Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 2014 Run Recap + Up Next

Where does the time go? It really seems like only yesterday I was writing about my plans and goals for 2014. And now here we are, wrapping up another year!

In my mind, 2014 was a success. Although there were several "wins" in my mind, the following really made the year special:

Working with Coach Matt - It was great working with an expert and doing new workouts specially tailored to my racing goals. I'm sure it was Coach Matt's guidance that led to the next item on the list!

New 5k, 10k and Half Marathon PRs - Awards are great, but PRs are better! 

Wearing buns = Running a PR!

Bird Camp!!! - I loved meeting my wonderful Oiselle teammates and visiting the incredibly beautiful Bend, OR. It was so fun dedicating five full days to running, learning about running, talking about running, meeting other runners, etc. And we still managed to do plenty of non-running activities, too! 

Look at that sea of beautiful Oiselle singlets!

New friends!

The best roommates :)

Joining the YMCA - I had the unique opportunity to partner with the YMCA Milwaukee to do a series of blog posts. Over several months, I went to the Downtown Y location and quickly fell in love. The best part is the wonderful class selection with Y-Blitz, Y-Fuse and Y-Kettle Bell Intervals being just a few of my favorites!

So what's next in 2015? Well, some of you may be surprised to hear that I'm not going to run a marathon. Instead, my focus will be on improving my times in shorter distances, mostly 5ks (my favorite!!) with a few 10ks and half marathons sprinkled in.

While I love marathon training, I think taking a year off to get stronger will be key to racing a faster marathon in 2016. But don't think I'll be slacking on mileage or workouts - I plan on getting back to 50 miles per week this winter and building from there throughout spring, summer and fall!

My questions for you:
  • What 2014 accomplishment are you most proud of?
  • What's on your list of goals for 2015?

Looking forward to another fantastic year of running! 

- ST

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lentil Spinach Curry

When I went to Bird Camp in August, I met some of the best people, one of them, my roommate, Nicole. I've been following her blog, Fitness Fatale, and over the weekend decided to try one of her recipes. 

I adore Indian food - eating a delicious curry is just the thing to warm up during a Wisconsin winter. To get my fix, I usually hit a local Indian restaurant but Nicole's recipe looked so simple that I decided to try making it for once. And it turned out great! I definitely recommend making this simple, vegan curry - it's the perfect lunch or dinner to chase away the chill!

Lentil Spinach Curry
From Fitness Fatale

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2-4 tsp curry powder (Originally recipe calls for 2 tsp but I added closer to 4 tsp. Season to taste.)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
1 tsp salt
1 14oz can light coconut milk
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 3/4 cup water
1/3 cup cashews
3 cups fresh spinach
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

For serving:
Basmati rice
Cilantro, chopped

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add diced onions and cook until soft and translucent. Then add mustard seeds, curry powder, turmeric and lentils. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure lentils do not stick to the bottom of the pot. Add additional oil if necessary.

Mix in the salt, coconut milk, lime juice and water. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer over low heat for 20-25 minutes or until the lentils have cooked through and the mixture has thickened.

Stir in the spinach, cashews and cilantro and cook until heated through. Serve on top of basmati rice topped with extra cashews and cilantro. 

Tell me: What is your favorite food to eat to warm up during winter?

- ST

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My Gift to Myself

I recently looked back in my training log and noticed last year in December I only logged a total of 66 miles. That's it. The flu knocked me down hard that month and times when I felt okay enough to run I lacked motivation. It was a bad month for training.

This year - knock on wood - is a completely different story. I'm feeling stronger and my motivation to get fit couldn't be higher. All I want to do is run faster times again and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

So when I got my most recent block of training from Coach Matt, I was excited to see weekly mileage back at 40 with long runs gradually getting longer. Coupled with classes at the Y and a bit of extra strength training on my own, I'm confident I'm way ahead of where I was last December! 

Here's this week's plan:

Monday: 6 mile run + Y-Kettle Bell Intervals + Strength Training
Tuesday: 7 mile workout, inc. 400m intervals
Wednesday: 4 mile run + Y-Fuse + Absolution
Thursday: 6 mile run + Y-Blitz + Y-Kettle Bell Intervals
Friday: Rest Day
Saturday: 12 mile run
Sunday: 5 mile run

Total: 40 miles

Starting 2015 with better running fitness - it's my gift to myself this year ;)

My questions for you: 
  • How do you stay in shape or improve fitness over the holiday season?
  • What are you gifting yourself this year?

- ST

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Weekend Races

With chilly temps, cloudy skies and arctic winds, this weekend marked an official welcome to winter racing. I raced two 5ks - the Town Bank Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day and The Big Chill on Sunday.

My major takeaway from the two races: I'm out of shape for racing 5ks!

Here's how the two races went down:

Town Bank Turkey Trot
This was a cold, cloudy morning to race. I wore an old pair of Oiselle Lesley Knickers, a Wazelle Long Sleeve and topped it off with Oiselle Feather Trials Hoodie. I was a tad worried about overheating during the race but ended up wishing I had also added a scarf or neckwarmer to the ensemble. The wind was brutal!

Anyhow, the race ended up being pretty slow for me. There were a few slick spots (bridges, wooded trails, etc.) and I decided to slow down to avoid falling. I also just wasn't feeling a crazy fast race. Despite the chill, I enjoyed running through such a pretty area. Toward the end of the race, I became aware of two ladies that were running near me. They both passed me in the third mile but I was able to pretty easily latch on and then kick past them in the stretch to the finish. 

My race stats:

Time: 22:49
Pace: 7:22 min/mile
Age Group Place: 2/XX
Gender Place: 9/XXX

My AG prize

Despite the slow time, I was okay with the result. The goal was to run at medium-hard effort and I felt I achieved that with the race!

The Big Chill
Earlier in the week, the forecast showed a nice sunny day with temps in the low 40s for this race. But by the time Sunday arrived, it was a cloudy, windy day with temps in the low 30s with a real feel in the low 20s. Brrr. So another day of bundling up in capris and a sweatshirt. 

I'll admit, I was kind of dreading this race all week. I'm not a fan of the course (it winds through an industrial park) and remember the building runners wait in before and after the race as being unheated. I was at least wrong about the building part - it was a warm and pleasant place to wait before the race. The course though ... just as boring as I remembered. And a stiff headwind made stretches of the race really tough. 

I really wanted to run this one faster since it is part of the Winter Run Series and counts toward the series points, but my legs just wouldn't have any of it. So it was slow going. I should have been smarter about tucking into a group to make the race a bit easier but ended up running alone for the most part. There were a few other people around me but no one close enough to share the wind burden with!

Here are my race results:

Time: 22:28
Pace: 7:15 min/mile
Age Group Place: 2/43
Gender Place: 10/XXX

Mom and I after the race with our AG medals!

So faster than Thanksgiving but not by much and not as fast as I wanted. But after chatting with Coach Matt, I do feel a bit better about the races. He pointed out that we haven't worked on 5k speed in a long time so it's going to take some work before it returns. As fitness improves, speed will improve as well.

Since Lakefront Marathon, I've pretty much been running without any specific goals. But now, my goal is clear - regain speed! Ha, if for no reason other than getting out of the cold faster at these winter races ;)

My questions for you:
  • What are your running goals for the winter season?
  • What workouts do you do to help regain speed?
  • What is your favorite holiday indulgence?

I can't stay away from Christmas cookies when they're within sight. So mine go straight into the freezer so I can control my portions by taking out only a few at a time :)

- ST

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Billionaire Bars

For all of you looking for a delicious treat to make this weekend, look no further. Whether you need a sweet treat to bring to a holiday gathering or a small present for a friend, these bars are just the thing. Simple to make, and even easier to eat, I definitely recommend giving these a try!

And don't be scared off by the long list of ingredients. You likely already have many of these items and despite the multiple steps, it's an easy recipe to make!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Billionaire Bars
Recipe from Brown Eyed Baker

For the shortbread:
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour

For the caramel:
7 oz soft caramel candies
2 Tbsp heavy cream

For the cookie dough:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 light brown sugar
1/4 sugar
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

For the chocolate glaze:
4 oz semisweet or dark chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp unsalted butter

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x9 baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt, followed by the flour, and mix until incorporated (should be slightly crumbly). Press the mixture into the prepared pan and poke shallow holes in the surface with a fork. Bake 18-22 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

While the shortbread is baking, prepare your caramel mixture. Add the caramels to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat. Add the heavy cream and stir until completely melted. Pour the caramel mixture over the prepared shortbread and spread in an even layer over the top. Refrigerate until set - about 30 minutes to an hour.

As the caramel layer sets, prepare the cookie dough. Combine the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add the heavy cream and vanilla, followed by the flour and salt. Mix until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Spread the cookie dough in an even layer on top of the set caramel layer. Place back in the fridge to chill while you prepare the chocolate glaze.

To prepare the glaze, add the chocolate chunks and butter to a microwave safe bowl and heat in 25 second increments, stirring after each, until chocolate is melted and smooth. Spread the glaze over the top of the cookie dough layer, then place bars back in the fridge to allow the glaze to set - about 30 minutes.

Once the bars are set, you can cut into 16-20 squares. I recommend storing the bars in the fridge to keep them from getting too soft.

Tell me: What are you baking this holiday season?

- ST

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Try It: WIN Detergent

It may be cold outside, but that doesn't mean you won't work up a good sweat during your next workout. And when sweat happens, stink tends to follow.

Unless you use a cleaning product like WIN Detergent.This sport-specific laundry detergent eliminates embedded odors in technical and athletic apparel.

While synthetic (tech) fabrics are great for hard sweat sessions because of their ability to wick moisture away from your skin, those same properties trap and hold onto oils, which is where stinky smells come from. WIN is optimized to break those bonds, removing the source of the smell and truly cleaning your workout gear. The result is the elimination of odors!

WIN detergent comes in two varieties - an original and GREEN formula, which is fragrance free and dye free. I've been using both varieties for the past month and both are great! I really couldn't pick a favorite between the two, although I do think it's awesome that the GREEN formula is available for those of us with sensitive skin. For those of you that like a little scent in your detergent, the original formula is pleasant and not overpowering. Unlike with some sports detergents, the scent that doesn't cling to your clothes for days after washing! 

So who's interested in winning two bottles of WIN Detergent (original and GREEN)?

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Best of luck to all who enter! If you just can't wait to get your hands on a bottle or two of WIN Detergent, you can also purchase it on Amazon. Use the code WINGIVE1 to save $1!

- ST

Monday, November 17, 2014

No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Recently, I found myself in the mood to whip up a batch of cookies - only to discover I didn't have any eggs. I was feeling way too lazy to make a special trip to the store so I had to get creative. 

Fortunately, I didn't have to try too hard, as I found this simple recipe for no-bake cookies. No eggs. No bake. No fuss. I like it ;)

No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
Recipe from The Comfort Kitchen by Katie Lee

1 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 - 3 cups rolled oats

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, butter, cocoa powder, milk and vanilla. Heat until sugar has dissolved, then add the peanut butter. Remove from heat and stir in the oats. The mixture should be thick.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and drop heaping tablespoons of the mixture onto the parchment. Let the cookies sit for about an hour or until firmed up, then enjoy with a glass of milk!

Tell me: What is your favorite no-fuss treat?

- ST

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reunited - And it Feels So Good!

These past few weeks, I've been coasting. No real goals, no real training. It's been a nice little reprieve from the usual rigors of training. 

But as fun as this little break has been, I'm back to working with Coach Matt and ThunderDome Running. Over the weekend, I received my first plan since Lakefront Marathon. It was a bit of a reality check, but it feels so good to finally have some structure and accountability back.

The time has come to start paying the price for a future goal race!

This week's plan is:

Monday: 4 5 mile run + Strength Training
Tuesday: 6 mile workout
Wednesday: 4 mile run + Y-Fuse + Absolution
Thursday: 4 mile run + Y-Blitz
Friday: Rest Day
Saturday: 10 mile run
Sunday: Rest Day

Total: 28 29 miles

Notice the lower mileage? It's a result of taking a few weeks off without a lot of running. The break was smart but now that I'm starting back up, I need to continue being smart. And that means not doing a huge increase in mileage right away. 

I know soon enough Coach Matt will have me running higher mileage and tough workouts again. Runner and coach, reunited after a short break. I can't wait to see what's next :)

My questions for you:
  • What have these past few weeks of running looked like for you?
  • What do you miss most about running when you are taking a break?
  • On the flip side, what do you love most about taking a break from running?

I love sleeping in and just running when I feel like running. And if I feel like skipping out and baking cookies, I do so with zero guilt ;)

- ST

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Try It: Running Evaluation + Video Assessment

After this fall's Lakefront Marathon disaster, it was time to face the facts: my knee issues were not getting better. In fact, by continuing to train and race, I could be making things worse. At the very least, I wasn't allowing the area to fully heal so I could get back to training and racing the way I want. Steps had to be taken.

So I went to see Calvin Deutsch at Deutsch Physiotherapy for a running evaluation, including a video analysis of my running, and a plan to fix things. And I have to say, this was the best decision! 

My appointment started with running on a treadmill while Calvin recorded me from the front, back and side. After, we went back to his office and reviewed the video. Here's what I learned:

Good ankle position during mid-stance phase.  Mild underpronation.

Good heel height at level of back of knee during swing phase.

Good foot strike, landing under center of mass

Right hip weakness​ allowing left pelvic drop and knees getting too close together

Calvin knows his stuff. It was super helpful to have a PT expert point out my running strengths and weaknesses and areas that need some work. Because I'm such a running nerd, I found it fascinating to learn about how even small breaks in form are related to bigger issues. For example, my right arm sticking out a bit more than my left arm. Calvin explained this is likely due to my hip weakness. That arm sticks out a bit more to help compensate for the weak hip and helps me keep my balance while running. 

After watching the video, we worked through a series of exercises. For the next several weeks, single-leg squats, hip hikes and hydrants will be my best friends. He also recommended single-leg deadlifts and a dynamic hamstring and opposite hip flexor combo exercise. Doing these exercises will hopefully help my hip (both hips actually) become stronger so I can kick this knee pain to the curb for good!

I really can't say enough good things about this type of running evaluation. If you're currently injured, Calvin can get to the root of the issue and determine a proper treatment plan. This type of session is also helpful even if you're not currently injured. As most runners know, many injuries start with just a small twinge or niggle. Catch it early enough and you can avoid a longer recovery. Plus, who doesn't want to know how their form stacks up? :)

Tell me: Have you ever had a running evaluation? If so, what did you learn from the experience? If not, what would you most like to learn from one?

- ST

Monday, November 3, 2014

Try It: TRX Foundations at the YMCA

One of the best parts about belonging to a gym like the YMCA is there are endless possibilities for getting fit - and there's always a class to take to provide that additional motivation to push as hard as you can to get there faster.

For a few months, I've chatted with Travis - Downtown YMCA Fitness Director and TRX Instructor - about the gym's TRX offerings. He's been encouraging me to try a class so after my fall marathon was behind me, I switched up my routine to include TRX Foundations.

During this 30-minute class, you'll learn all the basic TRX moves. During each four-week session, the classes build on each other and by the end, you'll know how to combo the different moves and also increase the pace of the workout. Although the class is called TRX Foundations, it's appropriate for everyone from beginners to the super fit. For more of a challenge, you can always work the angles a bit more to make the workout more difficult. Doing so is the equivalent of using a heavier weight or kettle bell.

This is a different TRX class but gives you an idea of what the set-up is like!

This is a fantastic class for anyone, but especially runners. For all of you rehabbing your hips, knees, lower legs, etc., the straps make the moves lower impact, so there's less stress on your joints. But at the same time, you'll built incredible core strength. Even during moves that target the upper or lower body, you'll still activate your core muscles to help stabilize your body.

I've found that using the straps allow me to squat lower and lunge deeper, with better form. And this has also helped me get a better workout when doing squats and lunges without the straps. Improved form = increased workout benefit.

I definitely recommend giving TRX Foundations a try. It's open to both YMCA members and community members so give it a try in November!

The Downtown YMCA also offers other TRX classes, including TRX Core, TRX Cardio Circuit, TRX Strength Zone, TRX Fusion and TRX Kettlebell. For the complete class offerings, view the YMCA class schedule.

Join the conversation: Have you tried TRX? If so, what did you think of the workout? 

- ST

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Pumpkin Run 5k Race Recap

After taking a few weeks off after Lakefront Marathon, to say the Pumpkin Run 5k on Sunday was hard would be an understatement. But, it did feel pretty awesome to run faster again and also be back in a racing atmosphere!

I set the bar pretty low going into the race. Anything faster than 7:30 pace was fine with me! I wore a watch but didn't use it during the race - I really didn't want to know how slow or fast I was running - basing pace solely off effort was the goal.

And the effort was hard. After Lakefront Marathon, my running has looked like this:

Week after the marathon: No running or cross training
Week 2: 10 miles total - all slow
Week 3: 14 miles total (not including the race) - all slow

So ... I'm not exactly in racing shape ;)

Despite how hard the miles felt, I didn't do too bad! I ran better than I expected so that is always a plus. The main thing that got me through the miles was focusing on whoever was directly in front of me and working on passing him or her. This was especially helpful during the last mile when I was ready to throw in the towel. I knew I had to keep going because there was a woman directly behind me - who was probably using me as her target - and another woman in front of me that I wanted to catch. I slowly worked my way up until we got to the mile 3 marker then took off! No matter how tough a race is, I always look forward to sprinting toward the finish line at the end.

This race totally energized me to train a bit more this week and continue building these next few weeks. I'm looking forward to my next few races to see what I can do and to hopefully see some improvement as I get back in shape!

Post race with Mom

My questions for you:
  • What has your running looked like these past few weeks? 
  • How soon do you start to do workouts again after a major race?
  • Any fun plans for Halloween? 

My workplace is having a costume day on Friday and I'm debating dressing up as ... a runner ;) Is that too cliche?

- ST

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mexican Spaghetti Squash Bake

It seems I'm on a spaghetti squash kick lately! Once again, I found myself craving this vegetable so decided to try preparing it in a new way. 

While I love eating spaghetti squash with traditional Italian sauce, I thought a Mexican twist might be fun. So I combined some of my favorite Mexican ingredients - black beans, corn, jalapeno, lime, cilantro and so on and created a simple but tasty casserole!

And the best part about making healthy comfort food is you don't feel guilty about eating a second helping ;)

Mexican Spaghetti Squash Bake
Serves 4-6

1 medium spaghetti squash, halved and cleaned
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt & Pepper
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeds removed and minced*
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn
1 can diced tomatoes
Juice from half a lime
1/2 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used 2 percent)
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle flesh side of squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set on a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil and bake for 35-40 minutes (bake time depends on the size of your squash) or until the squash can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and set squash aside until cool enough to touch. Using a paper towel, blot up any excess liquid in the squash halves. Then, shred the inside of each half with a fork to create your strands of spaghetti. 

While the squash is baking, you can prepare the black bean and corn mixture. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic, red pepper and jalapeno and cook until softened - about 3-5 minutes. Then add the corn, black beans, tomatoes, lime juice, cumin and chili powder. Cook for another 3-5 minutes or until mixture is warmed through. 

Combine the spaghetti squash with black bean and corn mixture in an 8x8 baking dish. Top with shredded cheddar cheese and cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven, then top with chopped cilantro. 

And that's it! My incredibly indulgent tasting, but still healthy, Mexican casserole. Perfect for the chilly nights ahead this winter. 

Tell me: What's your go-to dinner on a chilly night?

- ST

*If you aren't a fan of spicy food, I recommend using less jalapeno 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kitchen Experiment: Spaghetti Squash!

A few weeks ago, I went to my friend Sara's house for dinner and she made the most delicious spaghetti squash. It was basically comfort food - but without all the calories and fat! Super simple, too - just the squash, marinara sauce, grilled chicken and mozzarella cheese.

I've always been super intimidated by this vegetable but after hearing from Sara how easy it is to prepare, I decided I should give it a try. So over the weekend, I bought my very first spaghetti squash and ... success!

Spaghetti Squash With Meat Sauce
Serves 2

1 medium spaghetti squash, halved and cleaned
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 pound ground beef (I used 93 percent lean)
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups marinara sauce (Look for no sugar added)
2 heaping Tbsp green olive tapenade
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle flesh side of squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set face down on a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil and bake for 35-40 minutes* or until the squash can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and set squash aside until cool enough to touch. Then, using a fork, shred the inside of each squash and create your strands of spaghetti.

While the squash is baking, you can prepare the sauce. Start by browning the ground beef in a medium skillet. Drain off fat and add diced onions and garlic. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes or until onion has softened. Add marinara sauce and olive tapenade and simmer until squash is ready. 

Combine about 1/2 cup of sauce with the spaghetti strands from each squash boat. Then, top each boat with additional sauce followed by the mozzarella cheese. Return squash to the oven for another 10 minutes to allow the cheese to melt.

This ended up being a super delicious dinner and much easier to prepare than I expected. A few takeaways from this experiment:
  • Do not overcook the squash. I left mine in the oven an extra five minutes because I was chatting on the phone and forgot about it. As a result, my squash was a bit softer than I would have liked. Next time, I'll set a timer. 
  • Consider blotting the inside of the squash with a paper towel after creating the spaghetti strands. I thought mine turned out a tad watery. 
  • I'll definitely make spaghetti squash again - maybe next time a taco-inspired recipe?

Tell me: What's your favorite way to prepare spaghetti squash?

- ST

*Cooking time will vary depending on the size of your squash

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Next Chapter

After this year's Lakefront Marathon, the absolute last thing I wanted to think about or do was any running. After a long year of training and then falling short of my goal, I was in need of a break. My body was ready. And mentally, I was tired.

So I took the entire week off from running and exercise. I thought about taking Y-Blitz and my favorite Y-Kettle Bells class on Thursday ... but decided to make it a complete week of enjoying nothing but socializing, eating all my favorite junk foods, sleeping in, watching tv - basically all the things that tempt me during heavier training periods that I usually take a pass on. It was glorious :)

 Eddie does not approve of sleeping in. Ever.

But as the week went on, I began missing running. It started with reading an article here or there. Then turned into catching up on my favorite running blogs. And after spectating Sunday's Chicago Marathon, I was longing to lace up my shoes and go for a run.

Scenes from Sunday's Chicago Marathon

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

A few people have asked me, what's next? The truth is, I'm not sure! I have a few races on the schedule, including the Winter Run Series 5ks and the Tyranena Beer Run. I'm also considering the Strider Indoor 10k in early December - but doubt I'll be in any type of racing shape by then. Any goal races will likely not happen until 2015. This may include a marathon since I still want to BQ. But I may also take a year to work on honing speed by racing shorter distances. Or maybe I'll make it the year to get better at racing half marathons!

But before any of that can happen, I need to start running again. During the next few weeks, it's all about easy miles coupled with more strength training and Y classes. I want my foundation rock solid so that I can start building when the time comes.

I'm looking forward to the next chapter :)

Your turn: What's next for you - in running, life, work, etc?

- ST

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lakefront Marathon 2014 Race Recap

There are dream races. The type of races that make you believe anything and everything is possible.

And then there are disaster races. When things fall apart and just finishing the race is a struggle.

But no matter the experience, racing is bound to bring out a cocktail of emotions. And at Sunday's Lakefront Marathon, I had 26.2 miles worth of feelings. It all started at 6:15am when I arrived at the race and felt my first bit of race nerves. 

You know those people who calmly sit with their eyes closed as they listen to music before a race? Yeah, that's so not me. I got to the race a good hour before the start and spent my time pacing the halls, going to the restroom, adjusting my clothing, etc. I didn't feel as nervous as I do before some races, but I know there was a bit of anxiety since I couldn't sit still. However, I felt ready to race and couldn't wait for the start.

With Sara before the race start!

This year, I got to the start in time to line up in a good spot. And it ended up being right by my friend Alice! We started together but got separated by the crowd for a bit. However, I found her again - only to lose her at the first water stop. She looked strong and sped ahead and I had to let her go.

During the first five miles, I was on pace and felt completely in control. The miles went by pretty fast and felt as easy as they should. This fueled my excitement and made me think about how good a race can feel - running on fresh, tapered legs and running with others. It was the best possible start to a marathon.

After hitting the five mile marker, I began focusing a bit more on pace and rhythm. Things still felt good and I wanted to make sure it stayed that way. Every time I felt the urge to speed up, I reminded myself of Coach Matt's advice to not make any hasty decisions and if I felt like laying the hammer down at any point, to wait an extra mile and see how things feel at that point.

Photo by Bill Flaws - Running in the USA

So instead I started thinking about the half marathon point. It was getting close and at that point I would allow myself to pick up the pace a bit. On the way, I ran into Tracey, who was also aiming for a BQ. We were side by side for a bit but ultimately I had to let her go because I was still trying to reign in my pace. I was happy to see her running so well though!

Miles 10-15 were some of the worst for me. It was during this time that my knee issues from earlier this summer decided to reappear. Suddenly that nice, easy pace was uncomfortable and soon became painful. I thought maybe the feeling would pass if I could just keep going but soon realized that was not going to be the case that day.

So I had a choice: Keep running in pain at BQ pace and risk having to drop from the race OR slow my pace, manage the pain and hopefully finish the race.

I opted for the second option. It was such a tough choice to make because I knew doing so would give me zero chance at making any of my goals for the day. However, I really wanted to finish the race. I hate quitting and that is what a DNF would mean to me. I already have one DNF to my name and definitely did not want another.

So I slowed down, took a few walk breaks and got passed by so many people. It hurt but I told myself it was a smart choice.

It may have been the smart choice but I was so disappointed in myself. I had to stop looking at my watch because I couldn't bear to see my pace creep up. I kept thinking - all those miles and all those workouts - for what?

There was also the element of feeling like I was disappointing a lot of people. I set that goal of a BQ after my last marathon and was not shy about putting it out there. Along the way I've received so much love and support in chasing this goal that it made it really tough to let it go. For all the people that told me it was a sure thing - it made me feel bad that I couldn't deliver. My friend Tracey explained it so well in her blog post - in the grand scheme, these race times don't matter to anyone but the runner - but it still feels so bad to not achieve the goal that you've put so much into when there are so many people rooting for you. It's a tough pill to swallow.

Miles 18-23 seemed to take forever. I was still getting passed left and right and was stuck in my little cloud of disappointment. But I saw a few more runners I know and seeing them doing so well helped lift my spirits. I saw Anne fly by as well as Nikki. I also ran into Angie, who I ran with for a bit.

But really, I was just so done with the race and wanted it to be over. Anyone that knows me well, knows how terribly impatient I can be when it comes to work, dating, waiting in lines, people walking too slow, etc etc. It's a terrible trait and it was coming out full force. All I wanted to do was kick it into high gear and cross the finish line - but my pesky knee was holding me back.

Until I ran I to my coworker, Lisa, around mile 23.5. "Let's get this thing done!" she said, with the same impatience I was feeling. And I thought, why not? We're close enough to the finish line that I can pick up the pace and if my knee gives out I can walk the rest of the way.

And it felt great to speed up! I was able to ignore the knee issues and thought only about getting to the finish line as fast as possible. No one passed me during this stretch and instead, I passed a ton of people - many that had passed me earlier. All the bottled up frustration from earlier in the race came out and when that finish line came into sight, I felt like a giant cloud had lifted.

Photo by Bill Flaws - Running in the USA

After crossing the line, all I could think was that I was so glad to be done. I was all smiles, mainly because I wasn't out there slogging through the miles anymore. After a big race like a marathon, things tend to not sink in until later so once I had water and Gatorade, I was a happy camper. I had made it to the finish and that was all that mattered.

With Mom, the best spectator!

Now, a few days removed from the race, I'm feeling a mix of emotions. Happy, sad, disappointed, mad, relieved - but most of all, I feel determined. It's like I've said before - sometimes you try so hard for a goal and still miss. But you just have to pick yourself up and try again. So that's exactly what I'll do. I don't know when my next BQ attempt will be but you better believe it will be another all-in effort. The marathon may break you down but it's up to you to decide if it's going to break you!

To end this long recap, I have to say thank you to my wonderful family and friends that have been so supportive as I chase my crazy running dreams. I loved the good luck calls, texts and messages before the race and seeing so many people I know on the course. You guys are the best and I'm so thankful to have such great people in my life :)

Now, my questions for you:

  • How do you recover from a disappointing race?
  • What do you look forward to most during a training break?
  • Random: what is your favorite apple treat?

I'm looking forward to making plenty of apple treats during my time off from training!

- ST

Friday, October 3, 2014

Two Sleeps Til the Big Race

So ... Lakefront Marathon. It's just two sleeps away and I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around the idea that I have to race 26.2 miles on Sunday morning. I'm in denial. But things are about to get real!

Going into the race, I have a few goals:

A+ goal: Sub 3:30 finish
A goal: Sub 3:35/BQ finish
B goal: Sub 3:40 finish
C goal: Sub 3:43/new marathon PR

Running the paces I need to run is intimidating and I know it's going to be hard and it's going to hurt. I could give myself a dozen excuses for why I can't make it happen. But I'm not letting myself go down that path. I'd rather start the race thinking about everything I can accomplish instead of what I might not.

There are just so many unknowns. I've never 'raced' a marathon before - my past two years were more run and see what happens with no set time goal. But this year is different. And now I find myself asking, how will my body hold up when racing this distance? How will I deal with the inevitable physical discomfort late in the race? How will I push through the mental hurdles?

But these are the questions that make racing any distance exciting. Every race is unique and you don't know how you'll answer until you're struggling through the miles. But by the end of this one, I'll know how I answered by the time on the clock.

I'm excited to put on my Oiselle team singlet and call upon my  training with Coach Matt to see what it gets me on Sunday. I have faith that the work I've done will carry me through. And on race day, the possibilities are endless.

I'll see you on the other side of 26.2!

My questions for you:
  • When do your race nerves kick in and what do you do to help calm yourself before a big race?
  • When a race gets tough, what do you do to help yourself get back on track?

- ST

Friday, September 26, 2014

Italian Vegetable Soup

When the temperature starts to drop, one of the things I love best is a bowl of warm, comforting soup. So in anticipation of the many chilly fall nights to come, I created a healthy but tasty vegetable soup.

The recipe may look like it requires a lot of ingredients but most are things you might already have at home. Regarding the seasonings, you can follow what I used or sub in your own favorites. 

One of the best things about soup is that you can customize it to your tastes so it's exactly the way you like it. Comfort in a bowl, no matter how you season it :)

Italian Vegetable Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 zucchini, halved and sliced
1 yellow squash, halved and sliced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
3/4 cup dry macaroni pasta, cooked and drained
8 cups vegetable stock
1 tbsp Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle
1 tbsp dry parsley
1 tsp dry basil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 handfuls spinach
Salt & Pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat then add onion, garlic, carrots, celery zucchini and yellow squash. Cook about 5 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and cooked pasta and allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add stock and seasonings and bring to a light boil before reducing heat to low. Allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add spinach and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

While the soup is cooking, you can prepare Brie and Herb Crostini to top each bowl of soup. 

For the crostini:
8 1/4 inch thick slices of baguette
2 Tbsp macadamia nut oil (you can also use olive oil)
1 tsp dry herbs of choice (I used basil)
8 pats of brie cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Combine oil with herbs and brush baguette slices with the mixture. Top each slice with brie. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until brie is melted and bread is crisp.

Tell me: What is your favorite fall soup?

- ST

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Enough With the Excuses!

It should be an easy question - What's your goal for the race? But lately, I've noticed that runners, including myself, are hesitant to give a straight answer. Instead of stating a goal, there's a lot of hemming and hawing. "Well ... I'd like to run X:XX but, you know, I've had some knee problems lately/training wasn't perfect/the weather hasn't cooperated/etc. so who knows what will happen ..."

It's one thing to have an injury and accept that it will likely change your race plan and goal. It's also perfectly acceptable to not want to share your race goal. But the thing I take issue with is all the excuses!

I completely get it. It's scary to put a goal out there. To say exactly what you want to achieve because there's always that chance you'll fall short. Sometimes it's easier to just play it off like it's no big deal. If you don't put yourself on the line, you can't fail - but you'll also never realize your full potential. Like Shalane Flanagan once said:

By allowing excuses before a race even begins, we set ourselves up for failure. Believe a tight calf  is going to affect your ability to achieve your goal time and midway through the race when you're getting tired, you'll let that excuse creep in. Today's not the day. My calf is tight. I'm not going to get my time. I can let up just a bit and coast to the finish.

But to sell yourself short is to disrespect all the training you put into the race. You worked hard for your goal so why would you start making excuses when you're so close to realizing it? Instead, grit your teeth and acknowledge achieving any goal requires hard work. And with running, it's likely going to hurt. Accept this without excuses.

And at worst, if you miss your goal ... so what? True, there's disappointment in working hard and not getting what you want. But it's not the end all, say all. It's not failing. You just need to brush yourself off and try again.

So be fearless. Put your goal out there. No qualifiers. No excuses.

My goal for Lakefront Marathon is a BQ time.

Tell me: what is your current race goal?

- ST