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Home » Importance of training and grit for your first marathon with Olivia Levy! Ep75

Importance of training and grit for your first marathon with Olivia Levy! Ep75

#075 – Are you thinking about increasing your race distance, but wondering what it takes to run your first marathon? Olivia Levy shares her strategy and experience for her first marathon; including training tips and overcoming the mental battle of running longer distances. 

Olivia also shares her passion for making running more inclusive and bridging the gap between physical fitness and philanthropy.

Topics Covered:

  • Striking the right balance between training, strength-building, and mental fortitude in races
  • Staying consistent with your training and progress to longer distances, such as a half marathon or marathon
  • Staying committed to your running journey and enjoy the personal growth and accomplishments along the way
  • Engaging in conversations and initiatives about diversity and inclusion in the running community

Today’s Guest

Olivia Levy

Olivia Levy

Olivia is a distance runner living in Toronto, Canada. She draws on her graduate educational background in socio-legal studies and business management to lead discussions and initiatives on anti-racism and anti-oppression in running. Currently, Olivia is the marketing director for the pride and remembrance run and ambassador for Saucony Canada. She has been featured in Toronto Star, Sports Net X Black History Month, and City News Everywhere. She has raced from 5k to Marathon and is currently focusing on 10Ks and Half marathons.

Follow Olivia:


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Listen to Inspire to Run Podcast:

Richard Conner 0:00

Hey everyone, are you thinking about running that next level race, whether it’s a 10k, half marathon or marathon, but maybe you have some doubts or fears? Well, our guest today is going to share her experience about running her very first marathon. And we’re going to talk about do’s and don’ts during training and the race. We’re going to talk about how to stay consistent with your training, as well as some tips that are going to help you have that mental stamina on race day. We’ll also talk a little bit about her running journey and how she’s supporting and giving back to the community. Hope you enjoy. Welcome to

Intro/Outro 0:33

Inspire to run podcast. Here you will find inspiration. Whether you’re looking to take control of your health and fitness or you’re a seasoned runner, looking for community and some extra motivation. You will hear inspiring stories from amazing runners, along with helpful tips from fitness experts. Now here’s your host Richard Conner.

Richard Conner 0:56

Hi, everyone, welcome to inspire to run Podcast. I’m here today with Olivia Levy, who is a distance runner living in Toronto, Canada. She draws on her graduate educational background and socio Legal Studies and business management to lead discussions and initiatives on anti racism and anti oppression in running. Currently, Olivia is the marketing director for the pride and remembrance run. And Ambassador for Saucony, Canada. She has been featured in Toronto Star Sports net X Black History Month, and city news everywhere she has raised from 5k to marathon and is currently focusing on 10, Ks and half marathons. Welcome to the show. Olivia.

Olivia Levy 1:38

Thank you so much for having me, Richard.

Richard Conner 1:41

Yeah, it’s really great to have you here. You have such an interesting bio, such an interesting journey with running. So really excited to just kind of learn more about you and share your story and journey with our listeners. So super cool to have you here today. Thank you. All right. So you know, let’s just kind of jump into I know you’ve got had a long running career. And just tell us a little bit more about you other than what I read in the bio, and just kind of how you got started running.

Olivia Levy 2:08

Yeah, for sure. So running has pretty much always been a part of my life. Before I was like heavy into the distance stuff I’d love to track and field as a kid in school and honestly did pretty well in it. And also my mother, she was always into distance running. So when I was very little, like four or five years old, in order to bring me on her runs, because she didn’t like doing the stroller running, which I know a lot of parents do, she would actually make me ride my bike beside her while she would run 1015 kilometers, or however far she was going. So I think that definitely influenced me and you know, made me comfortable with the idea of distance running the fact that I could like those distances with her. We also started doing personal training together just at our like local gym, just outside Toronto, and our trainer would often have us warm up by running on the treadmill. And I found that was actually the part of the sessions I loved the most. So I figured, you know, I want to you know, learn to run a 5k and then a 10k and eventually a marathon. So at first I just you know, started teaching myself on the treadmill at the gym, you know, to go to 5k and then eventually when it got warm out, I went outside and did my first 10k on my own. And as I got older into university, I had some friends who were racing, the Toronto waterfront, half marathon, which happens every year in October. And they were fundraising for really cool cars. So I saw that race and I said, Okay, I want to do that in 2019 as my first half marathon, and also fundraise for our cause. So I signed up for the 2019 race and in order to lead up to it, I raced 310 K’s in a virtual half. And also, you know, it helped me meet people in the run community who ended up contributing to my fundraiser. So when October came around of 2019, I ran my first half marathon in just over two hours, and raised $600 for a Canadian charity called Second Harvest, which does food rescue. So for grocery stores and restaurants we’re about to throw unused food away they rescue it and give it to different homeless shelters. So yeah, it got to combine my love of philanthropy and helping other people with my new passion for running so that’s kind of how I got started.

Richard Conner 4:25

I love that I love that and you know, I do dozens of interviews I get to see certain themes of how different runners get started and I I think your story is really special because you can share that you know with your mother and it’s I assume this more like core memories for you you know growing up with your mom and and riding your bike and then eventually get into running to think that’s really special the way you got started and running.

Olivia Levy 4:49

Yeah, it was special because like we were growing up in a small town just outside of Toronto and it was nice to explore the city and like spend the few short nice months we get Get in Canada outside with her and, you know, bond with her. So it definitely was so special.

Richard Conner 5:06

But that’s, that’s super great. And, you know, let’s talk a little bit about, you know, we’ll talk a little bit about your journey in terms of going from that 5k To 10k to half marathon a moment, but love to hear you know a little bit about some of the other things that you’re doing. So you mentioned about the philanthropy work. And I know in your bio, we talked a little bit about the work that you’re doing for with diversity inclusion. So tell us a little bit about that, and how that kind of gets incorporated in your running journey?

Olivia Levy 5:32

Yeah, for sure, it kind of happened just based on circumstances. So obviously, when I started, you know, really ramping up racing in 2019, leading up into 2020, a lot was happening in the world, we were entering a global pandemic, there was very high racial tensions due to the events that occurred relating to ahmaud, arbery, and George Floyd. And I think, you know, people were having more conversations within the running space of, you know, how can we make these spaces more inclusive? What can we do? And people started to ask me, I had several run group leaders reach out to me and say, like, Hey, you’re a part of our running group, like, Do you have any suggestions on ways we can make it more racially inclusive, so that kind of forced me to think about it, and I had to, you know, think about my own positionality as a bipoc. athlete, and think about where I fit into the narrative. So, you know, even though I am bipoc, I grew up with a decent amount of privilege, like the neighborhood we lived in was very safe, it was not over police. So those were things that I hadn’t experienced before. So I really had to sit with it when those events were taking place. And, you know, use my voice and the education I was pursuing in graduate school, to contribute to those conversations and make a difference. So that’s why I started going on other podcasts and leading those discussions on race and, you know, reminding people that, you know, running doesn’t exist in a vacuum, like, we, you know, people’s, like, it’s not a raceless for it, like we become as black people and as Asian folks and other bipoc folks, and still face discrimination within the space. So I got to use my platforms to remind people of that. And, and the same thing with the pride run as well, for LGBTQ plus people as an ally, like, I sit in a position of privilege. And I like to put on the event and use my skills of marketing, which I learned in business school school to make the event enjoyable for people in the LGBTQ community and remind allies like, why we gathered during pride month and why this takes place.

Richard Conner 7:35

Well, thank you for sharing that that’s really wonderful, the work that you’re doing in that space, and, you know, diversity and inclusion is near and dear to my heart. It’s something that I’ve been focused on and advocating for, for a number of years within, you know, my company that I work for, and really, really promoting diversity and inclusion kind of in that corporate and business space. And it’s really wonderful to see you doing that work, you know, within the running space and incorporating with with what you’re doing. So really great work there. Thank you. So tell me a little bit about I’m really curious. And this is a personal curiosity, and I hope our listeners are curious as well. You’re an ambassador for brands. And I think that’s really cool and interesting that you’re able to do that. And I think it comes with a lot of opportunities. So you know, tell us a little bit about that. How does that work?

Olivia Levy 8:23

Yeah, so I’m a brand ambassador for Saucony, Canada, so they have I want to say about 13 other ambassadors. So two years ago, they actually approached me I had some mutual friends who were on the ambassador team at the time, who I was doing a lot of the work I mentioned before with, so I think some of them kind of put my name forward and was like, you know, you should watch Olivia and like, you know, maybe recruiter. So at first, they just invited me to be a part of a campaign. So it was called run for good. It was a video series where runners kind of tell their story. And then they shot some clips of me down by our Toronto waterfront. So after that took place, they officially asked me to join the ambassador team, and I’ve been with them for two years now. So it’s been really great. Like, in terms of opportunities, a I’ve gotten to meet runners across the country as a result, like the other ambassadors to I’ve gotten to really, like lean into content creation. And I don’t consider myself an influencer, because I would never want to push over consumption or like, tell people to buy things that they don’t need. But I love you know, creating brand identity for people who do want to get into running and do want to buy some products and need products. You know, creating that brand identity for them and creating brand awareness and education on products have been really interesting through my social media content. And then the third opportunity has been I’ve gotten to model a little bit for the brand because I don’t know if people love taking my picture when I’m running. So they asked me to do a lot of their shoots. So last year, we got to do one in New York, working with Saucony on the US side So that was really cool for their winter gear shoot. And then in a few weeks from now, I’ll be doing another shoot in Toronto to promote the launch of their new shoe the ride 60. And so, yeah, those are kind of the three main things I’ve gotten out of it, and I love getting to rep the brand.

Richard Conner 10:17

That’s really great. You know, and for our listeners, you know, this is an area that I’m not too familiar with, but I’m sure some of our listeners see folks like, you know, being brand ambassadors and wonder, like, how can I do that? Like, I’d love to do that one day? And how would what would you recommend for someone who might be interested in becoming a brand ambassador?

Olivia Levy 10:36

Yeah, a lot of the brands do have an application process. So now Saucony has introduced that, and I know Brooks and a couple other companies have that as well. So I would say, you know, genuinely like the brand, if you’re going to be an ambassador, because they do ask you to primarily run within their gear. So make sure you actually like kid I would say, and then also just to make sure you’re being authentic on social media, it’s not a sales job, where we’re like, just pushing products and like, sliding into people’s DMS being like, want to buy some shoes. So you know, really just bring your own personality and authentic pneus into it, which I think everybody on the Saucony Ambassador team really does. Because people bring their own interests, we have people on the team who are really interested in trail running, and they incorporate that others who are trying to run all the six world major marathons, so they incorporate it into that journey, and others who love photography, who do like a lot of running photography in the community and photos of themselves. So bring whatever your niche is within running or even outside of it into your social media, and brands will pick up on that and admire you for being authentic.

Richard Conner 11:43

Very cool. Very cool. Well, thank you so much for sharing that advice. And let’s talk about running. Let’s talk about getting on the road getting in these races, your journey again, to you know, to the 5k to the half marathon and marathon. So just tell me what it was like, was it you know, that couch to 5k? Part? And then you know, what kind of take it from there, like what was that like for you?

Olivia Levy 12:06

It was interesting to say the least because getting to the 5k, for me was not difficult, I think because I had some fitness from previously being a dancer, and also just, you know, genuinely being active. So it wasn’t hard. And then it wasn’t hard to make big progress at first as a runner, like I think my first 5k ever did was just over 30 minutes. So it wasn’t hard to go from like 35 minutes to 30, and then 30 to 27 and down to 25. But I find as a runner, the better you get, the harder it gets to make any improvements, like I have been trying to PR my 10k and 5k. Now for a couple of years, and literally not even a huge by a huge margin just by like 1020 seconds. And it’s a process. So that’s that’s been my journey, and then moving up in distance that wasn’t too hard jumping from 10k to half, I’d say the hardest jump was going from I went from 30k to marathon. So doing that was a little bit difficult just because typically, for anyone who’s trained for a marathon, you know, that you don’t typically like, you know, make your longest runs longer than like 33 miles, you know, when you have to do the rest of that are starting out 33 miles, 33 kilometers. So when you have to do the rest of that unknown, like during the middle of your marathon, not as obviously a very scary process. So yeah, I’d say those were like the hardest parts of the journey so far.

Richard Conner 13:36

Yeah, so thank you for sharing that, you know, you know, as I’m listening to your training story for your marathon, I’m thinking about my own story. So for me going to half marathon was definitely challenging going from 5k to half marathon. And honestly, I never thought I could do a half marathon or wanted to do a half marathon. But I did it just a few years ago as part of sparring obstacle course races. And, you know, I made a commitment to myself and my coach that I was going to do the three levels, right. So for those of you don’t know, it’s you smart in sprint smart and super smart and be so it’s a 5k 10k half marathon distance, along with a certain number of obstacles. So I had to do the distance to be able to train to do that Spartan beast. So I went out there and I followed a half marathon training plan. And it gradually increased over a period of 10 or 12 weeks, and I remember oh my gosh, this week, I have to do eight miles this week, I got to do nine miles and then I got to 1011 12. So for me, all those daunting and scary before I did it, that gradual buildup was something that helps me kind of along the way, and I even look back now I didn’t hydrate. I probably didn’t all do all the proper prep that I should have done back then but but it was definitely a big jump for me for half marathon. So I appreciate you sharing your story. Now I’m thinking the next step for me is a full marathon. So I’m going to learn through your experience and others because that’s I feel like If that is going to be a another big jump for me.

Olivia Levy 15:03

Yeah, definitely. And I will say I also made a ton of mistakes during my half marathon. I did not hydrate enough. And I took way too many gels, Gu gels in particular. So I didn’t have any issues. Luckily, maybe because I was so young at the time, like anything goes. But yeah, there’s definitely things I could have done better, like pacing wise and hydration wise, but the actual distance itself was not as bad as I thought.

Richard Conner 15:29

Very cool. Very cool. So, you know, tell us about that first marathon experience, then. So you did the training, some mistakes along the way, but you did your training, and then you got to the first race. So what was the race? And what was that experience like for you? Yeah, so

Olivia Levy 15:41

my first marathon was the Chicago Marathon. So I put my name in through the lottery, like because I had a bunch of friends who were also entering. And I remember thinking, you know, if I don’t get into this, like, I’m not going to be heartbroken. But I also had a strong feeling that I was going to get in a because they do accept a lot of people and be I just, I get a feeling with lottery races, and I had a good one. So when I did get in, it was not a huge shock to me. So the training was tough. It’s a lot of mileage per week, and you’re really running through a lot of fatigue. And it can get hard to manage like everything else, like I kind of neglected strength training a lot and mobility because it was just running all the time. And when I wasn’t running, I just wanted to either relax, or, you know, sleep. So those are definitely things that, you know, I would do better next time. And then I also think my mileage was a little on the low side for a first marathon. I mean, I wasn’t too time goal focused, I did want to finish in around like, four hours, 15 to 20 minutes, which I was I was slower than that, truthfully. But yeah, I in hindsight, I would have run like 70 to 80k a week done a strength training session. But all in all, it was a wonderful experience, I would highly recommend Chicago as a first marathon, there’s no hills. And experiencing a world major is really special, like just the energy and the whole city gets involved with it, like people who are not runners come out and cheer and handle bananas and jello shots and other fun things. So I would definitely recommend it. And also, as someone who’s not from Chicago, it was very nice to see 29 neighborhoods in like just under five hours. So it was a very efficient way to travel as well.

Richard Conner 17:30

That’s really awesome. And I think for our listeners, that’s really important. Like if you’re looking to do your your first marathon, which now I’m thinking I want to do in 2024, doing one of the majors, it’s gotta be an incredible experience. And honestly, I don’t know how how I personally would manage the disappointment of not making it through the lottery. But you know, I know a lot of people, they throw their name in there, and they get in. And if they don’t they try again next year. So really cool that you’re able to get in first try Chicago marathon and experience that. And you know, you mentioned a lot of really great things about the training, you know, we already talked about hydration, how important it is, no matter where you are in the training, but also strength training. Like even if you’re doing your you’re probably not your first 5k, right. But if you’re continuing along your journey, you’ve already built up that habit for running, you know, Dan’s a really good time to start to incorporate the strength train, like doing it early. Because that’s going to be important to avoid, you know, avoid injuries, right and strengthening your body to avoid those injuries later on and just make you stronger and better runner.

Olivia Levy 18:32

Yeah, for sure. And I also notice, it helps your like running efficiency, like one thing that I’m kind of focusing now on now that I’m going back to like shorter distances, is improving that efficiency. So making sure the stride is effective. So integrating drills and strength training really makes it so that you’re not over striding, you’re kicking back at the right heights, your knee drive is really good. So it’s really important for those things. And I also found during the marathon like when your legs kind of were down once you’re hitting the wall at 30 kilometers. If you strength trained through that, I think you would have an easier time not an easy time but definitely easier than what I was going through. So it’s definitely something I would encompass again.

Richard Conner 19:16

Yeah, for sure. For sure. That’s great advice. And you know, so you’ve had this great experience for Chicago marathon and and I know you’re thinking a little bit differently for the future like what’s do you expect to continue with marathons or what’s what are you thinking about your future races?

Olivia Levy 19:34

Yeah, I definitely do want to return to marathons I would now that I’ve colored in one star out of six, I would like to color in all of them. But I think you know as as you move to the other majors, it becomes harder and harder to get in through lotteries. And obviously with Boston, there is no lottery for that. So I do want to focus on actually improving at speed. So my goal right now with my current coach is we’re focusing On a 5k and 10k training to kind of build that top speed. And it’s also, it’s nice because I’m so young, like, I’m literally just turning 25, like next week, so I’m very young as a distance runner, and it’s easier to build the speed when you’re younger versus like, once you kind of go over that peak age, it can be harder. So I want to get the speed up now, you know, run a fast 5k, run a fast 10k. Because at the end of the day, a marathon is eight 5k. So if you’re a very good 5k runner, or a very good 10k runner, you can do that over and over again and be better at the marathon distance. So that’s kind of my focus right now. So yeah, I’m not running a marathon this year, I don’t currently have plans to run run in 2024. Until I reach those shorter distance goals, then I will throw my name in for Berlin probably next.

Richard Conner 20:51

That’s awesome. Well, we’ll be cheering for you from the sidelines. So really looking forward to that. And, you know, just kind of thinking throughout your running journey, your five K’s your half marathons or marathons, what would you say would have been your hardest obstacle? And how did you overcome it?

Olivia Levy 21:08

Well, that’s a good question. I think for me, the hardest thing and I haven’t fully overcome it is the mental side of running is something I’m really working on. Because sometimes my mind gives up on me before my body has fully given out on me like that happened. A few races ago, when I was doing a half marathon and going for a PR, I just mentally started to get very fatigued, and then the physical fatigue like hit right after. So learning to power through that is something that I’m working on. So ways I’m doing that is through my workouts, you know, trying to simulate race day, do harder workouts. So that way on race day, I can remind myself, okay, you You survived this 18 Kilometer tempo run, like you can get through this half marathon or you survive those like hill repeats. So you can get through this hilly 30 kilometer race. So yeah, that’s that’s kind of the hurdle I’m trying to get over currently.

Richard Conner 22:02

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I don’t know if it’s a great saying, but it’s kind of like that pay now or pay later. And if you’ve done the work, you put in the work you you know, by the time you get to race day, you just have to trust your training, right? And believe that you can do it and but for sure, the mental aspect is just as important as the physical aspect. And I struggle with it myself, you know, and I really try to focus and it was something that I was actually thinking about a week ago, because I just did a quarter marathon. So I’m thinking, Well, I’m doing half marathons, half marathons distances in my training. So a quarter marathon, that’s a no brainer, right? But it still was a race like I was still running up and hit uphills and downhills and that distance and it’s it’s hard, especially if you’re running at a faster pace. And I just started to really focus focus on my stride, just as you were talking about having the right you know, good form, focusing on my breathing, focusing on my my hydration, okay, well, at this point, I gotta hydrate at this point, I need to take my goo. So that really kind of kept my head in the game, but for sure, no matter what race you’re racing, your brain, your mind is gonna play tricks on you. So I completely agree with you.

Olivia Levy 23:13

Yeah, exactly.

Richard Conner 23:16

So you’re the way you’re getting over it is are kind of working on it is to do those harder trainings, or kind of to do those work upfront, do you do anything in terms of like affirmations or anything they like the power of positive thinking, I guess you do anything else to kind of help your, your mindset?

Olivia Levy 23:32

I do. Yeah, during races, I like to write something on my wrist. So that way, when I’m, you know, dying and looking down, I can look at it on my wrist. So it’s actually a funny story, because as I mentioned earlier, being marketing director for the pride run, I had the opportunity to come up with the run theme for this year. And one thing I always wrote on my wrist is remember your why so that way you know when you’re tired you remember your your reason for starting running and what your why is and I I thought of that in terms of a theme for the pride run. I was like, you know, I want people to remember why they sign up for it. So that actually is our theme for this year. Like you know, remembering why we gathered during June remembering the celebration of Pride Month and also the remembrance aspect. So it’s cool like that’s part of my like pre race ritual ended up like becoming the theme for that run. So yeah, that’s something I do. I try to also visualize a little bit like, visualize crossing that finish line and breaking tape, which I’ve never done, but I like to pretend like that I am breaking tape when I’m doing my workout. So yeah, those are things I do to work on the mental side as well.

Richard Conner 24:44

That’s awesome. Well, I’m sure you’re gonna get there. Like I said, you’re putting in the work. You’re really focused on on your performance and you’ve got a great attitude and mindset towards it. So I’m sure you’re gonna make your way there. So So that’s really great. What about like Looking forward in terms of one of the things that we talked about the third, while just talking about the three pillars that we talked about here on the podcast, mindset, movement and motivation, and we talked a lot about mindset and movement. And you told me a lot about motivation. Like what keeps you consistent, what keeps you doing your trainings, getting up every day and getting out there and kind of staying with it.

Olivia Levy 25:21

I’ll admit, it’s hard sometimes to be consistent. But you know, I have a coach who holds me accountable, a really great coach here in Toronto. And I also have a training partner who we do a lot of our runs together. So you know, if I don’t show up, like she’s running on her own, which I feel bad about. So that definitely keeps me accountable and thinking about the goals and thinking about like, you know, every workout you do, it’s like putting money in a bank account. So every recovery, run every speed session, every strength training session. So I think about, you know, how that’s going to add up over time, and like, get the result I want. So those are kind of what I do for motivation. I also love to watch other people race, like, it’s kind of my offseason right now. So I don’t have a race for another couple months. So I’ve been, you know, going to a lot of local races, and you know, being a part of the cheer station, like I just did that. Last weekend, we had a local 8k here in Toronto, and I went and watched it and it really gave me motivation. And next weekend is the Boston Marathon. And I’ll be a spectator at that, you know, obviously not local, making kind of a weekend trip out of it. But I can’t wait to see CryptoKey hopefully break the Boston records. So things like that. Give me a lot of motivation. Like after I’ve gone and watched the race, it’s like, okay, like, let me go hit my training, so I can break some record to have my Oh,

Richard Conner 26:42

I love that. I love that. Thank you so much, Olivia, I love this conversation. You know, one of the things that I love to ask each of my guest is, what would be the one thing that you would say to inspire our inspire, to run community to run?

Olivia Levy 26:58

Oh, one thing to inspire other people to run, I’d say don’t think about why you would want to run like, what do you want to get out of it? Like everybody has different goals for taking up running, whether it’s just to get faster to spend more time with friends and family, make more friends, some people motivation is weight loss, things like that. So remembering what your y is, and you know, writing it down somewhere and, you know, thinking about the types of runs you’ll have to do to achieve that goal or achieve that why so I would say that’s, that’s the motivation I would use if I was starting running for the first time.

Richard Conner 27:36

Love it. Love it. sage advice for our community. Olivia, thank you so much. Congratulations. First off on everything that you’ve accomplished in your running journey. Thank you for everything that you do to give back to the running community with the work that you’re doing there is truly special. How can our listeners find you and follow your journey online?

Olivia Levy 27:56

Yeah, of course. So in your welcome, thank you so much, again for having me. In terms of finding me I’m on Instagram. I’m live underscore Alexa so you can follow me there. If you’re on Tik Tok. I’m Love Live Alexa. So you can find me there. And in my IG bio, you can find every other podcasts I’ve been on if you want to listen to those and reach out to me via email if you have any questions or opportunities or things like that.

Richard Conner 28:25

Awesome, awesome. So I’ll put all that information in the show notes to make it easy for our listeners to find and follow you. Olivia, thank you again for coming on the show and sharing your journey.

Olivia Levy 28:35

Yes, thank you so much for having me.

Intro/Outro 28:38

That’s it for this episode of inspired to run podcast. We hope you are inspired to take control of your health and fitness and take it to the next level. Be sure to click the subscribe button to join our community. And also please rate and review. Thanks for listening

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