' Adventures with FitNyx: July 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Power of Mantra Practice

A few weeks ago, on my very last day as a Chicago resident, I participated in the Soul Pose yoga festival.  Though I've already posted a very thorough write-up of the event, I wanted to take some more time to discuss the power of mantras, inspired by my experience with choosing the mantra "Fiercely Serene" as a personal focal point during the festival.

The word mantra comes from the Sanskrit writings of the Vedic period of present-day India, and means "a sacred utterance".  Mantras can be anything from a single syllable to a few sentences, so long as the word(s) are believed to hold a special power.  Because of this belief, mantras are frequently used in meditation and prayer; in fact for many people, use of a mantra often represents a succinct and portable version of a greater intention.  That is to say, rather than reciting a long-winded prayer or sitting through a lengthy visualization, the practitioner has condensed the power of that intention into a compact word or phrase.  If one focuses on their prayer with the chosen mantra in mind, one can essentially infuse the intention into the words themselves, making the full-blown ritual unnecessary.

Once the mantra has been imbued with a particular power or association, the person using the mantra can draw upon that energy at will, simply by recitation.  Think of it like a mnemonic device - a technique used for retaining information.  Grade school students studying basic geography might learn the Great Lakes by associating the word HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).  Rather than memorizing by rote, these students have found an association that can come to mind quickly and easily, but represents a greater depth of knowledge.  So, too, does the mantra contain an essence (usually spiritual) greater than its face value.

Practitioners of yoga and other forms of meditation are likely to be acquainted with one of the most common and simple of mantras: the syllable OM.  Often expressed tonally and as a drawn out hum, OM has been used for thousands of years as an affirmation or acknowledgement of divinity.  It is the "universal sound" and pops up in almost every sacred text from the Indian region.  The OM mantra can be applied in almost any spiritual situation, but is most commonly used as an invocation, inviting divine presence into whatever practice is to follow.  OM is chanted to begin meditations, yoga sessions, religious services, prayers, and even other mantras.

Another intensely popular mantra (and one that begins with the OM invocation) is the Buddhist Om Mani Padme Hum, which loosely translates as "Praise be to the Jewel in the Lotus."  This mantra is a prayer to the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the embodiment of universal compassion.  Through the invocation, one is hoping to channel the virtues of the bodhisattva into one's own life.  Scholars of Buddhist texts, however, emphasize that that true meaning of om mani padme hum stems from the individual meanings infused into each of the six syllables, making the mantra representative of an entire body of spiritual literature.  As with almost any Buddhist study, the layers of meanings associated with each syllable are numerous, and each new layer of understanding is only revealed as a practitioner delves deeper into his or her studies.  With so many possible interpretations, om mani padme hum is a perfect example of how focusing on an abbreviated mantra can convey massive amounts of meaning in a much more manageable vessel.

But religion doesn't have a monopoly on mantras!  There are plenty of modern day, secular mantras that have generated followings and inspired movements.  Anyone sporting the distinctive "LiveStrong" bracelets can understand that a single word or phrase can mean so much more than the sum of its parts.  A personal favorite among modern mantras is the "Serenity Now" made popular by Seinfeld - though there's always the fear of "insanity later" with this one!

Popular historical and modern mantras aside, the adoption and recital of mantras should be an inherently personal practice.  Choosing a mantra that is appropriate for your own intentions is vital to harnessing the mantra's true power.  For some, a common mantra may be exactly what is needed as a reminder of a greater essence.  For others, though, it is important to create your own mantra and to infuse your own meaning into it.  My choice of "Fiercely Serene" at Soul Pose was steeped in very personal, very important purpose, and because of that intensely intimate connection, I have found Fiercely Serene to be two of the most empowering words I have ever uttered.  Spending the entirety of the festival focusing on those words and what they mean to me and in the scope of my life truly consolidated an immense amount of energy and power into a simple phrase.  Now, when I say my mantra, I can easily draw from that power and snap into the same mindset I had during Soul Pose.

Recitation of a mantra is simple enough when one needs to pull meaningful energy on short notice, but an expanded scope of practice has been associated with some mantras to increase the power of the words or to accrue more "prayer points".  Some schools of Buddhism believe that spiritual merit can be generated by the number of times one recites a prayer or mantra, which has led to practitioners repeating the same words over and over.  The number 108 has sacred significance in Buddhism and Hinduism, so 108 recitations is a popular prayer set; this is why mala strings contain 108 beads, to be used as a counting device.  In some monasteries, however, monks take vows of silence, and are unable to recite their prayers.  For these instances, prayer wheels or flags were created.  Every turn of a prayer wheel, or every flutter of a prayer flag, repesents the utterance of the prayer inscribed upon it.  Monasteries often have long halls of prayer wheels so monks can walk in contemplation as they spin wheel after wheel in place of spoken words.  Prayer flags are abundant not only in monasteries but also in towns across the Hindu/Buddhist regions of the world, generating spiritual power every time the breeze stirs.

The power of mantras has been held sacred for thousands of years, and has been proven on personal levels countless times.  Almost everyone has generated their own mantras in their lives, often without even realizing they have done so.  But a mantra created with purpose and dedication can be one of the most powerful tools in a person's mental, emotional, or metaphysical arsenal.  Associating a greater intention to a simple phrase can unlock useful powers in your life.  The next time you are struggling with a situation that seems beyond your control, take some time to craft a mantra of your own.  Focus on what it is you believe will help you wade through your situation towards a desired outcome, and boil that down to a few words you can recite any time you need strength or power.  You can even take a page from ancient religions and tie your mantra to physical representations to deepen the association: paint your mantra on a small stone or etch it into a piece of jewelry, so every time you are wearing the jewelry or touching the stone, you are essentially actualizing your mantra.  You'll be amazing how much difference a few simple words can make when they are imbued with a thorough sense of purpose!

Have you had experience with a mantra that has made a difference in your life?  How did you come to your mantra, and do you continue to use it (if your situation has ended)?  What types of physical representations have you used to aid your mantra practices?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Lately, I've been in desperate need of distraction.  Unfortunately the majority of my belongings, including almost every one of my crafting supplies, are stuffed in a storage unit a half hour from home, making it difficult to pursue some of my usual hobbies in my times of need.  I haven't been running as much as I should, but even if I were, I doubt it would be quite enough to keep me properly occupied.  So instead, I've been considering other options for amusement.

Image Source: Explore Outdoor

Way back when I was much younger my father and I participated in orienteering events.  Usually run in local wildlife preserves and Metroparks, orienteering requires map and compass skills to guide participants through the woods to find punchcard markers, creating courses of different challenge levels depending on how difficult it is to reach a particular set of markers.  It's a little like going on a treasure hunt, and I learned vital skills that will stick with me for the rest of my life, thanks to orienteering.

These days, however, the ability to read a map isn't quite necessary.  As GPS devices flood the market, finding directions has become infinitely easier, and the navigational arts have started to decline in the lay person.  Orienteering still occurs (and I'm looking to get back into it, if possible), but a new generation of outdoor adventurers has developed a similar new game: geocaching.

Image Source: Backpacker.com

Geocaching is basically a worldwide treasure hunt, using specific GPS coordinates to find caches or stashed containers all over the globe.  Caches can be as simple as a tiny canister with a strip of paper, on which geocachers can write their name to indicate they'd found the cache, to giant boxes full of trinkets and curios left by cachers.  These larger troves encourage trading of items, and make it possible to send "Trackables" on special missions.  Official Trackables, available for purchase from the Geocaching store, are marked with registration codes that can be entered into the website to pull up the item's goal - often specific types of journeys, such as coast-to-coast or reaching a particular landmark.  Geocachers are urged to help move a Tracker to its destination, one cache at a time.

I'd looked into geocaching a few years ago when I still lived in the South Loop area of Chicago.  In a huge urban playground, caches are hidden around landmarks and at interesting places in the neighborhood, inspiring geocachers to explore every facet of an exciting city.  Alas, I was sidetracked from attempting the hobby with my best friend/roommate when I met the man who would become my husband.  Now that his presence in my life is dwindling to a close, I found it a fitting time to revisit my geocaching intentions.

Image Source: Geocaching.com

Starting out as a geocacher is surprisingly simple.  I downloaded the app (free version to start, of course) to my phone, but any GPS device can be used in conjunction with the Geocaching website, which provides the exact coordinates for each cache.  The app makes it simple: look at the map for your area, select any of the many pins to see more details about that cache, then click "start" to track your specific location relative to the cache coordinates.  Follow the map to your treasure!  Using the website is similar; the biggest difference is that you'll have to load the coordinates into your GPS device manually.  Depending where you are located, you may have a handful of caches near you, or hundreds.  Often times a single cacher will stash an entire series of coordinates for you to find - for example, in my current area, there's a series of dinosaur caches along the same path I raced down last week, designed to be a family nature walk with a lesson about each dinosaur as you find them!

My first find was actually unplanned.  I was with my dad at his office when a coworker of his actually mentioned geocaching while we were reminiscing about orienteering (I'd been talking about geocaching the night previous, but hadn't made a plan to start quite yet), and it prompted me to pull up the app to check that particular area.  Sure enough, the local cemetery had several caches hidden, including one labeled "large", which seemed to be a good first find.  The cemetery also happens to be stunningly gorgeous, and the day was beautiful, so I asked my dad if he'd like to take a quick lunch adventure with me.  Sure enough, he was up for it, and we headed for the treasure!

Woo!  Cool hiding spot!  Can't wait to find some more!

The app was excellent and easy to use.  It didn't take us long before we were on the trail and heading for our first find.  It took a little traipsing through the underbrush (and maybe some poison ivy, but after years of orienteering without any rashes, we figured we were okay) but before long, in a hollowed out log, there was our target!  Since it was a large container, we knew we'd find some trinkets, and even snagged a little item of our own to include.  I ended up not trading anything out of this particular find, but I did immediately sign the logbook and post to the app that I had uncovered my very first cache!  We repacked the bin, tucked it back into its home, and headed for another in the area before heading home.  The second was much smaller, only large enough for a log and maybe some coins, but it was nestled in a neat little spot and had been placed in honor of the cacher's father, who was buried nearby.  The entire trip took maybe 15 minutes, but offered us a peaceful walk in the cemetery and a chance to break out of the office for a while to take a break on a day made for outdoor adventuring.  That, I think, is the key to geocaching's appeal: getting outside, finding surprising and inviting new places, while exploring new areas and connecting in a unique way with people all over the world.

With it's simplicity, I can easily see geocaching becoming a big hobby for me.  You can do it virtually any time, in any place (so long as there's something stashed nearby!), and it can help introduce you to new locations or even give you purpose to share an impromptu adventure with someone meaningful.  I'd love to flex my crafting muscles in conjunction with geocaching, too, by creating a series of small items I can leave behind when I find caches.  A sort of "calling card" as I slowly make my way to caches around the country.  I have some travel opportunities coming up that will take me to interesting new places; it would be so fun to start leaving my mark in such an interesting way!  I'm not sure what might work best, but brainstorming and experimenting will just become part of the fun!

Image Source: Carolina Geocaching

One final note before I wrap up this post: geocaching has led to some controversy.  Many national and local parks, as well as most landmark and historic areas, encourage "leave no trace" practices to protect natural and cultural sites.  Under these principles, hikers and other visitors are expected to take every possible measure to prevent leaving human impacts such as litter or tree carving when they leave the area.  Purposefully inserting a box of toys into a fallen log certainly leaves a trace!  To balance their impact, geocachers have adopted a "cache in, trash out" principle: when placing a cache, they will scour the area for litter and attempt to remove as much of the offending material as possible.  As cache maintenance is also expected of anyone who places one, the principle is extended to also routinely surveying the area to ensure it stays free of additional human impact left by cache finders.  Geocaching is growing more and more popular, with the game expanding to include even the most casual of players versus the hardcore outdoor adventurers who were the originators - as the hobby continues to grow and the conservation practices risk becoming forgotten or ignored by less savvy adventurers, it will be interesting to see how this debate plays out and whether the "cache in, trash out" balance can be maintained.

I'd love some ideas for interesting trinkets!  Share some ideas with me!  Or, weigh in on the debate: do you think geocaching will become a human impact problem in parks or other protected sites?  What can geocachers do better to prevent the hobby from becoming a serious issue?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Race Recap: Debbie Hudacko Memorial Hat Trick Runs (5M, 5k, 2M)

(I ran these races July 12th, the recap is a little late in posting, sorry!)

While coming back to Cleveland was not my first choice, I've certainly been trying to make the most of it - and that, of course, includes finding places to run.  Luckily, my hometown must have realized I was coming, because no sooner did I arrive in town, but there was already the perfect running opportunity set up for me, practically in my own backyard!

The Debbie Hudacko Memorial Runs are in their 26th year - amazing longevity for a race series, and after participating, I can understand why!  The "gimmick" here is that it is a hat trick of runs: three races, back to back to back, providing a unique challenge to runners of all levels for a total of ten miles covered throughout the morning.  All proceeds from the races go towards a scholarship fund in honor of Debbie Hudacko, a young teenager who died of a brain-stem tumor in 1990.

We rode in style.  And tried to channel the car on the course.

Once again, I was joined on the course by my father, who despite being twice my age usually kicks my butt at these events!  We headed out bright and early for the 7am start, kicking off the day with a five mile run through the North Chagrin Reservation, the local branch of the Cleveland Metroparks.  I practically grew up in these parks, but had never participated in a racing event through those woods; it was exactly what I needed to be passing such familiar childhood haunts as the Buttermilk Falls overlook area.  A reminder that this return home, while heartbreaking in many ways, was also a return to many things that I have always treasured.

I haven't run nearly as much as I should have since coming home, and it definitely showed.  I dropped behind my dad just before the end of the second mile, largely due to stomach pains as I have yet to figure out what kind of pre-race meals my stomach can handle.  Fortunately, I had come prepared with a packet of Bloks in my belt, and after nibbling on a couple of those, my stomach settled and I was able to pick up the pace for an enjoyably solitary loop in the course, winding through the trees before turning back towards the finish line.  I never really "caught up" to my dad, but I did catch sight of him again about a mile before the finish line, and realized that I had made up a surprising amount of time - enough to actually make my goal of finishing in under 50 minutes!

A little muddy, but a beautiful day
for a nice outdoor run!

Crossing the line in 49:07 gave me a whopping 15 minute break before the start of the second race, which was a 5k along the newly laid path near our shiny new public library.  Between races, we had to switch bib numbers, and were able to grab some incredibly juicy slices of watermelon before lining up for the next race.  I had thought having time between races would actually make it easier to cover the full distance, versus running ten miles straight as I'd done a few weeks prior on the Towpath.  I was wrong.

The start of that 5k hit me like a ton of bricks.  I didn't think I had really pushed all that hard in the five miler, so it might have been the 15 minute rest period that made my first steps feel like I was slogging through a giant mud pit!  Every step was difficult and painful, for at least the first half mile, and dad felt pretty much the same way despite once again leaving me in the dust.  After a while I (sorta) found my groove again, but it was not a pleasant run.  Beautiful scenery, yes.  A lovely trail, certainly.  An enjoyable experience, not so much.  Still, we slugged it out and managed to finish (31:55) with about seven minutes before the start of the third and final race.  We quickly changed bibs again, grabbed another slice of divinely moist watermelon, and rushed back to the same starting line for the two mile run.

...which started with no notice!  Suddenly we were just running again!  The 5k had started a few minutes late; the race directors were eager to get back on schedule and keep things moving.  Starting this race was the hardest thing I've ever done, physically.  We followed the same path as the 5k but I don't think anyone was paying attention to the scenery by then!  Even dad finally had to slow down a bit, and we really took it easy for the entire run.  But run we did, and we both crossed the line at a pace faster than a walk (though only slightly), and I even had just enough gas in the tank to "sprint" the last 50 feet (22:45) so I could beat my dad in at least ONE of the three races!

Exhausted, sore, and hungry, we headed back for the pavilion where they were just starting to announce awards.  While they were presenting overall finisher awards, I took the opportunity to hop on the massage table to take advantage of the free sports massage therapist the race had brought in for the day - always a nice touch.  She rubbed my legs out perfectly, and I dismounted the table just in time to find out I had won an age group award!  I've never won an actual award at a race before, so I was shocked to hear my name announced as the FIRST PLACE finisher in my age group for the 5k!  My time had not been very impressive (more than three minutes slower than my PR) but I'm certainly not one to turn down an athletic award!  Especially if it is likely to be my ONLY award...  I grabbed my little plaque, one last piece of watermelon, and we headed back home to celebrate - by which I mean, lay around all day waiting for feeling to return to our legs!

Boom.  Bling.  Sorta.

Organization: This is probably the smallest local race I've ever run, but with three courses and finish lines to manage, the hat trick probably took a lot of logistical effort.  Packet pickup was available day-before or day-of; we opted for day-of and had no problems whatsoever.  Each race would require a separate bib, but without chip timers it didn't really matter which bib was worn for which race, and the check in staff did a good job making sure hat trick runners knew the full scoop on their bibs.  From what I could see, everything was well marked and properly labeled for the staff to keep every runner well organized in any of the runs, and I was impressed with how smoothly the finish line operated.  Someone was ready at the clock to record number and time as I approached, and there was someone ready at the end of the finish area to tear my timing ticket off my bib for backup timing.  Course marshals and aid station support were well-placed and communicative, and I loved having a person at every mile marker to give me my splits and keep me on pace!

The Course(s): I particularly enjoyed the five mile course through the Metroparks, but the 5k and two mile path had its own highlights.  The park trail was very well marked and easy to follow, even when we went off the paved path and through the trees.  The shorter races were simple out-and-backs on the only path available, but they still took the time to mark the course and put out aid stations and timers.  All three races were relatively flat, though a bit winding, with the exception of a long gradual slope in the long race and a sharp downhill-uphill to go under a bridge in the shorter races - that uphill on the way back in the two mile race was easily the hardest course section all day!  Overall I enjoyed being out in the woods and I really like the new path by the library (for the shorter runs), and think the courses were definitely good choices for all three runs!

I have no idea who ended up with 551.

The Swag: Last minute sign up fees were only $32 to participate in all three races - making this hat trick cheaper than most local 5k races would be - and had been even cheaper had I been able to put this race on my calendar in advance.  While the race wasn't chip timed, which saves considerable cost for the organizers, all participants did receive nice t-shirts and lots of post-race food (clearly I enjoyed the watermelon, but there were plenty of other goodies too).  The shirts, while not exactly tech material, were not 100% cotton and are probably really comfortable for a lot of activities.  Anyone who finished all three races also received a hat trick HAT!  Because that's super clever and a unique little touch!  Free massages are also a great benefit, and with the level of organization provided by the course staff/volunteers, the lack of chip timing wasn't even an issue.  Overall and age group awards were provided for all three races, and any proceeds went to the Debbie Hudacko scholarship fund - I was very happy with the value I received from this race, and with the little haul I got to take home!

The Bottom Line: VERY glad I participated in this one, but I do not think *I* will be doing it again - only because I'm a wimp and I did not handle the rest periods very well.  For anyone else, the hat trick is a fun challenge and definitely a good way to breathe new life into your race schedule, especially if you feel you're getting a little stale on local races.  Oh who am I kidding?  It's for a great cause and it's cheap and well-run, I'll probably do this one again next year!  I'm such a sucker for local races!

I'd never heard of a hat trick run before - has anyone else done something like this?  What were the distances?  How did you manage?  Any tips for better recovery between races when you only have a few minutes?

Monday, July 13, 2015

I just got PUBLISHED!

That's right - today my very first published article came out in the Active Acadiana July issue!

You can check out my article on goal setting by flipping to page 26 of this month's magazine!  I'm waiting to receive a print copy as well.  SO EXCITING!  Even more exciting is that I just submitted my article for the August issue, so this will be a recurring celebration!

And, I promise, I'll have more to say here eventually too.  I'm still adjusting to some major changes, and have had a lot of emotional stress on my plate lately, but once I've got my head on straight again, I'll be all over this blog.  Thanks as always for your support and patience!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Event Recap: Soul Pose Yoga Festival

While the Dirty Girl mud run certainly set the tone for my last weekend in Chicago, Soul Pose definitely exceeded expectations for my last event in the city!  I can't think of any better way to have ended my time (or at least, round one) in the Windy City, nor any better way to start refocusing my life on myself as a single person once again!

Disclaimers:  I was provided a comped entry to Soul Pose in exchange for promoting and reviewing the event.  All opinions expressed herein are my own, and I have not received any additional compensation for this post.  This post DOES contain affiliate links.  Any Color Run registrations made via this link provide monetary kickback to Adventures with FitNyx, allowing me to continue my hobby while easing some of the financial burdern of maintaining a blog presence.  Thank you for your support!

Soul Pose is the newest event from The Color Run company: a fusion of the premise behind color runs and the growing trend of large scale yoga festivals.  The end result may be the pinnacle of fitness-related events!  Soul Pose incorporates the throwing-things-around elements of color runs, but without the intimidation of having to travel a 5k distance to participate, making the festival far more accessible to a wider range of people.  Even those hesitant about their yoga level will find joy in this event - it's incredibly newbie-friendly, and delivers the same experience regardless of your previous yoga practice (or lack thereof).

I'm not sure what I did to get the two most beautiful days of the year, back to back, on this particular weekend, but we had perfect weather for yet another outdoor event!  In fact, it might even have been a little on the hot side, since there was no cloud cover to protect from the sun, but I'd rather have steaming sun than pouring rain.  Driving into the city had me a little misty-eyed, knowing it would be my last trip downtown for who knows how long, but arriving at Soldier Field (and parking conveniently, if expensively, right on site) only brought smiles in eager anticipation.  I'd bummed out of Wanderlust last year for a mix of reasons, and had regretted it, so I was determined to make Soul Pose as wonderful as possible.

Upon arrival at the festival, one of the first draws was to the body paint tent, where they had markers in many BRIGHT colors!  Most people attended the event with friends who could help them draw, but I managed to get some decorations going on myself.  On the walk from my car to the tents, I had settled on a mantra for the day's practice, and chose to write that on my arm where I could see it all day: Fiercely Serene.  I have been realizing in the past few months, maybe even over the past year very slowly, that I have always been fierce, but usually I'm fiercely frantic or fiercely obstinate, and these are not ideal combinations!  Little by little, I have been finding ways to work serenity into my life as a balance for my fierceness, but there is still much room for improvement.  By adopting this mantra for Soul Pose, I set my intentions for my own future, and I think having that sense of purpose and awareness greatly enhanced the spiritualism I felt while participating.

After donning my paint, I browsed the other tents briefly.  The Soul Pose store had some really cool items, and they were actually reasonably priced, so I picked myself up an offical event tank top before moving on to the sponsor tents.  Most of the vendors were local yoga places, and their giveaways were all Chicago-based, so I shied away from the area pretty quickly since I have no use for a Chicago studio membership at this time.  Instead, I headed over to the check in line that looked intimidatingly long.  Fortuantely, they were moving very quickly.  Before long, I had my yoga towel in hand (we received our Soul Pose bracelets as we exited), and was searching for a mat.

Somehow I managed to land a great spot right next to the instructor's entry lane, starting the one-hour yoga session off on an exciting foot.  It only got better from there.  The one thing that can break an otherwise fantastic event, or make a horrible event fabulous, is the instructor, and while Soul Pose definitely hit the mark in a lot of ways, here is where they really knocked it out of the park.  Elise Jones was the perfect voice for this event.  Calm, comforting, humerous, understanding, wise, and the list goes on for days.  She offered clear instruction, plenty of encouragement for beginners but not so much that a seasoned practitioner would feel babied, and always suggested modifications and challenges.  What really impressed me were some of her anecdotes.  Her words spoke to my heart and soul, and I found myself identifying my Fiercely Serene mantra within each of her pearls of wisdom.  After the event, she hung around for photos with anyone who approached, and offered hugs and   Truly the highlight of the experience, and a treasure Soul Pose should hold on to tightly!

Most people, though, would most likely peg the highlight to be the confetti toss mid-way through the yoga session.  This is where Soul Pose borrows from its parent company, incorporating the excitement of The Color Run's powdered dyes into yoga.  They made the smart decision to use paper confetti instead of dyes, which was just as much fun but far less messy!  Every participant receives a bag of confetti, and I must admit, the excitement and joy as all that confetti took to the sky was quite a rush!  Back in college, one of my senior thesis papers explored the phenomenon of communitas, the elation of a shared experience.  Used most often in an anthropological context to describe the appeal of pilgrimage or other shared spiritual events, communitas can also apply to things like rock concerts or secular yoga festivals.  The confetti throw, the group clapping, and the shared experience of Soul Pose drew me into communitas at its finest.  Someday soon I'll write up a nice post that addresses the role of communitas in the world of modern fitness...  For now, enjoy a little video of the moment!

Eventually, the scorching heat started to wear on me.  Unfortunately it was right about savasana time that the sun decided to become unbearable!  For those who have not practiced much yoga, savasana or "corpse pose" is commonly used at the very end of a yoga session, and involves lying still on your back with your eyes closed.  It is a resting and reflective position, but when you sign up for an 11:30am outdoor yoga event at the end of June, it shouldn't be much of a surprise when the noon hour heat makes savasana a sweaty mess!  I draped my towel over most of my face, which definitely helped, but by the end of the session I just knew my arms were toast.  Better yet, I'd have some killer tan lines around my body paint!  But as the session drew to a close and I rolled up my mat, I could only think one thing: WORTH IT.

BONUS - Hop over to Instagram this week for a chance to win your very own Soul Pose bracelet!

Ever been to a yoga festival?  What makes a yoga session work best for you?  Any instructors who have touched your life deeply?  How about instructor horror stories?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

In Defense of the Vanilla Cone: Finding Simplicity

Now that I'm back in Cleveland, I'm once again mere minutes from East Coast Custard, my favorite ice cream place from my childhood.  We've made a couple trips in the past week, and their menu has grown over the past decade.  But after much debate, weighing the sundaes and mixed concotions and fancy flavors, I opted for nothing but a waffle cone with vanilla ice cream and sprinkles - one of the simplest items on the menu.

Oh yeah.  That's the stuff.

Years have passed since I last ordered a vanilla cone.  And I think my ice cream orders have paralleled my life choices: increasingly complex, always looking for something new and exotic, something unique and flashy, and always falling a little short of the mark.  I need more simplicity in my life, and I need to find more contentment in those simple things.  I ordered the vanilla cone, and it was the most delicious ice cream treat I've had in ages.  Time to start making that choice in my life, too.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Race Recap: Dirty Girl 5k Mud Run

A month or two ago, I started planning an epic weekend just for kicks: Dirty Girl on Saturday, Soul Pose on Sunday, a one-two punch of outdoor fitness awesomeness!  At the time, I did not know this past weekend would be my last in Chicago - but even if I had, I couldn't have planned a better sendoff if I had tried!

I kicked off my last weekend bright and early at the Dirty Girl mud run, arriving before 6am to lend a hand on the first volunteer shift of the morning.  As the first volunteer on site, I received the exciting job of checking in the rest of the volunteers, which meant I got to meet everyone right away!  As usual, the people who offer their time for events like this are fabulous, interesting, supportive, creative, energetic people, and we quickly formed a lively team.  Ironically, the second person to show up was also an Amanda, so we made the volunteer coordinator an honorary Amanda, then later added yet another.  I spent the majority of the morning with these lovely gals, checking in helpers, managing the participant check in crowds, and popping around to wherever help was needed.

By the start of the second shift, it was clear there were not going to be enough volunteers, so I gladly hung around to keep helping.  I didn't do quite as much in the afternoon (there were far fewer participants coming in after a certain point) but I held down the volunteer tent and was ready for action just in case, which helped put the event staff at ease knowing they had spare hands at the ready.  I made some great connections with the Dirty Girl staff, including the event director, and was constantly impressed with everything I saw throughout the day!  Hardworking, dedicated people who know what real fun looks like - made the long day (I ended up being on site for almost 12 hours) pass by in a flash!

Eventually it was time for me to tackle the course.  Volunteers from the early shifts receive a free entry into the event, which is a fantastic reward for having fun and helping for a few hours.  By the time I got to the start line, there were only a couple start waves left in the day, and the course was almost empty, but my wave had about a dozen women, most of whom had been volunteers at my side!  It was fitting to run with them, to enjoy the fruits of our labors together.

With our later-day start time, we had high heat but no lines at the obstacles.  Fortunately, dealing with the heat during a mud run is as easy as, well, diving into the mud!  A couple early obstacles featured knee-deep mud pits to get us dirty right from the start, but there were plenty of climbing obstacles in the middle of the course that needed a reliable grip.  The middle-course mud was sparse, apart from a couple squishy tracts of trail, but the obstacles were challenging, especially the giant cargo net or the bouncy pyramid - but I got to the top with no problems!

The end of the course brought ALL THE MUD.  First, there was the slide.  Straight down into a huge mud pit, there was no way one could escape this station without getting really, really dirty.  There was also apparently a huge risk of swallowing the mud, and I spent a few minutes after exiting the pool trying to spit out whatever got in my mouth.  GROSS, but my own fault.  The next obstacle was another massive mud pit, this time with a heavy net under which we had to crawl to get to the other side.  I got a little tangled, but this was definitely an obstacle where teamwork came in handy, and my fellow volunteers helped me get out!  The camera man was at the ready for me on this one, to capture me in all my filthy glory.

The last bit of the course was just a pool of mud to slog through.  The gals in front of us were throwing down, mud wrestling style, but we were already dirty enough!  We waded through the pool, slowly climbed up the slippery incline, then crossed the finish line for our medals!  I loved that there was a camera man and a nice backdrop at the end, too, so you could get a picture right away before rushing to rinse.  And, because our bib numbers were invisible under all the mud, the photogs were kind enough to tell us the time at which they snapped our photos, since Gameface Media allows you to search photos by clock time and location.  So it was easy to find all of my glamour shots!

After the race, there were dozens of hoses to rinse, and the line moved surprisingly quickly.  The downside was that the water pressure to feed into these hoses was incredibly high, making the streams of very cold water shoot out very hard.  It hurt to wash!  With the amount of mud everywhere, it was very difficult to actually get clean; normally I'd be prepared after a mud run with lots of towels and sheets to cover my car, but this time I had focused more on the volunteering part than on the post-run preparation.  I had to get as clean as I could without knowing what I might have in the car for the ride home.  Luckily I did find one sheet and one towel, so I managed to get home with minimal car mess.  Before I left, I had time for one more photo, inspired by the Dirty Girl jumper logo, which is easily my favorite shot of the day!

Organization: I might be a little biased on this one, but I think the race was put on magnificently.  I have a soft spot for Human Movement Managment anyway, since it was their superb Zombie Run Extreme that got me hooked on racing just over a year ago, but working directly with their team all day just confirmed their awesomeness.  Not only did I get to see first hand some of the problem solving and customer service they offered on site, but I also got to be a part of some of the solutions.  Volunteers received quick trainings and the area staff members were always accessible for questions or special cases.  The course itself was properly staffed, and the people stationed at each obstacle were proactive and helpful, especially when it came to timid participants.  Wave starts were executed on time, services moved quickly - just a well oiled machine all around!

The Course:  Some mud runs I've done just didn't have much... mud.  Not a problem here!  There were plenty of obstacles, plenty of mud, and lots of places to have fun!  I believe the course was a full 5k, too; even though it's not a timed event, it's still nice to have an accurate distance.  For the most part, the obstacles were well-spaced along the distance, though there was a particular stretch from the first aid station at mile one to the obstacle just before the second aid station, which marked mile two, that had nothing but heat.  With the layout of the area, having that mile long stretch was essential to keeping the course distance accurate, and there weren't many places to stick obstacles along the way, but it did get a little dull towards the end of that mile.  That was probably my only complaint about the entire event, and it's a relatively small issue consindering how many obstacles were packed into the other two miles!  Apart from that one problem, the obstacles were interesting and diverse, well-managed and safe, and tons of fun.

The Swag: So, volunteers don't actually get the normal race swag with our free entries, but we do get a really cool shirt of our own, and anyone who completes the course gets the big pink medal, too.  Not bad for a freebie run!  Participants who pay for their entries get a pink t-shirt, a black drawstring bag, some hair care samples, and a cute pendant with the Dirty Girl logo, along with the finisher medal.  I heard some people commenting on the "lack of stuff" while I was wandering around the race festival...  Here's what I have to say to that: LOOK AROUND.  Yes, you may have paid more than you'd pay for a road race, and you got items similar to what some of the higher end road races provide, but this isn't a road race.  This is a huge production.  Every one of those obstacles costs money to purchase and maintain for safety.  With the level of danger inherent in a mud run, insurance costs are higher than a road race.  Transport of obstacles adds up.  Permits, tents, water bills, all of these things contribute to the cost of putting on this race!  Your money went to more than just your t-shirt.  In fact, if you'd really like to find your value, look no further than your FREE PHOTOS.  That's right, every Gameface Media photo on this page was free of charge.  Touched up, with logos added, all free.  My suggestion to those who balk at the price of mud runs: register early when it's very cheap, and appreciate the scope of what your money provides!

The Bottom Line:  This was one heck of a day!  I highly recommend the volunteer experience, but even if you'd rather have the "real" race swag and want to pay for the run, you'll get an amazing day full of dirty fun.  Try to remember to bring a change of clothes and some towels, and as many friends as you can convince to join you!  It's all about having fun, and Dirty Girl is just about as much fun as you CAN have with a mud run!

Have you participated in mud runs before?  What obstacles challenge you the most, and what are your favorites?  What incentives would get you out on the course as a volunteer?