bike race, as it is mine, but it is his first official race EVER.  It’s been interesting to witness the nervous excitement that precedes someone’s first race.  It’s making me nervous and excited too, but I think for different reasons than his.

I keep worrying and wondering—will there be aid stations for the margaritas? How else will we wash down all those jalapenos?

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The Price of One Bad Meal

Posted on July 19, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Duck Waddle

I’ve been recovering most of the week.  Not from a race or an injury or even an illness, but from a meal.

I talk a lot about my love for (not-so-healthy) food. Chocolate.  The -ito family (Dorito, Frito, Cheeto).  Nevertheless, for the most part I am a healthy eater and know enough to stay away from certain foods, or at least eat them in moderation.

I generally avoid dairy and gluten, limit sodium, and try not to eat refined sugar that often.  I eat complex carbs and protein and enough produce to compost the entire neighborhood.

So I don’t know what I was thinking on Sunday night when my boyfriend and I sat down for dinner at the Alamo Café. We had just come from his grandmother’s 90th birthday party and I was pleased with myself for by-passing sandwiches and cake (yes, cake—the chocolate kind, with gobs of white, fluffy frosting) and munching instead on nuts and fruit.  Too pleased, apparently.

And too hungry to by-pass chips and queso. Margaritas with salt. The smell of fresh flour tortillas. Before I could sing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” I was elbow deep in carne guisada. Too much carne guisada.

I didn’t even finish my plate.  I left the rice and refried beans, opting for a side of boracho beans instead, and picked out the chunks of meat, leaving behind the glop of thick gravy they came covered in.  Still, I left there waddling like a duck.

Sodium, gluten, enriched flour and lord knows what else bloated my body for days.  On Monday morning, I couldn’t even run. (Is this what my pregnant friends feel like?  How do they do it?)

On Tuesday, I managed a waddle/run—at my slowest pace in years.   The rest of the week was a wash.

An entire week of fruitful exercise and six pounds of bloat were the price I paid for one bad meal.  I don’t know how people eat like this on a regular basis, but I know many who do.   I wish they could spend a week clean so they could experience natural energy, healthy-food style.  From now on, I sure will.

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Confessions of a Chocolate Hoarder

Posted on March 8, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Un cuore nel cioccolato

I’m off chocolate.  Again.  Soon, at least.  Probably Sunday.

I have this scary addictive kind of relationship with chocolate. Once I get started, I have a hard time stopping.

It’s not the sugar in it that gets me.  It’s the chocolate.  I can do without all other kinds of sugary things.

Soda?  Never.

Juice? I don’t get it.  Why drink a fruit when you can eat it instead?

Cakes, pies, donuts, hard candies, Skittles, licorice, you name it. If it doesn’t contain chocolate, I don’t want it.  It’s an easy pass.

Once I’m off chocolate, it’s gone, out of my life.  That is, the idea of chocolate—its shadow or form, if you will—may exist in my mind (thanks a lot, Plato), but chocolate disappears from my home and from my physiological desire. I don’t need it anymore.

While I’m on it, however, it changes me.  I am not the generous, sure-go-ahead-and-borrow-my-car-for-a-week kind of gal I usually like to be.  Not if it involves chocolate.

No, you can’t have a bite of my death by chocolate cake.  Slice your own piece.

What do you mean you want one of my Reese’s peanut butter cups?  There are only 2.  I have none to spare.

Selfish.  A chocolate hoarder.  That’s what I become.  And, yes, please take my car for a week.  That leaves me so much more time to sit home with my boxes of Girl Scout cookies and count them into nice, neat stacks.  One for me. One for me.  Two for me. Two for me.  Now that’s my idea of fun.

It’s the getting off chocolate that’s not much fun.  It only takes a few days, but during those dog days (even if it’s March), I even dream in chocolate.

So if it does all that, you might ask, why did I get back on?

It’s complicated.

See, there’s Easter, which weasels in to the local stores sooner with every year, and with Easter comes the dread Cadbury Egg.  And, of course, it’s Girl Scout cookie season, which may or may not have similarities to deer season.  And in between, I have a birthday.  What is a birthday if not a day to eat chocolate cake?

But, of course, there is more.  I met my running goal.  My white-slate refrigerator side is once again empty, and I have no new goal visibly posted.  There are goals in my head to get me through November, but until they are written, broken down into their daily tasks, organized into a training calendar, and pinned up in my kitchen, chocolate gets free reign.

So Sunday is the day.  The day that daylight savings time begins. The day after my birthday.  The day I will do laundry, so that the jeans that have been worn into looseness will tighten back up and cling in ways they were not intended to.  I will create my training plans and post them.

Once again, it will be death to chocolate rather than death by chocolate.

Wish me luck.

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What Would Barbie Do…in the Olympics?

Posted on August 10, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

from Economic Times, India Times

I love the Olympics.  And although I root for the USA in every event they participate, I have to admit that what I watch for is not necessarily nationality, it’s ability.  The athletes who make any Olympic team are extraordinary. Watching them gives me goosebumps at the least, and sometimes brings me to tears.  The perfection and grace of movement in rowing, diving, sprinting, pole vaulting, gymnastics is simply stunning, particularly since the athletes make what they’re doing look so effortless. It’s easy to forget all the blood, sweat, and years, all the training and discipline and sacrifice that lead to this one event. It blows me away.

So when I heard comments about Gabby Douglas’s hair, I was, well, perplexed.  Here is a woman who won the gold medal in the gymnastics all-around event and is a member of the U.S. team that won a gold medal—the first team gold for the U.S. since 1996—and people are talking about her hair?

It gets better.  Some people are actually calling some Olympic women athletes fat.  That’s right.  Olympic athletes—some of the fittest people on earth—fat.   It doesn’t seem to matter that they’re bodies are conditioned to support them in their chosen field.  It doesn’t seem to matter that many of them set or break records.  What makes the news is that some swimmer or sprinter doesn’t look as “fit” as in the last Olympics.  Or that another one is “carrying too much weight.”

And we wonder why so many girls have eating disorders or body image issues when even the fittest of us are scrutinized as if we were a side of Kobe beef.

I wish I could say I am surprised, but, sadly, I am not.  This Olympics marks the first time women are competing in every event, and from every country.  This year also marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX in the U.S., the law that opened the door for women’s participation in sports where they did not have access before.  Undoubtedly, more women are competing at a higher caliber because of the opportunities afforded by this law, yet those discussions and those women are not what’s making the news.

Perhaps coincidentally, another story making the news this week has to do with Barbie, the 53-year-old who never ages.  Now, I played with Barbie as a kid.  She usually teamed up my brother’s GI Joes to battle the evil Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.  But it never occurred to me to see her form as an aspiration. In my mind, that would have been like trying to force myself into the shape of a pine tree or something equally ridiculous. I just wasn’t made that way, and, alas, I lacked the Wonder Twins super powers.

Model Katie Halchishick decided to make a point this week.  She marked her body with dotted lines, the way a plastic surgeon marks bodies before rearranging them.  The lines correspond to what a Barbie doll would look like in real life.

Scary. Unnatural.  Those are only two words that come immediately to mind.

Yet the figure and hair and makeup of Barbie is what some people seem to want to see soaring over the vault or flying across the pool at the Olympics.  But with a body like that, what, exactly, could Barbie hope to do in any athletic event, much less at the Olympics?  Her thin little arms couldn’t support her on the uneven bars.  Her skinny little waist could never contain the strong core muscles to lift her body over the hurdles.  And that scrawny (scary) neck?  It doesn’t appear that it would hold her head up high enough to see the crowd.

When I see someone like sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross moving like the wind across the track, her muscular body rippling with the effects of all that training, and then hear someone ask, what’s up with her hair, I can’t decide whether to laugh or scream or cry.

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Diet Is a 4-Letter Word

Posted on June 8, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I had a run-in with my arch nemesis this week.  Fritos.  He won.  What’s worse, he has a friend.  Julio’s.  If you’re from Texas, you’ve probably seen Julio there on the shelves between his rival corn chips, and if you’ve had him you understand his power of persuasion.

It seems I had a fiesta in my pantry this week.  The timing figures—on the heels of my thoughts about garbage.  Thankfully, the fiesta is over. Has it affected my training?  Fortunately, no.  My sprint tri is in two weeks (yay!), and my workouts have been going well.  Has it affected the way I feel about myself? You bet. Disappointment is the first word that rolls to mind, like a thundercloud.

But the big question is this:  Will my lapse in nutritional judgment this week cause me to change what I eat next week? That is, will I go on a diet?  The big answer:  Absolutely not.  In my opinion, diet is a 4-letter word.

There are dozens of diets on the market, always have been, always will be.  Each time a new study touts the superpowers of one kind of food or the evil powers of another, there’s bound to be a book, an infomercial, a talk show segment, or some other media blitz right on its heels.  That’s not to say the studies aren’t important. They are. But information is only good when it’s used wisely.

A diet cannot last forever.  A healthy lifestyle can.  What’s the difference?  A diet has a beginning and an end.  Many diets require the dieter to eliminate entire food groups or to overindulge in others.  They require an exorbitant amount of willpower, which always fails, partly because it is physiologically impossible and certainly unhealthy to eliminate or overindulge, and the dieter’s body will pressure her into balance—which means she eats what she “shouldn’t.”  She gets frustrated and quits, or she meets her prescribed time limit and, inevitably, the diet ends.

Most diets also require the dieter to consume less calories than he expends.  Makes sense, especially if weight loss is the goal. But often, the number of calories prescribed by the diet is far less than a body actually needs to function—which means the dieter loses energy, gets weak and lethargic. Cranky.

The body knows what it needs.  It needs calories to pump the heart, run the brain and nervous system, move the muscles and the bones they’re attached to.  If the body doesn’t get enough calories from all the food groups, it goes into starvation mode, slowing down metabolism to conserve energy—hoarding all that fat the dieter is trying to shed.

No diets for me, thank you.  I prefer to live a healthy lifestyle.  What this means to me is that there is no beginning and no end to proper nutrition. I eat all the food groups, every day. I don’t worry about what time I eat my last meal.  My body doesn’t refuse carbs after 3:00.  I don’t panic if Fritos wins for a couple of days.

Let me repeat that.  Sometimes Fritos wins for a couple of days. But since I’m not on a diet, that’s ok. It’s my mind—my opinion of myself—that pays the bigger long-term price than my body.  This is because I have chosen to live a healthy lifestyle rather than to be (forever) on a diet.  I know what the effects of saturated fat are on my arteries when the Fritos win.  That—and not the effect on the elastic in my pants—is why I’m disappointed in myself.

I do have some general rules of thumb I try to follow:

  1. If God didn’t make it, don’t put it in my mouth.  This prompts me to eat more whole foods and far less processed foods.  (Yes, I still try to argue with myself how God did, in fact, make Fritos since he made the people who invented, manufactured, packaged, shipped, and shelved Fritos, the corn that’s in the Fritos, the people who created and operated the machinery that made all the other gunk that’s in the Fritos. You see how it goes.  It’s exhausting, really, this kind of logic. Still, sometimes I let it win…)
  2. Graze like a gazelle.  If I eat small portions all day, I feel better. And who doesn’t want to eat all day?  When I do, my metabolism runs fast and steady throughout the day.  I have less of a desire to overindulge in anything because I’m always satisfied, never starving, and I don’t overeat to the point of discomfort. I know I’ll be eating again in just a few hours. It’s a beautiful arrangement.
  3. Don’t eat anything bigger than my head.  Seems like a no-brainer when it comes to foods like watermelon. But this also means that if I choose to have pizza, I can’t actually eat the whole thing. I would. But I can’t.

These rules of thumb have come after years of learning to listen to my body when it tells me what it needs.  They’ve come because I do read the reports about nutrition and exercise.  They’ve come because my main goal for my body is disease prevention.  If I focus on keeping my body healthy and disease-free, I gravitate to the foods that will do that and steer away from the foods that won’t.  In the process, my weight corrects itself. My tastesbuds have more than adapted to whole foods—I actually look forward to them. And I have more energy, more clarity of mind, and feel better than I have in my life.

What are your thoughts about diets?

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Garbage in, Garbage out

Posted on June 1, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I love food.  Always have.  I love to eat it, cook it, smell it, look at it, think about it, and talk about it.  Sometimes I even dream about it.  But I can’t tell you how many food conversations I’ve had during which one of the participants holds up a hand dismissively and says, “Well, you’re a runner. You can eat anything.”

That sentiment, I’m afraid, I do not love.

Many people take up running because they want to drop a few pounds.  They know they need to get some cardio work into their routines—or they need to start a routine—and running seems like a fit.  Some lose weight, some do not.  The difference?  It’s not only the output. More than likely, it’s the input.

I took up running for a much different reason than weight loss.  A nice by-product has been that I keep my weight in check.  I don’t do this by eating “anything.”  I do, however, eat what I want.  And lots of it.

A funny thing has happened over the past several years.   My wants have changed.  I used to be the queen of canned ravioli and packaged macaroni and cheese.  Now, you couldn’t hold me down and force feed me either.

Sometimes I think I crave, say, macaroni and cheese, and sometimes I even talk about it for days on end. What I crave is not the food itself, but what the food represents.  I now know enough about my body to know that if I did break down and eat macaroni and cheese, 1) I would be immensely disappointed in the taste, and 2) I would feel sick for at least a day, probably more.

The more I’ve run (and biked and swam), the more efficient my body has become at metabolizing food—if it’s the right kind of food.  For me, that includes oatmeal, fruit, sweet potatoes, kale, and just about any other vegetable I can get my mouth on.  It’s not cake and crackers and pizza.  Even if I think I want it to be.

When I eat “anything,” I cannot run.  That is, my sleep patterns are interrupted and I feel lethargic the next day.  I feel like I’m running with a boulder in my belly, and my legs feel like lead.  Those factors do not make for an enjoyable run, at least not for me.  And for the rest of the day, I’m not the most pleasant person to be around.

That doesn’t mean that I never eat “anything.”  Sometimes I choose pizza or bananas foster over running.  But I recognize in the moment that it is, in fact, a choice, the consequences of which I will have to live with the next morning.

You’ve heard people say that our bodies are like machines and need the proper fuel to keep them operating the way they’re intended to. I’m not going to say exactly that, because I believe our bodies are so much more than machines.  But there’s something to it.  Garbage in, garbage out.  Just like our computers.  Our eyes.  Our thoughts.  Our bodies are no different.

So you’re a runner but some mornings a sharp stick in the eye seems like it might feel better than even your 2 mile route?  Take a hard look at what you’re eating.  Are you serving what you want—and is what you want serving you?

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