Thursday, February 25, 2016

Try It: TKO Resistance Bands

As most of you know, running is my first love. But I also enjoy a good sweat session that involves any type of strength training. I never want to be 'just a runner' and love that this extra work helps me be a more complete athlete.

But since injuring my back in mid-January, lifting most types of weights has been off limits. I so miss my kettle bells, dumbbells, sand bells - I'll even say I miss hauling the heavy and awkward tires in Y-Blitz. Fortunately there is one type of strength training I can do and that's using resistance bands.

So it was perfect timing when TKO sent me a set of 4-Way Resistance Bands a few weeks ago. Let's just say they've been in heavy rotation lately :)

Made of PVC, this versatile piece of exercise equipment is super affordable and portable. The bands will pretty much fit in any gym tote - or even your work tote! The bands are also great to use at home, even in an apartment with limited space.

When using the bands, you'll work your major muscle groups as well as recruit other stabilizer muscles you might not use when using other types of weights. Read: You're core will get a great workout while you're working your upper and lower body! Another great thing about using resistance bands is that you can adjust to make the workout as easy or hard as you want. For example, while I've been recovering from my back injury, I've used less resistance with most exercises but as I get stronger I'll be able to add greater resistance to make every move more challenging.

I've used this resistance bands workout a few times. I especially like that it targets muscles most used by runners. Plus it can be done in the comfort of your own home :)

I give TKO 4-way resistance bands two thumbs up. Whether you're a healthy runner or one who's recovering from an injury, this is a great way to get stronger and, in turn, improve your running.  

Tell me: What's your favorite resistance band exercise?

- ST

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Chicken Enchilada Pasta

The recipe I'm sharing today is the result of forgetting a key ingredient in chicken enchiladas - tortillas! 

Lately I've been on an enchilada kick and have been making a small batch nearly every week. The filling depends on what I happen to have on hand - usually shredded chicken or beans and an assortment of vegetables. I usually end up making a trip to the store to buy tortillas, enchilada sauce and any extras like black olives, cilantro, avocados, etc. 

However, last Friday I got home from the store and realized I somehow forgot to buy tortillas! I was feeling way too lazy to go back to the store so decided I'd use pasta instead. It was an excellent decision ;) 

Chicken Enchilada Pasta
Serves 4

1.5 cups dry pasta (any shape)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup corn (I used frozen)
6oz cooked chicken breast, sliced
8oz red enchilada sauce (I'm a fan of Frontera Red Chile Enchilada Sauce)
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Guacamole, for serving*
Cilantro, chopped, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add dry pasta and cook til al dente. Drain and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large, deep sided skillet. Add diced onion, garlic, zucchini and pepper. After vegetables begin to soften - about 3-4 minutes - stir in the corn. Cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the cooked chicken. Allow the chicken and vegetables to combine for 2-3 minutes then stir in the enchilada sauce. Remove from heat and stir in the cooked pasta. 

Add the mixture to an 11x7 or 9x9 baking dish and top with shredded cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving. Top each serving with a dollop of guacamole and sprinkle of cilantro. 

*To make the guacamole: 1 avocado, 1 clove minced garlic, 1/8 cup minced onion, 5 sliced grape tomatoes, 1 tsp lime juice, salt to taste. Mix all ingredients until just combined with a slightly chunky consistency.

Tell me: Have you ever created a recipe that's been a 'happy accident'?

- ST

Friday, February 19, 2016

How I Got Into Running and Fitness

Hey Everyone! I want to take a quick moment to welcome visitors from the Health and Fitness Blog Hop hosted by Kristy at the Runaway Bridal Planner. And for all you who stop by my blog regularly, thank you! In case you are curious about what a Blog Hop is, you can find more details on Kristy's blog. But a quick summary is that it provides an opportunity to meet new bloggers/blogs. It's all about relationships!

Since I'm just meeting some of you, I thought I'd do a post about how I got into running and fitness. When people meet me they often assume I've always loved working out. But that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, I used to despise sweating! The only exercise I did was dancing in bars and clubs on the weekends.   

I also lifted a lot of weights - I mean cocktails ;)

But that changed after joining a gym. My first gym was a local Bally's and through their group exercise classes I realized how much fun I could have while exercising. I made some wonderful friends through the classes and started working with a personal trainer who is a runner and triathlete. Learning about the endurance athlete lifestyle from her was like learning about a foreign culture. I scoffed at the idea of going to bed early and waking up before the crack of dawn to train. I exercised purely for the social aspect and so I could fit in my favorite jeans. 

But eventually I was sucked into running. A few coworkers and I signed up to run the Indoor Marathon Relay. My team decided we would run one mile at a time, which seemed pretty easy. Anna, my trainer, gave me a training plan - which I followed for about two weeks before deciding I didn't need to train to run a mile. My gym bestie, Julie, ended up replacing one of the team members and her and I would 'train' on the gym treadmills by running one mile as fast as we could - usually in the 8-minute mile range. We thought we were soooo fast ;) And of course we didn't take into account that even if we could run one mile at 8 minute pace it didn't mean we could run that pace throughout the race. So during the race we were hurting, and we didn't keep track of how many laps we ran so our team ended up running extra. Haha. 

I was super sore after the race but I had so much fun. It got me thinking that maybe I could do another race. I was still pretty clueless and for some reason got it stuck in my head that my goal should be to run a 5k in 25 minutes. So I ran my first 5k race - a small 5k at the local zoo in the middle of May. It was probably upper 50s, low 60s at the start but being a running newbie I thought I needed to layer up since I was chilly before the start. Oh, and I pinned my bib to my back. I roasted throughout the race and was drenched in sweat by the end. It was horrible, and I definitely did not run a 25-minute time. But I learned a lot from the experience. About a month later I ran that sub-25 minute 5k.

I also tackled my first half marathon, the inaugural Rock 'n Sole. In a way it was a good thing I was still pretty clueless about running and racing. It was a super hot day with a late start time. The race also ran out of water but fortunately I didn't experience that issue - I think it was mainly 10k runners that were affected. I was grossly undertrained though, running only 20-25 miles per week, and the last half of the race was pretty awful. After I finished I remember thinking I'm just not cut out for this!

RNS bib and medal

Of course that meant I immediately signed up for another race, the Haunted Hustle Half Marathon. This time I actually trained for the race. I started reading more about running and learning about workouts and types of runs and incorporated speedwork, tempo runs and overdistance long runs. I also upped my weekly mileage. It so paid off! I ran a new 5k PR leading up to the race and then shaved nearly 25 minutes off my half marathon time. I remember finally feeling like a runner and was excited to see what else I would be able to do with more training and racing experience.

And that is how my love of running began! Since that first year, my love for the sport has only grown and I've now been running for five years. I still get a good laugh when I look back on some of the things I did when I first started running - all the newbie mistakes. It's just part of the learning process, plus it would be a pretty dull story without a few growing pains :)

 Officially a runner!

So that's how I got into running and fitness! My questions for you:
  • How did you get into fitness?
  • What newbie mistakes did you make?
  • What fitness accomplishment are you most proud of?

- ST

Monday, February 15, 2016

Highlights From Last Week + This Week's Training Plan

Snow and winter go away; come again ... well, how about never again ;) On the positive side, we're halfway through February and technically, spring comes in March. So hopefully winter's days are numbered. Fingers crossed!

Although the first part of this week looks to be chilly and snowy, a bit of a warm up is headed Milwaukee's way. So I'm hoping I'll be able to get outside for my miles starting midweek. 

Here's this week's training plan from Coach Matt:

Monday: 5 glue miles w/strides + YC3 (cardio, strength, core combo)
Tuesday: 7 mile workout, inc. hills
Wednesday: 4 recovery miles + Y-Core
Thursday: 6 glue miles w/strides
Friday: Rest day
Saturday: 11 mile run
Sunday: 5 recovery miles

Total: 38 miles

The big question this week is whether or not I'll finally be able to do Y-Fuse or Y-Blitz again. Both classes are higher intensity workouts involving lots of jumping, plyo and lifting so I've been avoiding them while recovering from my back injury. Although I hope I get to add them back into my routine soon - I've been going a little stir crazy these past few weeks. As thankful as I am that I can still run I miss doing gym work and being a more complete athlete!

One of these days I'll be able to touch my toes again!

So on to a few highlights from last week:

Last week ... I ran a successful 5 x 1200m workout! The workout called for paces within the 10k-half marathon range with each interval 10 seconds faster than the last. I was pleased with how controlled this effort felt - with with how easy the first few intervals felt :)

Last week ... I joined PRO's team! Performance Running Outfitters is hands down my favorite local running store so I'm thrilled to race for them this upcoming year. Looking forward to racing in my new singlet!

Last week ... I went to the opening night of the Milwaukee Ballet's Dorian Gray! This was a different way to spend a Friday night but really quite enjoyable. The dancers were just amazing and I have such respect for their athleticism and artistry. If you're in MKE, I recommend seeing Dorian Gray - it's at the Pabst this weekend with a Friday, Saturday and Sunday show!

That's all I have for today! My questions for you:
  • What do you do to make yourself a more complete athlete?
  • What was your best workout last week? What made it a good one?
  • What are you looking forward to most this week?

It's a new week and a fresh start. Let's make it count!

- ST

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Current Obsessions

Hi friends! I hope you're all having a good week so far and enjoying Fat Tuesday. A holiday all about eating whatever and as much of it as you want - could it get any better? ;)

Anyhow, today, I decided to write about a few things I'm currently obsessed with. And of course I hope you'll also tell me what you're loving right now!

RockNBlog 2016 - Learning I'm on the 2016 team made my week. I loved being part of this super fun group last year and look forward to another year of connecting with teammates and sharing the Rock 'n' Roll race love.  

Brooks Defyance 9 - I've been wearing Brooks Defyance shoes since I started running and after learning a new model was available I had to have it. So I took a trip to Performance Running Outfitters and it was love at first sight. I love the grey/aqua/purple combo and the shoes fit like a dream. Nice and cushy for logging everyday training miles. 

Garmin 230 - While I was at Performance Running Outfitters, I also picked up a new Garmin watch. I've never really been into tracking my runs other than speedwork, tempos and long runs but I think it's because I didn't really like my old watch. Now that I have a new watch - notice, it matches my new Brooks shoes! - I see myself wearing one more often. 

Jelly Belly Petite Sour Hearts - I just can't get enough of these tasty sweet & sour hearts. The cherry/grape flavor is super delish and the teeny size is so cute. There may just be a few pounds of these little candies stockpiled in my apartment right now ;)

Voluspa Mini Decorative Tin Candles - I love scattering scented candles around my apartment and these are my current favorite. Because they are small you can use them up pretty fast which means you get to try out new scents. Another fun way to use the candles is to burn two at once in the same room to create a unique blended scent. My favorites so far include Prosecco Bellini, Laguna, Pink Citron and Pomegranate Blood Orange.

Olympic Marathon Trials - It's a race that only happens every four years and I can't wait to see who makes this year's marathon team! My picks are, in no particular order:

Men: Meb, Ritz, Rupp
Women: Desi, Shalane and either Deena or Amy Cragg. 

I will also be rooting for Kara Goucher - one of my favorite female distance runners. I would love to see her make the team although I think it will be tough given the talent she's up against. But you never know - Kara is one of the greats so I wouldn't be too surprised if she nabs a spot on the 2016 team. 

My questions for you:
  • What are your current obsessions?
  • Are you watching the Olympic Marathon Trials this weekend? If so, who are you rooting for?

- ST

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Back Update: Sitting Really is Bad for Your Health!

An interesting tidbit: Sitting really is the WORST for your health. At least when recovering from a back injury.

It was mid last week when I realized I actually felt pretty good while standing, walking and even running. Back pain was really only noticeable when I was sitting, specifically at my desk chair at work. That's when the lightbulb went on - common sense tells you to rest an injury but could it be possible sitting was slowing recovery??

I had my desk chair adjusted and also made an effort to do more work while standing, which has made a world of a difference. It's a habit I plan on keeping around even after my back is fully recovered. Just like no good comes from idle hands, no good comes from idle glutes or an idle core. 

So this week I finally feel like I've turned the corner in recovery. My back is feeling about 85 percent. Training is on again and I can run pretty much pain free although I still need to take it easy with strength training/gym work, especially anything involving weights or jumping.

And believe me, I need to get back to regular training fast. With my time off, I've been indulging a bit too much on things like

So ... yeah. It's time to get back to the normal routine. This week's training plan from Coach Matt includes:

Monday: 5 glue miles w/strides + Y-Blitz
Tuesday: 7 mile workout, inc. 10x400m
Wednesday: 4 recovery miles + Y-Fuse + Y-Core 
Thursday: 5-6 glue miles w/strides + Y-Blitz
Friday: Rest Day
Saturday: 9 mile run
Sunday: 5 easy miles

Total: 35-36 miles

This week I'm so energized to train! Besides feeling better, I'm also excited to run after spectating the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon Relay over the weekend. Even though I couldn't run, I still wanted to cheer on my Oiselle teammates. 

Photo by Melissa Bennett

Seriously, if you ever need a little extra motivation to run, go spectate a race. My legs were itching to run as I saw how much fun everyone was having. It reminded me how great it feels to run fast and put in that hard effort - but also that there are really great people in the running community. I loved seeing so many of the people I know in the running community as they ran past me on the track. Next year, I will definitely be on the other side of the track barrier ;) 

So that's my update! My questions for you:
  • Have you ever had a back injury? If so, how long did it take you to recovery/what things did you do to speed recovery?
  • Do you use a standing desk at work? Or, what strategies do you use to avoid sitting for too long?
  • What motivates you to run when you're feeling a bit down?

Happy Tuesday!

- ST