' Adventures with FitNyx: March 2015

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Bump in the Road - But Eyes Back on the Prize!

Last week I suffered my first major bump in the fitness road: I was REALLY sick.  Like, strep throat + flu + bronchitis, sick.  All at once.  It was miserable, everything hurt, I could barely breathe...  And I had to give up an entire week of my life.  I cut my first-ever run streak woefully short at 10 days, giving up my goal of one month.  I had to cancel a week's worth of fitness classes, since I was unable to find a sub in enough time, which also meant I lost income.  I missed almost an entire week of "real" work at my day job.  And I missed the Shamrock Shuffle, the first race for which I've ever actually trained with any consistency.

Now that I'm getting back to healthy, I can already tell just how fragile "being in shape" really is!  I'm tiring quickly from simple activities, and I'm more sore from those activities than I was before.  Fortunately, I'm definitely recovering, but I learned a lot this week about having to put health first.  In the past, especially during my collegiate years, I pushed and played through anything, despite the possible negative impacts.  If only I had realized back then how much toll it would take down the road!  Thankfully I've learned the lesson and don't believe there has been any lasting damage done by pressuring myself to do anything overboard during my week of illness.

I'm back in action though, and it's time to start getting serious!  I have my second half marathon coming up in just over two months (part of the Sunburst Races in South Bend, June 6th) and my goal is to get as close to a 2 hour half as I possibly can.  My first half last summer took about 2:45, but it was with minimal notice, no preparation, and blistering late summer heat.  I'm confident with some training and better weather, I can knock off a LOT of time.  Can I cut 45 minutes?  Realistically, probably not, but I DO believe I can make it in about 2:15 if I work hard leading up to the race.  So that's the plan now!  Work hard and try to make it happen - and maybe I'll get to share another great race with my dad in the process!

A photo posted by Amanda Nyx (@fitnyxblogs) on

At least I got to spend some great cuddle time with my puppy! She was right there for me the entire week! How do YOU cope with setbacks, especially illness or injury? Do you have a furkid to keep you company?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Five Things Friday: Summer Plans!

The weather is finally turning!  YAY!  I've been out to run with my puppy several times in the past week, and we're both loving it!  In celebration of the end of winter, I've started looking ahead to some awesome summer plans - and have decided to make my Five Things Friday focus on my top picks for summer fun!

5. Yardwork

Okay I know this is a weird one - yardwork = chores, right?  But we have a lovely house with plenty of outdoor space, and I enjoy spending time in the warmth sprucing things up a bit.  We haven't really had a chance to redo some of the planter beds like we want to, mostly because previous summers have seen me working hours away with little spare time for extraneous chores, but this year I should have plenty of time to pull out the old scraggly stuff and remodel our yard into something beautiful!

I really want to make a fairy garden - we'll see if the hubby agrees!
Image source: Tonkadale Greenhouse

4. Taking Kaalia to the Beach

Puppy loves to run - but we've only been around the neighborhood a few times.  I'm so excited to get her out in the world a little more, including on trails, but most especially I'd like to take her to the dog beach not too far from home.  She's such a happy puppy, I can't wait to see her bounding across the sand or through the edge of the water with that big grin and her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth!

Yup, that's exactly what it would look like.
Image Source: Lushome

3. Visiting the Ren Faire

I've been to several Ren Faires (and I've even had an audition to be IN the Faire), but the magic of it never seems to fade!  Last year, we spent our first wedding anniversary at the beautiful Bristol Faire, and this year I'm making plans to take a good friend of mine who has never been for her very first Ren Faire experience.  The exciting costumes, the incredible shows, the elegant music - and getting to immerse myself in all of it - it's just the BEST way you can spend a summer day!  This year I'm hoping to start getting involved in the RenQuest series, which actually lets you participate in questing and adventures across the grounds.  I'm just not sure if I should stick with my past fairy costumes, or use the new pirate getup this year!

And of course, the Tournament is always a big favorite!

2. The Sunburst Half Marathon

Last year, I ran my first half marathon with my father beside me.  It was an amazing experience, but I honestly wasn't quite ready for the distance.  This year, I'm starting early with my eyes on the prize - and I finally have a race on the schedule to keep me honest!  The Sunburst races are held every year in South Bend, Indiana, and have a tradition of ending on the field in the Notre Dame University football field!  Though that special finish line is under construction this year and will not be a feature of the race, the rest of the campus is incredibly beautiful so I'm sure the run will be just as dazzling.  Additionally, South Bend is right between Chicago and Cleveland, making it an easy place for Dad and I to meet up and run together again!  He's not sure he'll be ready for the half, but even if he opts for 10k (they offer 5k and full marathon as well), it'll be another experience to share.  SUPER bonus, there's a chance my brother might be there as well - he actually graduated from ND, and since the race is traditionally held on Reunion Weekend, who knows who will be in town?  Although, this year he's got other things on his mind, which brings us to the end of today's Five Things...

Maybe next year we'll be on the field!
Image source: Sunburst Races

1. My Brother's Wedding

Yup, my brother is finally tying the knot with his lovely fiancee!  And for the first time, yours truly has actually been asked to be a bridesmaid!  I love the beautiful dresses the bride-to-be picked, and she's chosen some gorgeous colors, so I thankfully avoided the dreaded bridesmaid dress curse - and I'm sure the wedding will be equally elegant and tasteful!  The whole family is quite fond of my brother's excellent taste, and we're incredibly happy for both of them!  Can't wait to see him take the next big step in what has already been a very full life!

Both of these are thrown together from inexpensive lucky finds, and no, I'm not the fanciest dresser at the faire by a long shot, but they're still fun!  I have other fairy outfits too, but this pic is from the actual fair last year - hence the MONSTROUS turkey leg.

What are your exciting plans for the summer?  Have any milestones or big events coming?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dusting off my soapbox: Pay attention to your sources!

Today I want to talk about something that I believe is under-emphasized these days: understanding the source of your information.  I'll be focusing on this issue mainly as it applies to the fitness industry specifically, but any sector of the modern world is susceptible to similar problems, and a heightened sense of general awareness can be a great defense against the rampant misinformation you'll find just about everywhere these days.

Anyone reading this has likely, at some point in their life, heard the terms "propaganda" or "brainwashing" being used, usually with negative connotations.  For example, brainwashing is often associated with fringe religious groups, preaching extreme variants on more popularly held beliefs.  Propaganda is most often tied to dictatorships, such as the current situation in North Korea.  Both of these forms of information distribution are typically considered to be widely skewed and not reliable, sometimes even downright dangerous.  Well, that's easy enough to understand when you're listening to a Nazi broadcast from World War 2, but what about the things we see in modern, everyday media?

Image source: Associated Press

The subtle infusion of intentional misinformation into everyday life is astonishingly widespread.  I'm not talking about the clear agenda biases you'll find on the top news networks, either.  I mean the little things that work their way into daily life on a regular basis, without anyone noticing.  Let's start with an example that I feel should be painfully obvious as a dubious source: online forums.

When you visit a forum, the people who are in there chatting and posting information and advice are random internet people.  Occasionally you'll see a user who is supposedly an expert or a prominent figure in whatever field to which the forum is targeted, but it's hard to prove an identity on many forums.  Right off the bat, forum users should be on their guard.  Now, it's true that some or even the majority if the forum users are talking about valid experiences and are passing on advice that has shown them some sort of positive result (or negative, depending on the advice).  The issue lies in readers who believe the word of a forum respondent is 100% truth - and I know this happens, because I have many friends who are involved in activities like weightlifting or Crossfit and will argue with me until they turn blue because "I read it on a forum."  Nevermind that I'm actively studying exercise science, and researching the actual facts and figures behind common fitness myths and tips.  If my friends who are reading these forums put that much blind faith in a stranger without any actual proof, we can only assume the people posting this information on the forums may have had the same blind faith when they received the information they then passed on to the forum readers.

The problem with sources is more than just actual educational basis in fact, though that should obviously be a major factor.  There's a lot that can be lost in even the most minor of errors.  I have a friend who has been eating herself silly trying to consume 1g of protein for every pound of her body weight - which is way more than is necessary.  The prime intake ratio, as published in many exercise science textbooks and scholarly publications like the Journal of the American Medical Association, is actually 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight, which is more like 1g for every few pounds.  Even for a professional body builder, research shows the body receives negligible increases in benefits beyond 0.8g of protein per pound (check out this source that cites multiple medical studies on the topic).  But my friend saw 1g/lb on a forum, so that MUST be what she should be doing.  In this case, it's not exactly dangerous to be eating excessive protein (so far as we know at this time), but the insistence that "the forum said it, it must be true" is frightening when you consider what other information people receive from forums.  This particular situation may be as simple a mistake as someone misunderstanding the difference between pounds and kilograms, but even that little mistake in other areas of training can cause huge discrepancies and problems.

I've picked on forums enough, let's turn now to something a little more legitimate: fitness magazines, both online and in print.  Have you ever flipped through a fitness magazine and read an article about how great the latest supplement is, only to notice the tiny little print on the corner of the page or at the very end that says "advertisement" even though the article is listed in the legitimate table of contents?  That article was likely paid for and written by employees of that supplement's manufacturer.  Of course their article is going to make their product seem like all that and a bag of chips; if they said "this product doesn't work" no one would buy it.

I'm sorry to say I have been struggling to find or photograph a good example of this phenomenon on which to elaborate, but just take a look at any "diet" plan that is written about in a fitness magazine - what's the hottest new food fad?  Think maybe that food source industry might have rigged it?  For those of you who don't think that kind of thing could possibly happen, I definitely DO have an example of this one for you.

As a child, we learned about the Food Pyramid, and the "proper" distribution of foods from each of the categories.  The pyramid I was shown had a huge base devoted to the bread group, and suggested up to 11 servings of breads, pastas, and other carb-o-licious foods.  As an athlete, being encouraged to eat carbs was nothing new, so the pyramid made sense to me.  Years later, we're in the anti-carb ages, and while I think the anti-carb movement is a little overboard, it did make me question why that ol' pyramid had pushed carbs so hard.  So I did some research.  Turns out, back when the food groups and the Food Pyramid were being created by the government, the health department asked for advice from leaders in various food industries - and of course, each industry had a pretty powerful lobby pushing to have their product promoted as the Pinnacle of Health.  The bread industry happened to have the strongest advocates, and became the foundation of a very corrupt Food Pyramid, which was taught in schools as if it were law.  The link I provided will take you to what I think is a good summary of a much larger base of research; there's tons of information available about how lobbyists in various parts of the food industry influenced the way food was (and still is) advocated in the name of health.  Very interesting stuff, and sometimes a little scary!

This is the bad one - don't follow this example!

So what about scholarly research articles?  Widely respected publications (like JAMA, cited above) would seem a much better place to receive your information when trying to figure out how best to nourish your body, train your muscles, or tend to injury.  Surely these verified tests must be telling us something we can believe!  Truth is, even these "scholarly" articles can be misleading.  Remember that fitness magazine example, with paid advertising taking the guise of a regular article instead of a more traditional ad setup?  Here's something frightening: scholarly articles are produced by those same people sometimes.

You'll see a scientific study published in a reputable journal, full of "proven facts" about the product, and you'll take it as an unbiased medical trial.  But if you look more closely, you'll see that the study was funded by that same manufacturer as the magazine advertisement - and you better believe the scientists receiving that funding did what they had to for their "findings" to support the company signing their paychecks.  That's not to say they necessarily falsified their results; more likely they only published certain sample groups, kept their trial subjects limited in ways that would support the findings, or performed some other manipulation of the available data to result in a legitimate-looking study that earned them the highest payout.

Image source: Boundless.com

Bias in scientific reporting isn't an uncommon phenomenon.  Sometimes it is necessary to remove outlying data points to make better sense of the data, sometimes the bias comes from self-selection as the respondents aren't always sure what to say or what is relevant to the trials.  But there are many times where data is manipulated to support a pre-existing conclusion.  This skew might come from selecting only certain types of people to participate in a trial, or from measuring (or even just reporting) metrics that specifically support the conclusion, while ignoring other metrics that might represent negative side effects which would deter a customer from purchasing the product.  So while that specially-manufactured superman powder might really make your muscles double in size after three uses, you might not be reading about the side effects test subjects experiences in which their eyelids fell off or their urine turned purple.  Obviously these are some extreme and made-up examples, but if the side effects are left out of the study, are you really willing to take the risk?  What if the side effect of that powder is that it destroys the lining of your stomach and you end up with severe organ damage?  Much less silly than purple urine, and much more dangerous.

So if you can't trust scholarly articles, what CAN you trust?  This is where verification of information becomes so very important.  The amount of published research on modern exercise science is actually overwhelming.  Just because some articles (or forums, or books, or whatever) represent inaccurate information, doesn't mean that EVERY source has an agenda or is perpetuating fitness myths.  When you hear something that sounds like it might benefit your life or your workouts or your nutrition or whatever - take it with a grain of salt, do a little homework, and learn to discern fact from sponsored semi-fiction.  This is your health and your life on the line, so it's important to both get the right information and to understand it properly.  It might take a little extra effort, but trust me - it's way better than that purple urine...

How have fitness myths or misinformation affected your life?  Have you ever had a negative experience that could have been solved by a little more research?  How about some of these popular fitness myths - have you fallen prey to any of these?

Sunday, March 15, 2015


The shameful truth: I've been running in hand-me-downs.

That's right, 22 races in the past 10 months and none of them have been in a pair of shoes I have purchased new.  In fact, I hadn't personally purchased any at all!

They could be worse - but the treads are almost gone
and the soles are molded to not-my-feet!

I received a few pairs of old (but not completely burnt out) shoes from my one my first running inspirations.  She gave me her tired pairs because she knew I couldn't really afford investing in a pair of running shoes at the time, and we both knew there was a possibility I'd do a race or two but then give up the hobby quickly.  Fortunately, I caught that bug, and have immersed myself in racing and personal fitness.  UNfortunately, I never stopped to take the time for proper equipment shopping.

Well today I decided I had earned myself an excursion to the local Road Runner Sports to finally treat myself to a proper pair of running shoes.  You know - ones that actually fit MY foot, and MY stride, and have actual tread left on the soles!

Side note: if you're not watching Parks and Rec yet, you should probably start.

First thing I noticed was how OVERWHELMING the selection of shoes was!  My goodness, I had no idea there were so gosh darn many options.  The last pair of running shoes I purchased came from Kohl's - definitely NOT a diverse collection, even if you knew what type of shoe you needed.  I had no clue, so thank goodness for the Shoe Dog: Road Runner's foot and stride analysis program that helps match runners to the ideal shoe.

I'm fully aware that most women believe there are NEVER "too many" shoe choices.

I was remarkably impressed by the Shoe Dog process.  So many sources are indicating that "shoe matters" for runners, and I've heard a lot of the buzzwords associated with the parts of the gait that can benefit from particular shoe models, but I'd never had that lingo applied to my direct experience and body.  The first step of the process was to analyze sole shape and foot pressure at neutral.  Done by standing in neutral on a pad full of sensors, this test can uncover not only the depth (or lack) of your foot's arch, but demonstrates your distribution of weight over your stance.  Lopsided running can lead to uneven wear and tear on the body and is a direct factor in things like hip or knee pain, so an imbalance would be taken into consideration for shoe correction.  I, however, did not have this problem!  My weight was very evenly balanced both left-right and front-back; instead of an imbalance, I have pressure points in the balls of my feet and in my central heel, which along with my high arches can be accommodated by custom molded inserts.

After analyzing steady balance, I hopped on the treadmill for a few minutes, and had my running stride videotaped.  Looking through the footage, I was happy to see my footfalls were very parallel to the road, with minimal splay to either direction.  My ankle flexibility, though, will require some extra stabilization to keep my knees and hips properly aligned, which will cut down on the chances of injury (and hopefully the occurrence of soreness).  Finally, we measured my foot length and width, fo find the right size range for the models that would address my shape and gait.

Really cool service, thanks Shoe Dog!

After going over my results and some additional information, we made me some custom insoles right there on the spot.  They were heated and formed to my feet in just minutes!  Then we used those insoles in every pair of shoes I tried - and I tried a LOT of shoes.  I figured, I've never had a proper pair before, I better take my time and really get a feel for what's available.  Finally, after almost an hour of trying on shoes, I fell in love with a pair!  They're lightweight, very stable, and I barely even feel them against my feet.  The only real downside is that the wide-width shoes (which I definitely need) only come in one color - gray!  A whole wall of bright, vibrant, exciting shoes, and the one I pick has almost no color at all!  Oh well, I did this to have the right equipment, not more flashy fashion!

Wearing these New Balances is like
running on clouds...

When I got home, I immediately laced up my new kicks, fitted Kaalia with her running leash, and took off!  With 60+ degrees outside for the first time in what feels like ages, it's almost impossible to resist at least a short run with my very excited puppy.  In fact, I've been enjoying the spring weather SO much that I realized I'm actually on my very first RUN STREAK!  Four day so far, with plenty of opportunity to keep things going.  And puppy is on day three of her own streak!  Pretty soon she'll be ready for some race distances, and she'll only keep getting bigger and stronger for a while.  I love having Kaalia as my training partner!

What shoes are you wearing these days?  Have you ever been fitted for running shoes?  What interesting things did you learn about your feet or the way you run?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Product Review: MealEnders (GIVEAWAY)

Overeating.  I used to think this word represented a mythical situation that simply couldn't exist in the real world - back when I was an athlete, playing soccer and lacrosse for anywhere from two to six hours daily, and every calorie I could consume barely registered before it was burned.  Now, I find that overeating has become a very real problem, and is the leading cause in my own personal weight gain.  Once you have set a pattern for upwards of 20 years, it's incredibly hard to break those habits, especially cold turkey.  And extra especially if that's dark-meat turkey.

Then I heard about MealEnders, a unique new product to help manage weight by curbing overeating.  In four flavors, these lozenges have some interesting science at work, and it's not just chemistry.  According to Tami Lyon, RD, MPH, and chief nutritionist for MealEnders:

"MealEnders' behavioral psychology approach is what sets it apart from other weight management products.  Instead of encouraging ‘quick fix’ dieting, deprivation, or including ingredients that trick you into thinking you’re full, MealEnders catalyze behavioral change by retraining the mind to stop eating with the eyes. By engaging the consumer both mentally and physically, the signaling lozenges heighten awareness of natural satiety signals, helping us regulate portion size and master the healthy habit of mindful eating."  

The premise of MealEnders is a two-fold attack on the reasons we overeat.  Each little lozenge has a sweet outer layer that mimics a dessert course, providing the taste sensation that in a regular meal would signal the final plate, and therefore indicate that it is time to stop eating.  Unlike a full dessert course, however, the MealEnders only have two measly grams of sugar per lozenge, and a mere 15 calories.  I must admit, this desserty layer was actually quite delicious!  Especially for the mocha and chocolate mint varieties, I truly felt like there was chocolate melting in my mouth - which reminded me of a disturbingly similar product...

Fortunately, I did NOT turn into a cocoa bean.

After the dessert layer dissolves, the lozenge starts to taste a lot more like a cough drop.  This is where this product did not work for me.  Designed to send particular signals to your brain, the inner core of the lozenge produces what is advertised as a "cooling sensation", that for me simply came across as unpleasant tingling, and in the case of the chocolate mint, the feeling of chemical burns on my inner gums.  I did not experience the same "afterburn" with other flavors.  I'm not sure if this is because I consumed the other flavors more carefully (and avoided chocolate mint like the plague), or if it's actually something in the mint flavor that doesn't react well with my body chemistry.  I did find that each flavor had a similarly unpleasant "tingling" after the soft outer layer, and asked my parents to give the lozenges a try to see if maybe I was making more out of it than was necessary.  Sadly, they had the same experience: delicious outer layer, not big fans of the taste sensations of the inner layer.

I used the lozenges in a variety of ways, and attempted to make a habit of their use despite my dislike of the sensations, hoping that establishing a routine would help me train myself out of the overeating habit.  Sometimes, when I finished a substantial meal but felt I hadn't eaten enough, I'd pop a MealEnder to keep me from going back for seconds.  Other times, I was craving a snack, and instead of rummaging for Nilla Wafers or some other unnecessary treat, I'd reach instead for a lozenge to try to curb that craving from the start.  My experience was constantly the same: the lozenge tasted great at first, which made me crave sweets even more, then the taste turned tingly and bothersome, and in the end - I was still hungry.  I did not have a single experience with a MealEnder that ended with my cravings extinguished, and I often ended up eating shortly after finishing the lozenge to both sate my hunger and to help get the "cooling sensation" out of my mouth.  My parents once again confirmed a similar result, and did not find the MealEnders to be helpful in reducing overeating urges.

Of course, when it's MealEnders vs Pequod's Pizza,
let's face it, MealEnders don't have a chance.

All this said, I must put this disclaimer down: this could easily be genetic.  I come from a family of hearty eaters, and both of my parents have been (and still are) athletes just like I am.  Runger is a very serious beast to overcome, and if we have a predisposition to some particular kind of taste issue (like those old PTC test strips you did in grade school science classes) on top of our athletic appetites, it's possible we're sabotaging the principles of the MealEnder philosophy before we even begin.  There is every likelihood that the next person to try one of these lozenges will have a fantastic experience with them!  For example, a fellow Chicago blogger also had the opportunity to try MealEnders for a review, and had a very different experience - so please take some time to stop by SuzLyfe and read up on a more positive MealEnders review, especially if you're interested in what MealEnders might be able to do for YOU.

Or, you could just try them yourself!  I have four packs - one of each flavor - to give away to my readers!  Use the Rafflecopter below to enter, giveaway runs through March 20th.  Winners will choose their flavors on a first-reply basis.  Must be willing to send me a mailing address and phone number if you win.  GOOD LUCK!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

AND don't forget to check out the weekly Giveaway Round-up, courtesy of Running with SD Mom and Erica Finds!  Tons of great prizes, all in one place!

Disclaimer: The company provided me with sample products to field-test at no cost to me, but I received no other compensation for this review, and all opinions expressed herein are my own.

Any other tips on curbing overeating?  Do you suffer from runger?  Or better yet, do you ever get hangry?  I just love that word...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Race Recap: Punk the Monk 5k Trail Run

Races are, at the core, about overcoming adversity.  To many non-runners, this is about the adversity of your adversaries - someone has to win, right?  But for those of us who are building running and racing into our lifestyle, we know the adversity faced can come in many, many guises.

Yesterday, I had to overcome a LOT of adversity.

I'm a huge fan of the Muddy Monk trail run group, and was very excited to be heading to my fourth race event with them.  I hopped in my car and headed off - and right away I hit my first obstacle.  I went the less-efficient route, and the drive took far longer than I had anticipated.  Despite the unexpected length of travel, I still arrived on site with 15 minutes to spare before go-time - or so I thought.  This race was at the Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda, at a pavilion site that had limited parking available.  With the piles of plowed snow, there definitely was not enough room to accommodate all the runners, and I was out of luck on a nearby spot.  To make matters worse, everyone milling around in the parking lot decided to ignore the car that was trying to get through, and it took me far too long to get through the tiny lot.

I had never been to this park before, and was starting to panic about where the heck I could put my car and still make it to the race on time.  After a little driving, I found a lot behind the ranger's station - almost a 10 minute walk from the race!  This meant I had to take a bag, because I couldn't just throw my layers in the car five feet from the start line, and that I was definitely going to miss the gun.  My frustration levels were through the roof, and I seriously considered just driving back to the start, picking up my shirt, and heading straight home.

When I finally arrived, the registration table was all but packed away, and the runners were already moving.  Fortunately - and this is a big part of why I love the people at Muddy Monk - everyone at the pavilion was incredibly nice and wanted to get me on the trail as quickly as they could.  I honestly believe it was the friendly smiles and the eagerness to help fix my so-far-sour race experience that convinced me it was worth running the race at all.  They pulled my race bib, grabbed me a shirt to stuff in my bag, checked that bag, and sped me on my way.  I took off quick down the path and tried to make up for the lost time.

SO.  Here we are, three paragraphs in, and it's finally time to talk about the actual event!  This was my third trail run, but my first in snow, and I was not entirely prepared.  I was wearing old shoes with minimal tread, and though I'm a little ashamed to say it, I haven't done any running since my last race a month ago.  Plus, I'm a bit of a klutz, so odds of a total wipeout were high.  Since I was starting late, I decided to make up as much time as possible early: catch up to the back of the pack right away, then systematically pass people until I finally found people at my pace.  The first stretch of path was wide and pretty well trod, so the slippage was minor and it was easy to move quickly.

When I finally caught up to the pack, I made a frustrating realization: trail runs are often on single track anyway, and it can be difficult to pass slower, more cautious people even in dry woods - but in the snow, when the single track is etched a foot deep in the snow, it's almost impossible to get around the column of people picking their way through the trees.  Of course, the slower people don't move out of your way, you have to fight your own new path around them.  In this case, that meant leaping into the snowy mounds on either side of the trail, thrusting your feet down into the soft, unbroken snow, and slugging forward as fast as you can while dodging branches and underbrush.  It was HARD to pass people!

Eventually I managed to get through the back third, and after a little while the path opened up again to a wider trail for another stretch, helping me make up even more time as I plowed forward with renewed gusto.  We rounded a corner onto a big open field, and the sun glare (on the warmest day of 2015 so far) was brutal.  Note to self: sunglasses next time I run in snow and sunshine!  We came across the water station, and I realized I hadn't seen any distance markers yet.  I had to assume that we were halfway, since I knew Muddy Monk short runs usually had the aid station about halfway if the terrain would allow, but I was a little disappointed there weren't mile markers (or if there were, I'd missed them).

Photo courtesy of the Muddy Monk organization.

The second half of the run was nothing but single track and single file.  After the water station I never passed anyone else, but at least the group I was stuck behind was keeping a sustainable pace.  The trail closed in a little more, so there really wouldn't have been an advantageous spot for passing anyway, and I accepted the pace and settled into a decent little stride.  My only major slip came about a half mile (I'm guessing) from the finish, when the man in front of me pushed back a branch and it snapped back at me.  I managed to dodge, but lost my footing in the process and almost wiped out completely.  Fortunately I managed to catch myself just before I hit the ground, and was up and running again quickly.

After making a big loop around the preserve, the single track opened back onto the very first stretch of wide path to return to the starting area, and I saw my final opportunity to make up my lost time.  I passed about 15 people in the last 100 meters, and felt great about my performance.  One of the organizers who realized I was the girl who started late was impressed with how quickly I finished - but I knew I was out of luck on adjusted timing.  Muddy Monk doesn't use chip timing, so everyone was on gun time only.  When the results were posted last night and I had a time of 39:58, I knew that was considerably longer than my actual race time.  My rough start had set me back, but I had fought through that adversity and ended up having a very solid run, and at the end of the day, I was pretty proud of myself!

Photo courtesy of the Muddy Monk organization.

Oh yeah - there was actually a point to this run, too.  It's called "Punk the Monk" for a reason: the guy in charge of the Muddy Monk group dresses like a monk for this race, and anyone who beats him gets an extra little finishing prize.  This year it was a can koozie that says "PUNKED".  It's a little silly but it's still a nice idea, and gives the event a unique flavor.  I didn't punk the monk, and probably wouldn't have even if I had started on time, but I did get a quick selfie (or is it a monkie?) with him after the race!

Organization: Muddy Monk gets big points for efficiency and for their ability to make up for some unfortunate parts of the experience.  A less organized race group would have butchered this event, but I have got to give credit to the smiling faces who helped make my morning so much better!  As usual, the post race festivities were well done, including free hot dogs and beer (if that's your bag, baby) and the pleasant surprise of free post-race stretching and massage compliments of a local physical therapy program.  Lines for the food and drink were pretty long, but moved quickly.  The stretching area was pretty empty, so I was able to step right up for my turn, and received a lot of attention since there was no line through which to rush.

The Course: Almost all single track, very snowy and slick, and surprisingly technical considering the snow.  I supposed I expected the woodsy parts of the run to be less technical since the deep and slippery ground cover was already a formidable obstacle.  I'm afraid I cannot comment on the scenery much, as I was so focused on my footing that I barely looked around, even when the sun wasn't scorching my eyeballs.  My biggest negative is that the distances weren't marked.  Being stuck in single file is just a natural hazard of trail running, and I can't really hold that against any particular event.  I also think the course might have been short of 5k: my GPS tracking had the course at 2.6 miles, and despite being in the woods where sometimes signal is hard to find, my route map looks pretty accurate.  Trying to give Muddy Monk the benefit of the doubt, but definitely a little suspicious on this one.

The Swag: Repeatedly, Muddy Monk impresses me with their stuff.  I paid $30 for the race and received a really nice tech shirt, a cool mason jar beer glass, a personalized race bib, and all the freebies of the post-race event.  AND, as always, free photos of the event were posted hours after the race ended.  As a local, family-run group, I truly believe Muddy Monk focuses on pouring as much of the race fees back into the participants as possible, instead of pocketing big profits.  Having that aura of "customer appreciation" is really important to building a successful racing series, and it's definitely a big part of why I keep going back to these races.

The Bottom Line: I almost left, but there's something about Muddy Monk runs that keeps me coming back!  I had a solid run, and enjoyed myself despite the early problems.  Would I run in the snow like this again?  Maybe, maybe not, but I'll definitely be back in May for the next Muddy Monk race!

Have you had a day where you felt everything was telling you to just give up?  How did you handle that adversity?  And who else ran this weekend??

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How Take The Leap Helped Me FLY!

At the beginning of February, I was chosen as a leader for the #TakeTheLeap yoga challenge on Instagram.  I was a little nervous, as I knew most of the challenge leaders were likely to be very experienced, incredibly flexible yogis, and I am very much a stiff beginner.  But I stepped up to the challenge, and for the past thirty days I have made time every day to practice yoga poses.  I have to say, making that commitment (and sticking to it) has produced surprising results!

Early in the month, I was choosing conservative, simple poses that didn't require crazy flexibility - at least for what I was posting as my daily photo.  But I also spent time each day practicing some of the intermediate poses that I felt were attainable, hoping to push my boundaries a little more by the end of the challenge.  Then the #BringingYogaBack mini-challenge started, which focused on a set of 12 daily poses, each pre-determined.  Some of these poses were NOT very beginner-friendly, nor would I even consider some of them intermediate-friendly.  Just the same, I tried every pose, every day, and worked on the ones with which I struggled.  I didn't always get the pose right, but I started to remind myself that "practice makes perfect," and kept trying.

Yeah, that's not quite there yet...

By the end of the month, I had gotten flexible enough to bend forehead to floor in pigeon pose, had found the courage and strength to try an inversion, and had even finally managed the arm balance of crow pose!  Practice doesn't always make perfect, but it certainly make better and stronger!  I'm proud of my progress in just thirty days, and plan to continue working yoga into my daily life.  My dedication has paid off, and I am excited to see what the next month brings if I practice the same patience and devotion!

Did you participate in the challenge this month?  How has yoga influenced your journey?  If you haven't tried yoga yet, what are your reservations?