' Adventures with FitNyx: 2016

Monday, December 26, 2016

2016 Year In Review: Racing

The past couple years have seen a lot of changes in my life, but 2016 actually brought me at least a little stability.  Though I'm still looking for a place to live, I DID find a fabulous job (as a race manager, of all things!) and am establishing myself in my hometown of Cleveland in a way I never expected.  My weekends are FULL of racing now, and while that's usually because I'm managing or timing races for others to run, that hasn't kept me from getting my own mileage in over the course of the year.  In fact, this year's mileage is higher than my past two years combined!  Not only did I run more raw mileage than ever before, but I also crushed my old PRs at every distance I attempted in 2016.  Oh, there's also that little "ran my first marathon" thing tucked in there too...  Check out this year's racing stats review below!

Total mileage: 450.51 miles

Month with the most mileage: September (100.17 miles)

Month with the least mileage: January (4.11 miles)

 Longest run: 27.89 miles

Total number of races completed: 14

Number of 5k races completed: 3

5k PR time: 25:38 (Eagles on Foot)

Number of half marathons completed: 9

Half PR time: 2:03:20 (Towpath Marathon Half)

Number of full marathons completed: 1

Full PR time: 5:56:35 (Marine Corps Marathon)

Oddball distance races completed: 1 (10M)

10 Mile PR time: 1:37:47 (Towpath 10-10)

Favorite race this year: Towpath Marathon Half.  I'm always a sucker for Towpath races, and when you throw in a hefty PR (only a month after a previously-hefty PR) and the perfect day, this race has it pretty much locked up.  Beautiful trail (even if it's a little monotone after a while), great people, cool swag, tons of friends...  I really couldn't ask for more out of a race.  This might end up being the all-time favorite, but it's early to make THAT big of a claim!

Least favorite race this year: Santa Hustle Cedar Point Half Marathon.  Good Lord was this race miserable.  I ran with a friend and if it hadn't been for that, I probably wouldn't even have gone.  The awful wind, bitter cold, and unrelenting snow coupled with an intensely boring course to make this 13 mile slog the only real blemish on an otherwise great year.  We made the most of it and found ways to keep ourselves smiling as much as possible, but I've never been so thrilled to be done with a race before in my life.  Even the miserable parts of the marathon weren't as bad as this.

Accomplishment of which I am most proud: Most people would probably say "finishing a marathon" here, but honestly?  I'm more proud of the fact that I trained for the marathon and actually stuck to my plan.  Some people told me they didn't think I'd ever make it - but I put my mind to it and followed through.

Primary goal for next year: My 2016 was the Year of the Marathon - and now that I've "been there, done that", I think I'm over this long distance thing.  I love my half marathons and will continue my long-term goal of running a half in all 50 states, but for 2017 I'm going to turn my focus to speedwork.  My 5k PR has come down quite a bit, but I'd like to get into the 24 minute range, with a stretch goal to finish a 5k in under 24 minutes.  Additionally, I'd like to bring my "official" half marathon time under 2 hours, with a stretch goal of hitting 1:50.  These seem like lofty goals right now, but I have a plan and hopefully I'll stick to it as much as I (surprisingly) stuck to my marathon plan!

How did 2016 treat YOUR fitness lifestyle?  What were some of your favorite races or running accomplishments?  What are you looking forward to in 2017?  Any big goals?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Holiday Shopping Guide: Yoga Lovers

We're getting very close to Christmas, but there's still some time for last minute gifts!  Still stressing about that yoga lover you're just not quite sure what to give?  Don't get all bent out of shape - try one of these great yoga gifts!

Sequence Yoga Mat - Every yogi needs a mat or two or ten!  I hear a lot of people who say "oh I'm sure they already have a mat..." and feel compelled to remind them that mats get dirty and worn out.  Yogis sweat and yoga mat material doesn't always clean up so nicely.  Mats get lost or damaged.  If you see a pretty pattern or innovative new mat option, don't dismiss it as a gift idea!  Most yogis would love to have a couple mats to rotate through or even layer together on harder surfaces.

Yoga Mat Towel - Okay, so maybe they already HAVE a dozen mats and are running out of space.  Why not try a yoga mat towel?  These towels are created to match the length and width of a yoga mat, and often have corner pockets into which the mat corners can be tucked to hold the towel in place.  They're especially great for hot yoga enthusiasts who may sweat onto the mat and lose their grip!  Some mat towels are even thick enough to double as somewhat of a travel mat, since they can roll or fold up easily into luggage.

YogDev Yoga Wheel - Props are a fantastic way to spread the yogi love!  Blocks and straps are easy to find stocking stuffers, but innovative props are even more fun and creative.  Yoga wheels are versatile pieces of yoga equipment that allow deeper poses, more support, and greater challenges - which makes the wheel a perfect gift for ANY level.  Plus, they come in tons of colors, and some wheels are even available with patterns.  Take $5 off your wheel order at YogDev with promo code 5OFFYOGAWHEEL.

Yoga Cards - Talk about a perfect stocking stuffer!  This little deck is marketed as a game for teaching children yoga, but I've also found it to be a very cool tool for improving my own practice.  You can play the game as described in the pack, or just shuffle up a unique flow for your next session!  Or, try working on a pose each day by drawing a random card from the deck.  Any yogi would love to give this pack a try.

TrueLife Fitness Leggings - Apparel, apparel, apparel!  Yogis need clothes too!  In fact, yoga leggings are one of the most fun pieces of clothing to shop for, since there are so many exciting patterns and beautiful designs on the market.  But for the perfect yoga leggings, look no further than TrueLife Fitness.  Available in full length or capri styles, the material is the softest and most breathable of any leggings I've ever worn.  The best added bonus, though, is that each sale from TrueLife sends a donation to Women Win - a charity that helps provide young women with access to sports and physical activity.  Not only are you gifting yoga to your loved one, but you're enriching the world for the next generation at the same time.

Okay!  Time's running out!  Get shopping!  And don't forget to check out my Recovery Stocking Stuffers list for a few extra ideas that will fit almost ANY active lifestyle!  Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

IdealLean Raspberry Lemonade BCAAs

I've become a huge advocate for recovery over the past year as I've learned just how important it is to take care of your body properly while living actively.  As my recovery strategy has developed, I've discovered helpful techniques and beneficial practices that make it easy to stay healthy and get stronger during a rigorous training schedule.  One of the most valuable products I discovered in my quest for better recovery is the magical power of a good BCAA blend.

Disclaimer: I received IdealLean products to try and review.  I am under no obligation to promote the product, and all opinions expressed in this and any related posts are, as always, my own.  This post contains affiliate links.

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a key part of muscle recovery for a very simple reason: they are literally the foundation of muscle mass!  These amino acids comprise over a third of your muscle tissue, but a number of them cannot be created by your body and need to be consumed through diet to keep your muscles growing and healthy.  A deficit of these nutrients will cause you to lose lean muscle mass - which is kinda the opposite of what a good workout program is meant to do!  By adding a concentrated BCAA blend to your post-workout recovery cocktail, you'll ensure your body has enough amino acids to maintain muscle mass even if you're trying to cut fat weight.  Additionally, keeping your amino acid levels sufficiently well-stocked will boost your immune system, so consuming a BCAA blend is even more beneficial during cold and flu season.

As an advocate for BCAA recovery beverages for quite some time now, I frequently field the question: "how are BCAAs different from protein powder?"  Honestly, many protein powders have BCAA blends included and provide a much broader muscle repair strategy.  The biggest difference I can emphasize would be the drinkability of BCAAs immediately prior to a workout, during your workout, and immediately following your workout.  Protein powders may contain a more robust package of nutrients, but they are often heavy or thick and can leave you feeling very full; many people experience gas or other GI issues from a protein-heavy diet as well.  Protein drinks contain a lot of calories and often come in dessert flavors like cake batter or chocolate.  BCAA blends, on the other hand, are much lighter on the stomach, come in more refreshing flavors, and have zero calories.

Also available in blueberry pomegranate, green apple, grape, and orange.

I've been using IdealLean's raspberry lemonade BCAA mix for a couple months now, and I can tell you first-hand the benefits.  Since incorporating a good BCAA into my nutrition and workout plan, I've noticed even after difficult and exhausting strength workouts my recovery time has greatly diminished.  Next-day soreness is minimal, and the dreaded two-day DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is almost non-existent now.  Recovery from a demanding exercise day used to take a while, but now I can get right back into the mix and raise my work level higher without taking so much rest.  I actually combine the BCAA mix with an electrolyte/hydration product like Hydrus for long training runs and post-run, since I'll need quick absorption of the nutrients and can't be bogged down by a cakey protein powder mid-run.

Ice baths suck.  But a recovery cocktail helps!

BCAAs are both refreshing and powerful.  I keep a jar at home, at the office, and in my gym bag so I know I'll always be able to grab some liquid recovery whenever I need it.  Supposedly, consuming BCAAs mid-workout will also provide an additional energy boost (along the lines of a pre-workout), but I haven't noticed any energy effects during my workouts yet.  For me, BCAAs have become a tried-and-true recovery product, through and through!  If you're looking to take your fitness to the next level and you're tired of battling soreness that holds you back, grab yourself some BCAAs and get back to hitting it hard.

You can even get 10% off your order from IdealLean!  Just use promo code anyx10 at checkout - plus they're always running year-round special offers and amazing holiday promos right now!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Holiday Shopping Guide: Recovery Stocking Stuffers

Every athlete at any level risks their body every time they train.  Even with proper form, technique, and awareness, the threat of strains, pulls, fatigue, and overuse lingers daily.  Why not help your favorite athlete heal faster and recover better with some great holiday stocking stuffers?!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

PainCakes - The recovery that sticks!  This awesome little ice pack is self-adhesive and reusable, so you can slap it on your sore spots to get relief, then stick it back in the freezer to have it ready for next time!  No wraps, covers, or frustration necessary.  Great for ANY athlete!

SLS3 Compression Sleeves - Though some people actually wear compression socks or sleeves during their runs, I've found them to be absolutely ideal for recovery post-run.  Graduated compression gently squeezes the blood vessels to allow better flow of nutrients to muscles, allowing for faster rebuilding after putting your fibers to the test.  PLUS, right now you can take 40% off your order with code FITNYX40 through 1/31/17!

Telic Recovery Footwear - After pounding the pavement for miles upon miles, your feet can get more than a little sore, and the constant impact can throw much of your body out of whack too.  With Telic shoes or flip flops, tired feet and legs are more comfortably supported and harsh footstep impacts are reduced.  The heat-activated material conforms to the shape of your foot while you wear them, giving you a perfect fit every time.  Use promo code AMANDAN5 to get $5 off your order!

Massages - Nothing says "recovery" like a massage!  Treat your loved ones' sore muscles to a good rub-down with a gift card to a local massage parlor or a relaxing spa day.  A card makes a great stocking stuffer, OR you can get a little mini-massager (like the foot massagers below) to wrap up with a card or a pre-paid package.

IdealLean BCAA Mix - Whether it's cardio or strength work, post-workout muscle soreness is a very real problem.  Working out hard actually tears your muscles, and it's the rebuilding process that makes them stronger.  Speed up that rebuilding time and provide your athlete with more of the essential branched-chain amino acids that are vital to muscle recovery with one of IdealLean's delicious BCAA blends.  These powders mix easily into water for a refreshing and powerful post-workout beverage!  IdealLean is running tons of holiday specials, and you can even get 10% off your order with code anyx10!

Recovery is a GREAT way to show you care!  Support your favorite runner/lifter/yogi with gifts that will keep them doing the things they love longer and safer - that's a happy holiday all around!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Holiday Shopping Guide: Runners

Runners like to think we're pretty easy to shop for, but that doesn't stop our families from asking us "uhh, so what do you want for Christmas?" every year!  If you're stuck on ideas shopping for that runner in YOUR life, consider some of these great options.

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links.

BUFF Headbands - Keep your ears, neck, face, and head warm and cozy for winter running with a Merino wool Buff!  Or, in the warmer months, get a UV Buff to protect your face and neck from harsh sun exposure.  Buffs come in dozens of colors and patters, so you're sure to find the perfect style for ANY personality!  They also make bandannas, gloves, scarves, and traditional headbands.

RunLites Gloves - Light up the night and stay safe with RunLites!  These gloves contain removable light packs that rest on the back of your hand, making them much more comfortable than a headlamp and completely unobtrusive while you're running, not to mention easier to aim when you need to scan your surroundings.  There's even an elastic that will hold your race fuel for you!

Race Entries - This is a sure winner!  Pick a dream race or even just an open-ended offer and make your own gift certificate!  Every runner's worst nightmare is figuring out how to afford their race schedule.  Take some of that burden off their shoulders and they'll love you forever...

JournalMenu Training Planner - Fully customizeable both inside and out, this is a gift that can be tailored to ANYone.  From creating personalized covers to choosing your page layout, and even picking supplemental and informational inserts to be included, JournalMenu lets you craft a tool that meets any goal or training program!

Hydrus Performance Hydration - A liquid concentrate electrolyte mix, Hydrus is one of the best hydration products available on the market.  Not only is it excellent for long runs, hot runs, and recovery, it's also being used by major hospitals to help rehydrate patients suffering from symptoms like nausea and vomiting.  The power is in the microbubble formula that will take your insides from parched to healthy in record time! (Use promo code FITNYX to get free shipping on your Hydrus order!)

Polar Performance Watch - For the serious runner, Polar wearables provide a wealth of training feedback, including distance, splits, pace, heart rate, elevation, and more.  All that delicious data helps track goal progress and highlights opportunities for improvement.  Even the casual runner can enjoy the benefits of GPS tracking and step counting!  (Plus, free shipping on orders over $100!)

Shoes - Every runner needs shoes, but do be mindful that it's not ideal to run in just any ol' shoe.  Many runners get fitted for the right amount of support and fit for their gait; some even get custom-formed insoles to ensure the shoe meets their body's needs.  If you're not sure which shoe your runner needs, consider a gift card to a running store instead!

iTunes Gift Card - Runners are music lovers too!  Especially on those long runs, it's great to have a long playlist of all your favorites.  Stuff a little running love into their stocking this year with a gift card to fill their devices with their favorite running jams!

Hope this has helped you find the perfect presents for the runners on your list!  Stay tuned for more holiday shopping guides, including ideas for lifters, yogis, and recovery products for ANY fitness fanatic!  MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

IdealLean Cake Batter Protein Powder

These days, there are hundreds of protein powders available, at supplement stores, grocery stores, even mass retailers like Walmart.  While it's nice that supplements are so readily available, there does eventually come a point at which the market is overly flooded - and many of the products in that flood are sub-par, low quality blends that don't offer much protein bang for your buck.  Getting a good nutritional return on your investment is important, and so is enjoying the taste of the product you're using.  Fusing a good nutrient label with a delicious taste is NOT an easy feat, apparently, as many of the protein powders I've tried have been unappealing or even downright gross!  Fortunately there are always other powders, and it was just a question of committing to the search before I found something not only protein-packed but delicious to consume.

Disclaimer: I received IdealLean products to try and review.  I am under no obligation to promote the product, and all opinions expressed in this and any related posts are, as always, my own.  This post contains affiliate links.

Honestly, IdealLean had me sold at "cake batter" - but only if the powder actually tasted like cake batter!  Though the nutrition panel on the container boasted 20g of protein with only 80 calories per serving (a pretty darn good ratio), making this powder a nutritional win, my first instinct is to find a product I'll continue to use.  In the case of protein powders, that means something tasty that I'll actually want to keep drinking.  My first test of taste is always powder plus water: pure, simple, with nowhere for a bad flavor or gritty texture to hide.  Even some of the best powders I've tried before are still kinda bland when mixed with just water, but not this one!  IdealLean's cake batter flavor was creamy and delicious even in plain ol' H20.  And the kicker?  FUNFETTI.  No, seriously.  There are little confetti pieces in the powder to make the cake-y experience even more realistic, which made me very happy!  Mixing the powder with milk only made it that much more batter-like and flavorful, making this my #1 favorite protein powder (edging out even my old favorite, red velvet)!

But protein powder is so much more than just a beverage, as I've been coming to find.  There are hundreds of recipes out there (try IdealLean's downloadable recipe book) for culinary creations that provide a big protein boost thanks to their incorporation of protein powder, and I just had to try this new cake batter flavor in another state of consumption.  My pick for my experiment?  Waffles.  Crispy, golden waffles.  Mixing a very basic batter focused primarily on the protein powder, I was able to make myself a very tasty, low-carb/high-protein breakfast.  I'm a sucker for the higher-carb breakfast foods, so I am thrilled to have a palatable morning treat that better suits my nutritional needs as well.

Now that I know the joys of protein powder cooking, I'm excited to try more!  I'm also excited to sample other flavors from the IdealLean line, and am fortunate to also have a big tub of chocolate coconut powder to play with over the coming weeks.  The protein content is consistent with other options, the calories are lower than other options, and the flavor is head and shoulders above the next best flavor I've tried, which sounds like a win all around.  This is also my third IdealLean product success, which gives me great hope for the next couple products I'll be trying and gives me even more confidence in sharing an IdealLean promo code anyx10 for 10% off your order!  Check out all their protein powder flavors along with other nutrition products to help you on your wellness journey - and don't forget they make great gifts for the nutritionally minded people on your holiday shopping list!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Amish Country Half Marathon Race Recap

November hasn't really been "my month".  My time has been chewed up by work as I managed the biggest race of the year (our Turkey Trot, which gets almost 10,000 participants on Thanksgiving morning) and my health was on the line for a few harrowing weeks while I dealt with an extreme case of the flu that might have actually been pneumonia.  But I wasn't about to let a crappy couple of weeks prevent me from completing my goal of running a half marathon every month!  I missed the nearby half on the weekend plagued by the worst of the illness, but I found another one on the last weekend of the month and signed up, for better or for worse!

I've heard tell of this "Amish Country" race before, which actually surprised me.  The race takes place in Berlin, Ohio, which is a relatively remote location for a race that has a little bit of hype.  I suppose any good race will eventually start building a reputation, so I was excited to check it out for myself.  Waking up at 4:30 in the morning is never a picnic, but I left on time and took to the very dark, little traveled roadways that would get me into the heart of Ohio Amish Country.  Unlit roads and poorly marked intersections got me a little sidetracked, but I made good time and was at the last intersection before pulling in to the parking lot (literally right across the street) - and then it happened.


While inching up to check around the dangerous intersection, where cross traffic comes around a blind corner and doesn't have to stop, I was rear ended by another runner who decided that my inching meant she would be able to just shoot across right behind me without actually stopping.  The hit wasn't really all that hard, but since I had been peering around a tight corner, my head was a lot closer to my steering wheel, and the hit slammed my temple right into the wheel.  Hard.  We got out of the cars and she said we could just pull across to the parking lot to exchange information, but the entire time she was trying to weasel her way out of taking any responsibility at all.  I told her it was my mom's car and that I would need all her information to pass on to my mom, and she said I should wait until after the race to even call anyone about it.  Well, she was running the 5k and would be LONG gone by the time I finished (especially with the concussion she had given me), and I wasn't about to wait.  I called the police, initiated a report, got her information, and did the best I could not to panic.  Piling a car accident on top of everything else I've been dealing with lately was almost enough to break me, but I wouldn't let it.  It was time to run.

One of the reasons the Amish Country Half Marathon is becoming well known is, apparently, the incredibly challenging course.  I knew it would be hilly (I've driven those Amish Country roads before) but actually running the crazy steep hills all morning was one of the most difficult tests of athleticism I've ever encountered!  Between the lingering illness, the fresh concussion, and a woeful lack of recent training post-MCM, I was more than happy to take my time with the hills.  I ran a good portion of the course, but I walked more miles than I had originally intended because the elevation changes were making me a little dizzy.  Oh, yeah, and some of the ascents were too steep for my body to comprehend a way to climb at a running pace...  But the goal wasn't to PR or to run in any particular time.  All I had to do was finish.

Fortunately, the running community proved itself once again to be full of awesome, and I connected with a couple of other runners who had the same take on this particular race.  We took our time, chatted, took photos, and focused more on having fun than on keeping a quick pace.  Though the day was overcast, Amish Country is still quite beautiful, with valley vistas that are breath-taking even on a rainy day.  Plus, every turn and crossroad had an Amish family to point the way or pour water, so we occasionally stopped to chat for a bit with the locals.  They didn't exactly cheer, and there were no motivational signs anywhere, but I would still have to say I enjoyed the course support simply for the fact that there were so many families out enjoying the "worse parade ever"!  Even when it started to drizzle a little, most of the families stayed outside, and the ones that went in stayed by the windows and waved as we passed.  It was really cute to see all the kids' faces pressed against the glass!  Eventually, though, I had to slow down too much for my new running buddies, and I wished them well as they moved on ahead.

I took a couple miles as personal quiet time, mixing it up between running and walking a little.  My time wasn't completely atrocious considering the elevation and my state of health, so I was in good spirits despite the chilly, damp weather and the solitary stretches of pavement.  At one point I passed a table covered in candy bars and helped myself to the coldest non-ice cream Snickers bar on the planet, which hurt my teeth but made my stomach very happy.  Shortly after that table, I found myself passing a man who looked like he was limping a little.  I turned to ask him if he was okay, and realized I knew the guy - he was on my impromptu running team a month and a half earlier at the Towpath Marathon Half!  He recognized me too, and we took the next mile and a half together at a nice, easy pace.

We found the 12 mile marker at the crest of a particularly nasty hill, and I knew it was time for me to start the engine again to finish under three hours.  From that point on, the rest of the course was all completely within view of the finish line - which meant I constantly felt like I was "almost there" despite having a considerable chunk of course left ahead of me!  I gutted out that last mile (and the last big hill) to cross the line in just under 2:50.  Yes, it's my worst half marathon time ever by about 5 minutes.  No, it doesn't bother me in the slightest!  I finished this race, and with all things considered, I would have been happy with any time so long as I was crossing on my own two feet under my own power.  Keeping the time relatively close to a couple previous races was actually icing on the cake, so I finished with a smile and headed back to the gym for my hot buttered noodles with my head held high.

My new friends had waited around to make sure I had finished without further injury or incident, so I got a few extra hugs before I grabbed my post race food and started chowing down.  Instead of just receiving a medal at the finish, I was actually handed a plastic bag (with the medal tied on, of course) containing a chocolate milk, a whole block of Amish cheese, and a little pot of Amish-made healing balm.  What a cool finisher bag!  I've never been to a race that handed you an actual bag of goodies at the finish line instead of when you pick up your race packet, and honestly I kinda like it.  It wouldn't have been a problem at this race with the parking lot right by check in and the start/finish, but receiving the goodies at the end would eliminate the need for bag check at other races.  The best part of the post-race, though, was easily the hot buttered noodles.  Actually, this was probably the single best post-race food item I've ever had, at ANY race.  Now that I've learned the joys of a bowl of hot buttered noodles after a chilly run, it's likely to become a winter running staple for me!

I took my time eating and recovering, thanked some of the race organizers for a very good experience, and meandered out to my car.  Part of my slow exit was intended to allow the parking lot to empty and the major intersection to clear: I can't say I wasn't nervous about getting back on the road after my pre-race accident.  Taking my time also gave my head every possible precious moment to clear before I had to tackle a two hour drive back home.  Seeing the damage done to my beloved little Hyundai threatened once again to bring me down, but thankfully the Berlin high school hallways were ready to help!  Right at the end of the hallway by the parking lot was a big bulletin board that said simply "Believe in Yourself".  With the weight of my past few weeks crushing on me, I had still managed not only to complete 13.1 miles of insane hills, but I had done it with a smile and with as much vigor as my tired little body could muster.  My worst days can get pretty bad, but I am always ME, and ME is a pretty awesome person to be!  So thank you, fortuitously placed bulletin board, for the much-needed reminder!

Amish Country Half Marathon Breakdown

Organization: This is a relatively small race, with only a few hundred participants at best, but race day logistics moved like a well-oiled machine that probably could have accommodated many, many more runners.  There might have been as many volunteers as there were runners, to be quite honest!  Packet pickup on race morning was quick and relatively painless, though I was disappointed when they tried to hand me a "small" shirt knowing I had requested a "medium".  When I asked about it, they clearly had "small" written on their check-in list, and I clearly had "women's medium" on my confirmation email, so we weren't really sure where the disconnect was.  My guess was that the gender-specific shirts advertised had been changed to unisex, so they gave me a small thinking it would compensate.  Communication on that front would have saved some confusion, but otherwise, I got my bib and shirt with no wait.  The course was well marked and there were people to direct at every intersection.  I did notice a few tables that looked like they were supposed to be water stops, but there were no people there and only a few things that looked like aid station leftovers.  It was a chilly, overcast day so I didn't miss the water, but I do wonder what was up with those unmanned tables.  Overall, though, I was pleasantly surprised and at times impressed with the overall organization of the event.

The Course: Hills, hills, and more hills!  What a great course for a challenge!  If you're looking to try this race in the future, I cannot stress enough how important hill training is.  And these hills were more than just some elevation changes - they were steep and prolonged, drawing out the agony in my legs over and over again.  Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved it, and wish I had been in better shape to see how well I could perform on such a difficult course, but it definitely made my muscles sore!  There were enough active aid stations for the colder weather, and as mentioned the route was easy to follow thanks to ample course marshal support.  It was pretty scenic, too, despite the general bleakness of the day.  I really have no complaints about the course at all - fun, challenging, supported, and scenic, what more could you ask for?

The Swag: Early registration for next year's race is already up, at $50 for the half marathon.  I paid $65 to register about a week prior to the race, so either way the cost is in the same ballpark as most other local half marathons I've done this past year.  The swag, though, is easily some of my favorite.  All half marathoners received a long sleeve tech shirt, a straw hat, a fake beard (uh-mazing), a medal, chip timing, Amish cheese and other goodies, and of course the hot buttered noodles that have changed my world.  Very few races have as many little swag items that put such big smiles on people's faces!  No race photos (not even on the Facebook page or for purchase) so if you're one of those people who loves race photos, take a camera or bring your personal paparazzi.  I loved all the items (and freaked out my dog when I walked back in the house wearing my beard), but have to admit I was slightly disappointed with the shirt.  It isn't a bad shirt, but as mentioned previously, the registration page asked for gendered sizes, and I remember it listing "Brook's long sleeve" as the item because I specifically said to my parents while I was registering "Oh Brook's, okay, I have a bunch of women's mediums from them and they fit great!"  I was very excited to get a long sleeve shirt from a brand that is tried and true.  Come race day, however, I was listed for a small - and received an off-brand, unisex shirt.  They gave me the medium I requested but as a unisex shirt I probably should have just taken the small.  I didn't notice the difference until later.  Checking the website for next year just says "a dri-wick long sleeve" with no brand mentioned, so I don't know what happened with the shirts this year.  Still, it's a pretty good quality shirt, and all the other bonuses more than make up for it!  Very solid value for the cost.

The Bottom Line: Would run this again, for sure!  But would also prepare for it a little better.  I signed up for this one because it fit the schedule and I needed a November race, then pushed through the Universe trying to get me to quit, but I would highly recommend knowing what you're getting into if you have any actual goals for the Amish Country half.  It's not a race that can be raced without a little hill training.  It IS a fantastic challenge with a lot of heart and soul, and I highly recommend anyone who relishes a good uphill battle make your way out to Amish Country.  You won't be disappointed!

What's your favorite post race food?  What was the most challenging non-running situation you had to deal with before or during a race?  Have you ever been to Ohio Amish Country?  Why does Amish cheese taste so damn good?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Holiday Shopping Season

Just a quick post today - I wanted to tell y'all about some things I have in the works for the holiday shopping season!  As you've probably seen, I work with many products and brands throughout the year and have found some absolutely amazing products that would make PERFECT holiday gifts for the runners, yogis, and lifters on your shopping list.  Last year I did a composite holiday shopping guide, with a little something for everyone.  This year, I'm going to be separating lists for different purposes so I can touch on even more ideas in each niche.

Additionally, I'm starting to receive holiday promo codes for some of my favorite products, enabling me to pass on some great deals to all of YOU!  For now, those promo codes will be listed on my Product Reviews page (so you can get more information on the items too).  As additional promotions pop up, I may add a "Deals and Promotions" page again to house more discounts and shopping ideas from the various companies with whom I have established positive relationships.  Please note, some of these codes or promotions may be affiliate programs, which means I receive a small monetary kickback from your purchases.  This does NOT affect your cost, and only helps to keep my blog up and running for another year.  I will never promote a product I have not used personally, nor will I promote companies that I do not support, regardless of how much they want to pay me.  If you have any questions on affiliate products or ANY of my reviews, I am always available by email or social media.

Stay tuned for fitness gifts for EVERY category, coming next week!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Marine Corps Marathon: Final Thoughts

Okay, it's been a full month since I ran my first marathon.  I've posted highlights, both good and bad, from my experience while the race was fresh in my mind, and now I've had plenty of time to let the full weight of the Marine Corps Marathon sink in to give some final thoughts on my MCM experience.

The most common question I've fielded since finishing MCM is "will you do another marathon?"  That's been a tough question for me to answer.  Physically, I am more than capable of completing the mileage again, and I'm honestly missing my training schedule.  It was the first time I've really stuck to independent training, and now that I'm not doing anything structured or for a big goal, I've gotten a little lazy again.  My monthly half marathon goal is still going strong so I have some running still on the schedule, but not as frequently or reliably as I had grown accustomed to all summer.  Though I'd love to believe I can get myself into that kind of running again without a particular race goal, I know myself a little better than that.  Weather and work schedule will most likely to continue providing convenient excuses until I have a concrete training goal - such as another marathon.

But the bits of bad taste in my mouth after my DC experience makes me wonder if I really want to deal with the sea of people that comes with a flashy headliner marathon, and I still wonder if a less hyped race will be downright boring for 26.2 miles after a race with as much pomp as the Marine Marathon.  Every race is different, every runner's experience is different, and the next marathon might be all the things of which dreams are made...  There's no way to know unless I pull the trigger and do another.  Plus, I know I can run a marathon faster than I did in DC!  So for the time being, the answer to whether I'll do another is a very heavy maybe.

I still can't believe, even a month later, that I actually was struck across the face by another runner.  That moment is the single most prominent memory I have carried with me since the race.  None of my runner friends can even wrap their heads around why on earth someone would slap another runner for a little accidental shoulder bump, and I can't either.  For years now, I have thought the running community was basically full of the greatest people on the planet after all the positive experiences and connections I have made through racing.  Sadly I now am noticing more and more negatives in the community.  That's certainly not to say that all runners are bad now, but I DO seem to have had my eyes opened a little to notice runners who are not quite as amazing as others.

I've also been feeling underwhelmed by the feat of running, which used to seem like a huge accomplishment.  Quite frankly, finishing a marathon didn't feel much different from finishing any other race.  I kept thinking I was maybe just in shock and that the weight of the accomplishment would eventually settle; this has not yet happened and I am pretty sure it won't.  I ran a race.  It happened to be longer than my others.  I don't feel special, I don't feel more accomplished...  And I think this boils down to having a greater understanding of my own strength.  Running used to be new and unusual, something I never thought I could really DO.  Now, though, I run a half marathon every month.  I do training runs of 18-20 miles on random Sunday nights.  There's nothing new or exciting about the act of running anymore.  I still enjoy it and don't feel "burnt out" from running by any means; I just don't feel like it's something noteworthy in my life anymore.  It's just something that I do frequently.

Life goes on, even post-marathon.  I learned some things about running, racing, and even race management from my experience, and of course I really did finish a marathon, so the race wasn't without positive takeaways.  I suppose I had higher expectations for how I would feel afterwards and am a little frustrated with how blase I feel about the whole ordeal.  I wanted this race to change me.  Maybe it did and I haven't noticed yet.  For that, only time will tell.  Right now, though, I know that I'm not sure I'm satisfied.  It's depressing to write this because I wanted so badly to be able to write about the revelations of marathon training and running - but I just can't.  They weren't there for me, not in the way I had assumed.  Running will continue (and I have my November half marathon recap coming up soon), goals will continue, training will continue, and blogging will continue (whenever there is time).  Fitness is still my world, and has still done incredible things for my life.  More incredible things are to come.  It's time to move on from this experience and start looking for the next one!

What big event in your life proved to be underwhelming, or even downright disappointing?  Do you think I have the marathon blues even now?  How do you reinvigorate yourself after realizing you overhyped something?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Life Update

So, I talked a little about the marathon and a few other little things recently, but then got real quiet again.  As usual, this indicates yet another crazy hectic time in my life (to be expected at this point, I should thing) during which my focus has been elsewhere and my schedule has not allowed me to sit and write anything of interest or substance.  As always, I appreciate the people who follow me even in these slow-posting times!  Here's what's been keeping me away from the blog:

Managing the Cleveland Turkey Trot

My full-time job as a race manager makes my life pretty hectic anyway, but with our biggest event of the year on my shoulders, the past couple weeks have been even more full of work stuff than usual.  While much of it is a little stressful, the Cleveland Turkey Trot is a huge event and it's pretty exciting to be taking the helm this year!  I actually ran the race last year, before having the opportunity to join the company, and despite some minor race day hiccups, I had really enjoyed the event!  Now it's my baby and I'm trying to take very good care of it, despite some setbacks that are making my job more challenging than it usually would be...  At the end of the day, I anticipate a pretty great race day (weather permitting) and would LOVE to have you join me!

Crap, I just realized I dunno where the turkeys are for this year's race.

Rebooting My Running

I did that little marathon a couple weeks ago, and while I honestly felt fine physically afterwards (besides my toe which needed a few days to heal), it took a while for me to start moving my feet again.  I've done a couple very short runs, but I've been so busy I haven't really put too much emphasis on running again.  With my ongoing goal of running a half marathon every month for a year, though, I haven't dropped out of running entirely!  In fact, I just registered for my November half (Amish Country, here I come) and plan to pound a little more pavement this weekend too.  I may not be in top form for the race, but I did my July half with even less immediate preparation and in far worse shape than I am these days, so I'm not too worried about it!

Accurate representation of every run since MCM.

House Hunting

My quest for a new home started months ago, but has really heated up lately.  I actually currently have an offer down and am waiting with baited breath to see how things turn out - there may be another offer on the table and I'm not about to get in a bidding war, but my fingers are crossed for the best.  It's been a year and a half since I left my home in Chicago, and while I appreciate my parents letting me crash in my brother's old room...  It's about time I got out of here and had my own space again.  And my own stuff.  That isn't crammed in a storage unit a half hour away...

Nothing in the house I want is this nice.  I'm poor.

And that's about it!  Doesn't seem like much when I list it out, but that Turkey Trot thing is about 90% of my life right now, and the house hunting is another 40%, and I'm pretty sure 130% is still accurate math on this one.  Once the Trot is over, I have only one more race to manage (and two races to run) for the rest of the year, so come December 12 I should finally be able to relaaaaaax!  Oh, and maybe blog a little more...

Monday, November 7, 2016

Marine Corps Marathon: The Bad

If you couldn't tell from my previous post's title, and still haven't caught on from this one, not everything in DC was sunshine and rainbows.  The marathon is one of the great tests of mental and physical strength, but it's also a test of patience and doesn't always provide the best running experience - as I was quick to learn at the Marine Corps Marathon.  Here's what didn't go so well last weekend.

A virtual lack of starting line "corrals" - and the agonizing weaving that followed.

Large races usually have some sort of corral system at the starting line.  For you non-runners, corrals are basically metered starting groups that are based on projected running time.  Fastest runners (the "elites") go before the more recreational runners who will be traveling at slower paces.  This system eliminates obstacles for people running for time by moving slower people out of their way.  Every race I've ever been to with actual corrals had roped off sections with assigned numbers or letters - and you could ONLY go in your corral, which was pre-assigned based on your projected times.  At the MCM, however, "corrals" were not so well designated, and were not at all policed.  This meant that people were on their own honor to follow the large posted signs indicating the proper place to line up for your anticipated finish time.  This also meant that a lot of people threw corral sensibility to the winds and lined up wherever they wanted.

Why is this a problem?  Weaving.  When slower people are ahead of you, and the course is relatively narrow for the number of runners, you have to go side-to-side along the course to get around people.  That adds time and distance.  That also has you slowing and surging more often.  You know how your car gets worse gas mileage in the city because of the stop-and-go?  The same principle applies to runners, with the added bonus of a higher risk of injury.  For me, the weaving curse led to more foot-swelling and toe-squishing in my shoe that quickly created a blood blister under my big toenail.  By mile 10 I was hurting badly, and still had a long way left to go - and most of that way was just as crowded as the first half, as MCM apparently never really thins out like other races I've run.

The rudest runners I've ever seen.  Ever.

Even as I write this, I realize a big part of this particular problem is that many participants in MCM really aren't runners.  This is "The People's Marathon", and they really mean it.  I saw all kinds at the race - and you know, that's not the part that bothers me.  I love that people who have never run a day in their life want to tackle a big challenge.  It's awesome to know a large number of participants are on the course to commemorate a lost loved one or family and friends still in the service.  The problem comes when those people aren't following race guidelines, common courtesy, or even common sense.  As mentioned previously, the MCM coordinators exacerbated this problem with a lack of policed corrals, but even so, you'd think people would have a little more awareness of what is happening around them.  It's easy to tell who has done big races before: they move to the side, put their hand up, and some even announce vocally that they will be slowing down or stopping.  Y'know, polite things that help prevent injuries and allow people to move about at their own pace during a huge event.

The non-runners, however, do NOT provide so much courtesy.  They walk with their whole group side by side, taking up the entire courseway.  They hold hands and stretch out around corners, forcing faster participants to have to go not only around them, but around the outside of the curve which adds distance to an already long race.  They STOP, with no warning, for no apparent reason other than they have decided it's time to stop, and they don't even look around before doing so to make sure they're not in someone's way.  I had several unpleasant encounters with the Sudden Stopper during my race, the first of which was during the Wear Blue Mile that honors fallen soldiers.  A whole group of people must have been watching for their loved one's photo along the course, and just stopped when they saw it.  I had no warning and had to execute a crazy maneuver to get around them, which twisted my knee very badly and affected the entire rest of my race.

But that's not even the worst.  I bumped people a few times trying to weave, and a few people bristled or shot me dirty looks, but the creme-de-la-creme was in Crystal City, somewhere around mile 23, when a group of girls decided to stop dead while I was trying to pass them.  Once again sacrificing my knee, I twisted and managed to get mostly around them, but bumped the one girl's shoulder a little as I passed, saying "excuse me" as I went.  I turned slightly to apologize, but before I could even get the "sorry" out of my mouth, the girl's hand was flying.  She smacked me across the face and swore at me!  I had struggled to get up to an actual run again at this point, so instead of stopping to deck her like I wanted to, I just kept going - while her friends started yelling at me.  Unbelievable.  I've heard of people hitting the wall in a marathon, but never hitting another runner!

The course.

Yeah that's right, I said it.  I don't even mean the hills or the out-and-backs that most people complain about.  The MCM course was a nightmare for totally different reasons.  Primary among those reasons is that it's way too narrow in many areas to accommodate the number of people, especially if pace groups aren't properly spread out (hence the aforementioned weaving).  A very close second is the horrendously boring stretches of barren highway that show up between miles 18 and 20 (the Bridge from "Beat the Bridge") and again from 24 to 26.  As if running a marathon weren't enough of a mental challenge, MCM takes away the surging course support for which it is known at two of the most difficult stages, leaving runners in miserable silence for miles at a time.  These stretches were only made worse by the surprise 80 degree temperatures that were totally unexpected at a late October race.  With "spirit squad" cheer stations along other parts of the course, I was a little surprised to find there weren't any cheering groups at least along the final stretch of highway, which could easily have accommodated some support.

Finally, for a "Marathon of the Monuments" as MCM is sometimes touted, we didn't really pass many monuments.  Sure, they were just a stone's throw from the course in some areas, but the only truly visible monument along the route was the Washington Memorial (and let's be honest, that's "visible" from all over the place).  Running along the National Mall was, admittedly, pretty cool, and we passed right in front of the Capitol - but I had been expecting FAR more bits of DC history and fame to be visible during my run.  I won't say I'm not disappointed that the course didn't live up to the considerable hype placed on the "running in DC" part of this race.

I ran WAY more than 26.2 miles.

My GPS got "ahead" of the course early, and never caught back up.  At first I was maybe a quarter mile early, but soon I was a full mile early, and it was very demoralizing to have my GPS say "12 miles" when the sign I passed a little later only said 11.  It continued to get worse throughout the course until finally I had to turn my tracker off.  At that point, my GPS had a total of 25.89 miles recorded, and looking at the map, it doesn't appear that my signal jumped or misread, it's actually following the course we ran.  Unfortunately, that point at which I turned it off wasn't just prior to the 26 mile sign, it was a quarter mile before the MILE 24 sign.  I was more than two ahead of the course, meaning the additional weaving I was forced to do throughout the entire race had upped my 26.2 to more like 28.5.  SURPRISE ULTRA!

It is possible that, when MCM made some course changes this year, they accidentally added some distance.  Many other runners have posted to the Facebook page about GPS tracking running longer than most races usually do (since most of us do know to account for the weaving).  Either way, if I had finished at the 26.2 miles on my GPS, I would have shaved almost 40 minutes off my overall time, putting me much closer to my goal even in the heat.

I didn't get any finisher gear, including the advertised freebie items.

It's my first marathon, and it's kind of a big deal to me.  But I'm a runner and I'll probably do another sometime (don't quote me on that quite yet).  So many of the people at the MCM are not likely to do another marathon, or even any racing.  It's one of the biggest accomplishments of some people's lives, and they usually want something to show for it.  I know I certainly do.  So when the MCM spent months advertising that every finisher would get a Mission: Accomplished jacket at the finish line like they always do, I was pretty excited.  Sure, it's just a slightly nicer version of the heat shields you'll see at most marathons, but it's a wearable that says I finished, and I love the whole "Mission Thing" that has been an ongoing theme of the Marine marathon.  When the jackets were nowhere to be found at the finish line, I was intensely bummed.  Yes, I know it was 80 degrees and most people didn't need the heat shield, but it was an advertised item (that we presumably paid for in our entry fees) that has meaning to the people who participated.  Even if "it's hot" was the excuse, the race had presumably already purchased the jackets for this year, so why not just hand them out?  A couple days ago, their Facebook account finally acknowledged questions about why the jackets were missing, letting us know there was a shipping error but making no mention of whether finishers would ever get one.

Additionally, the finisher gear store was sold out of all Mission: Accomplished gear long before even my cousin got there an hour prior to my finish time.  Had the jackets been available, this probably wouldn't even bother me (and they might not even have sold out), but because I couldn't get the jacket I had been promised (and technically had already paid for), I would have liked to buy the finisher gear.  Alas, out of luck, and the official word on whether there will be more available for purchase later is simply "whatever is left will be put online" - which probably means I won't be getting one.

Yes, I finished the course and earned my bling.  But was the Marine Corps Marathon all that it was made out to be?  Unfortunately, my race day experience left me more than a little disappointed.  My training was on-point; even the unexpected heat of the day wasn't going to stop me from finishing, but suffering injuries that could have been avoided by a little courtesy or better corral planning made it a much longer and more difficult journey.  Add to that the realization that some of the "highlights" of this particular race aren't all they were hyped to be, and I walked away from MCM with less than positive memories.  I'm going to be talking more in my next post about the "aftermath" of my experience, so I won't linger too much on that here - you'll just have to come back to see how I'm feeling about marathons and running in general a week after the MCM!

Read about the rest of my MCM experience!   Expo   -   Part 1   -   Aftermath

Have you ever participated in a race that let you down?  What made the experience so difficult to enjoy?  How do you manage negative feelings after a race?