' Adventures with FitNyx: September 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

Volunteering at Women ROCK Chicago!

I've had the pleasure of running a lot of events this summer, and most of them were made extra-special by the amazing team of volunteers that made each of those races possible.  I have wanted to repay all those favors for a long while now, and though I have volunteered at a race once before, it had been a small event had more than enough hands.  This time, I had the opportunity to pitch in for a much larger event that really needed the help: the Women ROCK Chicago 5k/10k/half marathon race series, held this past Saturday by Team Ortho.

I chose to be a course marshal for the half marathon, and was posted along the Lakefront Path just under the Montrose overpass (approximately mile six of the course).  It was the perfect morning for a race!  Sunny, a little cool, not a cloud in the sky...  I was pretty excited to be out and about instead of staying cooped up in the house all morning.  I helped set up the turn cones and signage for my area, and started to wait for the lead runner.

By the time she got to my side of the bridge, she was already off the course a little bit!  Ready to step up, I directed her back onto the right path as she whizzed by - she was really moving!  It took almost ten minutes to see the next set of runners; by that time the marshal on the other side of the underpass had readjusted the cones and made the proper pathing much more clear.  I put on a smile and sent people around the bend, letting them know there was water upcoming and cheering on EVERYONE!

It wasn't long before I started hearing some feedback from the runners.  Apparently it had been a few miles since the last water station, and it was starting to get hot.  I had no problem mentioning that water was coming up, but I was shocked when runners would actually snap at ME as if I was the reason there hadn't been a water station sooner!  I certainly sympathized and was disappointed to hear there hadn't been another station, but there was hardly anything I could have done about it.  After all, I'm just a volunteer, and did nothing to help plan the race, how could it have been my fault?  Thankfully, it was only a handful of snotty runners in the front of the pack who decided to take out their thirsty frustrations on me.  Most of the women who spoke up did complain about the water but at least thanked me for my time and energy.

My particular section of the course was at mile six going out and mile nine coming back, so I got to see everyone twice.  I actually had a blast cheering on all the runners, and I know I put smiles on a lot of faces.  Yelling the same things over and over felt a little repetitive, but then I remembered the most I'd ever see these people was twice, maybe three times if I stopped by the finish line after the race, so I shouted to my heart's content, and reused whatever seemed to make people the happiest.  There was a lot of "it's a beautiful day to run!" and "you are all amazing, wonderful, beautiful people!" going around in my little section!

Of course, the main reason I was there was for safety, and I did keep an eye on all of my runners.  Two ladies stumbled on some of the rocks in the path, but they both got up quickly and dusted off before I even had a chance to get over to them.  I saw them both come back strong, so I am happy to report I had no incidents on my watch!  What I did have was a lot of fun and an overwhelmingly rewarding feeling.  I know what the vocal and encouraging people at my races meant to me, and I am confident I was able to pay those experiences forward this weekend.

Once the final runner was through my section, I packed up the cones and signs, then headed back to the finish line.  My friend Mary had a last minute schedule change that allowed her to volunteer for the race too, so we decided to make the most of the day and head out to lunch afterwards.  I found her handing out medals back at the finish line party, and lent another helping hand to keep the process moving.  We made sure to get some photos in the party area too!

We were both really happy we gave our time to help make the event a positive experience for every participant.  With any huge race event, there will always be little snags and hiccups, but we can both say confidently that we contributed nothing but positive energy and reliable help.  Wandering around the festival area, I was actually recognized by several runners who remembered me as the "super sweet gal out at the far end," and they thanked me for helping them power through the grueling half marathon.  Mary and I both went home all smiles!

Did you ever have a particular volunteer who absolutely made your race?  How did they help you?  Have you ever given back by lending a hand at another race?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Race Recap: Brookfield Zoo RunRun for the Conservation Fund

I love zoos.  I love running.  So when my first (and best) runner friend Mary pestered me for a last minute signup for Sunday's Brookfield Zoo 5k, I immediately entered.  Friends + animals + running = win.

My Saturday race, the Four Stars trail run, had gone well, and I had recovered with surprisingly little soreness (perhaps thanks to MeStrength), so I woke up feeling pretty excited for another run.  Then I went outside.  It was CHILLY!  Saturday morning had been so hot, I had already forgotten that fall is here already!  Thankfully, I had thrown a few extra layers into my bag the day before, just in case, and I was prepared for the cool breezy morning.  The sun was out, for the most part, but with the wind constantly blowing it was unlikely the day would turn much warmer.

All smiles despite the temperature!

I've never been to the Brookfield Zoo, but I've heard many wonderful things.  The course for the 5k was completely within zoo grounds, which promised to be a very unique race experience for me.  Registration and race day packet pick-up was in the outer parking lot, and was very well managed; I had arrived over an hour before the start time anticipating long lines but was able to pick up my number and shirt in less than five minutes!  That gave me plenty of time to find Mary and meet her exciting running buddies, including marathon runner John with whom I became fast friends.  You'll actually see more about both John and Mary in the coming weeks: Mary is truly my best running buddy and is rapidly becoming a close friend, and John is a truly inspirational runner with a great story to share.

The start area (which would soon become the finish area as well) had a lot happening.  There was a gear check and several sponsors' tents, as well as food and beverages.  I managed to snag a drawstring backpack and water bottle from the Walgreens tent: you can never have enough bags or water bottles!  Whoever was MCing the start line was excellent about communicating clear expectations, and kept everyone updated on when to anticipate a start.  We headed to the start corrals with about ten minutes before the gun, and originally planned to line up in the ten minute mile section, but John would definitely be running faster, and Mary and I decided we could push ourselves a bit, so we slid over to the nine minute corral - and then suddenly we were running!

We lost track of speedy John very quickly, but we were still moving at a good clip to start.  Mary uses her phone app to keep track of her pacing, and apparently we were at about 7:30 min/mile early on, which was waaaaaay fast for us!  It was a struggle to adjust, especially since we had started with so many faster runners.  We got it down to something like ten minute miles, but we had pushed so hard early that the second half of mile two was torture.  By the time we hit the water station at the start of mile three, Mary was starting to slow, and I was seriously considering backing it down pretty hard.

Instead, though, we gutted it out through that third mile.  Neither of us was about to make a PR, but we were not going to let the run beat us!  It was definitely a struggle, but when we saw that three mile flag, and I knew the finish line was just around the corner, that competitive edge grabbed hold of me and I TOOK OFF.  I passed at least 20 people in that last tenth of a mile!  One runner tried to fight back, and hurtled around me less than ten feet from the finish line - only to have her phone slip out of her hand and skid under my feet!  I managed to avoid crushing it, but she stopped and doubled back, and I got to pass her a second time.  I'll admit, I definitely got a little pleasure out of that - not that her phone fell, but that she didn't manage to beat me.  Mary finished just a little later, we found John, grabbed bananas and Gatorade, and then headed back into the zoo!

Not a PR, but still a pretty solid run.

The course had taken dozens of turns through the entire zoo, but we hadn't really had a chance to LOOK at what we were passing while we were running.  There had been a zebra, a few giraffes, and maybe a rhino that we'd seen from the race, but I was so thrilled to have the chance to walk around the zoo after the race, especially with Mary who enjoys zoos as much as I do!  We spent the next couple hours there, and saw a LOT of animals out and active.  Overall it was a wonderful way to spend the morning.  Having the opportunity to spend time with Mary that wasn't at a running pace was great.  I'm still building my own community here in Chicago, and while borrowing my husband's friend network is a good start, having my own friends with similar interests is incomparable.

Enough of my sentimental babbling - let's break down the race, eh?

Organization: Lightning speed packet pick-up, clear communication, quick and efficient gear check, and plenty of smiling volunteers made for a warm welcome in the chilly morning.  I was very impressed with everything, from the number of port-o-potties to the freshness of the bananas!  Couldn't have asked for more - and for the low cost of the race (I think I paid $35 for a last-minute sign-up) I think the organizers did an astonishingly good job!  There's a good reason the race attracts thousands of runners and non-competitive walkers.

Such a great place to visit, even if you're not here to run!

The course: Completely within zoo grounds - which meant lots of looping around.  This is definitely not an ideal course for someone looking to PR, but it IS a great course for scenic running!  Brookfield Zoo is truly gorgeous, and actually seeing animals on the run (for anyone who had the energy and spare breath to look) is such a cool and unique feature for a race.  There was a digital clock at each mile marker, which I thought was a great motivator and a nice touch.  My only complaint would be the water station at the end of the second mile.  Due to the nature of the course pathing, there simply isn't much width to make an efficient water station, so people were bottlenecking a little.  We got through it relatively unscathed, but it could have been a little smoother with more space.

The swag: When I first considered doing the race, before I knew Mary was participating, I think I had originally opted out because I didn't think the race had enough goodies for the travel involved (Brookfield is about an hour south of me).  All that was offered was a non-technical t-shirt - but I had failed to realize you also received zoo admittance as well, which was more than worth the very low entry fee.  I'm not ashamed to admit I consider the non-exercise takeaways associated with the cost of a race, but when there are so many to choose from all year, you have to have SOME way to eliminate options!  In the end, I'm very glad Mary talked me into the race, because the chance to wander the zoo with a good friend was definitely well worth the entry fee.  Professional photographers were on the course, and you could purchase photos later, but I have yet to find a way to search through all of the event photos.  The only way I know to find them is to put in your number on the results page, and see what they've tagged as you, and those tags are not incredibly accurate.  Instead, most of my event photos came from myself and Mary - thanks girl!

The bottom line: Mary told me the Brookfield Zoo 5k is considered one of the best races in the entire country.  I'm pretty sure I can see why!  Plus, I researched the cause a little, and any animal conservation fund is something I will proudly support.  You'll be seeing me a the zoo next year, for sure!

Don't forget you can still enter to win some MESTRENGTH!  This stuff kept me moving through my insanely busy weekend, check out my review and try some for yourself!  Giveaway runs through 9/30.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Race Recap: Muddy Monk Four Stars Trail Run

My second run this summer (and first straight-up 5k) was with a local trail running organization called Muddy Monk.  Not only did I have a great run, but I made some friends and started integrating myself into the Chicago running community.  I've been keeping an eye on Muddy Monk opportunities ever since, and finally had room in my schedule to go back for this past weekend's Four Stars four miler!

I also had the opportunity to use the race as a meet-up with a Chicago entrepreneur with whom my office is looking to partner for some exciting events!  Priti Patel started MindPoint to encourage mindfulness in the workplace, and has developed a system by which to measure the impact of increased mindfulness on valuable job assets such as focus and productivity.  We'll be having her work some magic in our office in November - but I wanted to get to know this very interesting and insightful woman much sooner!  I was honored she chose to come run with me, and we had a great time!

We didn't plan the bright orange matchy,
but I love it anyway.

Priti is probably in better shape than I am, especially as I haven't been running much lately now that my job is taking more of my time, but I pushed a bit to stay with her and we chatted the entire way.  Eventually we had to pull the pace back a bit - I'm a race talker but most other people just aren't, and I think the dual task of running and talking eventually wore Priti down a bit, so we finished the last mile or so a little slower.  When our results were posted, I was happy to see that I had finished in 44 minutes flat, for 11 minute miles.  I'm sure we could have run faster, but I'm pleased with my splits for a race I spent socializing.

Photo courtesy of the wonderful people at Muddy Monk.

The biggest killer on the course, which for the most part was a very scenic dirt track through the Old School Forest Preserve, was the sled hill at the very beginning and, after the course looped back on itself, at the very end.  Hills are tough on paved tracks, but going up a forest hill was REALLY rough, especially with the footing!  This particular hill was steeper on one side than on the other; we had difficulty gauging how best to approach either side, but still made it in one piece.

Photo courtesy of the wonderful people at Muddy Monk.

While most of our run was pretty uneventful, the Four Stars race itself celebrated a very exciting first: this was the first time in Muddy Monk history that one of their races was won outright by a female!  We'd seen her coming back when we were only about a mile and a half in - pretty impressive stuff!  The after-party also had a costume contest, though neither myself not Priti had managed to pull together a "Chicago themed outfit" to enter.  The winners were dressed as the Snowpocalypse and the Polar Vortex.  Everyone agrees that was a well-earned win!

After the race, while we were eating our hot dogs and recovering along the edge of the picnic area, we were approached by a young woman who looked very familiar to me.  As she drew nearer and was clearly trying to get my attention, I realized it was one of the women I'd met at my first Muddy Monk!  Priti and I invited Erica to join us for some finish-line photos before we all had to head out for the rest of our Saturday plans.

We had a really beautiful morning for a trail run, and as usual the Muddy Monk organizers did a fantastic job.  I'm already signed up for their Halloween-themed Thriller 5k in October, and am considering trying one of their winter Chiller runs.  I know I'm a wimp when it comes to cold, though; any winter running is really up in the air right now!

Organization: Muddy Monk has some great communication and planning.  Registration and packet pick-up at the race were smooth and quick, the race started promptly on time.  The Muddy Monk runs do official timing by hand-recording your finish time as you cross, so there is some room for discrepancy, especially if you started in the back like we did or if you were a little behind the recorder's line of sight when you finished (which explains why, though we crossed at the same time, Priti's official time was seven seconds faster than mine - they hadn't seen my number as I crossed).  Chip timing costs money, though, and until I'm planning to win some of these races (har har) I'm perfectly content with Muddy Monk using a creative solution that keeps race costs down.  Some people had trouble with the directions to the race, but I didn't have that experience, I pulled right in to the well-marked park entrance with no issues.

Photo courtesy of the wonderful people at Muddy Monk.

The course: A really pretty trail through the Old School Forest Preserve, but not a technical track like my last Muddy Monk experience.  We started on grass, which lasted up the sled hill and back down, then around the pavilion to the main path.  The vast majority of the run was on dirt/crushed gravel, which was very soft and easy on my knees!  It was a simple out-and-back course, and should have been two miles each way, but the organizers admitted it ran just a smidge long, so maybe my time was even better than I thought!  There was a water station at the turn-around, which on a cooler day would have been plenty; the morning was pretty hot and humid though, and I wouldn't have minded two water stops.  I know, I know, it's a short race and I shouldn't need water at all, but I'm still building that endurance and more water would have been nice.

The swag: For a $30 registration fee, Muddy Monk races give some nice stuff!  The race shirt was a technical tee, which is always a good deal.  Instead of a finisher's medal, they give a finisher's beer glass.  I'm a sucker for some cool bling, but receiving a functional prize is quickly becoming a preference.  I still use my water bottle from my first Muddy Monk, and it's triggered more than a few great conversations with other runners, sometimes in unexpected places.  After any Muddy Monk race, you can also purchase shirts or glasses from previous races, often as low as $1 per item!

The bottom line: I'll do any Monk race I can fit into my schedule.  These guys are great.  'Nuff said.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Urban Kayaks on the Chicago River

As office manager, one of my primary functions is to keep my team happy and well-bonded.  The best way to do this is by organizing fun and unique events to take us all out of the work context and stretch our friendships as people instead of as employees.  Last month, a group of us took on the Epic Fail Challenge, an inflatable obstacle course event.  This month, we stayed outdoors for a kayaking excursion down the Chicago river!

Urban Kayaks is a neat little operation at the mouth of the Chicago river.  They offer kayak rentals as well as guided tours of the city via the river or the lake.  The office went out with Urban Kayaks last year and were desperate for a reprise, so I made it happen.  We registered for the two-hour historical tour, which took us down the river to the fork before heading back to the lake.  Huge thanks to several of our team members who took hundreds of awesome photos and allowed me to share them here!

Beautiful views of the riverfront architecture all day!

With the weather starting to turn, I was a little worried a mid-September kayak trip would be cold and miserable.  That morning, though, the forecast promised 70 and sunny, and the Brookfield Zoo 5k that morning had definitely been bright, but I should have known from the windy morning that the afternoon might not be all sunshine and warmth!  By the time we were scheduled to launch, it was pouring down rain.  We delayed a little, and the rain let up, so we hopped into the kayaks for our safety meeting and brief tutorial, then plopped into the water and started paddling.

While many of the team members opted for individual kayaks, I decided to partner up in a tandem kayak, just in case my two races caught up to my energy level.  My partner and I quickly figured out how best to paddle as a team, and we had no problem handling our kayak.  The craft was surprisingly stable, and only maybe once did I think we might actually tip, but no one in our group ended up in the river - which, apparently, was not true of last year's trip!

Paddling was hard, even with two of us.

Less than halfway through our trip, the rain returned.  In the interest of time, we chose to continue instead of hiding under a bridge hoping the rain would dissipate.  It did eventually stop, but not before we all got completely drenched.  This is where my trip started to sour.  I hate being wet.  I was also already tired, getting sore from the paddling, and as always, I am highly susceptible to cold weather.  To put it bluntly: I was miserable.  Stuck in that little kayak, all tensed up, working hard and soaking wet was NOT how I wanted to spend my Sunday afternoon.  I quickly lost interest in our tour guide's Chicago stories, and focused instead on paddling us back as fast as I could.

Everyone else in the group seemed to have no problem keeping their moods high, so I put a smile on my face and did my best to enjoy the rest of the trip.  After we pulled out of the water, I rushed to change into drier, warmer clothes, which definitely helped my mood.  We all adjourned to our CEO's awesome rooftop patio, right downtown, and enjoyed some absolutely delicious BBQ sandwiches I'd arranged from Porkchop.  Some of the others hopped into the rooftop hot tub, but I had already had a very long day and was anxious to get home to rest, so I bummed out a little early.  

Even when I'm cold and wet, I still can't help being a little silly...

I almost wish I could convince myself to give Urban Kayaks another chance.  The people running the operations were really cool and kind, and I know they are successful for a reason.  It isn't anyone's fault that the weather didn't hold out so nicely for us, but it did have an impact on my impressions of the whole "kayaking" thing.  If I do every go back, I might try their other location in Chinatown, to see a different section of river, or maybe do the Navy Pier fireworks tour at night.  Either way, I will definitely be waiting for summer before I venture back out onto the water!

Have you tried Urban Kayaks?  I'd love to hear better experiences, I know most people have much more fun!  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

MeStrength product review, and my first GIVEAWAY!

Last week, I received a sample pack of a new hydration product called MeStrength to try.  I've never tried a creatine product before, and I'll admit, I was skeptical whether I'd be able to notice any results from five little pouches of the drink mix.  My weekend was stacked with activities though, and if there was ever a good time to test the effects of a new product, it was over that crazy couple of days.
To quickly recap what MeStrength is all about: MeStrength is a hydration mix that combines the power of electrolytes and creatine to give athletes a well-rounded recovery solution.  We all know electrolytes are needed to restore energy, but the addition of creatine (a substance occurring naturally in the human body) is designed to enhance muscle recovery as well.

Disclaimer: I was provided the product free in exchange for my review.  All views expressed regarding my experience with the product are my own, and I did not receive any additional compensation for this post.

I first tried MeStrength at my namasDAY yoga class.  Having not taken organized yoga in over two years, and being somewhat weak in the upper body and totally inflexible all around, I was worried I'd be taking a beating in the class.  I mixed up my strawberry-kiwi packet about an hour before class (it foams when you shake it up!) and started sipping early, then continued to take little drinks throughout the class.  I guzzled the rest on the way home.  The flavor was GREAT, and definitely not too sweet like so many drink mixes tend to be.  My experience with the class was a huge success despite my reservations, and though I pushed my body in many ways, I didn't feel ANYthing the day after!  But it was only my first experience with MeStrength, so I wasn't quite ready to sing any praises quite so quickly...

My Muddy Monk trail run on Saturday morning gave me the chance to try the lemon-lime flavor - I figured I'd go green while I was out in the woods!  I did like the flavor, but I didn't drink the whole bottle very quickly, and by the time I got to the last few swigs, the lemon-lime had really soured!  Despite the taste change, I once again noticed an incredible lack of soreness in my later day activities, but the real challenge was yet to come.

Sunday was a double-whammy: I ran the Brookfield Zoo 5k in the morning then went for an Urban Kayak excursion with my office team.  I opted for orange MeStrength in the morning, and made quick work of my entire bottle while I wandered the zoo after the race.  I gotta say, this was probably my least favorite flavor.  The first pre-race sips were okay, but maybe it soured too, because by the end of the race when I went back to it, I was only drinking it because it was cold, definitely not because I liked the taste!  For the kayaking trip, I went with grape, which was much more consistently tasty over the course of a few hours.  By the end of the day, I was so sure I wouldn't be able to move: I'd given my legs way too much of a beating over two races, and my pathetic upper body struggled with the kayaking.  Somehow, though, even the day after I still wasn't sore - AT ALL.  Nothing.  The weekend had kicked my butt, but somehow I was completely mobile and free of aches and pains.

My final packet of MeStrength partied hard with me at Zumba last night!  I'll admit I was too excited to remember to snap a photo, but I used the fruit punch flavor (the last in the set).  While I did like the fruity taste, this was the only flavor that DID taste a little too sweet for my liking.  I drank most of it, but couldn't get myself to finish the bottle due mostly to the overly sweet sensation.  Woke up this morning and STILL no soreness.  Amazing.

In summary: I freakin' love MeStrength.  This stuff WORKS.  Remember how I said I was skeptical about being able to see actual differences in just five packets?  I was wrong.  My body took a pounding the past few days, and though my joints are a little stiff in the cold weather, my muscles actually feel incredible.  That extra creatine boost is fantastic and really does the trick.  My only negative observation was that I found myself having to use the bathroom much more often than if I had been drinking plain water.  And I mean a LOT more often.  I'm not sure if that's the creatine or the electrolytes or the flavors themselves, but I definitely noticed a big difference.  I think it's a very small price to pay for the product's benefits, though.

UPDATE: I did some research about the "souring" of the orange and lemon-lime flavors.  Originally I assumed something in the product was causing the flavor change, but it is more likely to have been the way my body chemistry reacted as I became dehydrated.  The sour tastes only occurred AFTER I was done with my activity, when I needed water the most and my salivary glands were working overtime to compensate for the problem - leading to a heightened sensitivity to the tartness of those particular flavors.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for: MY FIRST GIVEAWAY!

The wonderful people at MeStrength are offering a TEN-PACK of their great mix packets to my readers!  We'll start off with one prize, but the more entries this giveaway gets, the more prizes we'll make available - every 250 entries adds another five-pack prize!

MeStrength is also offering free shipping for anyone who signs up for their mailing list!  You can use your free shipping code along with the 25% off code "fitnyx" for an amazing deal on MeStrength!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Dozen on the Season!

After completing two races this weekend (both with some excellent friends), I have now hit one dozen races since May!  A baker's dozen if you count last week's virtual run.

Ain't they purdy?

It's been a fun, exciting, exhausting summer!  I still have events lined up for fall, so the pile will keep growing and pretty soon I'll need to find a better way to store them - hubbsy isn't digging the "messy pile" style I use for so many things around the house!

Race recaps for both the Muddy Monk Four Stars and the Brookfield Zoo Run Run 5k will be posted once official results and photos are available later this week!  Also keep an eye out for a review of my company team building trip with Urban Kayaks, soon to come!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Four Stars (Estimated) Results

Another great trail run today with the wonderful Muddy Monk team!  Though I don't yet have the official race results, by my own watch Priti and I covered the four miles in just over 44 minutes!  Not too shabby - even though this race was more about connecting to a new friend than running for time.

As an added bonus, one of my friends from my first Muddy Monk experience earlier this summer spotted me during the post-race festivities, and came over to say hi!  I was honored Erica remembered me, and hopefully we'll be able to hook up a little more intentionally for another race soon!

Once official race results are posted, expect a full recap of the Four Stars trail run!

Friday, September 19, 2014

namasDAY at Exhale Chicago

I've already raved about Exhale's barre classes, but last night I got the chance to try one of their yoga classes, thanks to their namasDAY celebration in honor of National Yoga Month!

I've only taken one organized yoga class in the past, and it was NOT a happy experience: I had never done yoga before but apparently stepped into a class with a bunch of those flashy, I can do every inversion imaginable, yogis who have been practicing for ages, and my hyper competitive nature was completely crushed when I could barely even get into downward dog (let alone hold it for half the class).  I cried in the class, gave up halfway through, and never went back.

Needless to say, I was a little hesitant to dive into more yoga, even two years later.  The scars hadn't fully healed, but I've been making a point of pushing myself physically and trying new things, plus I've had nothing but excellent experiences with Exhale.  I figured, "it's free, I have a coworker who wants to go too, I'll give it a second chance."

Yup, that about sums it up.

We walked over and arrived just in time to get the last two mats, up in the front corner with a lovely view of the wall and a clock that ticked louder than Big Ben at noon.  There was no way I could have seen the instructor - or anyone besides my friend next to me.  Great start for my confidence and comfort levels.  The class started almost immediately, so I dropped my water and towel and quickly tried to figure out how to relax.  For those of you who know me well, relaxing is NOT one of my skills, especially after a long day at work!  I felt ten steps behind from the get-go, and with that clock ticking in my face, I was pretty worried about the hour that was to follow.

Fortunately, I've been doing a lot more yoga-type practices at home, and my overall body strength and flexibility have been increasing lately.  Though I didn't know all the fancy names for most of the poses, I was surprised how quickly I caught on to the flow, and even more surprised by how many poses I could actually accomplish!  I wasn't perfect, I wobbled a lot, and took the "easier" modification most of the time, but I still did it!  No tears, no quitting, no panicking, just yoga.  And I even DID manage one or two of the intermediate modifications on some poses!  Huzzah!

I can't promise this won't be me someday...

I had enough of that successful feeling after the class that I'm willing to open up to adding yoga as a more regular event in my life.  There are tons of local yoga studios available through ClassPass, so I'll have the opportunity to bounce around and try different styles and instructors to build a well-rounded practice and find true fulfillment through yoga.  I believe my life can really benefit from learning to focus and to relax, and the physiological benefits are much-needed as well.  I'm looking forward to developing a practice and advancing mind, body, and soul all together.

But of course, Exhale is never satisfied with just delivering an excellent class experience - they always throw in a little extra!  Last night it was an excitingly PINK pair of Bombas Socks!  The Bombas brand is pretty cool: they're focused on not only providing a well designed product, but they are dedicated to giving back.  For every pair of Bombas socks purchased, a matching pair is donated to a person in need.  What a great idea!

Thanks Exhale and Bombas!  These socks really are the BOMB!

How are you celebrating National Yoga Month?  Check out the official website to get a week of FREE classes from a yoga studio in your area!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Me Strength has arrived! [Discount Code]

I received my first product review samples today - and I'm so excited to share!

Right now, I'm just going to tell you a little about the product itself, and I'll follow up sometime next week once I've had ample hands-on experience to give you a full review of Me Strength.

I can already tell you I LOVE the flavor options and the pretty colors!

Me Strength was created to address the fact that most electrolyte drinks on the market are full of calories, artificial ingredients, sugar, and all that other nasty stuff we're learning shouldn't go in our bodies.  Instead, Me Strength provides your body with the right amount of electrolytes to get you properly hydrated both before an activity and during recover after your workout - without using artificial ingredients.

In addition, Me Strength has introduced creatine into the mix to enhance and maximize muscle performance.  Creatine, an amino acid occurring naturally in the human body, helps your muscles create fuel.  I know what you're thinking: isn't creatine the stuff those beefcakes take to get really big muscles?  The answer is yes - but they're taking a whole lot more than they really need.  Me Strength has just enough creatine to help the average athlete get the most out of their workouts, but won't make you bulk.

Overall, it sounds like a great product, combining the much-hyped electrolytes with the underused (by endurance athletes, at least) creatine to create a mix that will really make an impact on training.  I'm excited to try it and tell you my thoughts!

If you absolutely can't wait and want to try it RIGHT NOW, you can get yourself 25% off your order by using the discount code "fitnyx" at checkout!

Have a go-to hydration mix?  Know of another tried and true recovery product?  Tell me all about it!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Runner's Wishlist #1: Blerchandise

The more involved I get with the fitness world, the more I realize I'm missing - especially when it comes to gear and gadgets!  Don't get me wrong, I have LOTS of stuff (and if you ask my husband, I already have way too much), but by golly I want more!  And who doesn't?

So I'm starting a new "series" here on the good ol' blog to spotlight some of the cool stuff out there in the fitness market that I want to add to my collection.  Maybe it'll help y'all think of some good gift ideas for the runners in YOUR lives!

Today's wishlist item is actually a bundle of stuff from The Oatmeal.  If you're not an Oatmeal fan, you're missing out: what started as a few simple ideas has actually blown up into one of the most popular webcomics on the internet - and the writer happens to be an avid runner.  His series of posts about "The Blerch" have spawned a nationwide (let's be honest, it's probably worldwide) following of runners who are staying active for their health.

I just found out today that The Oatmeal is now running a Beat the Blerch race in Washington, and providing the option to run a virtual race as well.  The virtual race kit is full of cool Blerch gear, including a Blerch shirt, medal, bib, magnet, stress ball, stickers, and more!  Sadly, the event is this weekend, which means that I'm WAY too late to sign up for the event and get all the awesome Blerchandise swag.

It also means I can put Blerchandise on my wish list for future stuff.   So... it's on the list.  If you know someone out there who has chosen to take up endurance sports to help get in shape and/or stay healthy, Blerchandise can be the perfect gift, both motivational and fun!

Do you run to beat the Blerch?

What kinds of gifts would you love in your fitness career/hobby?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My first VIRTUAL race - complete with PR!

What a virtual race?  Good question.  I wasn't sure myself until a few weeks ago when I was given the opportunity to try one at a discount.  Eager to learn more about this running world fad, I signed up and waited for my "race" day.  While waiting, I did some research.

Virtual racing is an interesting phenomenon: typically, you pay an entry fee (often around $25-$30), you maybe print out a race bib, and you are shipped a finishing prize which is usually a medal.  The idea is that you'll go run one of the "race" distances (usually 5k, 10k, or half marathon) on your own during a designated time period.  For most virtual races, the entry fee largely goes to a charity or cause, and because there's no actual race production costs, a larger portion of your entry will go towards that cause than if you went to a full-blown race event.

It's a cool idea.  Want to feel like you're racing, but live far away from popular race areas?  Need some incentive to go running more often?  Want to support some great causes?  Love racing for bling?  Virtual racing is probably for you.  I wasn't sure if it was for me but I figured I'd try it anyway with the Skirt Sports 10on10.

I got my race packet in the mail earlier this week, and was surprised to find a couple extra goodies beyond what had been indicated in the registration fees.  Not only did I get my race bib and finisher's skirt, but I also had a couple products to try!  In addition to what was mailed, I also received an online gift card for $50 to the Skirt Sports store.

What a perfectly PINK skirt!

Then came race day!  I could have run any day this weekend, but I picked Sunday because it's typically my long run day anyway.  Participants had the option of a 10k or 10 miles; I opted for the 10k as I'm still building back up to distance after my half a couple weeks ago.  I geared up with my new SweatPink tank top and set off - after getting the hubby to snap a pic, of course!

It's go time!

Fall has been hitting harder than anticipated already, and the days have been much cooler than a few weeks ago, so I opted for longer fleecy leggings.  After the first half mile, I regretted my choice!  The sun was out in full force, and it got hot quick.  Thankfully, I managed to roll up the ankles of the leggings a bit about halfway through my run, which let a little more of the breeze through to cool me for the return trip.  Other than my intensely sweaty legs, though, the run was beautiful!  With the slightly cooler temperature and bright sun, lots of people were out, and my route took me through some of the lovely local parks in the area.

With about a mile and a half left, my left arch started aching.  I was passing a convenient turning point to take me home more directly, and was sorely tempted to cut my run short to spare my foot a budding blister.  I've never been so enticed by a shortcut in my entire life.  It was at that moment that I remembered this was no ordinary training run, and thought about the dozens of other virtual racers out there, somewhere, running just like I was.  I wouldn't take a short cut if they were all surrounding me, would I?  Certainly not.  I passed up the shortcut and plowed on ahead with newfound vigor.

That was all the push I needed.  I finished strong, and was surprised to find I had hit a PR at the 10k distance!  I finished in 1:04:11, which means I crushed my previous time by six minutes!  I'm pretty sure if I had been running in smarter clothing I would have been able to knock even more time off, and possibly finish in under an hour.  With that in mind, I've set my new training goal to a sub-hour 10k.

That's right - I made my own finish line.

So I ran a virtual race.  It didn't feel any different from a normal run, save that one moment when I almost gave up but pushed through for the sake of the "race" and did the full distance.  Though I enjoyed my run thoroughly, in the future I probably won't feel too pressed to participate in other virtual races.  This one gave me a lot of bang for my buck, including a great running skirt and the gift certificate for more cool apparel, but even the medal races don't really appeal to me that much.  I'm luck enough to live in Chicago, surrounded by actual races where I can be part of the bigger production; I think I'll stick to the "real" races and only sign up for virtual races when there's a particularly good cause attached.

Have you ever run a virtual race?  What are your thoughts from your experiences?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

It's all genetic.

Today, I just want to take a second to share some of the spotlight with the two most important people in my athletic past: my parents.

I've worked pretty hard over the years, and put in countless hundreds of hours, but I wouldn't have done ANY of it if it weren't for my mom and dad always encouraging, pushing, inspiring, and (sometimes) scolding me to do better.  But even before that, I literally wouldn't be capable of some of the physical feats I've accomplished if they didn't give me some race-ready DNA.  I didn't know them in their youth (obviously), but it's fairly easy to see how athletic they were back in the day just by looking at some of their most recent accomplishments!

She'll hate that I posted her one and only "selfie"...

Mom has been having an impressive amount of success with softball over the past few years.  She plays recreationally in the area, but also participates in the Senior Olympic Games every year since she became eligible (though you wouldn't know by looking at EITHER of my parents that they're actually officially seniors).  So far she has earned TWO gold medals and one bronze - WOW!

In the running world, trophies mean business.

Dad, as you've seen previously on my blog, has taken to running, and is pretty competitive, especially in the 5k distance!  Despite the blurry photo, you can probably tell that he's holding a running trophy, which he earned for placing first in his age group at a local 5k.  He also took third in his age group at another 5k that we ran together - and he would have placed higher if he hadn't waited for at the top of the grueling hill!  I can't wait to see if he tries to Hustle up the Hancock next year - I know he's been eyeing the challenge, and I guarantee he'll tackle it with gusto if he gets the chance!

So there you have it - the bling runs in the blood!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Five Things Friday: Making the most of a rainy day.

Chicago apparently skipped the whole summer-fall transition period, and is trying to jump directly to winter.  Temperatures nearly halved in the past week, leaving us with rainy, windy, chilly days leading into our weekend.  BLEH.

It's pretty, but I prefer to stay inside.

This might be partially my fault: maybe I spoke too soon and jinxed us when I posted last week that I was learning to love fall more than summer.  My bad, guys.  But now, I have the opportunity to write about my favorite ways to enjoy the rainy days!  So somehow it still worked out in the end.

5. Try an exciting new class!

Conveniently, I've had the opportunity to get involved in ClassPass in the past couple weeks, which gives me dozens of boutique fitness studios and hundreds of classes from which to choose.  I can pop in on a barre class one day (like last night - sooo sore!), then stretch out the next day with yoga, all through one easy membership.  It's a great way to cross train, and makes those icky don't-wanna-run days an asset rather than a setback.

4. Write an article or two!

Blogging is fun, but not always easy.  Some days it's hard to develop content, but other days you're overwhelmed with dozens of brilliant ideas.  I've been jotting down my ideas or starting drafts when I think of them, and then taking some time on these indoors days to flesh out fuller articles.  Now, I've got several completed articles waiting in the wings for just the right day - I hope you enjoy them when they make it to the stage!

3. Play games!

Yup, I'm a nerd.  Cat's out of the bag - though it's never really been a big secret.  I met my husband through a shared interest in Magic: the Gathering, which ought to tell you a little about just HOW nerdy we really are.  To us, rainy days are perfect for gaming.  Some days we're on our computers, leveling or tackling dungeons in Wildstar or Tera (mmorpg games), other days we're up in the living room, fighting global disease outbreaks in Pandemic or vying for control of the French countryside in Carcassone.  And of course, some days we're casting spells and summoning nasty creatures in an ever-cuthroat game of Magic.  When you can't go outside, just bring a different kind of playground right onto your table!

2. Make something new!

I love to craft - I even have an entire room dedicated to my supplies and creative whims.  A rainy day is a perfect excuse to pull out some ModPodge, crank up some tunes, and put something together.  Currently, I'm trying to make race bib and medal displays, for myself and as gifts for the other runners in my life.  I should actually have a finished product this weekend, so check back to see!


Obviously, we can't always just turn off or shut down just because it's raining - but when you have the time for yourself, and going outdoors is an iffy option, just stay inside and chill out!  Curl up with a blanket and a loved one, throw on a great movie, grab some snacks, and make a no-pressure day of it.  There's nothing more important in our lives than taking that step back to reset, and rainy days are the perfect excuse to go easy on yourself for a while.  Plus, quality time with loved ones!  I know Hubbsy and I will definitely be taking this route tonight!

How do you spend your rainy days?  What's your favorite indoor activity or workout?

Nesquik Invasion!

There's been a lot of research done into hydration and recovery fluids, but the most exciting discovery has been about an unusual recovery beverage: chocolate milk.  Who would have known that the delicious treat we enjoyed as children (when we behaved, of course) would end up being a top choice for post-run hydration?

Mmmmm chocolaty goodness...

As part of the nationwide surge to promote chocolate milk in an athletic context, flavored dairy product leader Nesquik has taken to the streets, handing out samples and talking about the benefits of the decadent drink.  While some have discredited the research results as an attempt to push back on schools who have removed chocolate milk from their cafeterias (a huge threat to future sales in the dairy industry), I for one would like to believe that chocolate milk really does aid athletic recovery.  But maybe that's because I love chocolate milk.

Either way, when I saw the Nesquik team on the Chicago streets near my office today, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to drag their whole crew back to the office with me!  They were happy to oblige, and chocolate milk was had by all!

Apparently we just missed their bunny mascot.  Sad.

It made for a nice morning surprise, and they even stocked our fridge too!  So what do you think - do you believe the research?  Is chocolate milk your choice for recovery?  Or do you think all the hype is just the dairy industry fighting back in a market that might be failing?

The Nesquik guys were out promoting on their own, and were happy to stop in, I was not paid or compensated in any way (beyond the bottles of chocolate milk!) to provide a review or to promote the product, any opinions expressed herein are my own.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rewatching Cool Runnings

Cool Runnings is now available on Netflix.

(I'll pause while you take a moment to add it to your queue.)

The moment we saw it on the screen, we just had to watch it.  For me, it's been years since I last felt the rhythm and the rhyme, and I was pretty excited that I could watch it at the touch of a button.

For anyone who missed the 90s, Cool Runnings is a movie that profiles the first Jamaican bobsled team, and follows the real events surrounding their participation in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.  It's funny, inspirational, and a staple of Disney sports movies from the 90s.  It also, as I found out last night, continues to stand as a great movie over twenty years later.

One of the movie's main themes follows the idea of doing what you love and truly dedicating yourself to your dreams.  There's a line in the movie that I think is particularly important for ANY athlete, especially the thousands of us who will never be the best in the world.  Okay, there are actually dozens of great lines that every athlete should hear, but the BEST one is this:

Ain't it the truth?

We're always competing when we run (or play or sport however we sport), whether it is against others at the front of the pack, against our own times for a PR, or even against our goals.  Getting caught up in the heat of competition can be a good thing, but it's so important to remember at the end of the day that winning isn't everything.  I mean, no one really wants to play for the Hawks, right?  (Whoops, wrong movie, we'll get to that one another day...)

You earn a gold medal every time you lace up your shoes and head to the treadmill or the trail.  You earn gold every time you go to the gym after work instead of going home to loaf.  You earn gold every time you grab a healthy snack instead of fast food.  You may not have the best gear, or the best training equipment, but you earn gold every time you adapt to keep pushing yourself.  Whatever it is you're doing to help you compete, against whatever it is you are competing, is what makes you worthy of the gold medal. 

We make do with what we have, when we want it enough!

The spirit of making do and constantly pushing despite limitations makes for an amazing movie.  Although the "true story" of the team is pretty different from the movie, the inspirational material offers more truth than critics will credit.  Definitely a must-watch for any young athletes, and a time-tested rewatch for adults who need a reminder of what really counts.

And now that I'm all caught up in the Jamaican excitement, it's probably time to watch a little Jamaican Inspector Man...

Gus, don't be the rude jerk from the German bobsled team.

Help Team Ortho prove Women ROCK and get some cool stuff!

Chicago is lucky to be a hub for so many activities.  We get special attention from a lot of sectors, which allows the city to play host to hundreds of exciting groups and programs.  Team Ortho is one of those groups, operating in both Minneapolis and Chicago, that fuses the great healthcare networks in the area with the amazing running community.

Team Ortho, a non-profit organization since 2004, has a fantastic mission:

"To improve and enhance the lives of orthopedic patients through our commitment to supporting research, education, and advancements in orthopedic technology; and to promote good muscular, skeletal, and join health by encouraging an active lifestyle including training for and participating in amateur athletic events."

The team hosts a handful of major events in both cities each year, the proceeds of which go towards orthopedic research via organizations such as the Orthopaedic Trauma Association, the Shriner's Hospital, and the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation.  Participating in Team Ortho races is a great way to give back to the community and to the future of medicine.

BUT, there's also this whole thing where Team Ortho puts on AMAZING RACES!  Coming up this month is the Women ROCK half-marathon/10k/5k, a race targeted specifically towards women.  I've heard some rave reviews about this event, and decided to offer my hand this year as a volunteer to be a part of the excitement!

Unfortunately, at this time, the volunteer staff is looking a little light.  Team Ortho delivers high-end events because of their volunteers, and this race should be no different.  If you've got some time on September 27th, lend a hand and help give participants the event they deserve.  Team Ortho rewards all volunteers with free swag and points towards future race entries, so not only are you giving back right now, but you'll be able to participate in a later event!

You can get more details about open positions and sign up on the Team Ortho volunteers page.  Right now the greatest need is for course marshals, so come join me out on the course to keep runners safe!

See you out there!

At this time, I am not directly affiliated with Team Ortho, just a volunteer helping to spread the word.  Using my name as a referral on the volunteer application will award me additional incentive points, but I am more concerned about the race having enough volunteers to run properly; you may certainly choose to leave my name off the application if you like.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

ClassPass Launch - Exhale, Flywheel, and The Dailey Method

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a core fusion barre class at Exhale Spa as part of the ClassPass Chicago launch - but I didn't make it to the other events they ran the rest of the week and couldn't tell you anything about the other classes.

Fortunately, when I made a new friend, I picked a good one: Natali wrote all about her experience at all THREE ClassPass launch events, and shared them today!  Here's a quick summary of her recap, but be sure to head over to The Race That Never Ends to read the full article!

Awesome jump-shot courtesy of Azuree Wiitala.

Core-Fusion Barre at Exhale Spa: "The exercises started off easy enough.  However, as they gradually increased in difficulty both the ladies around me and I couldn't help but laugh whenever we slipped or couldn't hold a pose.  It was a low pressure class and from what I could tell everyone really enjoyed themselves.  Our instructor was smiling the entire time."

Cycling at Flywheel: "Goodness gracious.  From the moment we were in the saddle she kept us motivated and pushing harder than I thought my legs could pedal.  Her high energy and infectious spirit kept us going when we thought we had nothing left to give."

Yoga/Barre at The Dailey Method: "The stretching was just what I needed.  My core felt strong and engaged the entire time.  It was a workout but super relaxing.  We did a mix of yoga, barre, and some weights that worked your whole body."

Show Natali some love for her excellent recaps, and be sure to check out ClassPass!

Running (literally) out of room...

When I signed up for my first race back in early May, I never would have dreamed running would become my hobby.  I figured I'd do a couple mud run events, have some laughs, and be satisfied.  But it was not to be, as I fell in love with running and it became a growing part of my life.

As I finished my second, third, fourth events, I found myself with some really cool race bibs!  So I tacked them up by my desk.  Then added another.  And another.  And suddenly, I was out of space!

Now I have twice as many race bibs, and several well-earned medals, and nowhere to put them!  My husband vetoed the "tape them to the wall" approach - and I'm okay with that, it looks a little messy.  Purchasing a display is always an option but they're so 'spensive!  I think I'm going to have to shut myself up in my craft room and concoct a solution...  Who has ideas for me?!  How do YOU display your race bibs and bling?

Monday, September 8, 2014


Don't forget - Zumba classes at Chicago Dance start TONIGHT at 6:00pm!  Classes are $15 for drop-ins, I'd love to see your smiling faces dancing with me!

I'm doing a playlist of Zumba classics and favorites tonight, there's a little something for everybody, so bring and friend and come on down!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Goodbye humidity!

Tonight's little run was my first in what could officially be considered "fall weather" and I loved every step.  It was cool, breezy, and completely lacking humidity.  I haven't run in weather like that since, well, maybe ever!

I used to think summer was my favorite season: it was always warm, I could be outside all the time, and I loved wearing tank tops and shorts!  But the last couple summers have been HOT, not warm, and the humidity has been beyond belief.  Perhaps it was like that when I was younger too, and I just never noticed, but I'm definitely noticing these days!  After tonight's run, and thinking about last Friday's five things list, I'm beginning to believe fall is actually my favorite season.  Certainly as a runner it will be better than slogging through the heat and moisture of the summer.  And pretty soon the leaves will start to turn, and I'll get to run through arches of color everywhere!

Photo from xtri.com

I'm excited for fall running season.  I'm hoping to nab myself a 5k PR before the snow hits.  Also, I'll be participating in my first virtual race, volunteering at a couple high-profile races, starting a new Zumba class, and launching into a new cross-training plan!  The next couple months promise to be very busy and full of unique experiences - and I can't wait to tackle every challenge that comes my way!

See you on the (not so humid) road!

My first bruised toenail!

On that path to "officially" becoming a runner, one hears many stories about losing toenails.  I never thought I'd run far enough to have to worry about that - but, surprise surprise, I caught the racing bug and just can't stop!  Last week's half marathon gave me my first black and blue piggy, and I wouldn't be too surprised if it gives up in another day or two and falls.

Lovely, innit?

I can't believe years of having cleats dug into my toes during soccer games didn't knock a nail off sooner...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Zumba STEP Practice

Next week I'll be attempting my first audition for a Zumba STEP class, and I am woefully unprepared!  I haven't had much time to practice the new specialty since taking the licensing class, but now I have the perfect excuse!  Plus, practicing any Zumba routine is a great way to get in a thorough cardio workout with a little strengthening work tucked neatly into the moves.  I worked up a good sweat with an hour and a half of shakin' it today - sweet!

I guarantee I don't look nearly so glamorous...

On a related note, my new Zumba classes at Chicago Dance start on Monday at 6pm!  The class roster is looking a little thin, so if you've got some time to head on down, I'd LOVE to have you join me and boost the class energy!  It's more of a party when there are more people dancing!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Yumvelope: All-Natural Snacks!

Hey there healthy eaters!  I've been seeing a lot of buzz about the Yumvelope subscription service, that delivers a monthly package full of all-natural goodies direct to you.  Though I've never tried it myself, I do hear a lot of great reviews.

For $21/month, you receive a big envelope with at least six full size products.  You might get snack bars, popcorn, coconut water, desserts, coffee - who knows?!  It's great for sampling a wide range of all-natural products without having to commit to any particular brand or flavor.  Plus, we're talking full-size products here, which if you've ever shopped in the "health foods" aisle, you know cost a pretty penny when you buy them separately.  Seems to me like you're getting a pretty good deal - but again to be clear, I have not tried this service myself and cannot speak from my own experience about quality or quantity.  You can check out Erica Finds for some more information: Erica originally reviewed the service over a year ago, and is still using the service, plus she posts an unboxing each month upon receiving her Yumvelope!

While I'm not entirely sure I can afford it just yet, I'm trying to win myself a sample box from the Yumvelope Double-Stuffed Giveaway this month!  Hopefully I'll get lucky so I can give y'all a proper review of some of the products and companies with which Yumvelope partners.

Of course, YOU could always win too!  Enter here and give it a whirl!

Five Things Friday: FALL

Looks like this "Five Things Friday" is a pretty popular type of post, so I'm going to give it a try.  I'm also going to draw some inspiration from Laura over at Fit Running Mama, and will base this first Five Things post on the upcoming fall season.

SO, without further ado, five things I'm looking forward to in the coming season!

5. Cooler running weather!

Never thought I'd be "that girl", but I just can't wait to run in the crisp fall weather.  Not cold enough to be freezing, not hot enough to be muggy, but juuuuuust right!  I also hear most runners hit better times and are more likely to PR in the spring and fall, because the awful heat is no longer a limitation - definitely looking forward to seeing the fruits of my summer labors.

4. Apple cider and caramel apples!

I'm pretty sure I don't really have to elaborate on this one.  Is there anything better than the feel of your teeth sliding through a gooey layer of caramel before biting deep in to a crisp, fresh apple?  Is there any sweet nectar more satisfying than the chilled taste of cider dribbling down your throat (and probably your chin if you guzzle the stuff like I do)?  Pumpkin spice, stand aside: these are the TRUE flavors of fall!

3. Craft fairs!

I AM a crafter, but before I dove into making things of my own, I used to visit all the fall and holiday craft fairs with my mom and her sisters.  Shopping at fairs was a tradition, and even though we rarely made any purchases, it was always fun to see the incredible lengths to which people took their creativity.  Now that I actually participate in fall craft fairs myself, I still like to visit as a consumer to admire other peoples' work and snag a few tips and ideas for my own projects!  The crafting community is as vibrant as I'm discovering the running community to be

2. Halloween and Thanksgiving!

I'm fitting a lot of favorites into this part: everything from the food (pumpkin rolls, pecan pie, candied yams), to the movies (Hocus Pocus, anyone?), to the decorations, candy, and costumes...  Fall's major holidays are my absolute favorites!  As much as I hate having the weather turn cold, I still love the festivities, and these holidays make the temperature descent far more palatable by keeping me excitably distracted and well-stuffed!

Annnnnnnnnd, my number one favorite thing about fall:


Yes, this is a real thing.  I got my first taste of The Coolest Fall Activity Ever last year, when I took my old team on a trip to the Siegel's Pumpkin Farm fall festival.  They had all the typical trappings: hay rides, petting zoos, tons of fall foods, a giant corn maze, and of course a massive pumpkin patch.  But the main attraction (for us, at least) was the paintball experience.  Load up on a converted military truck, grab a gun station, and get ready to blast the undead!  We rode through the woods, unloading paintballs on zombie actors at various stations along the way.  It was exhilarating, despite being a little less competitive than typical paintball, and it made for a perfect team outing.  I've already mentioned zombie paintball around the new office, and I'm almost certain we'll be heading out that way again this year!

So, what do YOU love about fall?