This is the third feature in a series of guest posts featuring many women from the Strong Runner Chicks community. Here at Strong Runner Chicks we welcome individuals of all walks of life. To highlight this we asked our community to send us Days in their Lives.
Kirsten is a current PhD student at Duke University studying Environmental Toxicology. As an avid runner, she has had a long journey of learning healthy, nourish running habits. Her favorite food combo is scrambled eggs with steamed spinach over cooked oats and possibly topped with avocado or salsa (this sounds delish!).
Kirsten believes that topics including anorexia, overtraining, injury recovery, and binge eating should be conversed about transparently, so that others do not feel alone in their struggles! She hopes to be an advocate for nutrition as fuel, body positivity, and the importance of strength training.
Today Kirsten shares with us a Day in Her Life. Follow along to hear how Kirsten embodies the Strong Runner Chicks mission in her everyday life!
Although I never ran for my high school or college teams, running has been part of my life for many years now, in different ways. I grew up watching the joy running brought my dad, and I started to toy with running in middle school both as training for softball season and as cardio training for dance and show choir. During my freshman year of college, I took a running class to fulfill a physical education requirement, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Throughout college, I turned to running as a stress reliever to clear my mind after long days in class, lab, and rehearsal. While this was wonderful, it also became entwined with a rapidly-developing eating disorder – a product of perfectionism and self-doubt – and morphed into obsessive exercise. As a result, I abused both my body and running itself, and ended up with lasting injuries that needed time and physical therapy to heal.
Years later, I’m happy to say that I’m now recovered and have recaptured everything I love about running while leaving destructive tendencies behind. There are days where disordered thoughts try to fight their way back in, but I now know how to say, “Not today. I’m stronger than you.” Along the way, thanks to the wisdom of nutritionists, trainers, and self-education, I have learned so much about holistic self-care, proper fuel, and proper training, and I try to incorporate this knowledge into my life every day. (You may notice when I mention meals that I discuss food group pairings, rather than individual foods; thinking in terms of food groups and how to incorporate them into my day has been both restorative and empowering for me. Although my nutrition works for my body, I want to emphasize that it is infinitely more important to figure out what foods work best for YOU than it is to follow something just because it worked for someone else.)
I am currently a graduate student pursuing my PhD in toxicology and environmental health, so each day is different and full of things to do! My program involves both academic courses and full-time laboratory work; as a result, I’ve learned that I need to be very deliberate with setting aside time to nurture physical and mental health, whether planning ahead for meal prep, fitting in a workout, or deliberately finding quiet in the day. Where fitness is concerned, I follow a weekly routine that allows some flexibility, one that’s been built on trial and error to figure out what works best for me, my body, and my schedule. Most days, a morning workout is best time-wise. Recovering from my injuries taught me the necessity of good strength training for running, and I now pursue about a 50-50 split between running and strength training. I’ve fallen in love with both: I love the freedom and fulfillment that running offers, and I love the strength and power that weightlifting provides. I’ve also learned the value of rest days, and I enjoy giving my body a break.
So, what does this look like in practice? My alarm goes off at 6:15am if I’m exercising in the morning, and I’m out the door by 6:30am. I should note that morning workouts used to be an impossible task for me, but I spent my summer making gradual efforts to transition and now enjoy the way a morning workout wakes me up and energizes me for the day. On Tuesdays and Fridays, I hit the gym to lift; on Wednesdays and Saturdays, I combine bodyweight strength with running or sprint intervals; and on Thursdays and Sundays, I head out for a longer run.
I’m typically showered and preparing breakfast by 8:00am. For breakfast, I always try to pair a protein with a fruit. My go-to breakfasts are goat milk yogurt with berries, scrambled eggs and a banana, poultry with sliced pear, or mixed fruit with raw nuts and seeds. As I drink my coffee, I’ll also prep lunch and snacks for the day. I aim to include greens, a protein, and a carb/starch at lunch. I’m working on being more creative with lunch, but most days I have a chicken, bean, and greens salad, or else veggies with turkey and some steamed potato. For snacks, I like to pack an apple and some nuts or seeds.
After prepping lunch, I sometimes head straight to the lab or else will work from home for a bit; either way, I typically arrive for the day between 9 and 10. From here, my “daily life” begins to vary widely. I try to start every day in lab by writing down my tasks for the day so I can keep track of what needs to happen when. I might spend my morning analyzing data, reading papers, preparing or executing an experiment, attending meetings, writing emails, or taking care of coursework. I typically break for lunch around noon. My afternoon continues with the same variety of possible activities; my courses, one per day, also occur in the afternoon.
I am typically done with my lab day anywhere between 5p and 7p, after which I will either head to choir rehearsal or go home to prepare dinner with my boyfriend (if I have choir, I eat after rehearsal). Dinner could be a crock-pot creation, a skillet meal, or a soup, but as with lunch, I try to include greens or veggies, a protein, and a carb with every dinner. Over dinner, my boyfriend and I will discuss our workdays, things we’re working on or learning, things we read, or whatever else comes to mind that day – the meal is a great time to reconnect and just enjoy being together. After cleaning up from dinner, I often have work or studies to do for the evening; sometimes, I’m able to head out to see friends. My brain tends to quit focusing around 10:30pm, so at this point I’ll usually have tea, relax, stretch, watch an episode of a show, or contact long-distance family and friends. I try to be in bed at a reasonable time, but unfortunately, this becomes more challenging the farther into a semester I get, and I have to work hard to hold myself accountable to bedtime!
This is what my daily life often looks like, and I really value that I’ve found a loose system that works for me. Let me emphasize, however, that there are many days where my day doesn’t look like this at all! My life is far from perfect or fully figured out; between realities of school obligations, sudden schedule changes, and general life craziness, my day is actually often in flux and unfolds differently than I anticipated. Some days, this also means that my workout gets moved or doesn’t happen, and I’ve simply had to learn to be okay with that. I’ve learned that if I try too hard to control my life, I am unable to enjoy any of the wonderful things in my life.
Pursuing balance in life is always a work in progress, but if my past struggles have taught me anything, it is never to overlook opportunities for gratitude. When life gets busy, full, and stressful, gratitude can be tough; it doesn’t always come easily to me, and it’s something on which I’ve had to spend conscious effort. However, when I pause to be grateful for wonderful professors and colleagues, for rewarding work, for good food, for loving friends and family, for a fresh day to practice self-care, and for all that my body can do, I find that no matter what my daily life brings, I am ready to handle it.
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