5/3/18: Meet Anna, our first MixAmbassador
MixABar is dedicated to supporting our community and promoting the everyday athlete. We are proud to introduce and support our new MixAmbassador, Anna Bjorkenvall. She is preparing for an Iron Man triathlon, and MixABar is excited to follow her journey to the finish line. We sat down with Anna to get to know her better.
MixABar: Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Anna: Of course – I’m 31 years old, originally from Stockholm, Sweden. After having lived in both England and Italy, I came to Miami on my own about seven years ago.
MixABar: What made you get in to triathlons and races?
Anna: I’ve always liked a challenge, and I learned early on that athletic races are one of the best learning experiences for me. I grow so much with every race: I learn about myself, my body, and life in general.
MixABar: For those of us who prefer to keep things mellower, explain to us what an Iron Man triathlon is?
Anna: It is an endurance race during which you first swim 2.4 miles (3.8 km), then bike 112 miles (180 km), and finally run a marathon, which is 26.2 miles (42 km). You do it all in one go without stopping, and the idea is to make your way to the finish line in about 17 hours or less. The pros can do it in about 10 hours, but as an ordinary person, I’ll be excited just to finish the race.
MixABar: I can imagine that there’s a lot of preparation that goes into an event like that. How does a typical training day look like for you?
Anna: If it’s during the week, I normally wake up at 5.30am and go for a 13-mile run before work. After work, I do a second workout – perhaps a swim, or a round in the gym. On the weekend, I wake up around 7am and either do a long run (20+ miles) or bike ride (60+ miles) in the morning. In the afternoon, I’ll go for a swim. Monday is my rest day.
MixABar: Sounds pretty intense! What drives you to take on the challenge of doing an Iron Man triathlon?
Anna: My biggest driving force in life is curiosity. I don’t really consider myself a triathlete, but I love challenges and putting myself in situations that force me to grow. The triathlon idea came about from my curiosity to explore the limits of my body and to experience what that would feel like. It’s also a great vehicle for me to get involved in some charity work, as I like to race for a cause.
MixABar: Tell us a little bit about your race charity and what inspired you to take that on?
Anna: I get energized by taking on causes outside of myself. So many people around the world don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water, and it especially impacts kids and women, who often spend a lot of time collecting water. For kids, that time could be dedicated to learning and building a future for themselves. And there are the obvious health benefits of having access to clean water, water that won’t make you sick or even die. For this Iron Man race, I called my charity project “Thirst for life”, and all of the money raised will go to the charity water.org, to help provide water and sanitation to poor communities in third world countries.
MixABar: What made you choose MixABar as your partner for the race?
Anna: Nutrition and healthy eating is important to me, not only for my athletic results, but also in life. Things don’t necessarily have to taste bad to be good for you. Organic products that are high in protein, high in fiber and low in sugar are hard to find. I also love the fact that MixABar has no preservatives. With other energy bars, I’ve often thought about the enormous amount of packaging that I throw away, and it concerns me, especially swimming in the ocean as much as I do. I feel much better about the reduced waste involved with my MixABar consumption, and the people at MixABar are really committed to healthy lifestyles and improving our environment. I love that.
MixABar: What can we look forward to seeing from you here on the MixABar website, and on our social media during your MixAmbassador time?
Anna: I’m excited about connecting with the MixABar community as I prepare for the race. Along the way, I’ll share training tips, inspiration, and great ways to take on a more active lifestyle – things that YOU can do no matter what your starting point is. I hope to inspire others to live a more active lifestyle and make a difference in the world.
MixABar: Any final thoughts before we let you get on with your next workout?
Anna: It might be a bit cliché but “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – anything is possible if we’re just willing to take that first little step. I don’t consider myself a hard core athlete; I’m just a regular person with my self-doubts, fear of failure and all that. However, I know that if I just have the courage to take that first step, that’s half the battle. And for our readers out there, I want you to ask yourself, what are you putting off? What would be a first little step in your life?
MixABar: Anna, thanks so much for sharing your time and your thoughts. We really admire your courage and dedication. You are truly an inspiration to us here at MixABar and we are proud to have you represent our brand. We wish you the best in your Iron Man journey.
5/10/18: Checking in with Anna, 2 weeks before the Iron Man
Today we’re checking in with our MixAmbassador, Anna Bjorkenvall, to talk about the ups and downs involved with taking on a major challenge like an Iron Man triathlon.
MixABar: Anna, how are you feeling? The race is drawing closer – how do you feel about where you are in training?
Anna: Yes, it’s hard to imagine that in two weeks I will be down in Brazil, getting ready for a 140 mile triathlon! Like with anything we find challenging in life, it’s easy to fall into the thinking of “not enough” –to feel like you should’ve done more or trained harder. It’s important to realize that you’re rarely going to reach that point where you feel 100% ready and everything is under control. Many times, it’s just as much about getting your body ready, as it is setting your mind to it. With that being said, I’m nervously excited and really looking forward to race day!
MixABar: What are some of the major challenges you foresee with race day, and what are you doing to overcome those challenges?
Anna: Apart from the pure intensity of the physical exercise, one thing is music. During the race, we are not allowed to listen to music. Being in your own head for 17 hours can be challenging enough, even without a race, so one strategy for me is to listen to the same playlist during my training, so that I can “memorize” the songs in my head and know exactly what’s coming next! There’s nothing like good music to boost your workout, so I’ve shared my favorite tunes on a Spotify playlist we call the MixAMix – fun, right!
MixABar: Apart from good music, do you have any other suggestions for people embarking on the road towards a more active lifestyle?
Anna: Many people try, for example, running, but stop when they experience knee pain or other types of discomfort. The best thing is to head to a running store where the staff can measure and film your step, and recommend a shoe for your running style. It’s well worth finding a shoe model that works for you. Since my initial visit to a running store many years ago, I keep ordering the same Adidas model on Amazon, and it has been the single most important thing in improving my performance and avoiding injuries.
Another thing to think about is to adjust your food intake according to your work out. It’s important to give your body enough healthy fuel to be able to recover after the exercise. If not, it’s easy to break our good workout habits; then our immune system takes the impact and we catch a cold or get sick right when we’re getting into the groove. One solution is to incorporate a healthy snack and fuel up immediately after a workout to help the body recover. A banana, some good protein, or some MixABar are my go-to’s. I always have a Tupperware of MixABar in the fridge at home and at work to ensure that I always have an easy and healthy snack available.
And finally, find a workout type that you like! Groupon or similar coupon sites can be great ways to try out new types of workouts without having to make a big commitment or sign up for long-term memberships etc. Figure out what’s best for you and don’t give up, even if at first it might take a little while for the body to get used to the new habit!
5/18/18: Anna’s training tips, 1 week before Iron Man
With only ten days left before her Iron Man triathlon, today we’re sitting down with our MixAmbassador Anna Bjorkenvall to talk about running technique and common beginner’s mistakes to avoid as we’re building our active lifestyles and making healthier choices for ourselves.
MixABar: Not long to go before your race now – how are you feeling?
Anna: I feel pretty good! My body feels strong and as ready as I could be. Looking forward to race day!
MixABar: Let’s talk about running technique. There are a lot of things one can do for a more efficient run. What are some things to think about from your experience?
Anna: There are lots of different theories when it comes to running technique, but I’ll share some of the things that work for me. One of the easiest things to tweak is posture. It is important to run with a straight, good posture, and not lean forward when running on a flat surface. Many people have a tendency to slouch over slightly, which makes the run very heavy, as your body then needs to use extra energy to keep you up. When I run, I envision an imaginary iron pole passing through my back and down my legs. I try to keep my body centered around that imaginary pole and not take excessively long strides, and not shift that center line. Oftentimes when I start to feel tired during a long run, I notice that I’ve let my posture go. A quick correction, and my run instantly feels a lot lighter!
Another thing to keep in mind is your technique in uphills and downhills. Many people run the same way regardless if they’re running on a flat or inclined surface, but that is not maximizing your energy use. When it comes to uphills, the trick is to bend forward slightly starting from the hips while keeping your back straight, so that you’re leaning slightly towards the hill. Take shorter steps than what you normally do. This will create a slight falling sensation, which will work with gravity to pull you up the hill. With this technique, you offset the uphill so that your body feels like it’s basically running on flat. It’s very subtle, but when you get it right, it makes a real difference.
MixABar: That’s pretty cool! Any other little trick up your sleeve for someone wanting to take their running to the next level?
Anna: I’m a big believer in working with the body’s natural physiology to improve. One way in which I do that is to run with a hydration belt around my waist, which contains two little bottles I can fill with water or Gatorade. Taking little sips of liquid during my run helps me go faster. Here’s why: there’s a major nerve, which communicates to your brain when to slow down, that runs between your heart and brain, passing by the back of your throat. What happens when you run is that the nerve can get a little worked up, which causes you to slow down, stalling your progress. You know that instinct of either splashing your face with cold water or wanting to take a sip of cold liquid when you’re tired? That is often connected to this nerve, as an instinct to calm it down. Taking little sips during the run does the same thing, and by calming down that nerve before it gets rallied up, your brain doesn’t have to go into panic mode, so you’ll be able to keep going, which ultimately causes you to improve over time. Just make sure to listen to your body – going out of your comfort zone helps you grow, but you don’t want to push too far!
My final advice is: intervals. Adding in some intervals in your training will help you improve faster, as it again works with the body’s physiology by gently extending the boundaries. In your cells, the mitochondrias work as the cell’s energy factory. In a simplified way: when you go all out in training, it signals to the body to boost the number and efficiency of the mitochondrias to be prepared for the higher intensity. When running in intervals, you’re just going at full speed for short bursts, but your body still strengthens the mitochondria operations as if you were running at full speed continuously. More power plants in your cells lead to a quicker progress in your training. It’s all about easy little things to trick your body into working with your goals!
5/25/18: Two days before the big event
MixABar: With your race in just a couple of days, let’s talk about goal setting. You’re used to setting challenging goals for yourself. Can you provide guidance for those who want to set goals but don’t know where to start?
Anna: Goal setting is a habit. Like a muscle, you can train your goal setting capability – and it becomes easier and easier. Oftentimes, we create goals for ourselves that we more or less know how to accomplish, so in a way they’re pretty safe. To really take things to the next level, I think it’s important to expand and dream big. It’s something that we did naturally as kids; we didn’t have any problem dreaming up wild ideas and really feeling it – being astronauts or whatever. Then we grow up and our logical brain starts to interfere and say “no, that’s not reasonable” or “no, that wouldn’t work”.
A big part of the goal setting is seeing yourself doing what it is that you want to accomplish – visualization is really just a fancy word for what we did as kids. It’s a matter of training our ability to disconnect the reasonable side. If my logical brain would’ve kicked in a couple of months ago, when I got the idea of taking on an Iron Man as a rookie, I could’ve easily shot that down as “not possible”. Keep the playful side in your goal setting!
Next thing is to try and make things as concrete as possible. Have a clear end in mind and then work your way back from that. What do you have to do every month, every week, and every day for that to happen? I’m a visual person, so I always write down the daily actions on post-it notes and stick them on my wall, for example every individual workout in my triathlon training. Then every day, it’s clear to me what I have to do that day, and I get a feeling of accomplishment for every completed post-it note I can remove from my wall! If not, it’s easy to start skipping workouts or not feel like it matters if you do it today or some other day, but making it as concrete as possible helps me a lot!
MixABar: Ok, so if I’ve set a clear goal for myself. What are some other things you can recommend that I can use to accomplish those goals?
Anna: We’ve all been there, right: we set a lofty goal for ourselves, whether it be getting in shape, starting a new career, signing up for some race, losing weight, or whatever it might be. Something happens and we lose momentum and the initial excitement of the goal wears off. To me, it’s important to prepare strategies that help you keep going when you come up against obstacles – which is bound to happen. It’s a matter of finding what works for you, but I like to for example use music. I normally create a particular playlist for my goal project with tunes that pump me up, and ideally one specific theme song for my goal – one song that summarizes my goal in some way, or that I imagine playing when crossing the finish line. In that way, if I’m having a rough day or moment, I put on that specific goal playlist and sing loudly in the car or just dance off at home. There’s nothing like movement to get myself back in the game!
I’m also a big fan of props – physical objects that I can associate with my goal. It might be a piece of clothing or a pair of earrings or whatever makes sense. If you are, for example, aiming at getting a new job or starting a new career, I would get myself a new piece of clothing that I imagine wearing at my new job – something that makes me grow into that role mentally. It’s all about waking up that playful imagination from our childhood to get ourselves in the right mindset.
I also like to change the passwords to various logins to reflect whatever the goal I’m working towards. Entering something related to my goal on a daily basis reminds me to keep things top of mind.
Finally, I like to use a mantra or a motto – some phrase that I can associate with my goal and that I can use to boost me. For example for my Iron Man triathlon, my mantra is “Go beyond”. It works for everything! During training, when I’m tired or want to give up, I can repeat “go beyond” to myself to push through; if I’m stressed about something, I can use my mantra as a reminder to not let that stop me, if something happens -for example little injuries here and there that forced me to pause the training temporarily, my mantra helps me to not get stressed or beat myself up about it. I tend to have different mantras for different goals, as my “needs” varies depending on the goal and where I’m at mentally.
And involve people if that helps you! Perhaps get a training buddy as an accountability partner if you know that having somebody waiting for you gets you to the gym, or whatever your goal is. Don’t underestimate the power of your community! Have some fun with your goal setting and don’t give up!
6/2/18: Post Race Reflections
MixABar: Congratulations Anna, you completed your Iron Man triathlon in Brazil! Wow, what an amazing accomplishment. And your time (12 hours 55mins) was much better than you had expected. We know you worked very hard for this, so it must feel very satisfying!
Anna: Yes, it was an incredible experience and I’m very happy with my time. It only shows how we oftentimes think we’re being gutsy when we’re setting goals, but we can do so much more than we think we can!
MixABar: It will be interesting to see what else you can accomplish! What did you learn from this whole experience?
Anna: I learned a lot about myself from this adventure, but it also reinforced my view that anything is possible! During the marathon part of the race, I could really see how my running technique (which we went over in a previous blog post) made a real difference. Working the uphills and downhills, keeping my posture during the entire run, having my hydration belt with me, etc.
In triathlon, nutrition is often called the fourth, unofficial discipline after swimming, biking, and running – and I could really see that. Easy, healthy snacks, good protein, and clean eating were critical to my success, and for that reason I was really happy to collaborate with MixABar.
MixABar: We are very happy to be able to support great, inspirational people like you. Looking back at the race, was there anything you would have done differently?
Anna: I probably would have pushed a little more from the beginning, as I had powers left to give at the end of the race. But overall, I’m very happy with the outcome.
MixABar: What did you enjoy most about the experience?
Anna: Apart from the pure joy of challenging myself and seeing myself grow in every way, my favorite thing was the community. The people along the race course, the great support from friends, family, and strangers, interacting with the MixABar community, and most importantly – through my race participation help raise money for Water.org. Clean water is critical, and is something that MixABar also is a believer in, through the reduced packaging waste, so I’m happy to support a better planet in various ways.
MixABar: Anna, thanks so much for sharing your Iron Man journey with us. You are such an inspiration to us all. Hopefully, our readers will take some of your inspiration and set some lofty goals for themselves. You have demonstrated that we are capable of more than we realize. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for your future. Best of luck with whatever you take on next.