Product Review – Energy Bits

“Powered by bits”

Today, I broke the cardinal rule of racing, something I frequently advise people against: I tried something new the morning of a race.

Love trying out free samples!

Love trying out free samples!

Gasp! Yes, it’s true. I made one change to my morning race-day ritual – Energy Bits. I’ve been curious about Energy Bits for awhile now, seeing many runners post their success stores on Twitter with the #PoweredByBits hashtag. I was fortunate to receive a sample and have been excited to try them out. But, as I mentioned in my last race-related entry, I haven’t been training like I usually do. New job, weekend trips, College Game Day being in Fargo again…Yes, yes and yes, but not trying to make excuses. Simply put, I have been slacking on my speed training so hadn’t given myself much opportunity to try them. I decided to take a leap and try them out on a race day. Results? I came in second overall for women and put up a time of 45:04 (not my best performance but not bad, considering).

Now let’s backtrack a bit. When I first heard about Energy Bits, they sounded great. Just pop a couple vs. downing a full energy gel or bar and be good to go. When they arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by how tiny they were. Bits? Indeed! But reading the label, I noticed approximately 30 bits was listed as the standard serving. 30? Holy sh*t. Especially for someone who has never been a good pill-taker, that’s a lot to swallow – literally. Still, I wanted to give them a shot, so popped I did.

As I made my way to the start line, I was feeling really good – energized and ready to run. I didn’t feel any strange effects from the bits so that was a good sign. The first two miles were tough – not on my stomach, my legs felt tight and heavy. I know this was due to my lack of training yet somehow I maintained a 7:05 pace. My legs started to feel better going into mile 3 but then a sideache hit. I’ve been running long enough to know that this could be attributed to a dozen different factors and likely had nothing to do with the bits so I just tried to keep even breathing and forge ahead. My pace dropped slightly the next three miles, as low as 7:28 on mile 5. But I was pleasantly surprised by how good and energized I still felt. Sideache gone, I managed to push my last mile a bit, crossing in 45:04. All in all, I feel this was a great race for me – not my best, but still a good one.

Another solid 10k race in the books

Another solid 10k race in the books

Do I think the Energy Bits had a positive effect on my run? Absolutely. Truthfully, I had no business running as fast as I did. At the pace I was going, I should have been gassed halfway through, and especially the last mile. But I wasn’t. Granted, I wasn’t in the best racing shape to push my pace to the max of my capabilities. But still, something kept me churning and I know, today, I’m officially one who can say I was #PoweredByBits!

Side note, I believe in flukes and “good days” so I’ll need to run with bits a couple more times to draw a full conclusion. I still have a couple servings left of my Energy Bits sample, and I’m planning to run another race in mid-October – so watch for a follow up to this blog on my next experience with Energy Bits.

Have you ever tried something new on race day? How did it work out for you? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311.

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An Unexpected Finish at the Dick Beardsley Half Marathon Relay

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

I haven’t blogged for more than a week – that’s my longest streak in awhile. As of yesterday, I also hadn’t run for four days. Four.Whole.Days. Too long for both! It feels great to be back.

Always a sucker for the swag

Always a sucker for the swag

Yesterday, I raced a half marathon relay in Detroit Lakes, MN. The 19th Annual Dick Beardsley Fall Classic is one of the bigger half marathons in the area and has quickly become one of my favorite races – mostly because of the swag but the course is great too. Last year, a former colleague and I placed third in the co-ed relay so we thought, why not go for it again? Maybe we’d get a better time or even place higher. But there was one big difference from last year to this…neither of us had trained much.

I only had a few speed work runs under my belt, with most of my summer focused on an Olympic Triathlon (coincidentally, also in Detroit Lakes) and not many runs period with Labor Day weekend and stating a new job. Luckily, Cameron assured me he had only run a few times all summer so no pressure to run fast. Well, we managed to crush our time from the previous year and place again. How? A few factors came into play.

How The Race Went Down

The weather was perfect. Cool, not humid and very little wind. I took the first 6.6-mile-leg, hoping to maintain an 8-min/mile pace most of the way. I mean, I hadn’t been training so why would I expect to be fast? After a sub-7:30 mile 1, I thought, hey, this feels pretty good. As I passed miles 2, 3 and 4, my pace stayed under the 7:30 mark. I felt great. Mile 5 only dropped to 7:31 and mile 6 – which was the hilliest of all, most of the last half mile a steady incline – only dropped to 7:41. For the last .6 miles, I pushed as hard as I could. I was feeling great and ready to hand off the baton (so to speak) to my teammate. I crossed the mat and fist-bumped Cam in a time of 49:29 (according to my Garmin) and off he went. I ran my leg nearly a minute faster than last year (50:19) so I was on cloud nine.

I relaxed, stretched and chatted with several friends who were waiting for their partners to make it to the exchange, then we hopped a shuttle bus back to the finish line to wait for our teammates. Last year, our time was 1:38:50 so I was expecting Cam to cross around that mark. He must of had a great day too because he completely surprised me and came flying down the finisher’s chute in 1:35 and change – meaning we shaved more than three minutes off our time from last year!

After comparing notes of who Cam saw finish ahead of me, who he passed and who I saw finish ahead of him, we determined we placed second. The team we thought won it was the second-place team from last year; both very strong runners, fast and competitive. As time passed, the 5k and half marathon results were posted, yet no results were posted for the relay. Nothing online either. We waited around until the awards ceremony, hoping to find out our time by then, even if we didn’t place. We were announced as third place (sweet!), and the team we thought won was announced as second. Apparently they thought they won too and were furious, demanding to see results, repeating over and over to the race director that they won, no one finished ahead of either of them. Yikes!

Best teammate ever - we had a great race.

Best teammate ever – we had a great race.

No times were announced and none posted after the awards either. As of this morning, the results were posted and our hunch was confirmed – we actually took second! Our time of 1:35:15 was good enough for our team PR, second in the co-ed division and second in the entire relay team race. And for me, personally, I’m so happy to have finished my leg faster than last year and that I didn’t let down my teammate. PR, awards or not, this race reminded me why I run and why I love running. Not only is it good for my body and weight management, it just feels good. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Conclusions

I’m not sure how I did better than last year, I certainly didn’t do the same speed and conditioning work. But I guess, sometimes a positive attitude and simple experience trumps training. I know my body and how it can perform over 6 miles. I know when I can push myself and when I need to scale it back. And, for me, good weather can make all the difference!

Have you ever performed crazy-good when you weren’t expecting to? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311.

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How To Get Started Running, Improve Speed or Run A New Personal Best

“While every goal may be unique, each has one thing in common – there’s a way to achieve it”

I’ve blogged about running plenty of times. The basics of running, motivational tips, how to prevent chafing, good stuff like that. But I think it’s time for some real advice you can take to the gym or the pavement!

Whether you’re looking to go for your first run, get faster or set a new PR in your next race, there’s a strategy that will work best for each. In my experience, the following are some great workouts you can try that will help you achieve your running goal.

My first big race - Fargo Marathon 2009

My first big race – Fargo Marathon 2009

Goal: Get Started Running
Workout: Lower Leg and Jogging Circuit

Not only is it important to get comfortable with running itself and build endurance, it’s crucial to get used to being on your legs an extended amount of time. Lower body and core strength provide the final ingredient to building a solid starting base.

Walk 4 minutes, jog 1

Single Lunges (5 on each side)
15 Standard Crunches
Single Lunges (5 on each side)
15 Standard Crunches

Walk 4 minutes, jog 1

Standard Squats (5)
Medicine Ball Twist (10)
*With a partner, stand back-to-back and pass the medicine ball to each other
*Without a partner, sit on a mat, lean back and plant feet with knees bent. Hold a medicine ball at your waist, then twist side to side
Standard Squats (5)
Medicine Ball Twist (10)

Walk 4 minutes, jog 1

Standard Deadlifts (5)
Punch Sit-Ups (10)
*With a partner, face each other. Toss a medicine ball back and forth; when the ball is caught, lay back into a crunch, then sit up and toss it back.
*Without a partner, lie down in crunch position, legs slightly apart. When you come up to do a sit-up, do a 1-2 punch with both arms, between knees.
Standard Deadlifts (5)
Punch Sit-Ups (10)

Walk 4 minutes, jog 1

When I started working on speed, I won my first award

When I started working on speed, I won my first award

Goal: Improve Running Speed
Workout: Interval Run

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – intervals are the absolute best way to start getting faster. Begin with basic intervals, gradually increasing both your comfort speed, as well as interval speed and length. You can also try what I call “stair interval” runs (let me know if you’d like to learn more about those, or I’ll write an upcoming blog that includes an explanation and sample workout).

Warm Up
1 mile at comfort pace

1 minute at speed .5 MPH faster
2 minutes back to comfort pace
Repeat for at least 1 mile

Wind Down
2 minutes – 1 mile at comfort pace

Cool Down
3-5 minutes of walking

I worked hard to run my first sub 4-hour marathon 3 years ago

I worked hard to run my first sub 4-hour marathon 2 years ago – and I’m clearly happy about it

Goal: PR In Your Next Race
Workout: Tempo Run

Practice, practice, practice. If you want to run a sub-45 minute 10k, you’ve gotta practice doing it. The best way to get the feel for maintaining a faster pace over the long haul is to practice with tempo runs.

A tempo run is aiming for one that’s done at a pace slightly above your “comfort” pace, yet not too hard. Depending on your goal time, your tempo run should put you in the ballpark of the pace you’d need to achieve that goal. On race day, that hard training combined with adrenaline will get you to the goal. To get started, try a tempo run that’s about half the mileage of your race. Gradually increase your mileage until you’re right at or close to your race mileage.
If one of these goals is applicable to you, give the workout a try for a couple weeks. Let me know how it goes! Keep in mind, these workouts are the basic starting point and you’ll need to push and progress based on your abilities and fitness level. For example:

First timers: Add weights to your lunges, squats and deadlifts, and add minutes to your jogs until you work up to a mile and beyond.
Speed demons: As your intervals get faster and longer, be sure your “comfort” pace gets slightly faster too. You can also try adding a tempo run each week.
Racers: Keep extending the length of your tempo runs, then push your pace. Also, work in some interval runs to really amp up things.

If you have other suggestions or tips for achieving running goals, please comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311.

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The Four Seasons…Of Running, Training & Workouts

“With each new season is the perfect opportunity to do something new, something bold, something beautiful”

After this weekend, August will be gone – which means a new month and a new season! I love fall. From the cooler temps to football to pumpkin everything, it’s a great time of year. In the running world, September also means races nearly every weekend.

This made me think how my training life is similar to the changing of seasons. Up until this week, most of my summer has been focused on triathlon training. Now, it’s back to speed work for racing season. Similar to summer, fall, winter and spring, I’ve identified my own four seasons: marathon, triathlon, racing and off.

An entire season of training for one race

An entire season of training for one race

Marathon Season
Mid-Winter to Late Spring – The longest of all the training seasons, marathon season tends to be the most intense. For the past six years, I’ve run one full marathon every year; the Fargo Marathon in May. This gives me early January and on to devote to marathon training – and devote do I! Running becomes the center of my world. The weekdays are all about mileage totals, speed work goals, trying to fit in strength training and reigning in a wicked appetite. Friday nights become full-on relaxation time, all in preparation for early Saturday morning long runs. Oddly, I take major comfort in all that structure, discipline and routine. Marathon Season is great!

Triathlon Season
Most of Summer – With my decision to venture into the Olympic-distance realm this year, triathlon season was extended a bit longer than previous years. In North Dakota, we only have about three months of summer, making it absolutely imperative to take advantage and do at least one outdoor triathlon. I’ve come to enjoy tris so much, I’m debating the idea of starting Triathlon Season even earlier to accommodate at least one more event next summer.

Race Season is time to rack up events - and maybe some awards!

Race Season is time to rack up events – & maybe awards!

Racing Season
Early Fall – I love the cooler temperatures that come in September and October, and I run my fastest in this type of weather. This, along with the abundance of shorter races in Fargo, makes early fall ideal for my focus on speed, and running races, not just for fun, but to place. I get ultra-competitive and – sometimes – can be too hard on myself if I don’t win or perform as well as I feel I should. Good thing Racing Season tends to be the shortest one of all!

Off Season
Late Fall to Early Winter – When I say Off Season I don’t mean I sit around and hibernate all winter. In the world of training, this is typically the time I don’t have something specific I’m working towards, other than health, maintenance, mood, and just life and being awesome in general. I tend to focus the Off Season on heavy lifting, as I know that’s the area that typically goes by the wayside when Marathon Season kicks into high gear – holy crap, it’s already almost Marathon Season again!

Does your workout regime follow a pattern like mine? Do you have different “seasons” to your training? Tell me about them; post a comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311.

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My Spin On The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

“What you do makes a difference. You get to decide what difference you want to make.”

If you haven’t heard about the ALS #IceBucketChallenge – well, there’s no way you haven’t. You’re alive and reading this blog (so you have internet access), therefore, you’ve heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. With the way this has caught on, I knew it would only be a matter of time before it got around to me.

I’m going against the grain here and opting not to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. If they weren’t aware before, I’m certain everyone with a TV or computer is aware of ALS now that this challenge has gone viral, so at this point, me dumping a bucket of water over my head is going to have zero impact on the cause. That and no one wants to see me dumping a bucket of water over my head – I know I wouldn’t. And I can’t be the only one who’s getting sick of seeing these videos everywhere (unless it’s Dave Grohl or someone equally as entertaining).

My version of the Ice Bucket Challenge

My version of the Ice Bucket Challenge

I am, however, a big fan of donating to charities that mean something to me. I try to give on a regular basis, both big and small amounts – anywhere from the $250 I gave a few month’s ago to a friend’s cancer fight fund to the $2 I donated yesterday to Petco to help homeless pets. So I’m definitely taking this “challenge” as a great reason to donate to a charity – but I’m not donating to ALS.

Before everyone freaks out and the hate comments start pouring in, let me explain. ALS research is an incredibly worthy charity, worthy of my money and worthy of the $15.6 million and counting this social media phenomenon has raised. But there are hundreds of other equally worthy charities out there that could use our financial help – from big national ones like St. Jude’s, Wounded Warrior Project and any type of cancer research to local guys like United Way of Cass Clay and For Luv of Dog Rescue. Rather than donate $100 to ALS, simply because I feel I have to after being called out in this challenge, I’m donating $100 to a charity that’s very near and dear to me.

My donation to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals

My donation to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals

I’m personalizing the Ice Bucket Challenge and have donated $100 to my local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, Sanford Children’s Hospital. Why this charity? I’ve seen firsthand where the dollars go. I’ve toured local hospitals, gotten a glimpse of the state-of-the-art equipment they have and met some of the children CMN Hospitals has impacted. I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet several local directors across the country and hear them passionately speak about the CMN Hospitals mission. Plus, I have a major soft spot for kids.

In addition to personalizing the donation portion of this challenge, I’m doing something different for the nomination part. Rather than call out people to simply dump a bucket of water over their heads or feel socially pressured into donating money to a charity they may not feel strongly about (or even if they’d really like to contribute, maybe they just can’t afford to right now), I’m instead going to challenge everyone reading this to do something that will make a difference. Bring coffee for your co-worker who has a new baby. Pay a sincere compliment to a friend. Mow your elderly neighbor’s lawn. Treat your niece or nephew to an ice cream date (and mom and dad to a much-needed break!). Or, donate to a charity that you personally believe in. Big or small, do something that will make a difference.

That’s really what this Ice Bucket Challenge started as, right? A way to make a difference for the future of ALS research. And it definitely has; my decision to do what I’m doing isn’t meant to take anything away from the people who have dumped icy water over their heads in the name of raising awareness. Clearly, those acts have made a massive impact, and helped raise more than $15 million dollars for the charity. But I feel it has gotten to the point where the initial goal of raising awareness is fading and it’s time for something new. Consider this my kickstart to raising awareness for making a difference in any way you can – no matter how small it may seem!

Okay, I’ve said how I feel. Now it’s your turn. Post your comments or tweet me @runlikeagirl311. Or, better yet, tell me what you’re going to do to make a difference that means something to you!

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Race Review – Young Life Triathlon

“You were made for this”

Last Saturday, on a hot, humid and calm morning in beautiful Detroit Lakes, MN, I completed my first Olympic-distance triathlon. It was definitely one of the more challenging events I’ve raced but also one of the most fun! I truly enjoyed it all – even when I thought I would melt into the pavement during the run. Heat and humidity really mess with this North Dakota, winter-loving gal.

I did it!

I did it!

Beyond the feeling of accomplishment, the event was a great experience thanks to the team behind it. From setup to friendly course volunteers to the finish line hospitality, it was a top-notch event all the way through. I’d like to share my review of the Young Life Triathlon, broken down into each very important piece.

Pre-Race
Packet pickup – which, as any racer knows, can be a nightmarish clusterf*ck – was very well-organized. It took me less than 30 seconds to locate my check-in line and have my packet in-hand.

The transition area was in a good spot and allowed plenty of room for all racers. My only complaint? The distance between the bike dismount and the actual transition area was a bit long – my jell-o legs would have enjoyed less running with my bike.

The Swim
This honestly may have been my favorite part of the course – I don’t think most triathletes would cite the swim as their favorite! Big Detroit Lake is a beautiful setting; there was a sizeable beach area with plenty of room for all the runners to gather, the water was a comfortable temperature and there weren’t too many weeds to get caught up in. And all swimmers went out in heats – Olympic men first, followed by the women, then the Sprint men and women about 20 minutes later. My heat had only about 25 people in it so I never got kicked. Plus, splashing and waves were minimal, as each swimmer had plenty of room for themselves.

As for the course, we received clear instruction (and even a jet-ski demo) of the route prior to the race so I knew exactly where to go. Also, the course had a few turns, marked off with buoys. It was an out-and-back, yet with a few side-to-side, zigzags. I loved that. Rather than one long, seemingly endless, out-and-back path, each turn gave me “check point” to look forward to; a mini goal within the long swim to help break it up and keep me feeling positive about how well I was doing. There were several lifeguards on paddle boards, jet-skis and pontoons, so I always felt safe. The lifeguards on paddle boards took care to get close enough to swimmers to make sure we were okay, as well as provide us with encouragement.

The Bike
Going into it, I knew this would be my least favorite part of the race – and it was. It had nothing to do with the course, biking just isn’t my thing.

But the course was actually pretty good. It went around the lake, there were lots of hills and plenty of nice scenery. I wasn’t a fan of the fact that Olympic athletes had to do two laps (it would have been nice to have one, long route). Also, I had a couple minutes of panic, as I wasn’t sure I was on the right course during the transition into the second lap. There wasn’t much course marking or volunteers to let me know I was going in the correct direction. I was able to stop and ask a volunteer at one point – thankfully, I was still on course!

My time to shine - the run

My time to shine – the run

The Run
Although I was exhausted, I was ready and excited for the run. After all, running is kind of my thing! The course took advantage of a lot of trees and shaded areas, as well as the public beach along Big Detroit Lake.

The first and last mile went along the shoreline, while the bulk of the middle was along a wooded bike trail. While it was nice and shaded on the trail, it was very secluded – it could have been a bit lonely, especially for those who struggle with running. Luckily for me, running is my strongest area, plus I had Chris biking alongside me the whole way.

Post-Race
The advantage of doing the women’s Olympic course was that, by the time we finished, the Sprint runners were long gone and the finish line was all about us. I had about 10 volunteers waiting for me at the finish line, ready to take my ankle chip, hand me cold water and present me with my medal. I also had a lot of people cheering for me – both my family members and a few complete strangers who were waiting for their racer.

The finisher’s chute was long, with plenty of space for fans to line up. There was a big archway and large timing clock, a staple of big races. Food and water were right there at the finish, which was huge – I had to walk and search for a bottle of water after the last marathon I ran, not fun at all. The race finished in the adjacent park, giving plenty of room for runners and spectators to hang out, with the transition area close by to gather all belongings.

Gotta love the race swag!

Gotta love the race swag!

Overall, the organizers took advantage of the best parts of Detroit Lakes for the athlete/spectator village and the course itself. The volunteers were helpful and enthusiastic. And, of course, no great race would be complete without a sweet finisher’s shirt and medal – check and check! If you’re in the Minnesota area next summer, I highly recommend this race. I plan to do it every summer I’m able to!

Have you raced a really great event this year? What made it great? Post a comment or tweet to me, @runlikeagirl311.

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Trying To Be Healthy? You Might Be Doing It Wrong

“Things aren’t always what they seem”

Healthy – what does it mean to be healthy? It’s a concept with several layers and it can mean different things to different people.

To some, being healthy means exercising regularly. To others, it means eating a fruit or vegetable at every meal. Regardless of how you define it, virtually everyone wants to be healthy, and many people actively try to be healthy every day. The problem comes when those so-called “healthy choices” actually aren’t. It’s really easy to buy into habits, foods, and advice that appear healthy on the surface but are the opposite.

Here are five common mistakes people make when they’re trying to be healthy:

The best part of waking up

The best part of waking up

1. Skipping Breakfast
A big part of being healthy is achieving an ideal weight. On occasion and for some people, this could mean dropping a few pounds. One way to do this is cutting down on calories. So why not get started first thing in the morning by cutting out breakfast? Stop – bad decision!

Opting out of breakfast has a ton of negative consequences. Those doughnuts in the conference room? They’ll be a lot harder to resist when your stomach is growling by 9 a.m. Skipping breakfast also tricks you into thinking you can have an unnecessarily big lunch. You’ll easily make up the 200 to 300 calories you “saved” at breakfast by supersizing or splurging on fries. Plus, when you forgo calories early in the morning, you miss the opportunity to kickstart your metabolism for the entire day.

Start your day with oatmeal and fruit or toast and peanut butter. Think of those 200-300 calories as a smart investment in your day!

2. Eating Salads
Before I go further, I’ll clarify the two parts to this concept: 1) Eating unhealthy salads and 2) Eating nothing but salads.

Salads full of spinach, veggies and a little protein are great – as long as they’re not caked in fatty dressing. Also, eating a smart salad for lunch is a wise choice – just don’t feel guilty about pairing it with a cup of soup, piece of fruit, almonds or Greek yogurt. One cannot live on salads alone!

3. Juicing
It seems this is the newest “healthy” trend and people are going absolutely nuts over it. But juice blends and smoothies don’t automatically equal healthy or smart for a diet plan.

First, when fruits and veggies are blended for juices or smoothies, the skin is typically removed – that fiber-filled, nutrient-packed skin. Second, just like alcohol and soda, juice and smoothies are liquid calories. Sure, a smoothie is going to give you nutrients and isn’t empty calories. But whether they come from eating or drinking, from a smoothie or a doughnut, calories are calories. Many people forget this and don’t account for the extra calories being taken in with juice blends or smoothies. You could wind up going over your daily calorie budget even though you’re trying to be healthy.

The best way to get your daily fruits and veggies? Eat them!

4. Forgoing Weights
Cardio has a ton of benefits – it burns calories, increases endurance and is good for your heart. For someone trying to be healthy, cardio is the obvious, easy choice and it absolutely should be part of your weekly exercise plan. But if your philosophy on exercise is “cardio only” you’re missing out big time.

Weight training needs to be part of a balanced exercise program. More muscle typically translates to a faster, more efficient metabolism – meaning the body burns more calories when it’s not doing anything at all. And, especially as we get older, weight training can reduce symptoms of diseases like diabetes and arthritis. Plus, it kinda makes you feel like a badass when you can lift heavy things.

5. Going Too Low
Similar to skipping breakfast, the concept of cutting calories to lose weight can do more harm than good if you go too extreme. Everyone’s daily calorie needs are different. Factors like current weight, activity level and basal metabolic rate determine your unique calorie needs. Dropping too low below your daily calorie needs can throw your metabolism out of whack and send your body into starvation mode.

The most general rule of thumb is to never go below 1,200 (for women) and 1,600 (for men) calories a day. Figure out your needs (you can find sites online that can at least provide a ballpark) and be conscious of staying in a range that’s not overeating yet not starvation. But don’t get too caught up in it – remember to enjoy life too!

Did you learn a so-called “healthy” habit or yours actually wasn’t? Any more you’d add to this list? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311.

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