Wednesday, September 30, 2015

1-Mile Repeats + An Upcoming Mile Time Trial Event!

Hey friends! Do you ever see a workout on your training plan that instantly gives you butterflies? A workout that you know is going to be hard and you're not quite sure if you'll be able to pull it off - but you're also secretly a little excited to see if you have what it takes?

That's exactly how I felt about my Tuesday workout from Coach Matt this week. Four 1-mile repeats. At progressively faster paces. With a progressively shorter rest period between repeats. Gulp. I knew this one was going to be a challenge. 

A good luck charm was needed for this workout!

Here's how the workout went:

1.5 mile warmup - easy. Knowing what was to come I made sure to run this slow and tried to gather myself for the work to come. 

1st mile repeat - 10k pace. Nothing too wild. I felt pretty relaxed during this one and the pace felt comfortable. The main challenge was not going too fast!

2nd mile repeat - Faster 10k pace. Still controlled and reasonably comfortable. Again was extra careful to not go too fast. 

3rd mile repeat - 5k pace. Things started to get interesting and I had to make an effort to hold this pace, especially already having two faster miles in my legs. 

4th mile repeat - 5k goal pace. Ouch. A ride on the struggle bus. Halfway through and I thought about how easy it would be to stop. But ... being a perfectionist, I also knew that if I gave in and stopped I would just force myself to start again and run the full repeat after I caught my breath. So instead of thinking about how I still had a half mile to go, I thought about already being halfway done. And how every step forward was a step closer to being done. Major huffing and puffing toward the end of this one. 

1.5 mile cooldown - so slow. So wonderful. And I realized ... my legs feel pretty darn good! Mission accomplished :)

The rest of this week is pretty easy - at least until my Saturday run. Here's the full plan:

Monday: 5 glue miles w/strides + Total Gym
Tuesday: 7 mile workout, inc. 1-mile repeats + Y-Blitz
Wednesday: 5 recover miles + Y-Fuse + Y-Core
Thursday: 6 glue miles w/strides + Y-Blitz
Friday: Rest day
Saturday: 13-14 mile run, inc. 45 sec surges
Sunday: 4 recovery miles

In other kind-of-related news, I've been working with the Milwaukee Running Festival and the Milwaukee YMCA to organize an event for runners. We finally have a date and I can tell you that it's going to be awesome. All Hitting Your Stride participants will get to do a 1-mile time trial and then do a circuit workout with some of my favorite Y instructors. If you live in the MKE area, you must check it out!

My questions for you:
  • Have you ever done a mile time trial? 
  • What is your favorite distance for repeats?
  • What workout gives you butterflies?

Happy hump day!

- ST

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Healthy & Delicious Fall Chili Bowl

In my mind, fall = gorgeous leaf colors, caramel apples, pumpkins, crisp temps and, my favorite of all, the start of chili season!

Although, let's be honest - is there such a thing as chili season? I eat it year round but there is something about fall and winter that make chili taste especially good. 

Last weekend I decided to whip up my first fall batch of chili. The inspiration hit when I picked up a delicious looking spaghetti squash at the store and decided it would be perfect mixed in with a vegetarian chili. 

One of the best things about chili is you can really customize the ingredients and spices. Add in some meat, mix up the beans, make it spicier. It's up to you! 

Fall Chili Bowl
Serves 4-6

1 spaghetti squash, halved and cleaned
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes with green chilies
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (note, NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1oz dark chocolate
1 5.5oz can tomato juice
5oz water (just refill tomato juice can with water to measure)
1-2 Tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4-1 tsp cayenne pepper (I recommend starting with less and adjusting to your preferred spice level)
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Set your halved and cleaned spaghetti squash 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 it 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 cooking, prepare your chili. Start by heating the olive oil in a large pot, then add the diced onion. Cook until onion is softened - about 3-5 minutes - then add the beans, diced tomatoes, pumpkin and chocolate. After cooking 2-3 minutes, add the tomato juice, water, chili powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Taste, then adjust seasonings as desired. Allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes for flavors to combine.

For serving, add spaghetti squash strands to the bottom of a bowl. Top with a serving of chili followed by Monterey Jack cheese.

That's it! Seriously, how easy is that? :)

Tell me: What is your favorite fall chili recipe? 

- ST

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Playing Catch Up

Hey everyone! These past few weeks have been somewhat of a blur - so much to do and so little time. I can hardly believe fall is already here as evidenced by pumpkin EVERYTHING in stores, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. Not that I mind - fall is my favorite season with its brisk temps, vibrant colors and, of course, pumpkin treats :)

Anyhow, I thought we could start out by catching up a bit. What did you do last weekend? I had a wonderful weekend that started with a longer run on Friday. I couldn't quite tell what the weather was going to do during the afternoon - it looked like a storm was on the way - so I ended up running at my old standby, the Pettit track. There were tons of people at the Pettit that afternoon for a hockey tournament but the running track was empty. 

A freshly painted finish line on the Pettit speedskating track

Saturday morning, Mom and I did Brigg's and Al's Run/Walk. As is tradition, we opted to do the 5-mile walk. I look forward to this event so much every year. Mom and I always stop at Einstein's for a bagel on the way to the walk and then pop in Starbucks mid-way through the course. It's the beauty of being a walker at a large event like this one - no one notices if you step off the course for a few minutes and when walking you can actually enjoy sipping a coffee drink ;) It was a super relaxing morning!

We finished the walk!

The weekend also included heading west to Madison to get together with two friends from college. One lives in Cali and I haven't seen her in a few years so it was super wonderful to catch up. Being in Madison always makes me happy and makes me think I need to visit more often.

I also whipped up my first batch of chili this fall. This time I decided to make a chili bowl, including a spaghetti squash base, three-bean chili all topped with Monterey Jack cheese. It was super simple to make and extra delicious. I'll post the recipe for this one later this week!

Chili season is here!!

This week will be another busy one. Lately I've been runching Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and I'll continue that routine this week. Here's the training plan:

Monday: 4 glue miles + strides
Tuesday: 6 mile workout + Y-Blitz
Wednesday: 5 recovery miles + Y-Fuse + Y-Core
Thursday: 4 glue miles + Y-Blitz
Friday: 10 mile run
Saturday: Rest Day
Sunday: 5k Race + WU and CD miles

This weekend's race should be pretty low key. Once again, I'm treating it more as a race workout and will mainly focus on running faster from the middle to the end. It should be a fun time!

My questions for you:
  • What did you do last weekend?
  • What is your favorite chili recipe? OR, what is your favorite chili topping?
  • What are you most looking forward to this week?

Tell me everything and more :)

- ST

Friday, September 18, 2015

Try It: Kushyfoot Socks

Last week, Milwaukee had it's first taste of fall weather. Although I'm not quite ready to pack up my sandals til next spring, it's time to pull out my flats and boots. This also means it's time to start wearing socks.

Kushyfoot recently sent me an assortment of socks.* The package I received included casual cotton-blend socks, athletic shoe foot covers, foot covers to wear with flats and also - perhaps my favorite - a pair of toeless socks that are perfect for wearing while getting a pedicure or during yoga.

The thing that sets Kushyfoot socks apart from others is a specially designed sole - either a cushioned sole or massaging sole - so every step you take in them is extra comfortable. This is especially fantastic after a really tough workout or long run! I also noticed the socks stayed on really well. While some foot coverings tend to slip or bunch, the ones from Kushyfoot stayed put!

So cute and no slipping or bunching!

Kushyfoot makes a variety of socks, including casual and athletic socks, foot coverings for virtually any type of shoe, knee highs, tights and even slippers. 

You can purchase Kushyfoot socks online or at select retailers. For example, if you're a fellow MKE resident, you can find Kushyfoot socks at Nordstrom Rack.

My questions for you:
  • At what point do you trade your sandals for closed toe shoes?
  • What do you look for in a pair of socks?


- ST

*I received a free shipment of Kushyfoot socks to review. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Biggest Loser 5k Race Recap

I'll start this post by admitting ... I've never actually watched an episode of The Biggest Loser ;) But Mom loves the show so when she asked if I wanted to sign up for the race of course I said yes. Mom does so many races that I insist we do that it was my turn to do a race for her.

My sister joined Mom and I for this one for a true girls race outing!

It turned out it was an ideal day for racing. Mid-50s, low humidity, low wind. It couldn't get better than that. I planned on continuing my streak of getting faster at each 5k race this fall. But as I stood behind the start line, waiting for the signal to go, I looked around me and realized the race field did not look very competitive. Although experience has taught me that the fastest runners don't always look fast, I still decided to change up the plan a bit and go for a win instead of solely focusing on time. It would be fun to work on my racing tactics a bit. 

My plan was to run a conservative first mile. I started pretty fast but quickly settled in to a 'comfortable' pace behind two females. I told myself I had the entire race to catch people and at that moment I needed to focus on not burning out my legs within the first mile of the race.

I ended up catching one of the two women in front of me within the first half mile, which included a hill. After moving into 2nd place, I made it my mission to reel in the one remaining female in front of me. We were running slower than I normally run during a 5k but I decided to save energy by tucking in about 10 feet behind her. But around the mile 1 marker I decided I was done following and swung around and began picking up the pace. 

During mile 2, I encountered more hills - two downhills and another long uphill. But I actually didn't mind the hills too much. Since Coach Matt has me work on hills on a regular basis I'm used to going up and down and actually took advantage of one of the hills to pass the 3rd place male. Haha!

The only thing is by mile 3 I wasn't sure I was going the right way. The course wasn't marked very well and I followed the half marathoners past the finish line area. I couldn't see the two men in front of me or the lead bike and ended up slowing down a bit during this portion of the race. I wasn't feeling too confident that I was on track and wanted to be prepared to quickly turnaround if necessary. 

But it turns out I was going the right way! There was one more hill to tackle before a downhill into the finish line area. At this point I knew I was pretty far ahead of the 2nd place woman which was a relief but also kind of killed my competitive spirit. Without a reason to kick to the finish I picked up the pace a bit but wasn't all out. After a high five from the finish line announcer and a small fist pump I crossed the line!

This was actually a really slow time for me for a 5k but overall a good race. I know how I lost time during this one: Staying behind the ladies in front of me during the first mile and also slowing down during the third mile since I didn't know where I was going. So I don't feel the time is a reflection of my current fitness. But I think it is a reflection of using smarter racing tactics :)

Winner plaque!

Although winning the race was exciting, the best part of the day was seeing all the happy and excited faces around me. There are always first-timers at races but since this was part of The Biggest Loser race series there were more than usual at this event (there was also a half marathon race). It was wonderful to see so many people proud of their accomplishment! 

The next race on my calendar is The Pumpkin Run 5k in mid-October but I will likely add a 5k race the last weekend in September. I'm on a roll with racing right now and want to see where this fall season takes me. A new PR? Another win? The sky's the limit at this point :)

My questions for you:
  • Have you ever won a race? If so, what was your experience?
  • Have you ever run the wrong way during a race? 
  • What is your fall running or racing goal?

- ST

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lake Country 5k Race Recap

Lake Country has always been a favorite race of mine. Every year it falls over Labor Day weekend and I view it as the start of the fall racing season. Although this year the weather conditions were more like dog-days-of-summer racing - upper 60s and nearly 100 percent humidity! 

When racing a 5k I can run through tough conditions. Or at least when I get up at 3am to get to the race I tell myself that I'm going to race through anything because I got up so early! 

My main goal for this race was to run a smart first mile. Lately I've been all about a fast start, which has been killing me at the end of races. This race started with a downhill but I made myself hold back and let a bunch of people pass me. I knew there was a big hill ahead where I could start catching people. First mile came in at 6:59 - right in the range Coach Matt told me to run for the first mile!

Although I was running slower than usual, I was already feeling the effort because of the weather. I was so glad I ran a smart first mile since I knew if I had run too fast I would have been in really bad shape. I told myself I just had to maintain this pace - it wasn't a day to PR and anyways I'm not in PR shape yet. 

One thing I really love about out-and-back courses is seeing other runners on the way back. This helped me so much during Mile 2 and was my motivation to keep going. Seeing other people working hard and battling through the race made me want to work hard, too! 

Of course, since it was an out-and-back course, it meant going over the big hill again on the way back to the finish line. As I ran up the hill I thought about some of the tough hill workouts Coach Matt has had me do. If I can do 12 hill repeats during a workout, I can certainly run this hill! When I got to the top, I could see the turn into the last portion of the race in the distance. Almost there! 

Since I ran a really smart race, I had enough left for a kick to the finish. There wasn't anyone near me at the end of the race so I probably didn't kick as hard as I might have had I been racing someone. But it was still fun to do a little sprint to finish things off.

I finally feel like I'm getting back on track for running and racing. There's still work to be done to get back in PR shape but I feel it's possible this fall - maybe late October/early November. It definitely motivates me to continue training and working hard!

To continue this little racing block, I have another 5k this upcoming weekend - and so far the weather looks fantastic! Wish me luck - I'll once again work on a controlled start - and a strong kick into the finish!

My questions for you:
  • What is your ideal start to a race? 
  • What do you think about when working your way up a hill during a race?
  • How do you know you're in PR shape?

- ST

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Dreamy Four Cheese Mac & Cheese

Lately I've been dreaming about mac & cheese. A full-fat, luscious and creamy version that oozes cheese with every bite.

So last weekend I finally made my version of dream mac & cheese. It was seriously so good! While I really like my healthier Spinach Artichoke Mac & Cheese recipe, this one is perfect for when you're craving something super rich.

One thing to note is that I recommend freshly grating all of the cheese and not using pre-shredded varieties. This will help keep your mac & cheese creamier!

Dreamy Four-Cheese Mac & Cheese

6 oz elbow macaroni
4 Tbsp butter + extra to butter the casserole dish
4 Tbsp flour
1 cup half & half
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp ground mustard
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz pepper jack cheese, grated
4 oz colby jack cheese, grated
4 oz Gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated (Reserve for casserole topping)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a medium casserole dish (I used a 9x7 inch dish but a 9x9 square dish would also work).

In a large pot, bring water to a boil and cook elbow macaroni. Remove from heat and drain when almost al dente. You want the noodles to be slightly undercooked.

In a separate large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour and combine then slowly whisk in half & half and whole milk. Stir frequently so no lumps form. Continue to cook until sauce thickens - about 3-5 minutes - then season with ground mustard, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

After the sauce is thickened and seasoned, it's time to stir in the cheese. Slowly stir in cheeses one at a time. Make sure each is combined into the sauce before adding the next. Again, you want to avoid a lumpy sauce.

Once the cheese sauce is ready, add cooked macaroni noodles and stir until well coated. Add the mixture to the prepared casserole dish, top with remaining cheese and cover with foil. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Tell me: What cheese(s) are in your dream mac & cheese?

- ST

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Stuffed Italian Freekeh Peppers + A Giveaway!

Who doesn't love trying new foods?

I recently had the opportunity to try freekeh from Freekeh Foods. Now, you're probably wondering what in the world is freekeh??!! Well, it's an ancient grain made by roasting green wheat. Think comparable in flavor and texture to healthy grains such as quinoa and brown rice - only with fewer calories per serving than quinoa and more protein and fiber per serving than brown rice. I would also say it's easier to prepare than quinoa and brown rice. You don't need to rinse the grains before cooking and it cooks up super fast - only 20-25 minutes from start to finish.

Freekeh Foods sent me two flavors: Original and Rosemary Sage.* I immediately cooked up the packet of rosemary sage freekeh. I love adding a scoop of grains on my workweek salads and imagined freekeh would be a delicious addition.

This was such a good call - Topping off mixed greens with the seasoned freekeh made for one delicious lunch!

After my freekeh salad success, I couldn't wait to try the package of original freekeh. I decided to use it to make stuffed peppers after buying a few scrumptious looking yellow bell peppers. This recipe turned out so great I can't wait to make it again. The freekeh added a perfect chewy texture and nutty flavor to the filling. Really so delicious!

Stuffed Italian Freekeh Peppers
Serves 4

2 bell peppers, halved and cleaned with stems and seeds removed
1/2 cup Freekeh Foods Original
1 cup water
2 Italian chicken sausage links (I used Trader Joe's Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage)
3/4 cup corn
1.5 cups marinara sauce
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring water and freekeh to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until freekeh has absorbed the water.

While freekeh is cooking, Dice the chicken sausage links and cook over medium heat in a medium pot. Add the cooked freekeh, corn and 1 cup of the marinara sauce. Stir to combine.

Spread the remaining 1/2 cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish. Stuff each pepper half with the chicken sausage and freekeh mixture. Place peppers in the casserole dish, then top each with 1/4 cup marinara sauce, 1/8 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese.

Cover pan with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes or until peppers are softened and cheese is melted.

Who would like to try freekeh??

Freekeh Foods has generously agreed to give one of my readers a package of freekeh (original, rosemary sage, tamari)!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Best of luck to all who enter the giveaway and I hope you all are off to a great start this week!

- ST

*Note: I received complementary Freekeh products in exchange for a review from my affiliation with Sweat Pink and Fit Approach.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.