Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Coconut Snowballs

Every holiday season, one of the things I look forward to most is baking up a batch of Coconut Snowballs with Mom. We have the most fun making these cookies and they are so delicious it's impossible to eat just one - even though they are whoppers. These cookies are my all-time favorite and I can't believe I'm just now getting around to sharing the recipe. I hope you enjoy the cookies as much as I do!

Coconut Snowballs
Recipe from Martha Stewart

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt7
7oz sweetened, shredded coconut (about 2 1/4 cups)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Vanilla Buttercream Filling*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Reserve 1/2 cup coconut and set aside. Place the remaining coconut in a food processor and and pulse until coarsely ground. 

In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar on medium speed with an electric mixer. Add the egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add in flour mixture. Mix until just combined. 

Drop dough by the tablespoon onto parchment-lined cookie sheets, leaving about 1-2 inches between each. Take care to make sure the cookies are approximately uniform in shape and size since you'll eventually be sandwiching them together. Bake 10-12 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

After cookies have cooled, spread Vanilla Buttercream Filling on the flat side of half of the cookies and sandwich with the remaining cookies. Roll edges in the reserved 1/2 cup coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*Vanilla Buttercream Filling
 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Beat butter on medium high speed using an electric mixer. Add a 1/2 cup of the sugar at a time. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth. 

Join the conversation: What is your all-time favorite cookie?

- ST

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tex-Mex Stuffed Mini Peppers

I love hosting small get togethers but am not a fan of a bunch of prep work or slaving away in the kitchen. So these adorable mini stuffed peppers are the perfect appetizer. They only take about 10 minutes to prepare and you can wait to bake them until your guests are about to arrive. Easy peasy! And as a bonus they're a super colorful and healthy addition to your party spread :)

Tex-Mex Stuffed Mini Peppers
Recipe from Betty Crocker

16 mini sweet peppers
3/4 cup refried beans (I used La Preferida vegetarian)
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used Fage 0%)
3/4 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 tsp taco seasoning (I used Penzey's Bold)
1/3 cup crushed tortilla chips
Cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. 

Wash peppers and cut each one in half lengthwise, leaving the stem intact. Remove seeds and inners. Placed halved peppers on cookie sheet, cut sides up.

In a medium bowl, combine refried beans, Greek yogurt, shredded cheese and taco seasoning. Mix until combined then place mixture in a resealable plastic bag. Cut 1/2 inch off one corner of the bag then pipe mixture into the peppers. Top each pepper with crushed tortilla chips. 

Bake 15-20 minutes or until peppers are crisp tender. Remove from oven and top with cilantro. 

Tell me: What's your go-to easy and/or healthy holiday appetizer?

- ST

Friday, December 18, 2015

Run the Year 2016

In 2016, I have an ambitious goal. I'm planning to run 2,016 miles as part of the Run the Year 2016 challenge!

2,016 miles. It's kind of daunting to think about covering that much ground during a year but when I broke it down and figured out how many miles I have to run each week - about 39 miles - I decided it's doable. Some weeks I'll end up training fewer than that but some weeks I'll train more. And to supplement my running miles, I can add in my walking/hiking miles, which should hopefully get me to my goal. 

So wondering what Run the Year 2,016 is? The challenge was created by Run the Edge's Adam Goucher (yes, Kara's husband!) and Tim Catalano. To complete the challenge you just need to be able to run, walk or crawl 2,016 miles during 2016! Included in the basic registration fee of $25 is an online expo, training plans galore, a mileage tracker and 365 days of giveaways! You can also add on a shirt or medal for a small additional cost. Worried you can't complete the 2,016 miles on your own? There are also partner and team options that allow you to split the distance between people!

If you're still looking for a holiday gift for a family member, friend, training partner, etc., this would be a fantastic gift - especially if you sign up to complete the distance together! Just think - you can run or walk the miles together and in addition to getting fitter, you'll also have some wonderful bonding time.

I can't wait to get started on what will be a super fun way to stay motivated this upcoming year. Who's with me? :)

Tell me: Have you ever run the year in distance? If so, what was your experience?

- ST

*Full disclosure: I was given free entry to Run the Year 2016, however all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

It just wouldn't be the holiday season without baking loads of cookies! Every year, I like to make a few favorites, as well as try some new recipes. I've had this recipe for Peanut Butter Cup Cookies bookmarked for awhile now so I'm glad I finally had a chance to make the cookies - they are really good! My only issue is how easy it is to eat too many ;)

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
Recipe from Brown Eyed Baker

1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
48 mini peanut butter cups, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt, and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter, peanut butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. Add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place each ball in the cups of a miniature muffin pan. Do not press the dough into the cups.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until slightly puffy and light golden brown. Remove from the oven and immediately press one peanut butter cup into the middle of each cookie. Press down so the peanut butter cup is level with the top of the cookie. Cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from the pan and then allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Now it's your turn! What holiday cookies are you making this year?

- ST

Monday, December 14, 2015

Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Weekend Recap!

You know the saying, "Everything's bigger in Texas"? I would say it's definitely true of the Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio race weekend. Everything from the expo to the races to the finish line festival were bigger and better than most other races I've done!

Mom and I flew to San Antonio early Friday morning. To make our 6:25am flight, I had to get up at 2:15am. Yuck!!!! When planning the trip, it seemed like it would work out okay to travel the day before the 10k race but in hindsight it would have been better to travel on Thursday. Spoiler Alert: Traveling the day before the race killed my 10k effort. 

After arriving in San Antonio, Mom and I checked in at our hotel then got lunch before heading over to the race expo to pick up our bibs. I know I wasn't supposed to spend a bunch of time on my feet the day before a big race but by the time we walked around to get lunch, walked to the expo, walked through the expo, walked to dinner, then walked back to the hotel I was beat. I barely remember my head hitting the pillow before passing out. 

Mom and I wearing our new hoodies from the race expo!

The 10k Race
Out of the two weekend races, this one was my goal race. The one I've been training for these past few months. Normally I'm a ball of nerves on race morning but I was still feeling fatigued from traveling the day before so didn't have the energy to worry too much. Like a robot, I followed my pre-race plan. I lined up in my corral a bit on the late side but since the 10k was on the smaller side for a Rock 'n' Roll race it wasn't an issue. 

When the gun went off, I was excited to get going but could immediately tell I would likely not run my goal time in my tired state. I managed to stay on pace for Mile 1 but started slipping a bit during the next two miles and then slipped a lot in the fourth mile. By this point in the race, the runners had thinned out quite a bit and I found my motivation dipping. The only thing that kept me going during this mile was ... running with Santa. That's right. There was a guy dressed like Santa and trying to hang on to him was the only thing that got me through miles 4 and 5. Santa and I were pretty much alone during these miles of the race so I knew if I let him go I'd end up running completely alone - and would probably just get slower!

The tides finally turned and I was able to start pushing again and ended up running my fastest during miles 5 and 6. The race finished in front of the Alamo so I gave it one final push into the finish line. 

My hamstrings were super tight after the race so I wasn't sure how the 5k the next day would go. I told myself to enjoy the rest of Saturday and not think too far ahead. After all, the 5k was just a fun bonus race!

The 5k Race
Sunday morning came too fas. I was still tired when my alarm went off, but felt a bit better than I did on Saturday. On the walk over to the start line I could tell my step had a little more bounce than the day before. 

Prior to the race, I met up with a fellow Rock 'n' Blog team member, Margarita, who blogs at Cupcake Cardio. I was hoping to meet a few other team members before the race but had to get going to gear check and to line up in my corral. 

While Saturday's race was on the smaller side, Sunday's race was huge! Between the marathon, half marathon and 5k events there were 25,000+ runners. The start corrals stretched back as far as I could see and it took me a long time to get into my corral because of all the people.

This also meant it was very crowded during the first mile of the race (the marathoners, half marathoners and 5k runners run the same course through Mile 3). Initially I tried weaving around people but was adding a bunch of unnecessary distance and still not going very fast. So I decided to just settle in and see what happened. Since it wasn't a goal race I didn't really care too much that I was running a very slow-for-me 5k pace.

There were still tons of runners around me during Miles 2 and 3 but I had a little more room to pick it up and found myself running 6:44 pace for both of those miles. It was amazing. I couldn't believe I was running that pace after racing the day before but I was and I felt fantastic. The energy from the race was great and I loved having so many people to run with during these miles. I was actually kind of sad when the 5k race separated from the rest of the group after Mile 3 since it meant the race was ending soon. 

However I had little time to be sad because a girl I passed earlier in the race flew past me during the last 0.1 of the race. I didn't realize anyone was that close behind me so I had to react fast and kick my legs into high gear. It was a sprint to the finish line and as we crossed I wasn't even sure who finished first. We both barreled across the line so fast that we flew past the people handing out the finisher's medals because we couldn't slow down quickly enough. Haha. After catching my breath, one of the timer's came over to me and told me he had me finishing before the other girl by a hair. I guess it pays to lean at the finish line! 

I was pretty happy with my 6:44 miles and ability to kick to the finish on tired legs. According to Coach Matt, it's an indication that I'm not even close to maxing out my 5k and 10k times yet so here's hoping for a strong 2016!

I would recommend the Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio races to all runners. The events were super well organized, the courses were fast and the crowd support awesome. I had the best time even during the moments of struggle during the races. I'm sure I'll be back to race in San Antonio again :)

The weekend medals!

I opted to stay a few extra days in San Antonio after racing and I'm sure glad I did. The weather was perfect and I loved exploring the gorgeous River Walk area, visiting the Alamo and La Villita as well as eating all the delicious Tex-Mex and southern food. Also, Texas charm is a real thing. It seemed like everywhere I went people were offering up a smile and warm greeting. 

Here are a few non-running pics:

 My questions for you:
  • How do you balance taking in sights while traveling and conserving energy for a race?
  • Have you raced a Rock 'n' Roll event? If so, what was your experience?
  • Have you been to Texas? If so, did you also notice how friendly people are?

I hope you all had a fantastic weekend!

- ST

*I was given entry to the Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio 10k and 5k races through the Rock 'n' Blog program however all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Race Week is Here!

Last week, I ran my final big workout of 2015. The workout was 4 x 1 mile with each mile a bit faster, and I felt stronger and ran faster than the last time I did this same workout. It was just the confidence booster I needed with Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio 10k in just a few days!

It's been awhile since I've raced anything longer than a 5k and it's funny to me how these days the 10k distance seems incredibly long. 6.2 miles may as well be a marathon! 

The past few weeks/months of training have gone really well - workout times were nailed, long runs went well and it was all held together by solid glue miles. Of course, no matter how great the build-up, you never know what's going to happen on race day! But as always, I have a great race plan from Coach Matt.The goal time and paces give me all sorts of butterflies but in a good way - I'm up for the challenge!

The one disadvantage I have going into this race is not knowing the course. Since this is my first trip to San Antonio, I can't visualize different points along the course, which I usually like to do the week leading up to a goal race. But I'm telling myself this will just force me to stay focused during the race and who knows, it might even be fun not knowing what's next on the course ;)

Since this is my first destination race, I have my race day plan pretty well thought out:

The Pre-Race Fuel: Picky Bar (Need for Seed) + Banana + 16 oz Nuun (Fruit Punch)

The Race Outfit: Lululemon Black Speed Shorts + Oiselle Pink Flyte Tank + Lilytrotters Compression Socks + Sparkly Soul Headband + Saucony Kinvaras 

The charm makes these shoes lucky ;)

The Race Logistics: Arrive at the race 1 hour before the start. Do some walking/light jogging. Strides.

The Race Mantra: "Be Brave" 

After the race, I'll run back on the course to find Mom and run her into the finish line. Then it's time to take an ice bath and spend a little time with my legs up the wall to recover fast for Sunday's 5k race. 

Sadly Eddie will not be in San Antonio to help with recovery!

Since I'm not sure how I'll feel after the 10k, I'm not setting any goals for the 5k race. If I feel good, I'll go for a faster time. But if I'm still feeling the 10k, I'll take it slower and just have fun!

My questions for you:
  • Have you ever raced twice in one weekend? If so, what was your strategy for the races? How did you recover fast enough to race again the next day?
  • Do you like knowing the course before you race? Why or why not?
  • What is your typical pre-race routine?

Wish me luck, friends! I'm nervous and excited to see how this one is going to play out. And let me know if you're by chance racing any of the San Antonio races - it would be fun to meet up!

- ST

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Southern Broccoli Casserole

With Thanksgiving upon us, you've probably seen your share of recipes for lightened-up holiday favorites. This recipe isn't one of them. With tender broccoli in a creamy sauce, tons of cheese and butter and a crunchy cracker topping, this will be one of the first items to disappear from your Thanksgiving table!

 The definition of indulgent - but that's okay around the holidays, right? ;)

Southern Broccoli Casserole
Recipe from Spicy Southern Kitchen

6 cups broccoli florets, steamed
1 can cream of celery soup (original recipe calls for cream of mushroom)
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 medium onion, small diced
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar, shredded
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine broccoli, cream of celery soup, mayonnaise, butter, eggs, onion salt, pepper, plus 1 cup of shredded cheese. Mix until combined.

Add mixture to a medium greased casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and top with cracker crumbs.

Bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and allow 10-15 minutes to cool and set.

Tell me: What are you making for Thanksgiving this year?

- ST

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Random Survey

I'm going to start off this post with asking everyone, has anything exciting or surprising happened to you lately? Someone asked me that last week in lieu of the usual and boring how are you small talk and I thought it was a great question. It makes you focus on the positive plus it's something you're not asked every day!

So today's post is all about questions and getting to know each other better. The questions are a mix of ones from random blog surveys. I hope you'll also answer at least a few of the questions!

Where are you most happy
I have a few: Lake Park because it's peaceful and if you run in the early morning or at dusk, you might come across bunnies, turkeys or even a cute red fox or two; Chicago in the summer because even though it's hot and sticky you can't beat the energy of a big city; and the sofa in my apt living room, curled up with Eddie.

Running in Lake Park

Eddie loves to tell me all about his day!

What is your biggest fear?
That I'll end up trapped in a boring, unsatisfying life thinking about all the coulda, woulda shoulda's.

If you could eat only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
For someone who loves food as much as I do, this is a very tough question! It would probably involve guacamole, tacos, mac & cheese and a gigantic Peanut Butter Cup Crumbs Cupcake

I would love eating one of these every day. My waistline, not so much!

If money were no object, what would you do?
I would travel to a new place every week. And when at home, I would sleep in, run and try a new restaurant every day. Or maybe I'd just spend my days - the warm ones at least! - laying out at Bradford Beach with a stack of magazines. Really, I think it would be less about what I did and more about the freedom to do whatever, whenever, wherever!

What's your favorite holiday?
Thanksgiving - because stuffing your face and being lazy after is encouraged ;) Plus, it's the day before Black Friday, which brings me to the next question ...

What's your biggest guilty pleasure?
Right now, it feels like shopping on Black Friday. People love to hate on this day but I've been going Black Friday shopping with my mom since I was a little girl. For us, it's less about buying tons of stuff and more about the tradition of getting up super early (we never go earlier than 4am) and enjoying a day of browsing and making a few purchases here and there.

What was the last book you read?
Once a Runner. It was okay. I really wanted to love it since it's always touted as a classic running book but it was a slow read for me - I found it boring at times and the main character a tad annoying.  

Are you a clean or messy person?
Both! I am a clean person in that I shower twice a day and am always washing my hands and slathering on hand sanitizer. I also always make my bed and can't go to sleep without doing the dishes first. BUT, there are stacks of magazines, shoe boxes, tennis rackets, etc. stacked around my apartment with small (sometimes large) dust bunnies scurrying around in between. When there's a choice between running a few extra miles or dusting, running always wins ;)

What is a pet peeve?
When others try to convince you that your path is wrong because it's not the same as the one they took. I say, live and let live!

What is the most interesting thing you can see from your kitchen window?
The view's not too interesting from my kitchen window but from my living room you can see the lake! 

How would you describe your style?
Classic/preppy with a dash of boho - I will forever wear bellbottom and flare jeans!

Who knows you best?
My mom - I'm so fortunate to have a mother who understands me so well!

With Mom (also a UW-Madison alum) with Bucky cutouts in Chicago!

Join the conversation: Tell me more about you - answer one or more of the questions in the comments section!

- ST

Friday, November 13, 2015

Super-Fudgy Brownies

While brownie mixes will do a pinch, I've found the flavor is usually lacking. It's like eating fast food - it might taste okay in the moment but afterward you realize it was totally unsatisfying.

So the only thing to do is make homemade brownies! Honestly, they are not much more work than the box mixes and the result is so much more delicious. I tried this recipe last weekend and it is my new favorite. Rich, fudgy, decadent brownies ... definitely worth spending an extra 5-10 minutes!

Super-Fudgy Brownies
Recipe from Martha Stewart

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper. 

In a microwave safe bowl, combine butter (I recommend cutting the butter into smaller pieces) and chocolate pieces. Microwave in 25 second increments, stirring between each, until chocolate is melted. Be careful not to burn! Stir in sugar, followed by the eggs.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Add in chocolate mixture and stir until just combined. Do not overmix!

Add mixture to prepared baking pan and smooth top. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. 

Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan for 30 minutes. Using paper overhang, lift brownies from pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Place cooled brownies on a cutting board and cut into squares. 


- ST

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Try It: TKO Soft-Grip Jump Rope

When I think about jumping rope, I'm instantly transported to back to my childhood and playing games during recess. Back then, it never seemed like work, probably because I was having too much fun! 

As an adult, jumping rope takes a bit more effort, but it's still a fun way to blast calories and get in a great cross-training workout. Jumping rope provides even more great benefits for runners. In addition to strengthening your calves, it can also help you build speed - always a plus in my mind!

So when TKO contacted me to see if I'd like to try out one of their Soft-Grip Jump Ropes, I was immediately onboard. 

For someone like me, who loves to run fast, this is a fantastic training tool. The 9-foot, vinyl rope is the perfect length and can be easily wiped clean at the end of a sweat session. And I really liked the rubber-coated grips on the handles. It made it easy to hold the rope even as my hands sweat. Also, what's not to love about the cute pink/purple color combo? :)

While testing the rope, I did a workout used by pro-runner Sarah Brown. It's best done in combination with strength training or after an easy run. Another way runners can use the rope is as a warmup tool before a workout. It turns out that jumping rope is a great way to get your muscles primed to run fast!

If you're interested in getting a TKO Soft-Grip Jump Rope of your own, they can be purchased at Macy's or Amazon. And keep it in mind with the holiday season - a jump rope is a perfect stocking stuffer for a family member or friend who is into fitness!

Tell me: Do you ever workout with a jump rope? If so, what exercises do you do?

- ST

 *I received a free TKO Soft-Grip Jump Rope to review. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Four Weeks Til Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio!

It was nearly a year ago when I decided to race Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio this year. I had just watched a travel special about all of the wonderful Christmas season festivities along the city's famed Riverwalk and decided it would be a fun place to visit this year. The race seemed so far away at that time but now ... race weekend is only four weeks away!

I couldn't be more excited for my first true destination race. I've raced in different spots around the Midwest before (Chicago, Minneapolis, etc.) but never anywhere that required a plane ride to get to the start line. Plus, I get to do this one with Rock 'n' Blog and am hoping to meet some fellow team members!

I'm signed up for the 10k on Saturday and the 5k on Sunday. Originally I thought I would just use the races as fun runs since this is my first destination race trip. But after chatting with Coach Matt, I'm now planning to use the 10k as a goal race. I'm a tad worried I'll be too fatigued/stressed from travel to race a good time but I'm arriving in San Antonio pretty early in the morning on Friday so will have the entire day to take it easy. Plus, I'll likely have no trouble falling asleep that evening since my alarm will have gone off at 2:30am earlier that day ;) 

So until race weekend, it's business as usual. Coach Matt sent me my next four weeks of training over the weekend and here's this week's plan:

Monday: 5 glue miles w/strides + Kettle Bell Intervals
Tuesday: 7 mile workout, inc. 4.5 mile cutdown + Y-Blitz
Wednesday: 6 recovery miles + Y-Fuse + Y-Core
Thursday: 6 glue miles w/strides + Y-Blitz
Friday: Rest Day
Saturday: 12 mile run
Sunday: 5 recovery miles

Total: 41 miles

I'm both excited for and dreading the 4.5 mile cutdown! Just a few more tough weeks to get through before the race weekend celebration then a nice long break in December :) 

My questions for you:
  • What workout are you most looking forward to this week?
  • Have you done a destination race? If so, any tips for a newbie destination racer?
  • Have you been to San Antonio? If so, any recommendations on things to do or places to eat?

So far, I'm planning on taking a Riverwalk boat tour, touring Pearl Brewery and shopping at the Mexican market and La Villita!

- ST

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Milwaukee Running Festival 5k Recap

A few years ago, I ran my first ever 20-miler with my friend Chris. During the run, he told me about his idea for a Milwaukee running event - something major that would bring the community together. Back then it didn't have a name but in the years since that run it turned into the Milwaukee Running Festival, a big-city running event with marathon, half marathon, 5k and 1-mile races.

This past weekend was the inaugural event - the result of years of hard work from Chris and his team - and it was such a success! I really could not have been more impressed by a first-year event.

Normally I would not use a first-year event as a goal race but knowing Chris was in charge, I knew it would be okay. I've always enjoyed his other races - the Indoor Marathon Relay, Race for the Bacon and Town Bank Turkey Trot to name a few. So I felt comfortable telling Coach Matt I wanted to use the Milwaukee Running Festival 5k as a goal race.

And I felt ready for a good race. Workouts leading up to race week indicated I was ready to run fast and I spent the week mentally bracing myself for the pain that comes with a hard effort. On race morning I knew I could do it.

My mantra for this race was "Be brave". I selected this mantra because I know I sometimes don't push as hard as I should during the middle of a race or don't kick as hard as I should at the end of a race because I worry about running out of gas before the end. So I did a lot of visualization for this one, imagining the middle of the race, what it would feel like and how I would react. It all came down to I would have to be brave!

I lined up a few rows back because I didn't want the temptation of running too hard during the first mile. It turned out to be perfect. I got out fast but then settled into a nice Mile 1 effort. I didn't look at my watch a single time during the first mile but when it beeped I saw I was at 6:52. I couldn't have asked for better!

The start of the race!

During Mile 2, I focused on reeling in runners that had either started in front of me or passed me right at the start. I was starting to hurt during this mile but thought since I was doing all the passing that I was still on pace. I didn't look at my watch til it beeped for the mile split and was a bit disappointed to see that my pace slowed. Although I already felt like I was putting in max effort I knew I was going to have to bring it up a notch in the next mile.

Throughout Mile 3, I repeated my mantra to myself again and again. I passed one more woman about halfway through the mile then focused on staying with a guy that was running the same pace as me. It was definitely an advantage to race on a course I run on all the time. I knew the path so well and I knew how much distance I had left to cover which made the effort a tiny bit easier. In hindsight, I should have been a teensy bit braver and started my kick a bit earlier. Maybe I would have shaved a few seconds off my time! ;)

After the race with Mom - she also raced the 5k!

Overall, I thought it was a great weekend of racing. I really liked the 5k course and had fun spectating some of the other events. I would definitely recommend adding the Milwaukee Running Festival to your race calendar next year. It's a fantastic event and I'm sure it will be even bigger and better next year!

My questions for you:
  • What is your experience with first-year races? And if you raced the Milwaukee Running Festival, what did you think of the event?
  • What is your current race mantra?
  • What are you most looking forward to this fall?

Other than a hard few weeks of training leading up to Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio, I'm looking forward to crisp temps, in-season apples and lots of homemade chili!

- ST

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Try It: Live Real Farms Energy Drinks

I love the convenience of pre-made energy/recovery drinks for getting post-workout nutrition. So I was super excited when Live Real Farms contacted me to see if I might be interested in trying their new energy drinks. After checking out their website - the company is 100 percent farmer owned and part of Dairy Farmers of America! - and reading a bit more about the product, I couldn't wait to try the drinks. 

Live Real Farms Energy Drinks are made with real dairy and are sweetened with real fruit juice. The energy boost in each drink is from a combination of fruit juice, green tea extract and vitamin B12 and also contains vitamins A, C and D. The drinks are lactose free, gluten free and fat free and have just 180 calories per serving. 

The drinks come in three flavors: Peach Mango, Berry Berry and Strawberry Banana. My favorite of the three is Peach Mango but all of the flavors were delicious! The drinks remind me of a tasty yogurt smoothie with a great consistency and no chalky after taste. 

Although marketed as energy drinks, I ended up drinking them as post-workout snacks. With 33g of carbohydrate and 12g of protein, they are a great way to replenish energy stores. Plus, you just can't beat the convenience of tossing one in your gym bag in the morning and then having a delicious snack ready to drink at the end of the workout. These drinks get a two thumbs up from me! 

If you live in Wisconsin or Minnesota or are in the Phoenix area, you can find Live Real Farms Energy Drinks in the refrigerated juice section at several local grocery stores. Otherwise, I recommend contacting Live Real Farms to see if the energy drinks are coming to a store near you anytime soon!

My questions for you:
  • What do you typically drink/eat post-workout?
  • Do you use energy/recovery drinks in your training? If so, what ones have you tried and what do you like/dislike about them?

- ST

*I received Live Real Farms Energy Drinks to review. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Live Real Farm's energy comes from simple things, including Vitamin B12, fruit juice and green tea extract and is a good source of Vitamin A, C and D. It’s lactose free, gluten free and fat free, packed with 12 grams of dairy protein, with only 180 calories per 11oz serving. - See more at: http://www.liverealfarms.com/products#sthash.ZsAMNkil.dpuf
Live Real Farm's energy comes from simple things, including Vitamin B12, fruit juice and green tea extract and is a good source of Vitamin A, C and D. It’s lactose free, gluten free and fat free, packed with 12 grams of dairy protein, with only 180 calories per 11oz serving. - See more at: http://www.liverealfarms.com/products#sthash.ZsAMNkil.dpuf
Live Real Farm's energy comes from simple things, including Vitamin B12, fruit juice and green tea extract and is a good source of Vitamin A, C and D. It’s lactose free, gluten free and fat free, packed with 12 grams of dairy protein, with only 180 calories per 11oz serving. - See more at: http://www.liverealfarms.com/products#sthash.ZsAMNkil.dpuf

Monday, October 26, 2015

Maple Salmon

Who loves a delicious dinner that's simple to prepare and easy on the waistline? This girl!

As part of the local YMCA's Fall Into Fitness Challenge, I recently tried another new recipe, Maple Salmon. A few weeks ago, I tried a challenge recipe for Honey Dijon Chicken and it was really good! So I had high hopes this recipe would be just as satisfying. 

It ended up being the perfect thing to eat after a tough workout. Protein rich, super tasty and filling. I paired it with a Fruit & Nut Kale Salad but it would be good with any type of salad. 

Maple Salmon
Serves 4

1 lb raw salmon, cut into four portions
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Place salmon, skin side down, in a baking dish lined with aluminum foil. In a small bowl, combine the maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, garlic salt and black pepper. Pour mixture on top of the salmon and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. After marinating for 30 minutes, bake the salmon for 12-15 minutes - or until the salmon is pink and can be flaked with a fork.

Optional: I decided to make an extra half batch of the maple mixture and brushed it on top of the salmon after it was done baking. Make sure you keep the extra maple mixture separate from your salmon marinade to avoid contamination.

Tell me: What's your favorite easy-to-prepare dinner?

- ST

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Pumpkin Run 5k Race Recap

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Although I'm far from perfect, I do think I'm making a bit of progress on smart 5k race pacing. Instead of going all-out from the gun, I'm finally feeling comfortable sitting back a bit during the first mile and then picking up the pace during the last 2/3 of the race. 

Earlier last week, Coach Matt gave me a workout to simulate how pacing might work during an ideal race.The workout went really well so I was feeling good about how Sunday's Pumpkin Run 5k might play out. Although I knew it wasn't a goal race, I still wanted to run well to test my training from these past few weeks and also to gain a little confidence before my first fall goal race, the Milwaukee Running Festival 5k.

This is where I admit mistakes were made - two before the race even started. First of all, I forgot my Garmin. I really wanted my mile splits for this race but told myself it would be a good test of running by effort. However, I think seeing numbers on the watch might have motivated me to run a bit faster. Second, I overdressed. It was a cooler morning (38ish degrees) and for some reason I thought it was necessary to wear a long sleeve top with another long sleeve top layered on top. AND it was the race shirt I layered on top (last-minute decision), to make it an even bigger faux pas. Haha! Needless to say, I overheated about halfway through the race. I should have stuck with a singlet and armwarmers.

But at least a mistake was not made by running too fast at the start of the race. I lined up a few rows back to avoid sprinting out and actually did a good job of keeping the pace controlled during the first mile. It was hard letting people pass me but I tried to stay positive and told myself I would be able to catch them later in the race. 

Thanks for the pic, Jeff!

A little past the halfway point, I started pacing off the woman in front of me. I tried surging past a few times but she would just re-catch me then cut in front. So I decided I would draft off her for the last part of the race instead of wasting energy with the cat and mouse game. In hindsight, I'm not sure this was the best decision. It seemed smart at the time, but I kind of wonder if I should have just laid down a faster/longer surge to see what would have happened. Because the thing is, when you pace off someone else, you are running their pace ... and maybe not pushing it as much as you should. In a way, it was lazy racing on my part!

After finishing the race, I ran/walked back on the course to find Mom and run her in. She ran a really good race and ended up finishing 3rd in her age group! 

So a great race for Mom but a so-so race for me. But at least this was only the dress rehearsal and I know what I need to change before the Milwaukee Running Festival 5k. I'll start with remembering my Garmin and not overdressing ;)

My questions for you:
  • What do you race in when the temps are in the 30s?
  • Do you ever wear the race shirt at the actual race?
  • Do you ever pace or draft off people in front of you? Or do you always run your own race?

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

- ST

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Honey Dijon Chicken + Cherry Almond Couscous

Throughout October and during part of November, I'm participating in a fitness challenge through the local YMCA. It's called Fall Into Fitness and through the challenge, people can earn points for doing various fitness activities. For example, running, taking a group exercise class or participating in a community fitness event. 

Another way participants can earn points is by making one of the recipes of the week, which is how I discovered this delightfully simple chicken dish. 

I modified the recipe a bit from the original version. I decided to bake the chicken since I wasn't in the mood to deal with a messy grill pan. I also reduced the mayo and added parsley and garlic powder for a bit of extra flavor!

You can serve the chicken with any type of grain or potato. I just decided on couscous because it's quick to prepare. 

Honey Dijon Chicken
Serves 4

1 lb chicken breast tenderloins
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp dried parsley 
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, honey, mayo, parsley and garlic powder. Place chicken in an oven-safe dish and cover with the sauce. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink.

Cherry Almond Couscous
Serves 4

1 cup dry whole wheat couscous
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup dried cherries
4 Tbsp sliced almonds

In a medium saucepan, bring chicken broth to a boil. Stir in couscous, parsley and garlic powder, then cover. Let sit for 5-7 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Fluff couscous with a fork, then stir in cherries and almonds.

When plating, I recommend topping each serving of couscous with a bit of the honey dijon sauce from the chicken. Delish!

Tell me: What's cooking in your kitchen?

- ST