' Adventures with FitNyx: October 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Manitoba Harvest HempHearts Product Review

This month I've had the opportunity to try Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts!  These nutty little crunchers found their way into several of my kitchen creations over the past couple weeks, and I am happy to report that they are DELICIOUS!

Hemp Hearts are packed with protein and omega nutriets - 10 grams of each per 30 gram serving!  That's more than chia or flax seeds, which also have more carbohydrates in each serving.  Hemp Hearts are so easy to incorporate into your cooking, too!  I just tossed a handful into whatever I was making, and boom!  Instant flavor.  Manitoba Harvest also makes protein powder and oil made from hemp, which would be interesting to try sometime as well.

My first Hemp Hearts experience was pretty simple: I sprinkled them in my sauce on a bowl of Thai beef stir fry.  They added a nice crunchy texture to the dish, and definitely didn't overwhelm the rest of the ingredients.  My biggest problem here was that I just used too much sauce, and everything was swimming.  Still very tasty despite the heavy sauce hand, and gave me the courage to try incorporating my Hemp Hearts into some other types of dishes.

So I mixed up some Hemp Heart pancakes!  I actually made several batches on a few occasions, with slightly different ingredient combinations, all off a buttermilk base.  The first batch suffered from too much cinnamon (I'm not a huge fan) and not enough Hemp Hearts, but was still edible.  My husband didn't seem to notice much difference between my original pancakes and the altered batch, so I went a slightly different route the next time I made them: nutmeg and vanilla!  This batch was SO TASTY!  And hubby loved them, he said he really enjoyed the nutmeg with the subtle crunch of the Hemp Hearts, and that they came together nicely.  I totally agreed - and proceeded to make another batch of nutmeg and vanilla the next weekend.

My final Hemp Hearts experiment was a smoothie.  As fall tightens its grip on Chicago, I've been craving that pumpkin pie taste - so I figured I'd try my hand at a pumpkin smoothie!  Long story short: I didn't follow any recipe and I failed miserably.  BUT!  I had used the Hemp Hearts both in the actual smoothie blend, and as a garnish, and they were by far the tastiest part!  I wouldn't even have finished the smoothie if the Hearts hadn't saved the flavor.

So there you have it: three different takes on the Hemp Hearty goodness!  If I'd had some more to use (maybe instead of making so many pancakes) I would also have liked to try them in blonde brownies...  Maybe next time!

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Race Recap: Muddy Monk Thriller 5k

I'm going to be brutally honest, right off the bat: I did not enjoy this race.

This was #17 for me so far this year (slash, ever), and it was the worst experience I have had so far.  A lot of that is probably on me - I'm not sure I had the smartest or best timed breakfast, nor the most realistic goals, nor the proper training recently.  At the end of the day, though, these factors combined with some course frustrations to leave a very sour taste in my mouth.  Instead of lingering too long on my first bad race, I'm going to throw out some positives and some negatives, and be done with it - apologies for lack of a more thorough review, I'm still learning how to cope with a bad race experience.

The day began with so much promise!


  • Muddy Monk always puts on a good show.  They're organized, friendly, and definitely fun.  The costume contest definitely inspired a lot of competition, and the atmosphere was as jovial as always.
  • It was a beautiful day - mid 70s in late Chicago October?  Amazing.  And the trail was gorgeous, especially with such warm temperatures and the changing fall foliage.  I regret not taking a few photos while I was out on the course.
  • The course was challenging.  Yes, that's a positive.  I wasn't prepared for such a technical trail, but had I been feeling better, I would have relished the obstacles.  After all, isn't that what trail running is all about?
  • Always good swag: a nice shirt, a cool mug, lots of free food, and all for a very reasonable cost.  A good deal for a race, that's for sure.

  • Whatever was going on in my stomach was ugly.  I threw up a few times out in the woods, and had to walk more than once to accommodate.  Of course this is totally on me, and there's no reason to hold any of this against the Muddy Monk team, but that doesn't change the fact that I was NOT HAPPY.
  • The trail, while fun, was not entirely safe and bottlenecked too many times.  It surprised me how many people out there for a "trail run" seemed shocked that there were roots or hills or water out on the path!  Being stuck on single track behind someone who didn't want their costume to get dirty was very frustrating.  Being stuck on single track on a steep drop-off with lead runners coming back the other way was just plain scary.  I was stunned at this point in the course, and I really hope no one fell.
  • I could not seem to get a shirt that fit me.  The smalls were chokingly tight, while I was swimming in the medium.  A minor irritant, but a disappointing start to the day, especially since the shirt was so darn cool!
  • My biggest peeve about the race organization was course markings.  I ended up running off the trail with less than a quarter mile to go, as did the runner in front of me.  We went a good way down the wrong path before we realized we were the only ones out there, and had to turn back around to find the right trail.  If there had been a sign, neither of us ever saw it - and that wasn't the only place on the course that was unclear.  Adding extra distance to an already difficult race was the last nail in my coffin, and I was practically in tears as I was doubling back to find the right path.
Despite my seemingly atrocious time of 37:51 (which actually wasn't as bad as I thought considering the difficulty of the trail and the extra distance), I managed to salvage the experience with a little post-race mingling, which also gave me the opportunity to hand out some samples of MESTRENGTH and talk to people about my blog.  The networking helped me leave with a smile instead of a scowl, for which I was very grateful.  It was too nice of a day to waste angry, though my muscles didn't quite agree.

I still finished, even it if was blurrily...
Photo compliments of Muddy Monk photographers.

For the next couple weeks, I'll actually be stepping back from racing (after over a month straight of weekend races) to focus on the continuing job hunt.  I feel so close to finding that "right" career, but at the same time I know I still have a long way to go.  So I'll do what I always do: buckle down a bit, focus the fight in the right direction, and keep pushing myself to do better.  I've still got a few big events on the calendar, and a couple product reviews (and giveaways) up my sleeve, so I definitely won't be disappearing, but I will be resting the bib for a couple weeks.

And after that...  maybe I'll tackle another half marathon...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Race Recap: #Run10FEED10

While my 5k still needs plenty of work, after running a dozen 5k races this season I'm starting to feel like that distance isn't enough for me anymore!  I'm not quite ready for another half yet either, so I have started to look more at 10k and 15k races for a different kind of challenge.  One of my office mates had signed up for the Women's Health #Run10FEED10 race, and I excitedly jumped on the 10k train with her!

This race has an awesome cause: every runner's entry provides 10 meals that go directly to people suffering from hunger in the immediate local community.  That means I fed 10 hungry Chicago children - and I definitely believe there are plenty of locals who needed a good meal.  Women's Health Magazine hosts #Run10FEED10 events all across the United States, so if you're looking for a good 10k challenge with a worthwhile cause, you've found your race!

I love photo-op backdrops.  They make me feel like a celebrity.

This was my first actual 10k race - though I'd done several as training or virtual runs in the past.  I was excited to add the race day energy to my run, and I set myself a lofty goal: to complete the 10k in under an hour.  My previous PR had come from a virtual race this summer, and I expected the cooler temperature plus the competitive surge of running in a crowd to propel me forward.  Shaving almost five minutes off my time was daunting (that's almost a minute per mile!) but I was fresh off a substantial 5k PR the previous weekend and felt pretty confident.

With morning enthusiasm that has only entered my life since I started running, I headed downtown.  My coworker wasn't feeling well, so I would be on my own once again, but the day was dawning bright (if a little cold) and I was definitely ready for the challenge.  I had a new playlist, constructed delicately to help pace and encourage me throughout the course, and I was ready to meet some new people during the experience.

I arrived on site and was immediately overwhelmed by how much STUFF was happening!  So many races advertise a "post-race festival" but often this means some fruit and an insurance company giving away keychains.  The #Run10FEED10, however, took "festival" in a totally different direction: there was a pre-race warmup being led by several local fitness instructors, raffles for high end prizes (which I did not win), sponsor booths that actually offered some interaction and worthwhile giveaways, even an "inspiration station" for non-runners to make race signs and grab pom-poms to support friends or family.  It felt, well, festive!  Great start!

Unflattering selfie in exchange for some swag?  Check.

After snagging myself a few freebies (like a race survival kit from Panasonic after sharing my first selfie on my cool new phone) and checking my already-stuffed bag, it was time to start the race.  But - oh no!  I had left my music in said checked bag!  So my race warmup consisted of a sprint to gear check to grab my player and a sprint back to my pace group, with seconds to spare before we were running!

I'm thrilled with the performance of my special 10k mix.  When I put it together, I took pains to match my expectations for how I would run the course.  First, an exhilarating upbeat favorite the would help me ease into that starting-gun excitement without getting too caught up in the crowd surge energy.  Then a couple upbeat but slightly slower tempo selections to gradually bring me into a comfortable long-distance pace for the majority of the race.  My last few songs were consistent beats with a lot of energy, to help me bring it home strong!  I am pleased to report that the entire playlist worked perfectly!

My actual race plan, however, didn't go so smoothly.  My goal for this race was to be under the one hour mark, so I created my playlist to be just one song over the hour.  That way, I knew I had to finish before that last song!  I was going strong, hitting the halfway split in 30:38 and feeling good about my return pacing.  Then I hit the stairs.  Whaaaaaaat?  Right after the turnaround mark, there were these big rock-hewn stairs up which we had to run to get back on the return path!  There were only maybe six steps total, but it was very unexpected and with my injured knees, I know I lost some time not only getting up the flight, but recovering from the sudden added stresses on my joints.  I put it out of my mind and focused once again on my race plan and music, though, and quickly settle back into a groove.

That's the face of a struggling stair climbing runner.
Photo courtesy of #Run10FEED10.

The first of two major heartbreaks in this race came just before the five mile marker.  Maybe I should have learned my lesson after the incident on the final hill at last week's 5k back home: try to give yourself some stopping room if you're running behind someone.  Easier said than done on some courses, especially anything on the super-narrow and often over-crowded Lakefront Trail, but still very important!  Otherwise, you end up in a bad situation: the person in front of me stopped suddenly, and actually bent over in place with no warning.  Didn't slow to a walk first, just STOPPED.  I swerved hard but still knocked into her a bit, which she didn't even seem to notice - but my poor hip flexor sure did.  I suffered a pretty severe strain that hobbled me a bit for the rest of the race.

The second heartbreak piggy-backed on the first: with a strained muscle, I was forced to slow down for the last mile or so, and I was still about 0.3 miles from the finish when my playlist's final song started.  I actually had though there was one more before the last, and was crushed to realize I had been wrong, and that I was already over my one hour goal time.  I'll be honest, I almost cried.  My penultimate song had really gotten me moving through the last half-mile, and I truly believed I was going to make my goal.  After breaking stride for a few steps in disappointment, I did my best to put those feelings aside and finish strong.  I gutted out that final stretch and crossed with as close to a smile as I could manage.  Seeing the finish line clock, surprisingly, helped a little: though I didn't make my goal, I DID cut over two minutes off my previous PR!

May not have met my goal, but a PR is still a sweet victory!
Photo courtesy of #Run10FEED10.

Following my finish, I headed straight for the Nesquik tent to grab some of my beloved chocolate milk.  I'd eaten a light breakfast on the way to the race, but I was still VERY hungry afterwards!  The Nesquik definitely helped me get some much needed calories into my belly, and the bagels and fruit in the food tent didn't hurt either!  I spent another half hour or so wandering around the festival, grabbing more freebies (including a yoga mat, score) before heading towards my car.  On the way back, I made another new running friend!  Hopefully Nancy and I will get to run again soon - though she'll definitely be ahead of me on the course, we can share the pre- and post-race fun!

Race Details:

Organization: I've never seen a better race "festival" than at the #Run10FEED10.  Not only was race-day packet pickup (woot!) a total breeze, but so was gear check and finding the right pace group and even getting into a port-a-potty!  I was also impressed with the customer service from the Fleet Feet store where pre-race packet pickup was held: something came up and I couldn't get downtown on Saturday, but no race-day pickup was advertised as far as I could see (my only organization complaint), so I called in a panic to see what options I had.  The young woman on the phone was extremely pleasant and clearly wanted to make sure I was treated well, and of course hearing her say "yes" to race day pickup put a big smile on my face!  Dear every other race: why is race day pickup not a no-brainer yet?!

The course: Most of this run was out-and-back on the Lakefront Trail.  As anyone who has ever run a major event in Chicago can tell you, this is not the ideal course.  The trail is a winding, narrow, two-lane track all along Lake Michigan - and it never closes to public traffic.  While that is one of the best things about Chicago in general, it's also one of the worst things about racing in Chicago.  That said, this race didn't seem so bad.  Perhaps the colder weather kept people indoors, or perhaps the much smaller race numbers (only about 800 people versus the thousands I've seen at other races).  I didn't have to weave too much on the LFT, and there weren't too many bikes speeding through the runners.  The worst parts of the course this time ended up being the lap around Diversey Harbor, which smelled cloyingly fishy, and the random set of stairs at the turn-around point!  I've never had to do stairs in a road race; even though it was only half a flight, it hurt my knees and threw me off a bit!  Overall though, beautiful scenery for a morning run, despite the course's limitations.

Holy ton of awesome stuff, Batman!

The swag: Here's where this race takes the cake.  And the salad bar.  And probably the entree too.  I have never seen so many freebies in my life!  Not only does the very reasonable race registration ($45, but discount codes abound) snag you an awesome tote bag full of sample products and coupons, but the post-race "festival" takes every possible opportunity to load you up with major goodies.  Take a selfie at the Panasonic booth?  Get a drawstring backpack with a water bottle and hat, or snag a pair of awesome earbuds.  Punch in some survey answers for two minutes at the Lincoln Motors booth?  Walk away with a yoga mat and bag.  Stop by the Women's Health Magazine host booth?  Stuff your sweet bag full of hair ties, magazine issues, and still more samples!  Eat up at the food tent with bagels and fruit, refuel after a hard run with Nesquik chocolate milk, get your cheer on with Geico's Inspiration Station (pom poms and poster board for making race signs)...  I could barely walk under the weight of all my free stuff!  And then, as if we needed more reason to love this race, I found free race photos online!  WELL worth the cost of entry just for the swag, even if you didn't run the race!

The bottom line: I'd do this race every year just for the swag.  Add to it the high level of organization, the ideal choice of distance, and the incredibly worthy cause, and #Run10FEED10 makes my top five list for now, with confidence that it will stay in the top ten as I add to my race history.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Life Status Update

Dear Friends, Family, and Readers of All Ages,

I apologize for my absences of late.  When I first started this blog, I dove in feet-first, and very quickly learned how to swim.  My passion for what I've been doing in the fitness world has surprised even myself, and I am dying to continue along that path.

Sadly, the past few weeks have been very difficult for me.  I am struggling to manage the vastly increased workload that has landed on my plate at the office, and it is leaving little time or energy for personal pursuits.  I'm still finding time for running events and occasional fitness classes, but not nearly to the extent I would prefer.

As my schedule has become more and more overwhelming, I have had to make some difficult decisions.  Last week, I submitted my resignation notice and set the wheels in motion for moving on to a new job.  Hopefully, I will be able to find something that is a little closer to my heart - or at the very least a little closer to home, so I can work my passions into my schedule more easily.

The coming weeks may be equally sparse on the blog, but I will still be staying active on Instagram and Facebook as much as possible.  I also will be posting a race recap from this past weekend's EXCELLENT 10k, and a review for PRO Compression socks as soon as I have a chance.  In the meanwhile, if you know of a great fitness industry job in Chicago (especially up in the north suburbs) please let me know!

Thank you all for your continued readership and support.  Adventures with Fitnyx has been a huge step forward towards some major dreams, and I wouldn't have made so much progress if it weren't for y'all.  *hugs*

<3, Amanda

Friday, October 17, 2014

Handana Product Review

This week, I was given the opportunity to try out a Handana sweat band!  I'm a very profuse sweater, and carrying a towel with me on runs or for classes can be a hassle, so I was very eager to give this new product a whirl.  Monday night Zumba class was the perfect opportunity!

As an instructor, I really can't be stopping mid-song to reach for a towel.  It throws off my students, many of whom don't have my routines memorized yet (it's still a new studio for me), but it also interrupts my own groove.  Especially when I am rehearsing or trying to choreograph a new routine, I can't be popping in and out of the beat to deal with sweat pouring into my contacts.  Enter the Handana.  This hand-wrap sweat band is the perfect solution for my problem!

I wore my Handana the entire night, and used it frequently, but it never felt drippy or itchy even when full of sweat.  I didn't have to break my routine when the sweat started pumping, which made the entire class experience so much smoother for everyone, and, for me, MUCH more comfortable!  I'm really looking forward to having this with me on summer runs too, when the Chicago humidity is overwhelming and my face is dripping!

Pros: Designed to fit the shape of your hand, so it's not bulky or hanging loose anywhere, which means you keep fully range of motion with no unnecessary tugging.  Very absorbent, and doesn't leak or scratch when it's wet.  Always on hand (giggle) for when you a quick wipe.

Cons: Started a little tight.  In fact, I thought my fingers were going to go numb at first.  I adapted, and when I got the blood pumping with my warm-up routines, it was definitely less of an issue.  Still, I wonder if the sizing was not right for me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Race Recap: A Race For Maggie's Place at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

One of the greatest running joys I've experienced this summer has been sharing the road with my dad.  He started his personal fitness journey a decade ago, and has truly inspired me to push myself into a hobby I am loving more and more each day.  Already this year we've run several events, and this past weekend we found an opportunity to add to the list!

When we realized my car needed to head back to Ohio for an E-Check (super fun, right), we immediately started looking for races.  Just a few weeks ago I ran at the Brookfield Zoo here in Chicago and had a fantastic experience, so when we discovered A Race for Maggie's Place at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo the same day I'd be in town, it was pretty much a no-brainer.  After some debate, we opted for the 5k instead of the 9k (Maggie's Place works with pregnant women, so 9k for 9 months), which in our minds meant we were taking it easy.  Yeah.  Easy.

Rockin' the legwarmers - much needed!

The day broke chilly - in the mid-40s, and breezy.  I learned at the night race last week that layers are crucial, so I packed and dressed accordingly, planning to slowly shed layers until race time.  We parked and checked in, then headed into the main race area to find the start and finish lines.  As soon as we entered the woodsy area, the temperature dropped sharply!  If I was going to shed layers, I was going to either have to wait until RIGHT before the race or I was going to freeze.  Dad decided we should just freeze.  Thanks, pop!  It did at least give me incentive to warm up a little more, but it was so chilly I was having trouble moving - which worried me for the race.

Finally the time came, and we were running!  Immediately it warmed up, as we started by running down the biggest hill on the course.  Since the course was out-and-back, we'd be finishing the run by coming back UP that big hill.  Yup, easy, just as we planned.  As usual, my dad was running to win, which made me have to work really hard to keep pace.  I hadn't eaten breakfast (well, two EL Fudge cookies don't really count) and was feeling the void in my stomach before we even hit the first mile marker.  Dad obligingly slowed a bit, and once we passed the halfway water station to turn back, I was finally getting through the growling stomach pains and easing into a better stride.

We barely noticed any of the exhibits or animals as we cruised through, but we DID get free entry to the zoo afterwards, so we focused more on the run first.  That focus really came in handy as we started back up the hill.  I got in the zone, pushing pushing pushing, and was almost to the top going strong before - disaster.  An older woman had been walk-jogging her way up the hill, but we were about to pass her.  She heard us coming, and saw my dad on her right, but didn't see me on her left.  She moved to make room for dad (who really had plenty of space, but bless her for trying to be courteous) and moved right in my path with barely enough time to dodge.  It broke my concentration, threw me off my course, and took me right out of my game.  I almost didn't recover but somehow managed to keep moving.  By then dad knew to just go, and he took off for the finish.  I gained back some momentum and finished pretty strong - and earned myself a PR!

With a time of 29:08, I actually had cut more than 20 seconds off my previous PR.  If I had eaten a smarter breakfast or run a flatter course, or even if I hadn't lost the focus on the last hill, I would easily have broken 29 minutes.  Dad didn't come close to any of his best times, but that's because he was waiting for me most of the way.  He still managed to take first and set the new course record in his age group, though!

After the race, we spent the next few hours wandering around the zoo.  I've been to many zoos, including four of the top ten in the United States (three are in Ohio - none of them are in Cleveland), and one thing that has always seemed pretty consistent regardless of how highly acclaimed the park has been was that the animals have always been lazy.  Very little activity, usually just lounging or sleeping...  Today, however, was very different.  Perhaps it was the lower temperatures as some have suggested, but we believe being there before the park actually opened was the key to seeing the most animal activity.  Why?  It's *feeding time* in the morning.  We actually watched a zoo worker hide chunks of meat all throughout the tiger habitat, then seconds later the cage door rattled and the big cat bounded out and hunted down his meal by stalking through the entire exhibit.  COOL.

Pardon the glare on the wolf - she was behind glass.

It wasn't just the tiger, either.  Every single operational exhibit had animals out, and all but maybe two had high levels of activity.  We saw wolves running all over the habitat, bears pacing and interacting, meerkats playing, and cheetahs - well, the cheetahs were just posing for the cameras, as we got to them towards the end of our experience but after the zoo opened and the crowds had come.  I've never in my life had such an incredibly high on-base percentage on a zoo trip!  It would have been fun regardless, but watching my dad pace with the bears and stare down the tigers put a huge smile on my face!  We carried our enjoyment through a delicious brunch and a very relaxing afternoon.  If I hadn't needed to hop in the car early Sunday for the long drive back to Chicago, it would have been the perfect weekend!

Organization: I didn't handle registration for this race, dad took care of that - but neither of us saw any kind of pre-race email.  We did register very last-minute but I was still surprised we didn't get any reminder or updates, especially about where to park.  The race was starting in the back of the zoo, so parking was in the administration lot which confused us on arrival.  We weren't the only ones who parked in the wrong place at first - the little sign by the main lot wasn't quite enough to grab attention and reroute us.  Check in was fast and smooth, though, and while the race wasn't chip timed, they had easy-to-read clocks at the finish and plenty of extra hands to grab your bib's tear-tag and record the time accurately.  They also had plenty of course marshals and every one of them was VOCAL!  Not only with directions, but with much-needed encouragement.  THANKS FOLKS!

The course: Cleveland's zoo isn't an award-winner or even much of a news draw these days, but they've done a LOT over the past few years to improve the appearance and style of exhibits.  The looping path was very scenic despite a few under-construction areas.  Everything was well-marked or well-manned, and the water station was at just the right place for a quick gulp without having to slow or bottleneck with other runners.  Only one complaint about the course: HILLS!  Chicago has spoiled me.  I used to think Cleveland was pretty flat, now it feels like every step is at some kind of incline.  Having an actual hill on a course I already would have considered "rolling" compared to what I'm used to was absolutely killer, both mentally and physically.  I really need to learn to hill train...

What a great day to "Come Out and Play"!

The swag:  I think this race had a $25 registration fee, for which we received a really nice tech shirt (the green one in my photos) and free entry to the zoo!  This might be my favorite shirt so far this year (Rosehill's loses due to sizing issues) for the color, the fabric, the fit, and the design.  We had ample fruit and snacks available after the race as well, though dad and I only grabbed a banana apiece.  The zoo entry was the cherry on top, and we definitely got our money's worth on this trip!  Chip timing would have been nice, but with enough attentive helpers, in the end it really didn't even matter.

The bottom line: What a fun morning!  A PR is always exciting, but a beautiful course and sharing the experience with family are added bonuses.  If this were a local race for me, I would definitely be putting this on next year's calendar, and I would probably do the 9k next time for a little extra challenge.  Despite the early cold, conditions and timing were right for a good run, so if next year's Race for Maggie's Place falls on a convenient weekend, I might actually make the trip again just for the run!

Any other PRs out there from this past weekend?  Chicago Marathoners?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Medal Hanger FINALLY Finished!

Life has been crazy (isn't it always) but I finally buckled down and got my medal hanger done!

I made this one as a gift for my father, who ran the Magnificent Mile half marathon with me this summer.  It was a first for both of us, and though I know he rarely keeps many mementos from runs, I knew he'd hold on to the half medal for a while!

Yeah, he's soooooooo tough.

I am really pleased with the final product, despite some little errors (like the knob placement, which shouldn't have been so low).  Once I get my craft studio whipped back into shape, I'm hoping to finish a few more.  Ideally, I'd like to be able to make them a little more efficiently, so I can maybe sell them...  Would anyone be interested?  I think it would be a great item to take to craft fairs, too!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Runner's Wishlist #2: A good running belt!

Okay, okay, I admit I already have a running belt.  I've been using it all summer, and I love it.  BUT!  As I am getting more serious about running, and going out for longer times and distances, I'm finding myself with a desire to carry more stuff with me.  When you're going around the long block for a mile or two, you don't need much besides music and keys.  Heading out for an hour or two, though...  I want to be able to have my phone, my music, my keys, some cash, and maybe a gel or two with me.

My current little guy from Nathan Sports.

I hear a lot of things about hydration packs and water bottle belts - I think that's a little intense for me at this time.  I'm not in marathon training mode or heading out into the wilderness where survival might be increasingly difficult.  For my neighborhood and race running, having bottles strapped to my hips seems unnecessary.

After a lot of research, well, I still don't know what belt I would actually want!  Currently, the best-looking option has got to be the Flip-Belt, with its width and the all-around pocket with room for ALL your running goodies!

Innit preeeeeeeety?

For now, I can still get by with my little Nathan pouch, but Flip-Belt - I'm coming for ya!

Have a go-to running pouch?  Why do you like it?  What made you pick that one originally?  I need help!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Race Recap: Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k

Night race in a cemetery in October?  Didn't have to think twice about that registration, even a couple months ago!  I had the added bonus of having my best running buddy on board, too, so even when I woke up to cold, rainy weather (complete with a few scattered snowflakes already) I knew the evening was going to be tons of fun.

Parking was horrendous on the streets around the cemetery, but once I found a spot, the rest of the night was more than worth the hassle.  I quickly found Mary in the crowd; she had already picked up my packet so all we had to do was check our gear - a smooth and quick process thanks to the efficient volunteers.  We were about an hour early, so we spent the time trying to stay warm and socializing with other runners.  Then, suddenly, it was already go-time and we were off!

The last rays of light before we entered the cemetery...

We'd been chatting with walkers, not runners, and ended up way in the back at the start of the race.  Our first half mile was spent weaving through people, and I think we've sufficiently learned our lesson about lining up properly!  We added at least three or four minutes to our overall time by not paying attention, but that didn't make the run any less enjoyable.

Once we broke away from the walking pack, we found our space to open up and run!  There were no lights inside the cemetery, just electric tea candles along the path edges.  We'd brought our headlamps (from our awesome Energizer Night Race swag bags earlier this summer) which gave us exactly the right amount of path illumination without lessening the "dark cemetery" aura.  In the more spread-out runners' pack, we were able to settle into a comfortable pace that kept us moving at a good clip without feeling overly taxed.  Mid-way through the course, there were several mausoleums and crypts that were lit with eerie colors, which added some extra spooky flavor to the race.  I stopped for an incredibly backlit selfie.  You can't see my face, but I still love the way it came out!

Whoever is buried here is resting in some real style!

Mary's hips (challenged a few days earlier by a late-night fire rescue) were struggling a little in the cold, so she stayed steady as we hit the last half-mile, but I was ready to GO!  I took off to see how many people I could pass in that last stretch, and really sprinted my way down the last tenth of a mile.  I passed something like 60 people!  I know I'm not winning any of these races, but the competitor in me likes to feel like I might...  Plus, I'm noticing I can start sprinting farther and farther from the finish line as my body is adapting to the 5k distance.  With a little more dedication to training, I might actually have some sporting chance in the next couple years for an overall win!

I ended up finishing with a time of 33:45 - not a PR, but a solid time on an unlit winding course, especially considering all the lost minutes spent weaving through heavy traffic.  Mary finished fifth in her age group!  Once we get her hips back in prime shape, I have no doubt she'll be placing pretty soon!  We grabbed our bags and headed for a celebratory drink at the Fireside Restaurant, which was co-hosting the run with Rosehill Cemetery.

This is when things got crazy.  Normally we grab our post-race bananas and water (and Mary her beer), spend a few minutes refueling, then head out to do our own thing or head home if it's a busy day.  After this race, though, there was a live band setting up in the Fireside's outdoor area, and their first couple songs were so much fun we decided to stay a little longer.  The Late Night Lunatics play covers from the 50's through the 80's, and they're all top-notch musicians.  They also all sing!  I was incredibly impressed with their performance - and I showed it through CRAZY WILD DANCE for the next TWO AND A HALF HOURS.  No joke.  I was dancing so much that I had to strip down to my tank top despite the very low temperatures.  The band even invited me onstage!  Surprisingly, several audience members actually came up to me to thank me for my energy and entertainment.  I'm pretty sure that means I looked ridiculous and people thought I was wasted.  Nope!  I don't drink, that's just natural insanity!

Those aren't Halloween costumes, they always dress like that!

I got a better workout at the after-party than I did during the race!  Really, when you take great music and high energy and put them together, there's no way you can stop me from bustin' out some intense Zumba moves!  Hopefully the Late Night Lunatics will post the dates of their next shows soon, I'd love to support them again in the future!

So what about the race details?

Organization: Though I didn't have to deal with the check-in or on-site registration, Mary reports that everything went very smoothly.  There were plenty of volunteers and multiple lines for everything, which always helps facilitate participants' needs.  I suppose race-start communication could have been more clear, and with both timed runners and untimed fun run/walk participants, having designated start corrals would have really helped.  Post-race was well under control, with the ID check line moving quickly and the bar staff equally efficient.  I was also impressed with the number of course marshals - for a night event, with little lighting, safety is always a concern; seeing enough people who were easily identifiable as race staff was a huge comfort.  The only other place for improvement would be parking - but there's just not much that can be done when you're in a crowded neighborhood with no parking lots!

The course: Man, this was the best part of this race!  Despite the darkness, the electric tea lights were the perfect way to designate a path through the cemetery, and there were LED arrows at any forks in the trail.  Miles were marked with cool lighting effects and split clocks (thanks guys!), and the halfway water station moved very smoothly.  All the spooky lighting effects were perfect for the creepy theme!  Mary and I both thoroughly enjoyed the run, which was surprisingly scenic for a night race.  Having the headlamps helped: if we wanted to get a closer look at something we were passing, we just turned our heads!  Very cool experience, definitely one of my favorite courses so far.

The swag: Entry comes with a technical t-shirt and a free beer.  I love the design of the shirts - and they GLOW IN THE DARK - but apparently their "unisex" sizing advertisement was not entirely accurate.  I ended up with a small (though I could have sworn I requested medium) and it was immediately apparent that the shirt was going to be WAY too small.  I wasn't allowed to exchange until after the race - but by the time I finished, they had already packed everything away!  Props for efficiency, but boo to not having a wearable shirt.  I guess I'll have to get crafty!  I wondered if they would have free race photos, until I realized that no one was taking photos in the DARK!  I feel the $35 cost for this race was appropriate, but next year might not worry about paying that extra $5 for chip timing unless I think I actually have a shot at an age award or something.

The bottom line: Mary and I will both be signing up for this race right away next year!  It was such a blast, and definitely one of the two most exciting race experiences we've shared!  Great course, great idea, well-run, and lots of fun, a MUST for your 5k race calendar!

Know of any other exciting Halloween-themed runs?  Ever run at night or in a cemetery - or both?!  I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Learning my limits...

In a summer full of positive experiences, I've learned that I can run longer distances than I ever imagined.  I can run multiple miles faster than I thought and finish with a smile and extra energy.  I took these lessons to mean I was ready for more challenges.  In the past few days, I learned a little bit more about my body: specifically that it is NOT ready for certain challenges, and that I still have a LONG way to go before I can really consider myself to be in great shape.

Hard Lesson #1 was taught to me at AIR Fitness on Thursday night.  For years, I have been a huge Cirque du Soleil fan, watching breathlessly as the performers continuously defied all known laws of physics and human limitations in the most gorgeous ways possible.  Most beautiful to me were the aerial silk performances - the seemingly effortless, weightless gliding and twisting was stunning.  When I found out we have an aerial silk fitness class across the street from my work building, I simply HAD to register.

They make it look so easy.

I walked in to a forest of beautiful silks hanging from the ceiling, and a young lady ten feet off the floor spinning and wrapping herself gracefully in the soft fabric.  Intimidating opening scene - she must be the instructor, I thought.  I checked in and found a silk at my height, then turned to find pro-skills gal was setting up right next to me as a student!  Oh boy, what did I get myself into?

Class started and I immediately realized I was not ready for this kind of activity.  It had little to do with fitness levels, though: that soft-to-the-touch silk doesn't stay side and loose, it rolls up into a thick rope that cuts through your sides like it's trying to squeeze you in half.  I've had a lot of injuries and sore days, but I have never hurt so intensely like I did with that silk slicing into my sides/back/stomach.  We'd flip into a position, the silk would cut off my circulation, and the instructor would say "okay let's just relax into this position for a few deep breaths..."  Nope, couldn't breathe, couldn't relax.  Meanwhile, pro-skills next to me is pulling herself up higher and tighter with a huge smile on her face, all the while encouraging me to keep going!

It hurt, but I still did it!

Somehow I managed to muscle into every position, but I couldn't hold any of them very long.  I also quickly realized that the flipping and swaying were prime sources of horrible nausea and dizzyness.  I managed to stay alert and didn't throw up, but even the next day I was still woozy.  Before leaving, I made friends with pro-skills Emily, who told me her first time was pretty rough too, but that sticking with it has made it so much easier.  She talked me into another class or two (since I can do up to three with my ClassPass this month) so I'll be going back for more torture - and I'll let y'all know if it really does get easier as you adapt...

And now for an entirely different kind of butt-kicking...

Hard Lesson #2 was learned this morning at my first Pure Barre class.  I've taken barre classes a few times before, but at a different studio with a different instructor, and today's class was a very different animal.  I learned today just how much of an affect an instructor can have on my class experience: whereas John at Exhale (my previous barre studio) was excellent at describing and demonstration each motion and modification, the woman teaching at Pure Barre this morning was clearly used to having repeat students who already knew her routines.  It was so hard to follow along; half the time I didn't know what I should be doing!  Her favorite instruction was simply "tuck."  Tuck what?!  She also offered no modifications for the many exercises that my low level of flexibility clearly prevented me from doing properly.  I struggled quite a bit and didn't feel as though I got much out of the class, but I did talk to the instructor after, and found that she is still a very new instructor who hasn't really had to consider injury or inflexibility adjustments in her classes yet.  With her promise to look into better ways to adapt for student limitations, I may be convinced to give Pure Barre another try.

Good advice.

Despite my struggles with both classes, I'm not one to quit when faced with a new challenge.  I'm going to give AIR and Pure Barre another chance or two, because if I can get more acclimated to the different types of training, there is so much potential for growth and strength-building.  I can run all I want, but it's challenges like these classes that will help me truly blossom as an all-around athlete.  Already I can see huge gains in my arm and core strength, and though I dread the shaking pain of some of these classes, I am enticed by the progress I know I can make if I keep pushing!

How do you cross-train?  Have you ever had a class that you thought you'd never manage, only to find that a couple classes later you were almost a pro?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


OMG.  Y'guys.

Yoga has finally worked its way into my life.  I had a very positive experience a couple weeks ago, but nothing compares to my class with Lisa this morning at gratitudeYOGA.

First, I just want to remind everyone that ClassPass is amazing.  That's how I found Lisa - in fact, gratitudeYOGA was added while I was actively searching for a class, and it almost felt "meant to be."  Since I'm committing to making this month ROCK, I decided to kick things off bright and early with a morning class.

I am NOT a morning person.  The thought of waking up extra-early just to go workout and exhaust myself is almost laughable to me.  But yoga isn't the same as running for an hour or making my muscles cry in a barre class.  It's more about balance and flow, two things in which my life is sorely lacking.  So I got up early, packed a change of clothes, and set off for adventure.

Bleh, noooooot a morning person.  Yet.

The studio is primarily a dance studio, but the owner Lisa also teaches tons of yoga classes there.  I LOVE this little lady!  She greeted me with a huge smile and constantly went out of her way to make me feel at home and welcome.  The studio offers lockers (they'll provide locks if you don't bring your own), showers, several studios, and a full stock of yoga mats/blocks/towels.  They also have snacks and beverages for sale - and some of the most adorable children's dance clothes you've ever seen!  Apparently they do a LOT of children's dance classes - so cute!

Since I'm only just beginning my yoga practice, I was a little nervous.  I didn't even think to tell Lisa about injuries or limitations!  The class had only four students, which was a nice bonus because I knew Lisa would be able to give everyone adequate attention.  She calls the class Yoga Jam, because every class has a themed playlist.  Today was "piano men" and it was perfect for a morning yoga class.  Elton John, Billy Joel, Tony Bennet, Stevie Wonder...  Soothing, gentle, classy, perfect.  Combine the excellent musical accompaniment with Lisa's soft but strong voice guiding the class, and you have a morning nirvana cocktail to cure all that ails you.

When yoga goes FABULOUS!

What I loved most was that Lisa's directions were understandable even to a new yogi, and I think that's why today's class gave me that "aha" kind of moment that made regular yoga suddenly so appealing.  While she did use the traditional name for each pose, she walked us through the movements and positioning very clearly, every time.  I was easily able to follow the entire class - even if my body couldn't quite make it into each position!  Highlight of the class: I think I officially hit crow's pose, even if it was only for a second or two.  And I didn't just push and hope, I actually kinda almost held it under control!  Lisa seemed surprised after class when I told her it was only my second yoga class (I'm not counting that one two years ago I left in tears halfway through), which gave me an unexpected burst of pride.

While on the mat, I spent a lot of my time thinking about how I am setting the tone for the rest of my day.  Up early, working hard for myself, making new connections: it's a great way to start.  I stepped into my office ready to take on any challenge, and pounded out a lot of important stuff before lunch.  I feel good about myself and I'm much calmer than I usually am.  Continued practice can only increase these exciting new feelings!

Honestly?  I'd get myself out of bed early almost every day to take Lisa's class.  Someday I'll make enough money to make it possible!  For now, I'll definitely be using my three-class-per-studio max on Lisa's Yoga Jams at gratitudeYOGA!

Tell me about your "aha" moment with your yoga practice!  What made you decide to start, or to advance your practice?  Did a favorite instructor make it happen?

Launching my own personal ROCKtober!

September started with so much promise.  ClassPass made it to Chicago, I found a new studio at which to teach Zumba, my new job was finally settling a bit, and I was blogging on all cylinders.

Then, things got a little crazy.

Work kicked it up a notch, which sent shockwaves through the rest of my life.  I was suddenly devoting so much time to getting the job done that I only had "me time" on weekends - which quickly filled with all the things I hadn't had a chance to do during the week.  I was constantly stressed and exhausted.  Even though it was only a two-week time span, I felt like I was running full-tilt for months with how much was happening.

At least hell has more predictable weather than Chicago...

On one hand, it's incredibly exciting to be a part of a company that is rapidly expanding and making a huge impact.  There is so much promise for the future, and there's a lot of gratification and satisfaction to be found in being a key part of so great a team.  On the other hand - crazy is crazy, and finding a balance is always preferable.

With that in mind, I've decided to make this next month ROCK.  Work is always going to be crazy, but it's time to kick it up a notch and take more control.  My personal life, especially my husband and my fitness, are too important for me to allow them to be swept aside lightly.  Finding a balance is difficult but essential to happiness.  I need to be as actively involved in my personal life as I am in my work life (if not more) and I'm not going to compromise any further.  I'm dedicating myself NOW to one month of rocking it out everywhere: at home, at the gym or studio, and at work.

Yes there is, Bart.  And I'm gonna live it.

I'm already poised to start the month off right: an early morning yoga class on my way to work today set the tone for my commitment, and thanks to ClassPass (which I finally got to start using in earnest this month) I have a great upcoming fitness schedule.  My husband and I are planning to start hosting game parties again, an activity we have been sorely missing this year.  And work?  Well, work will be there every day, pushing me to my limits in many ways - but now I'm ready for it.  Bring it on.

Apparently ROCKTOBER is an Activision trademark from back when they released some Guitar Hero DLC.  Obviously I am not trying to advertise or brand anything with this word, so although I think "rock + October = Rocktober" should pretty much be a no-brainer, I am going to err on the side of caution and give due acknowledgement to the trademark usage.  So, there's my disclaimer.