8 things you should know before training for your first marathon.

Amy Coet
26 May 2015

Source: http://www.runnersworldonline.com.au/1. For supposedly free sport, it’s easy to spend a lot of money on. Sure, you don’t NEED that colour co-ordinating, dry fit, sweat wicking outfit to run – but it sure makes it a lot more fun.

2. No matter how supportive they are, your friends, family and significant others will get sick of you talking about running. No-one is that patient.

3. Find other runners to talk to – who else will willingly discuss the benefits of one brand of sock over another for half an hour?

4. Anti-chafing cream is your friend.

5. Despite there being hundreds of flavours to choose from, all energy gels taste like a disgusting, gooey mess that is not fit for human consumption.

6. Ignore the people who tell you “carb loading is a myth”. What on earth is the point of training for a marathon if you can’t use it as an excuse to eat a huge bowl of pasta the night before a big run?

bowl-of-pasta7. Don’t forget the anti-chafing cream. This is not a double up – it really is important enough to include twice.

8. All the early mornings, the missed social outings, the pain, blood, sweat and tears will absolutely be worth it when you cross the finish line.

Bonus point – there is absolutely no shame in wearing your finisher’s medal to work the next day, and for a week after that.


How not to train for your first marathon

Amy Coet

26 May 2015

I am surrounded by people who are suffering. Red faces pouring sweat, twisted in grimaces of pain. Slumped shoulders, eyes on the ground, legs shuffling slowly. The Melbourne sun is beating down on our agony, bouncing off the fluorescent clothing and cruelly shining on the sign which states that there is only 10km to go. Only 10km. Relief beckons on the horizon in the form of an aid station with the tantalising promise of water and an excuse to stop running for a sweet 30 seconds whilst downing a cup of delicious liquid.

2014 Melbourne Marathon Festival
2014 Melbourne Marathon Festival

Except there are no cups.  There are NO CUPS. 

It’s at this point that I start questioning my sanity. Sure, I made a drunken bet with a friend over some cocktails one night. But when the hangover cleared, any sane person would have pleaded amnesia or forfeited, rather than start googling marathon training plans. As it turns out, although my sanity is questionable, I’m in good company. Once solely the realm of elite athletes, marathon running has become more and more popular with your everyday Joe and Joanne. The worldwide growth in popularity of Marathons over the last 5 years sits at 13.25%. More than 500 marathons are held across the world each year. That’s a lot of crazy people.

This surge in participation is not because of an up swell of professional runners, competing for glory, titles and prizes. The average marathon finishing time around the world is 4 hours and 20 minutes. That’s more than twice as slow as the world record which currently sits at 2 hours, 2 minutes and 57 seconds. Take a look around your local park or running track and you’ll see the people who make up the bulk of marathon participants. Weekend runners who fit their training in around jobs, kids and the daily grind. People, who want to keep fit, take on a challenge or perhaps lost a drunken bet with a friend.

A 2 hour, or even 4 hour finish time was the farthest thing from my mind as I was standing at the start line in the chilly early morning fog, nervously wondering if I could fit in one last bathroom break. As I battled the pre-race nerves, my only goal was to finish.  All I wanted was to get to the end of the track before 6 hour time cap and avoid the indignity of being asked to leave the course.

As I had discovered in my training runs, the first few kilometres were hard. My legs and lungs took a while to catch on to the fact that despite their complaints, I wasn’t going to stop. Once my body caught up with my brains intentions things started going smoothly. I sailed through the next 15kms and at the half way mark was already practising the nonchalant way I would reply “Oh, about 4 hours” to the inevitable question “What was your time?”

I had no idea what was coming.

With 10km to go my legs were sending very strange signals to my brain and the finish line seemed even further away than it had at the half way point. My mind, stomach and taste buds rebelled at the idea of downing another gluggy, sweet energy gel and all I could think about was water. Given the inexplicable lack of cups, my choices were down to bucket or hose. Plunging my face into that bucket of murky liquid already frequented by hundreds of previous runners was absolutely one of the lowest points of the Marathon. One that I had to repeat every 2.5 kilometres at every aid station for the rest of the race. As I stumbled off, one older runner, clearly experienced in the pitfalls of poorly organised marathons pulled out a stack of paper cups from his backpack and handed them out to pitifully grateful runners surrounding him like a benevolent cup god.

For a first time marathoner like myself, lack of experience is one of the biggest challenges.

Experience is what helps you get through when you inevitably hit the infamous “wall” and can’t imagine running another 10 steps, let alone another 10 kilometres. Experience tells you that you can never have too many bathroom breaks before the start gun and that the queues at the first portaloo will put a 10 minute dent in your finish time. Experience tells that you should BYO cups.

In place of experience, a solid training base should see you through. There are a proliferation of articles, websites and communities online offering training advice for the first time marathoner. It’s easy to get lost in an endless rabbit warren of comparisons of technique but one thing that all training plans recommend is a solid running base and a gradual build-up of distance. Unfortunately for me the drunken bet had taken place with a mere 12 weeks until the Melbourne Marathon. 12 weeks from D Day the farthest I had ever run 10km – over a year ago. Luckily, a friend who has more than a few Marathons, Ironmans and Olympic Triathlons under his belt put together an expedited training plan for me and I was off.

On race day the longest run I had completed in my training plan was 32km – but my trainer assured me that the excitement of the day would see me through the last 10km. As I passed the 33km marker the vibe of the crowd was certainly inspiring. It seemed that the whole of Melbourne had turned out to line the course and cheer us on. It also helped that every time I considered walking “just for a few hundred meters” one of my support crew would magically appear on the sideline to cheer me on.

With 5km to go people were dropping and the sight of downed runners being attended by paramedics became distressingly commonplace. I spent a good 3km busily plotting how to fake heat stroke before realising that I only had 2km to go and that since I was not going to put myself through this kind of torture ever again in my life, if I wanted that medal I better keep going.

Approaching the finish line was one of the most emotional moments of my life.

Still standing!

The cheers and smiles from the sideline were deafening, and my palms were stinging from high fiving the race officials. I ran over the line just as the clock flashed 4 hours 57 minutes and promptly collapsed in a puddle of joyful, exhausted, delirious tears. Unfortunately the finish line of a marathon is not the best place to have a moment of reflection. Rather than be stampeded by the finishers behind me (thankfully there were some!) I dragged myself to the finishers table to claim my medal and didn’t take it off for the next week.

The week after the race, when I could walk normally again and wasn’t contemplating staying in a hotel just to avoid walking the two flights of stairs to my apartment the insanity kicked in again. I found myself Googling the next marathon event and wondering just how well I could do with a proper amount of training.  Maybe next time I can get a wee bit closer to that 4 hour mark? I’ll let you know.

The War of Science vs. Celebrity

Amy Coët
April 28th 2015

For health conscious food lovers out there, the Internet is a battlefield, where we are bombarded with missiles of advice and fend off full frontal assaults from ads, websites and the latest guru. There are familiar faces everywhere touting their version of the best lifestyle, guaranteed to offer you health, wellness and happiness. As long as you cut out sugar, processed food, and whatever other ingredient they have deemed ‘toxic’. Oh, and don’t forget to purchase their app, recipe book and sign up for their 8 week program. Credit cards at the ready folks!

Locally, we have our own celebrities with their dubious qualifications and glossy recipe books. Stateside, one of the most popular celebrities is Food Babe. Her site home page banner states that she is “Hot on the trail to INVESTIGATE what’s really in YOUR FOOD’. Her “investigations” tab headlines read like click bait, with titles like “The Shocking Difference Between Organic & Non-GMO Labels – It’s Huge!” and Drink Starbucks? Wake Up And Smell The Chemicals!”

Food Babe

Using the hashtag #FoodBabeArmy as a call to arms, Food Babe – whose real name is Vani Hari – has led many online petitions to persuade companies to remove ‘toxic’ and harmful ingredients from their food. Since she started blogging in 2011, Vani targeted more than  610 products and companies  declaring them to be unsafe. With close to a million followers on Facebook Vani Hari is undeniably popular and with a widespread reach.

Come for the science, stay for the dirty jokes
Science Babe

One woman however, is most definitely not a fan. Yvette d’Entremont holds a B.S. in chemistry, and an MSc in forensic Science Babe Yvette d’Entremont is an analytical science and runs a blog  dedicated to “debunking pseudoscience that tends to proliferate in the blogosphere”. With the nom de plume SciBabe she is a pleasingly well named nemesis to Food Babe. Recently, she wrote a takedown price for Gawker, titled “The Food Babe Blogger is full of shit”.

In this scathing article, d’Entremont accuses Food Babe of irresponsible fear mongering, hypocrisy and a lack of understanding of even the most basic science. As SciBabe points out: 

“the Food Babe has gone on record to say, ” There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen monoxide? (AKA water.)”

She also highlights the hypocrisy of the affiliate products that Vani Hari promotes and of course profits from– many of which contain the very same ingredients she has listed as toxic and unsafe elsewhere on her site.

SciBabe is not alone in shining the cold hard light of science into the nethers of the world of the internet, in areas populated by under-educated, over-trusted celebrity gurus. Whilst her attacks are perhaps harsher than necessary (in one particularly hilarious blog post, SciBabe accuses Food Babe of behaving like a Porn Addict) if the advice offered by these gurus can’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, then they shouldn’t be promoting it. And they certainly shouldn’t be making money off of it at the potential expense of consumers health.

The rise of Wellness Celebrities and the downfall of the dinner party.

28 April 2015
Amy Coët

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of family gatherings at my parents’ house. Regardless of the occasion, the most important thing was always the food. The abundant, delicious, mouth-watering food, served up with love and lashings of butter.  Preparation would start days in advance, and the menu planning even earlier. The only concern they ever had whilst planning the menu was whether there would be enough food, and catering for the very occasional vegetarian. Over dinner recipes would be shared, or secret ingredients teasingly hinted at, and conversations would be about the best bakery, the great new local butcher and reminiscences of previously enjoyed meals. 

These days, it’s not nearly so simple.

Planning a dinner menu for my friends and family is a minefield of dietary intolerances, restrictions and near religious fervor about the healthfulness or not of the ingredient list. Dinner conversations revolve around the latest in nutritional trends as devotees try to convert the rest of the table to their life changing new regime. It’s tempting to serve up a bowl of organically grown, pesticide free salad leaves and leave them to it whilst hiding in the kitchen gnawing on a gluten filled, deliciously inorganic baguette, preferably smothered in cheese. 

Restrictive diets seem to becoming the norm. People are voluntarily eschewing perfectly delicious, apparently nutritious food in droves. In a quest for health, weight-loss, clear skin, miracle cures and super-powers, it seems that more and more people are following self-imposed dietary regimes forbidding foods that many of us lesser folk consume with gleeful abandon each day. 

But where are people getting their information from?

Are GP’s everywhere merrily prescribing diets forbidding all the most delicious food groups? Certainly, some people  are making these food choices based on advice from their GP’s or from registered Dietitians who have years of training, and an industry mandated registration. However,  more and more we are seeing the rise of “wellness gurus”. Celebrities with little to no formal education in nutrition or dietetics (FYI Jenny McCarthy, “The University of Google” is not an officially recognised qualification) who promote their lifestyle as the one true path to health, happiness and oneness with the universe. 

Often these wellness gurus tell a moving story behind their conversion to their new way of life. Stories of reclaimed healtha child cured from Autism, even a cure for cancer. These diets inevitably recommend totally eschewing some ingredients that are normally considered staples in an Australian household – the more extreme the better. Sugar is often listed right up there with Methamphetamine on the list of evil substances you could possibly consume. Bread gets a similar treatment. Other innocent victims of food hate campaigns include such seemingly innocuous foods such as milk, and even traditionally healthy things such as wholegrains!

Not to mention, that of the remaining foods you are allowed to eat must be organically, bio-dynamically grown, from local producers. God forbid you buy a super saver pack of sausages from the local supermarket for your next BBQ – are you trying to poison your guests and sentence them to a lifetime of ‘toxic’ overload? It’s so exhausting thinking about that I have to have a donut. A real one, not one of these sugar-free, grain-free cardboard monstrosities.

 So, just who are these wellness gurus? What do they promote? And what do they stand to gain?
Pete Evans
Pete Evans

Pete Evans is one of the better known celebrities, appearing nightly on our TV’s devouring chocolate ganache on My Kitchen Rules and then promoting the benefits of the grain free, sugar free, caveman inspired Paleo Lifestyle on his Facebook page. With close to a million followers Pete has an enormous audience, and with a range of cookbooks, cooking accessories and a $99, 10 week program, the potential profits are enormous. His credentials stack up better than others – he can boast a well-established career as a restaurateur and chef and a certification as a Health Coach with qualifications from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

 Sarah Wilson is another wellness celebrity, with a passionate belief in the evils of sugar, a range of recipe books and an 8 week program (which at $150 appears to be not quite as good value as Paleo Pete’s). As a self-described former newspaper, magazine and TV journalist, her credentials are somewhat suspect. And of course,  there is Belle Gibson, the recently disgraced “Wellness Warrior” who claimed to have cured her terminal brain cancer with healthy eating and “natural healing”. After astronomical sales of her whole pantry app and recipe books she has been exposed as a fake who not only didn’t heal herself from cancer with coffee enemas and kale smoothies, but never even had cancer in the first place. The list of celebrity wellness gurus could go on and one, but we will stop there.

 Aside from the fact that people are wasting their money on glossy cookbooks and annoying their friends at dinner parties is it really worth getting worked up about? 

Well .. yes. It should come as no surprise to anyone that following health advice from unverified sources has potential negative health implications. Recently, the release of one of Pete Evans recipe books has been delayed due to fears over the recipes for baby formula. Professor Heather Yeatman, president of the PHAA even went so far as to say

In my view, there’s a very real possibility that a baby may die if this book goes ahead,”

Cancer suffers have been given false hope, and perhaps even made misguided decisions about treatment   based on Belle Gibson’s irresponsible advice. 

 So, is the safe option to just follow the food pyramid we all remember from our school days? Actually, that may not turn out to be such a good move either. Harvard Nutritionist Dr Walter Willett recently claimed that not only is the food pyramid wrong, but that 

“the USDA food pyramid serves the interests of its main client, the U.S. agricultural industry”.

The Heart Foundation Tick
National Heart Foundation

There are articles published daily outlining the causes of the current obesity crisis – many of them blaming low fat, highly processed “diet foods” for the epidemic. The Heart Foundation Tick – a trusted signal of a healthy choice to many Australian consumers has come under fire for misguiding consumers. Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton has stated that it “gives a ”stamp of credibility” to unhealthy foods such as frozen pies and pizzas and distracts from the key message to avoid processed foods”.

The simple act of fueling our bodies has become a minefield of agonising, confusing choices.  

There has never been so much information available and with so many competing viewpoints it has gotten to the point where you need a degree in nutrition just to decide what to have for breakfast. So what’s a health conscious food lover to do? Until there is some consistent, trustworthy form of regulation about health claims made online, all I can recommend is that you bring a dose of healthy skepticism to the table. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. And if your friends don’t eat what you cook them, stop inviting them to dinner parties. 

Workshop 8

Why is technology invading our kitchens? 

Amy Coët
21 April 2015

Technology and design: Smart Manager Fridge by LGSeen on the side of a Melbourne bus: an advertisement for some new phone product, which read: “You can now send a photo from your phone to your fridge.”

Great. I would have preferred it if they had invented a way to send a 6-pack from the fridge to the phone, but I suppose it’s a start.

But seriously: why?

I’m sure there are plenty of sensible reasons why we need fridges with built-in computers, mobile phones that can take photographs, and the internet-based technology to link the two, but I can’t think of any. It’s bad enough that we are chained to them (computers and phones that is, not fridges) all day, without having them follow us home and into the kitchen, which was, until recently the one digital-free zone left in the house. Does this development mean we will soon have to log on to the fridge? If so, when I raid the fridge in the middle of the night, will it now have the potential to refuse to open for me because I unwittingly used up all my online time downloading beers during the football? Will I experience mysterious fridge drop-outs during which I won’t be able to open the fridge at all?

I would feel more at ease if the advertisement on the bus had gone on to tell me just what sort of picture I, or others, might want to send to my fridge. Will my fridge be spammed by porno-types hoping to entice me to their sites by sending me pictures of some ladies’ thingies? At work, will the noticeboard full of photocopied bottoms be replaced by a fridge loaded with digital-phone pics of bottoms instead?

Help me here; I can’t see anything but trouble coming as a result of this latest advance.

Yet another complication designed to make life easier.

Easier for whom? This time last week the only pictures on my fridge were drawn by little children. Should I be tripping down to the kindergarten and snapping junior’s paintings with my phone and then sending them to the fridge instead of wedging them under the pizza shop’s fridge magnet? Sure it will make the fridge smarter, but then what do I do with the originals?

And then, what am I supposed to do with my fridge magnets? How will local businesses survive without their names being magnetically attached to my fridge door? What about all the people employed in the making of fridge magnets? Surely this spells the end for them. What about the camera people?

Why must everything be capable of interfacing with everything else? Why do all our devices have to be pocket-sized and multi-skilled? How I yearn for a fridge that will just concentrate on keeping things cold, instead of wasting time displaying the airbrushed bits of some porno star.

Life was so much simpler before we had all this labour and time-saving technology. In the good old days the phone was in the hallway and the fridge was in the kitchen. They never met, and as far as I can recall, never intimated that they might want to. They simply got on with their lives, each knowing his or her place in the scheme of things and happy to be in it. There’s a lesson in there for us all.

Champagne, Caviar and Typewriters

(AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)
(AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Travelling the Middle East, drinking champagne and eating caviar, lunch with the future president of Lebanon, daily briefs from the Pentagon – it sounds like the plot of a spy movie but in fact, this was all in a day’s work for Pamela White, who spent nearly 30 years working with the New Zealand Embassy and the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC.

These days Pam is retired and living in a sunny house overlooking the mangroves on the North Shore of Auckland in her native New Zealand. Bowls tournaments and knitting fill days that used to be spent on missions to exotic countries, although there is still the occasional glass of champagne.

With a career spanning 21 years with the Middle East department of the International Monetary Fund and 5 years in the defence department of the New Zealand embassy, Pam has seen more of the world than many, and had some unique experiences. At a time when it was much more common for women to be a housewife than have an international jet setting career, her adventures are all the more extraordinary.

Pam doesn’t see herself as being out of the ordinary, in fact, she describes herself as a late bloomer. “We all travelled in those days. Most people left in their early 20’s but I didn’t leave home until I was 27.” In 1964, at the age of 27 Pam flew to the UK, where she found work with an American company. 3 years later, she reached the limits of her visa and looked further afield. She had the choice between a job at the World Bank, and a job with the New Zealand Embassy in Washington DC. She chose to work with the embassy and joined the defence department as a secretary.

“I told everyone I was working for God” Pam laughs. “Because of course, God defends New Zealand” a reference to a line in the New Zealand national anthem. Her time at the embassy coincided with the war in Vietnam – a period she describes as an extremely interesting time to work. Part of her responsibilities included typing up the daily briefing from the Pentagon, then ensuring that type writer ribbon was destroyed. “I had a special security clearance” Pam explains “but a lot of the time, the things I learned, I would see in the newspaper the next day anyway!”

The newspapers were also full of the many protests that were happening at that time, events that Pam remembers vividly. “I remember standing in the streets, watching the armoured personnel vehicles go past and smelling the tear gas”. Pam describes seeing many terrible things during these protests, which led her to vow to never to participate in one.

Although she did break this vow just once, when her and 6 friends protested nuclear testing in the Pacific outside the French embassy on Bastille Day.  Being good citizens, they notified the district office of their intent to stage a protest. So, on the 14th July, a sunny hot day, a full squad of police officers in riot gear turned out to supervise this small, peaceful group of older women wearing sun hats and carrying placards.  The embassy sent out a waiter with trays of sparkling Evian for all.

After the war ended, Pam explains that the work for the defence department slowed down, and she was “bored to tears”. A friend who worked at the International Monetary Fund (known simply as “The Fund” by those who worked there) explained how good the benefits were and encouraged her to apply. Pam applied and was given a post in the Middle East department.

She started her career as a Secretary and in that role travelled to places as diverse as Egypt, Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria and Iran. “I was in Iran before the Sha fell” Pam explains. “In the good old days when you could still wear a bikini at the pool!” Other highlights experienced on these overseas missions include dining out on caviar with the Governor of the Central Bank and taking an elevator with Spiro Agnew, the former Vice President of the United States.

Travelling on these missions was not all champagne and caviar however. The secretaries faced many challenges, some more unexpected than others. “I used to give a talk on the role of a secretary on a mission and I would tell the girls that lights in hotels are designed to be seductive, not productive! Always call the front desk and ask for a higher wattage lightbulb to be sent up.” The workload was demanding and many late nights were spent in hotel rooms typing. Pam recounts the story of her colleague who spent the night typing her notes up sitting on the road somewhere in Africa in front of a car with its head lights on, because the hotel had a power cut. “The first thing we would check is if there were candles in the drawers – if there were you knew you could expect power cuts.”

Surprisingly, when asked what the biggest challenge was whilst working in The Fund, it’s not the travel or the workload that Pam refers to. “The woman thing was a challenge– I felt I was always beating a drum for the secretaries, for their rights”. After her work as a secretary, Pam moved into the position of Administration Officer – the one professional position at the top of the secretarial ladder. In this role she often had to act as an advocate for the secretaries. “Men expected them to work overtime at the drop of a hat, but they had lives to live, they had families to go home and cook meals for. A lot of the Economists took advantage”

Jan Smart, a close friend and former colleague of Pam, describes how in her first week at The Fund, during orientation, one of the managers described the secretaries as “The Flowers of The Fund”. Jan says that whilst the fund was very progressive in a lot of areas, notably the benefits available to staff, one area it certainly was not progressive in was the view that men and women are equal. The core professional staff in the fund, the Economists, were nearly all men and still are to this day. “The rest of us – secretaries, journalists, editors, translators, etc. – were called “non-economists” and our professions not as respected or valued. Women in all professions had a more difficult time being treated as equals to men.”

In fact, Pam had to deal with the very first case of sexual harassment in her department. Pam explains “I was called to a meeting with Head of Administration and told this meeting is not happening.”  At this non-meeting, Pam was informed that one of the secretaries would not be coming back to Middle East department when back from leave. Instead she would be reassigned to another department, and it would be Pam’s responsibility to inform the secretary’s boss – who was also the offender. “I took the coward’s way out.  I took a sickie (a sick day) and called him from home and told him over the phone so I didn’t have to face him!” It was an incredibly difficult situation for Pam to navigate, and at a time when there were no formal processes in place for dealing with such a situation. “Sexual harassment cases were just starting to come in vogue, as it were” she says. In the end, the secretary was transferred to another department, and the offender was forced into retirement.  There was some discussion about him being given a golden parachute to leave, but happily, this didn’t result “I said to my boss, if they do that I am going to go out in the corridor and leap on the first economist I see so I can get a package too!”

Salary was another area were women in The Fund fought to be treated equally. Not long before Pam left, a study was conducted which identified that women in the fund earned on average 10% less than their professional male counterparts. Despite the challenges of equality, Pam explains that there were always women in senior positions and strong women in leadership roles. In fact, the current Executive Director Christine Lagarde is the first woman to be appointed to the position. Recently, The Fund has been leading discussion on gender equality and calling for global changes to encourage female participation in the workforce, an encouraging sign that thing have changed for the better in recent years.

One thing both Jan and Pam cite as one of the highlights of working in the fund was the opportunity to meet people from such diverse, multicultural backgrounds, and get to know them as people, not just stereotypes. “I was so appreciative of that when 9/11 happened in NYC and people began demonizing Arabs and Muslims.  I could see them through a different lens; as people wanting to work, parent, live full rich lives within their own culture, respectful of others.”  Jan says.

After 21 years at The Fund, a bitter divorce and on the verge of burn out Pam decided to take an early retirement at 58 and return to New Zealand. “I flew first class and drank champagne on the way home to celebrate!” she exclaims. After returning to New Zealand, she remarried in 2002 and these days spends her time playing bowls and knitting for the ever-increasing brood of “grands” her nieces, nephews and grand and great-grandchildren. When asked if she found it boring to retire and return to New Zealand after the excitement of her career in Washington she replies “Not at all. I’m just so happy to be home with my family.”