motivation

How Being a Perfectionist Changed my Eating Habits

Sometimes I’m so full it hurts and I’m already thinking about when I can eat again. Right now, I’m wondering if I should eat another dried fig, or maybe a slice of bread with almond butter. I already ate dinner and I’m definitely not hungry, but I can’t stop thinking about food. At the same time, I’m trying to suck in my tummy because I feel fat – it’s not the same as being fat, because I’m not – but I feel like my tummy sticks out more than it should. And if I slouch I get a crease between my belly and ribs and that really bugs me because I’m a thin person, and thin people don’t get creases in their tummy when they slouch.

No more food until the morning. I’ll be better tomorrow – I won’t eat as much, and then I’ll feel thin again. I can do it. I just need to be stronger.


I’ve never told this to anyone except for one person I absolutely trust, but I think other people need to hear it: I have (or had) an eating disorder.

…Maybe a better way to put it is I have a disordered eating habit.  It’s not that I’m anorexic or bulimic, but my relationship with food has a tendency to be more about controlling how I look rather than enjoyment or giving myself the nutrition my body needs to function.

Food is strongly connected to how I feel about myself because it allows me to control the way I look. It’s not that I don’t think I look good, it’s that I don’t think I look perfect.  Although there are many good things about being a perfectionist, the drive to constantly improve also means that nothing is ever good enough; an imperfect body is a daily reminder that I have failed. Even worse, being an athlete gives me an excuse to obsess over details like weight and body fat percentages in the name of performance while fueling unrealistic expectations of how my body should look. I don’t just want a thigh gap or a bikini bridge, in my mind I should have both – and be able to run a sub-45 minute 10k.


It’s easy to tell myself that this is an unreasonable way of thinking, and that none of us are perfect and never will be. I get that; my brain understands the concept, but it doesn’t override the feeling that I could be better than I am. Couldn’t we all improve in some way?

An increased focus on athletic performance last year gradually led to an extreme preoccupation with food and weight loss. I tried a variety of methods to control my image and performance: from tracking everything I ate and obsessively analyzing macronutrients, to cutting out whole food groups and even trying a cleanse. I saw some temporary “success” which only fueled my obsession with whatever I was doing, but I weighed myself every day and eventually the number on the scale would go up – renewing the spiral of guilt and increasingly extreme attempts to control my eating habits.

During this time I didn’t actually lose any weight, but became more and more obsessed with food until it was all I would think about. Every waking moment was spent calculating calories, planning how little I could eat and thinking about everything I wasn’t eating.

On a rare beautiful evening in March, I had some free time and spent it walking around downtown Toronto, surrounded by people but all alone with my thoughts for an hour and a half. I thought about what my eating habits were doing to me emotionally, and how I was negatively impacting my health by using extreme methods to strengthen my control. I was tired of being unhappy and guilty about something that is meant to be enjoyed.

That night, I wrote a very short post about my decision to become vegan. The choice was a result of a very strong feeling that I needed to change what I was doing to myself, and strengthen some core beliefs from my childhood that had gotten lost as I grew up and adapted to society’s expectations. It hasn’t completely cured me of my obsessive tendencies surrounding food and I don’t think it ever will, but it helps by providing enough structure to make me feel comfortable about how I am eating.

It’s amazing how much stress can pull you down, which I realized as soon as the weight was lifted. Living in a way that supports my core values surrounding the treatment of animals and the environment while eating healthy foods has really made me feel good about myself.


If you talk to most people who have made a significant change in their life, they consistently talk about how their transformation was the cumulative result of small improvements over time rather than some great fundamental overnight shift. It’s so true that you’re never done growing, and although I’m on the right path I still struggle with the desire to use food as a method of proving that I am in control rather than enjoying it for what it is.

Every once in a while I need a reminder, and that’s why I wrote this; I think there are other people out there that might need a reminder sometimes too, and some more who might not yet be ready to make that change. If you ever feel like you need more than a blog post, talk to me. Send me an email, leave me a comment or find me on Twitter. We all have to look after each other because that’s what makes the world a better place.

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TTC Track Meet Report

I started off Sunday morning with a wonderfully meditative easy run to finish off my recovery week, and I spent most of the hour thinking over my races in the last couple of weeks and reflecting on the progress I’ve made.  I never really got a chance to think too much about the track meet two weeks ago because I was so preoccupied with my half marathon, but on Sunday morning I was able to relax and enjoy the success of the last two weeks.  So my run wasn’t really about the run; it was about getting outside, enjoying the sun and soaking in all the results of steady and consistent training.

Sunny snow along Leslie St on my way home.

Sunny snow along Leslie St on my way home.

With all of that being said, I really do want to share my experience at the Toronto Triathlon Club‘s inaugural track meet.  I haven’t run track since high school, when I finished last in the 200m sprint at the city track meet and swore I hated running.  Before that race, I would train with the track and field team sometimes (it didn’t last long), and I distinctly remember being out on the track early one morning with the most impossible workout ahead of me: 16 laps of the track, sprinting the straights and jogging the turns. I think I made it through 5 laps before I gave up and decided I’d never be a runner.  I really wish I could go back and talk to myself then; I’d tell high-school Kim that being a runner isn’t about innate ability (although some people have that), it’s about sticking with it long enough to see results (and that’s the part most people are missing).  I’d also tell her that running teaches you amazing things, leads to to wonderful places and introduces you to the most caring and dedicated people you’ll ever meet – and that none of this requires you to run fast or far.  It’s not about numbers, it’s about the community.

…I told you I was feeling reflective.

Fortunately I didn’t leave this track meet swearing that I hate running.  If anything, it made me love running more: I saw people of all abilities and ages out racing in the middle of winter, and having a fantastic time on a Saturday afternoon.  There were kids that looked like they were barely 8, Master’s runners who win their age groups, triathletes who haven’t been running all year, and what felt like more spectators and volunteers than there were athletes!  And that’s not even counting the food…

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The track meet was hosted by the Toronto Triathlon Club at Monarch Park Stadium, which is a real treat in a city without indoor tracks.  We started with a 1600m, followed by 400m and – for those brave enough to extend their suffering – capped it off with a 3000m race.  My main race was the 1600m since I’m not really a short track runner – 400m brings a completely different kind of pain – and I didn’t want to hammer a tough 3000m the weekend before my half marathon.  All three events were open, so I decided to race the mile and 400m, then take it easy on the 3000.

The Mile:

I did remember one important thing from doing 800m and 1600m intervals in the summer: it’s really easy to start out too fast, and a mile feels like five when your body gives up on you halfway through the race.  Unsure of my fitness level at shorter distances, I decided to take it quite easy in the first 800m and really hammer it home in the last lap.

Starting off easy meant I spent the first two laps in last place, and last is a tough place to be – especially when there are only four people in the race.  It took a lot of determination to hold my own pace rather than racing everyone else. I was able to pass two of my three competitors in the third and fourth laps, but despite some pretty decent suffering I wasn’t able to catch that last person in front.  Second place in my heat, and 6:09 finish!

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Photo by Hector Rodriguez

The 400m

Second only to the 800m in suffering, the 400m race is all about giving everything you’ve got for a single lap of the track.  There was no pacing strategy for this race: the pace would be all-out from start to finish.

My heart rate was about 180 before the gun even went off because I was so excited!  This time I started off in first place, which came with a new challenge: constantly checking over my shoulder to see if anyone was gaining.  Although I was terrified I would get passed the entire time, I held on to win my heat in 1:17.  That one really hurt!

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Photo by Hector Rodriguez

The 3000m

After all this you might be thinking, “who would attempt to race ALL THREE EVENTS at a track meet?” and I can tell you sure wasn’t in any condition to be running anything after destroying a mile and 400m!  Although I had intended on running the 3000, I was so high on adrenalin that I was shaking and knew that I would be sacrificing too much the week before a big race.  I told the organizers I was pulling out and started walking to cool down.

Funny thing though…I felt better after a lap of walking, and I ended up caving and agreed to run in the second heat of the 3000m; yes, with all the Masters runners who could whup me on an easy day.  But Michael said he was taking it easy too and he’d run with me the whole way, and we all know I’m a little crazy – so I said yes!

I’ve never taken it so easy in such a short race! Although we were running well below 10k pace, it felt easy and I had enough breath to return some good-natured heckling from certain (ahem) people yelling “if you’re smiling, you’re not running fast enough!”.  We knew we’d get lapped (and we did) but it was the most fun I’ve ever had running so fast!  I loved the finish: we decided to kick it, and when Michael said “come on, give it everything!” I sure did! We crossed the finish line less than a second apart in 13:22.

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Photo by Hector Rodriguez

Post-Race

Hanging out with like-minded people always makes my day, and when food is involved I’m in heaven. I took some of my vegan, gluten-free lentil spice muffins – and was so incredibly flattered when four people asked me for the recipe!

I haven’t posted this recipe yet because it will be featured in the launch of a new project I’m working on with Hector: Our Fresh Kitchen, a resource for health-conscious people where we’ll share easy and delicious recipes for any diet using fresh, whole ingredients.  I hope you’ll check us out and sign up for our newsletter for some sneak previews and a reminder when we go live on March 20.  You can also find us on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Hamilton Marathon Race Report

It’s taken me a while to put my thoughts down on paper because this race was one of the most emotional and difficult I’ve ever attempted, and it took a while for everything to sink in.

The pre-race report is here.

Standing at the start line alongside so many other future marathoners, I was filled with anticipation for a good race and a solid undertone of apprehension about at distance I had never run before.  Forty two (point two!) kilometers and many tears later, I would be a marathoner!  I thought back to 13 years ago, when I remember watching the Sydney Olympics and wondering how in the world anyone could run 10km without stopping; I never would have imagined I would attempt a marathon.

Way too much energy...but I LOVE my neon pink compression socks!

Way too much energy…but I LOVE my neon pink compression socks!

With nearly perfect weather and gorgeous views for the first 10km, I almost managed to forget that for some reason my toes were numb and my hip was supposed to be hurting by 8k.  To my complete surprise, my pirformis syndrome didn’t flare up until everything else hurt worse – and by then I was in too much pain to care.

I held a nice steady pace around 5:10 for the first 10k, but it didn’t feel as smooth as the first 8km of Scotiabank Half two weeks ago.  I followed my race and nutrition plan perfectly, at 10k I added a little push and for a solid 8km I was floating through the course: meditation has nothing on how I felt on Sunday morning.  It was magical.

It took me about 19km to realize that I wasn’t having a good day.  Not that I was having a bad day exactly…but I knew I shouldn’t be starting to hurt 2km before the halfway point. I hit 21k within 1:49, and the triumph of beating my half marathon PB by three minutes (note: this was a BAD IDEA) was overshadowed by an overwhelming urge to walk the 21k aid station. That is, until I realized that walking hurt more than running (what’s with that?).  Running it is, I guess.

Everything between 21 and 29 kilometers is a blur; the breeze picked up and turned into a cold headwind, I wasn’t able to take advantage of the downhill between kilometers 21 and 22 because my legs hurt too much, and I was incredibly disappointed to be passed by the 3:45 pace bunny running down the parkway.  Did those runners have to make it seem so damn easy? Couldn’t they see I was in PAIN??  I was keeping a decent pace around 5:30 but it hurt like hell, and my first tears came as I was running up the off-ramp to the 29k aid station.  Fortunately I had a backup consolation pack of gummies, and they were the best thing I’d ever tasted.  Moment salvaged.

We hopped onto a section of trail to get over the QEW (hopped being a figurative, not literal term, because nobody is “hopping” anywhere 29km into a marathon), and I even managed to pop a smile and victory pose for the photographer across the bridge – I honestly don’t know where that energy came from. A second wind caught me as I ran down through the crowds surrounding the 30km mark, realizing that I was only 10 minutes behind my goal pace and getting a little teary and emotional as I ran by Dad and Brenda who were cheering and snapping pictures.  My legs were hurting, but I only had 12km to go!

My energy lasted until 32km, where the real race started to unfold (or should I say, unravel?). The first real tears came as the 4:00 pace bunny passed me, and I just couldn’t bring myself to run anymore so I walked and cried until I got to the 33km marker.  Little did I know, this would be close to the last running I would do in this race, and covering the last 7km would be the toughest finish I’ve ever done.

At 35km, as I turned back towards the finish line, my legs stopped cooperating.  A brief attempt to run…jog…shuffle meant I nearly collapsed, and I resigned my self to walk the remainder of the race in tears – and I literally sobbed for the next hour and a half as I limped my way to the end.  Low blood sugar, pain and a profound sense of frustration and disappointment were the highlights of my walk to the finish, and while I appreciated the cheering and attempts to motivate me as the kilometer markers grew further and further apart, I felt like kicking everyone who said “come on, dig deep and run it in!!” – with their happy smiles and legs that still work.

I almost quit at 40.5km.  I hate walking from the elevator to my car in the parking garage, let alone the last 7km of what was supposed to be a race, and WHERE THE HELL was the 41km marker?  Shouldn’t it be here by now? But I didn’t just complete 40.5km to give up now.  No matter what, I finish.

Although I walked almost until the last meter, at 4:41:20 I jogged across that finish line in tears.

The Numbers

Chip time – 4:41:20
Average pace – 6:49
Age group placing – 32/43
Overall placing – 852/985

The Aftermath

My sense of disappointment took several days to dissipate, and for that time I was so embarrassed with my finish that I didn’t even tell people I’d run a marathon.  Of course they caught on as soon as they saw me walk or attempt stairs (which was actually pretty hilarious if you’re not the one wincing), but I needed to spend some time internally processing my feelings.  I’m still feeling a little sensitive about it, but realized that overcoming an incredibly difficult finish and actually completing the distance is a success.  Having big goals means failing sometimes, but that it’s just an opportunity to do better next time.

Also, some things just came together perfectly:

  • I didn’t have to deal with any specific pain or injuries during the race, not even blisters or chafing anywhere.
  • Compression socks are the most incredible thing ever because nothing hurt below my knees (thank you EC3D for having amazing socks)!
  • My nutrition was almost perfect, although I ended up with extra gels and wouldn’t carry as much next time.
  • I ran the race perfectly, I just wasn’t quite ready for 42.2km; ten weeks ago I had never run more than 21.1km, and with 7 weeks of training I ran and finished a marathon. Now I know what I have to do for the next one, and 30+km is no longer the daunting distance it used to be.

Finishing the toughest, longest and most emotional race I’ve ever done gave me the confidence of knowing what I have to do after I get off the bike on July 27, 2014, and if it gets me to a better Ironman finish it was worth the tears.  I can’t wait to do it again next year!

Ironman Canada

Blissfully Oblivious

Have you ever attempted something that you didn’t know was difficult?

When I was about 16 years old, I decided to try making a cheese soufflé for dinner one night.  I pulled out my family’s copy of Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, followed most of the instructions (even back then I had a habit of modifying recipes on the fly) and served up a cheesy, puffy soufflé for my family about an hour later.  My stepmom was incredulous: apparently soufflés are supposed to be very difficult to make, and somehow I had stumbled through the instructions as a novice cook and managed to turn out something puffy and cheesy that tasted exactly like a cheese soufflé is supposed to, despite opening the oven and poking it to see if it was done.  Had I known that they were a very finicky food to make I likely would have thought twice about attempting the recipe, but my ignorance meant I succeeded at something that “everyone says” is difficult.

My first experience with triathlon was pretty similar; I didn’t find out until a few years after my first (tri-a-tri) triathlon that a lot of people think they’re really difficult.  I’m still amazed when I hear marathoners and centurion cyclists talk in awe about triathlons and their goals to maybe-one-day attempt one; if only they knew that the most difficult part is starting!  Finishing your first triathlon is such an amazing accomplishment, but it’s not an unreachable dream for all but a few, as common knowledge would imply.

What if none of us knew how difficult things would be before attempting them? Sure, we’d probably get in over our heads at some point and fail spectacularly at something we thought we could do.  But we’d also take on things we’d otherwise never dream of trying, and we would succeed in accomplishing some incredible things, to the amazement of ourselves and others.  What would you try?

Ironman Canada

In making the decision to move to Ironman distance and sign up for Ironman Canada 2014, a lot of advice went through my head; echoes of friends telling me how difficult the training is, how brutally tough it can be to even make it to the finish line and that you really have to understand what you’re getting into before you commit.  I carefully considered what I’m capable of and if I have the time to dedicate to such a big goal, but in the end I decided to jump in with both feet and see where it takes me.

Being blissfully oblivious to what’s considered “difficult” has worked out pretty well for me in the past.

How to Become an Athlete

This week I was talking to a coworker who started running with our company club last year, and is running her first 5k in a week and a half at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.  She asked how my training is going and I told her I’m feeling really strong, and then asked about her upcoming race.  She was telling me how excited she was, but then laughed a little and self-deprecatingly said, “but 5k is nothing to you, and I’m really slow.”  I understand where she’s coming from because I think we’ve all felt that way at some point, but I spent the next ten minutes telling her that her 5k is a huge achievement and convincing her that it’s not about the distance: she, along with anyone else who runs, walks, swim, cycles or lifts weights, is already ahead of anyone sitting at home on their couch.  You may be the slowest runner out there, but you are still a runner and that’s not nothing.

Although I tend to think of my current fitness level and training load as pretty normal – partly because my training partners are just as or more crazy than I am – people can find it really intimidating to talk about their workouts to someone who they think of as extremely fit. Lots of people think they couldn’t do what I do, simply because they can’t do it now; what many people don’t realize is that I started out in worse shape than most of them.  In high school I couldn’t run a kilometer without walking, and my fastest mile took over 12 minutes – in fact I remember watching the first triathlon at the Sydney Oympics in 2000, and wondering how the heck anyone could run 10km without stopping!

So now that we’re all on the same page as to my starting point, let me take you through what it takes to go from a 12 minute mile to a triathlete!

Gravenhurst swim exit

Gravenhurst Sprint Triathlon, 2008

The first time I ever ran voluntarily, it was one kilometer with a friend who insisted on dragging me to the gym at 5:30am, three times a week.  I survived that one, and started running one kilometer every time I went to the gym…and then made it two…then three…and worked my way up to 5 kilometers over the course of about two months.

#1: Find a friend who will drag you to your workout on a regular basis, and make it both a consistent routine and a priority.

My first triathlon was held in the spring in Calgary, and I’m not kidding you, it snowed on the bike and my hands were so cold I almost couldn’t brake. But despite such terrible race conditions, I loved the feeling of crossing the finish line and was instantly hooked on racing!  Racing gave me motivation to train harder and smarter, and I could feel myself getting stronger and more competitive with myself.

#2: Create motivation to train and push your limits; it doesn’t have to be racing, but that’s what got me hooked.

In first year university I ran a little, but the changing routine and monotony of running alone meant I gradually stopped running regularly, and didn’t really pick up my fitness again until I joined the University of Waterloo Triathlon Club in third year.  I started racing again soon after, and had regular workouts with other triathletes who not only challenged my competitive spirit, but also gave me training tips and advice.  I started racing faster and longer, which made me willing to work even harder.

#3: Surround yourself with people who are passionate about your sport and can give you motivation and advice.

When I graduated from university, 6 years after finishing my first triathlon, I bought myself a carbon fiber triathlon bike (my beloved Kuota K-factor) with some help from my grandpa and family, and joined the Toronto Triathlon Club.  My training became more consistent and focused, which resulted in an age-group placing and finally moving up to Olympic distance in 2011, then qualifying for the duathlon world championships in 2012.  Many of my friends are dedicated and passionate triathletes who support and push me in my goals, and training is no longer something I have to think about: whether I will go for a run is not a question, the only question is when and how far.

#4: Make it part of your life.

Really, that’s all it takes.  You honestly don’t need to be a high school track star or a natural-born runner like some lucky people; I’m not physiologically any better suited to triathlon than your average human being, I’m just stubborn and a bit obsessive.  Don’t get caught up in what you can’t do right now, but start working on the things you can.

And finally, regardless of how insignificant you think the distance may be, at the end of the day I want to hear about the workout you did on the weekend or the race you’re really excited about.  We’re both passionate about the same thing: pushing the limit of what we thought was possible just a little more each day.  Isn’t that an incredible achievement?

What have you accomplished recently that you couldn’t do before?

Sunday Recap: Enlightenment

I reached running enlightenment twice this week.

For me, enlightenment comes when I no longer make the decision to keep going; in fact, I stop thinking altogether and the default setting is just keep running. It doesn’t happen often, because most of time I don’t get to the point where I’m too exhausted to think and every fibre of my being is purely focused on managing the discomfort and pain coursing through my body. If you’ve ever been there you implicitly understand how incredibly powerful it makes you feel, and if you haven’t then you probably think I’m crazy for considering this a condition worth striving for.

On Wednesday nights I run intervals at Sir Winston Churchill park with a group of runners. It usually consists of some combination of 400m to 1600m intervals at 10k pace or faster, adding up to about 5km, but this week was particularly difficult (my paces in brackets, 2 minute rest between intervals).

2km at 10k pace (4:30/km)
800m at 5k pace (4:18/km)
400m all out (<4:00/km)
2km at 10k pace (4:30/km)

I took it a little easy on the first 2k interval because I have a bad habit of going out hard and lagging in the middle, and I'm trying to break this, so my pace was 4:35. The 800m interval seemed short by comparison, so I took it around 4:15 pace, and followed that up with a blazing 400m at 3:35 pace (which is crazy fast even for me). I was really nervous going into the last interval because my legs were shot (duh, that's what happens when you go too hard in the middle of intervals) and I didn't even feel like jogging 2km, let alone sprinting it.

I took off at a (relatively) easy pace for the first 400m,then glanced down at my watch and realized I was running well under 4:30 pace. Crap. Way to blow the pace, Kim. I eased up a little, but kept the pressure on because I had a buddy about 10 feet behind me, and I’d been chasing him all session. It was about 800m into the interval when the discomfort became too much for me to handle consciously, and in the absence of a decision to slow down or stop my legs just kept going. Another one and a half laps of the park, holding a pace of 4:26 right until the end; I don’t know how I did it, but I finished the interval I didn’t think I could start. Enlightenment number one.

My second round with enlightenment this week came from a much simpler process: it was my longest long run by 5km, building on my 25km run last Sunday. Last week things got rough around 19.5km, and I had to muscle through the last 5.5km; this week I lasted until 24km before it got tough, but the last three kilometres were an exercise in pure determination. I have never run so far on the verge of tears, praying for it to be over so the pain will stop; and in those three kilometres I stopped thinking about anything other than running. Stopping wasn’t an option, quitting wasn’t an option because there are no options when you can’t think; it was no longer physical, and the only thing left was just keep running.

I finished the 30km run knowing that in breaking those barriers to what I thought was possible, I gained just as much mental strength as I did physical strength this morning.

That’s running enlightenment, and it’s a good feeling.

Don Valley Trail

Coming up this week:

Not quite a full recovery week as I’m running 33km next Sunday, but I’m taking it easy the rest of the week with some slower recovery runs and no interval work (which usually takes me 1-2 days to fully recover from).

My goals this week are:

  1. Go to bed before 10pm at least 5 nights this week. As my training load increases, I’m realizing that even a consistent 9 hours doesn’t cut it, and especially on a recovery week, sleep is just as important as training.
  2. Focus on nutrition. This past week I ate a lot more sweets than usual and my body needs a reset (read: quinoa and veggies instead of chocolate and muffins).
  3. Use my roller every day (I’ve noticed a big difference since I started rolling and I’m trying to make this a habit).