' Adventures with FitNyx: April 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stretching It Out

I know I haven't posted much lately despite my promises to bore you to tears about marathon training, but I've been feeling stretched a little thin with my new career heating up.  It's almost all awesome, but it's a lot of work and I'm still adjusting!  Rest assured, though, that I'm still finding time to work out and get myself ready for the months of hard work that will lead up to the Marine Corps Marathon.  And as I've mentioned previously, I'm focusing a lot of time on learning how to recover, which recently has started including a much more robust stretching routine - not something I've been very good about historically, but something that has proven itself to be a gaping hole in my fitness.

As is usually a good idea while learning a new skill, I decided to find a learned teacher to help me develop a reliable and thorough stretching routine.  What I ended up finding was a DVD program that relies on the use of a stretching strap (such as a yoga strap or looped stretch strap) to hold positions and increase supported range of motion for a deeper stretch.  The DanceCrazy Ultra Stretching Strap DVD has become my best friend in developing a program that will get the results I need to improve my running.

Disclaimer: I received this product at no cost in exchange for my review.  All opinions expressed herein are, as always, my own.

The DVD content is straightforward: the trainer walks you through the exercises and stretches as she demonstrates, calling out tips and body cues to help you fully understand the full mechanics behind the motions.  It's all very focused, with the room being empty except for the trainer and her exercise mat, making it easy to stay attentive without random distractions, and her diction and directions are very clear.  While the menus seem a little piecey, it's clear that a lot of time and care was put into the production, and that the true purpose of the DVD is the 45 minute stretching routine itself.

For the first few viewings, I simply played the full workout straight through, following the sensible progression of exercises (including a nice little warmup).  I barely noticed the first time, but my body noticed afterwards, that the DVD only covers ONE side of the body!  While the stretches are well-explained and clearly demonstrated, the trainer does not switch sides to provide a balanced session.  I had to start pausing after each exercise to perform the moves on the other side before moving forward.  This effectively doubles the 45 minute full workout, making it a bit cumbersome to fit into a busy schedule!

More often after my early viewings, I have started using the "chapter select" option that allows me to skip to a particular exercise.  Eventually, I'm sure I'll know these moves well enough to not need the DVD, but for now I still rely heavily on her cues and positioning reminders to properly execute most of the stretches for maximum effect.  Some of the positions are too difficult for me at my current level of flexibility (and I'm not just talking about the two moves that are labeled "advanced"), but the trainer is clearly incredibly flexible and perhaps forgot that some viewers might not be so bendy!  There are no modifications offered for less flexible people who are building up to a better range of motion.  I do the best I can, but there are going to be a few that will remain out of reach for a while!

I may never have the range of motion I'd like to have, but there's no reason I can't develop some better habits and improve as much as possible!  As I learn more about how to stretch and slowly increase my range, I'm sure I'll see improvements in other aspects of my life as well.  Every bit of progress will ripple out, and that's definitely worth sticking to a routine and building knowledge.  Not to mention that proper flexibility and post-run recovery stretching will decrease my chances of injury by a large margin, and who can complain about that?!  I'm glad I'm finally starting to understand the importance of stretching before my sad range of motion gets any smaller...

Do you have a go-to stretching routine?  What types of props or other gear do you use to increase your range of motion and flexibility?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Swanson Health Cranberry Probiotic

There's a lot of buzz these days about probiotics and what they can do for the human body: improved gut health, prevention and/or treatment of some diseases, prevention of allergies and colds, and helping keep the body's bacteria content in a better balance.  Okay, well that all sounds great, but does it actually work?  My friends at Swanson Vitamins hooked me up with some cranberry probiotic supplements so I could give these "good" bacteria a try.

Disclaimer: I received this product at no cost in exchange for my review.  All opinions expressed herein are, as always, my own.

Probiotics are live bacteria cultures that exist in symbiosis with the human body; that is, their presence in our digestive system is actually beneficial to us, as these "good" bacteria cultures help to balance out the "bad" bacteria that can cause inflammation, infection, and other health issues.  Many foods, such as yogurt, contain probiotics, but if your diet doesn't contain these foods (and mine sure doesn't, usually) supplemental probiotics are an alternative.  The bacteria cultures help food travel through your digestive system properly, and can play a part in the actual act of digestion, helping the body process food items for maximum nutrition.

I've been taking the Swanson cranberry probiotic for almost two months now, and I have definitely noticed some major changes in my digestion.  The supplement capsules are smallish and easy to swallow; unlike some of the other supplements I have taken, I have yet to encounter any problems with the probiotic capsules sticking in my throat.  I don't typically notice anything in the morning after taking the supplement, but by mid-afternoon, I'm feeling what I can only assume is an effect of the probiotics: I have to POOP.  A lot.  Sorry that's gross, but it's true.  I have stopped taking the supplement on weekends just to verify that it is the probiotics that are making me run the the bathroom more often, and sure enough, weekends are much less bowel-ful than weekdays.  While it's not necessarily uncomfortable (the bowel movements are normal and not so much more frequent that I would be concerned), I've never pooped so much in my life.

Besides the pooping, I'm not sure I notice anything else happening due to the probiotic.  Of course, I don't have irritable bowel syndrome or any other bowel-related disease, so for me the most likely benefit from the probiotic list would be a generic "healthier gut" - a poorly defined condition, but I would assume since these bacteria are supposed to help food move through your system, the increased excretion is a sign that this is indeed happening inside me.  Taking probiotics has not yet had a noticeable effect on my weight, nor has it caused any issues with gas, but I did expect to feel less bloated while taking probiotics and that hasn't really happened either.

Overall, I plan to continue taking my probiotics because I have yet to experience any negative side effects, and I believe the increase in bowel movements indicates that some of the bacterial functions are actually occurring.  If claims about this good bacteria situation are true, cultivating a better digestive environment over the long run can only be beneficial!

Have you tried probiotics?  What experiences have you had?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Eagles On Foot Race Recap

Now that race season is officially upon us, most of my weekends will be spent working at races all across northern Ohio.  But every once in a while, I'll manage to have an off day - and you can be sure I'll be taking many of those off days as an opportunity to RUN a race instead of, well, "running" it from the other side!  Last Saturday was one of those precious days.  Not only did I not have to work, but there were several great race options AND it was a glorious day.  That combination doesn't come around all the time, so I was sure to take advantage of it by joining the Eagles On Foot 5k at St Edward High School.

Just as last week I couldn't talk about the Towpath Half Marathon without mentioning the weather, Eagles On Foot pretty much needs to start the same way.  Only six days apart, the temperature and conditions between these two races couldn't have been more different!  Instead of 20s and snow, we had near-70s and not a cloud in the beautifully sunny sky for the 5k this weekend.  People were coming out of the woodwork on Saturday morning to throw in a last-minute race entry.  One of the coolest things about this race was apparent from the start: the school really gets behind the race and so many of the students came out to run!  Between the weather and the community support, the race felt like a festival from the get-go.

I actually chose this race over another on the same day because a fellow race manager from Hermes lives nearby and was also off-looking-for-running, so we decided to make a friendly little wager on the results.  Since male vs female in our particular age group isn't entirely fair, we settled on placing within our own gender to see who "won" our competition.  Of course our coworkers who actually WERE working the race got in on it a little, making the day even more fun!

I started near the front of the pack, hoping to start strong but finish stronger.  The first mile of the course was a long, steady downhill - but then I realized the out-and-back course meant mile three would be a long, steady UPhill!  And then I realized I started maybe a little too strong, considering the battle I'd have to finish...  My first mile clocked in under 8 minutes.  I haven't run that fast since the city championships back in fourth grade track - when I ran the mile in 7:51 and came in last.  I tried to back of my pace to save something for the final mile, but I passed mile two and was only slightly over 8 minutes on that split.  I'v never covered two miles so fast in my life!  Mile three was as grueling as I expected, especially since the sun was really starting to heat things up, but I trudged my way up the hill to hear my time at the third mile marker was 25 minutes even!

You better believe I booked it into the finish (or at least tried to book it - the tank was getting pretty low) knowing I was certain to PR and hoping to make it as big a crushing as I could!  I didn't even see the clock as I crossed the finish because I was too busy cutting off the person in front of me at the last second...  But my phone's tracking clocked me at a PR by over a minute, and I was feeling pretty solid about the race!  My coworker had finished a few minutes ahead of me, but we'd agreed on place in age group as our handicap, so we hovered around the race manager who was in charge of Eagles On Foot to see if either of our names would show up on the award winner list.  Only one of us made it: ME!!!!   Say hello to my first (truly earned) age group award!  My official time of 25:38 was enough for third place.

Eagles On Foot was easily the best 5k of my life, but it's only my second of the year.  With the consistent training I have planned for the next few months, I believe I can cut even more time by the fall.  When I first started running, if you'd told me in less than two years I'd be running in the 25 minute range, I'd have laughed so hard I'd need to take a rest day afterwards.  Now, I'm eyeing sub-24 by 2017.  And I 100% believe I can do it.  Funny thing about running - it makes you realize you are capable of so much more than you ever dreamed!

Eagles On Foot 5k Breakdown

Organization: A Hermes race - so of course it's well managed, with online registration, results postings, and race logistics moving very smoothly.  The added boost from an incredible amount of St Ed's volunteers only made the race even more amazing, especially for a local 5k.  Race day packet pickup had plenty of stations and no lines, the water stop had lots of hands and vocal support, timers at every mile called splits, and the finish line was organized and efficient.  St Ed's also had a big raffle while the results were being tabulated, giving away quite a few prizes and keeping the excitement high even post-race.

Course: A nice out-and-back that swings by the Erie lakefront for a bit, looping through some nice neighborhood streets, made for an easy run.  Of course, I'm never a fan of finishing uphill (I challenge you to find me a runner who is), but the challenge of that third mile will help me build strength, both physically and mentally, that I'll need to keep driving my 5k time down AND to start preparing for the possibility of hitting the dreaded wall on my next half marathon or October's full.  I'd run this course again in a heartbeat even with the uphill!  Finish behind St Ed's gave runners some much-needed shade after a bright, warm course, so it was pretty easy to cool down a bit while refueling after the run.

The Swag: For my $20 entry fee (a bargain for just about any race) I received a long sleeve race shirt (which ended up being unnecessary thanks to the weather), and some great post-race food options.  The spread included Jimmy John's sandwiches, fruit, granola bars, and more.  And of course, I got my medal too!  I'm not used to walking away from these little community runs with bling, but I could totally be okay with making it a habit...

Bottom Line: Loved it, though I suppose it's hard not to love a race that lets you crush your PR, earn some bragging rights in the office, build your strength, AND enjoy a gorgeous day all at once!  I'm torn between wanting to help work this race next year and wanting to run it again if I can get the chance.

Did you run this weekend?  Who else had a crazy weather swing this week??

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Hydrating on the Long Run

When I first started running, I barely made it around my half-mile block before I was ready to collapse.  Slowly I started going further, and eventually I was going far enough that I found it relevant to track exactly how far I had gone, and how long it had taken me.  The need for some kind of running pouch quickly arose to carry my phone and house key as I ventured farther and longer on my runs.

I quickly found the FlipBelt, and for quite a while it's been more than enough.  I even started packing chews and gels for my half marathon races, and the FlipBelt was great.  Now that I'm training for a full marathon, though, I know I'm going to need hydration solutions on my long runs. Looking at what was available, I have to say, I was skeptical about how well a belt with two full water bottles strapped to it could possibly stay in place during the bouncing of a run, but I am SO impressed with this GoldBerg Gear belt!  Turns out, running with water bottles doesn't have to feel like morphing into pack mule.

Disclaimer: I received this product at no cost in exchange for my review.  All opinions expressed herein are, as always, my own.

I filled both bottles, adjusted the strap (there's an adjustable loop on both sides for maximum fit ranges), and took off. Ten miles later, my bottles were about half empty and everything was still perfectly in place!  The belt is low-profile, and when it's properly adjusted, it's stays PUT.  I barely even noticed it was there - until I made the mistake of constantly drinking from only one side, which slowly started to make me feel lopsided.  My second time wearing it, I wised up and alternated, eliminating the problem.

It's a clip-on belt, so it's easy to take on and off, and the holsters have elastic loops to hold the bottles in place, but tabs on the loops to easily unhook bottles mid-run.  My bottles have yet to leak on me (which was a big concern of mine), and the zipper pouch on the front opens and closes very easily.  The only downside I've noticed is that the pouch, while larger than I expected, still isn't quite large enough for me to stuff a bunch of gels or chews inside along with my phone.  For a full marathon, I'll definitely want some kind of nutrition available with me.  There may be some kind of add-on I could slide on to the belt, like an extra pouch or something, that could easily solve this problem; I'll have to do some searching.  Or come crafting!

We'll have to see about stashing snacks as I experiment beyond hydration, but for now, I'm thrilled to have a hydration solution that can stick with me through longer runs. Though I know many of my longer races will have water stops along the route, being able to mix up a liquid energy powder like my Tailwind endurance fuel and supplement those course aid stations with my own beverage that I can access when needed will make covering the distance so much more manageable. As my training runs get longer, having this hydration belt will make me much more confident and allow me to push a little harder, making me as ready as possible to tackle a full marathon.

What running gear has helped you take your training to the next level?  Do you run with a hydration belt?  How about a hydration backpack or handheld?  What's your favorite endurance fuel?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Marathon Training Wishlist

Wah wah wha marathon training wha.  I know I already sound like a teacher in a Peanuts cartoon when it comes to talking about this Marine Corps thing.  But it's a BIG DEAL!  A lot of my life is going to be poured into this endeavor, and while I'm excited about it, I'm also nervous.  Knowing that proper training will help me handle those nerves better is a good start, but I also want to make sure I'm gearing up properly for optimal training.  Building a proper support system isn't limited to the people around you - sometimes the right gear can make a big difference.  Here's my top five wishlist for heading into marathon training!

5. Tearadactyl Shirt

I run in Cleveland.  As evidenced by this weekend's unexpected April snowpocalypse, the weather is a touch unpredictable!  Layering up is a good solution, but then you have to monkey around with taking things off, tying them somewhere (or discarding them for good), and maybe even trying to pull layers back on when the 60 degree weather turns into 40 degrees suddenly.  Fortunately for those of us that live in see-saw climates there's an exciting new shirt coming out call the Tearadactyl.  With easily removable sleeves and a pocket for storage, this technical running top could become a staple of my running wardrobe.  They're not actually available for purchase yet, but you can be sure I'll get my foot in the door early on these!  They ARE available for pre-order, if you're interested!

4. MP3 Player

I already have a standalone MP3 player that works really well, but it has zero playlist functionality and it's getting old so the battery life is questionable.  I'd love to have something other than my phone to make playlists and listen to music while I run.  Yes, I can use the one I have, but the ability to create playlists for each run or for different race lengths is a feature that I'm sorely missing.  And then there's that battery life thing, which is the same concern I have for my phone.  While running without music isn't necessarily a problem, and running without a playlist is a minor annoyance, in a perfect world I'd have lots of storage, lots of easy to change playlists, and plenty of battery life to get me through hours of lonesome running!  This may be the only case in which I would even consider an Apple device...

3. JournalMenu Planner

Actually training for races is kind of new to me, but I want to make a plan and hold true to it.  Not only will I be run-training, but my classes and lifting need more structure, and I want to track how my nutrition and supplements are affecting my training - and I don't want to have to navigate a dozen clunky apps to get it all figured out.  JournalMenu creates custom training journals for ANY training (running, Crossfit, nutrition, you name it), including custom covers and custom journal pages to make it easy for anyone to track goals and monitor improvement opportunities.  I actually have a bit of a head start on this one...

2. Personal Blender

Honestly, I don't care what brand so long as I can get a blender that will blend straight into a to-go container of some sort!  I know Ninja does this, there's an Oster blender with a low profile that does this, I'll take ANY device that will help me get my nutrition back on track!  When I was consuming homemade smoothies more often, I was losing some of my excess weight and feeling so much better.  I'm not a big veggie eater, but if I can sneak some kale or spinach into a smoothie and not have to taste the leafy texture, I'll consume a lot more!  This is definitely a big priority in my training, because I just know my current (lack of) nutrition is going to eventually sabotage me.

1. GPS Wearable

Tracking my runs with the GPS in my phone is tried and true - but what happens when I'm out for hours, trying to listen to music (see #4), tracking my run, and my battery dies?  Even more than wanting a separate MP3 player, I'd much rather have a GPS watch or other wearable to separate my location tracking from my phone, which I may need in emergencies, and will probably want working at the end of a long race (for example, a marathon) so I can take photos.  Some people think tracking every run is overkill and that there is such a thing as "too much data", but I'm only monitoring for distance and pace right now.  The few stats I track, I want to be as accurate as possible, so I can learn whatever is relevant and keep a good record of my improvements.  I'm not sure which GPS watch would be the best for me, and I'm also interested in smart watches, but I'll pretty much take anything that does the job!

Don't forget to check out all the great Friday Five posts from bloggers all over the country!  Something for everyone, to be sure!

What's on your training wishlist?  Can you recommend a good MP3 player or GPS device?  What items did you find most useful while training for your last big race?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Towpath Half Marathon 2016 Race Recap

I've run two half marathons in the past.  The first came with less than two weeks' warning when I won a free entry into the Magnificent Mile Women's Half.  I ran it in the grueling late August heat along the Chicago lakefront, and spent the next few days hobbling and occasionally wanting to cry, but I finished.  My second happened about a year later, and this time my body was much more prepared for the distance at the Sunburst Half.  We also enjoyed much cooler weather, and I knocked 30 minutes off my previous time thanks to a great pacer and friend.  I still suffered in the days afterwards, but my performance boosted my confidence, and I've been eyeing down a third ever since.

The time finally came this past weekend when I had the honor of running the Towpath Half Marathon, an event staged by my friends at Canalway Partners in conjunction with the company for which I now work, Hermes Road Racing.  In the days leading up to this race, I talked a little bit about how much running on the Towpath means to me, so I won't linger too much on that topic here, but I do want to reiterate that going into this race was more than just prepping for 13.1 miles of pavement.  The Towpath was my "welcome home" and the friendships and opportunities that have come out of my first experience along the path have been instrumental in shaping my present and future.

But on to the race itself!

I cannot discuss any race that happened this past weekend without mentioning the unexpected snowpocalypse that loomed over the Cleveland skies starting on Friday afternoon.  Weather forecasts were predicting eight inches of snow or more over night, and Saturday morning was ugly.  I worked several races on Saturday, though thankfully my morning race moved to an indoor track, but runners still arrived even for the outdoor runs, and all our races went on as planned.  The threat of more snow lingered, and there were doubts about how many runners would actually show up for a half marathon if the blizzards continued.  Fortunately, I've accumulated more than enough warm running gear between my races in Chicago and Cleveland, and felt I would be adequately prepared for at least the low temperatures.  If the snow held off, we'd likely be chilly, but at least the trail could be plowed and we'd have a clear path for running.

Sunday morning was even colder than anticipated - but clear of snow!  I arrived on-site about two hours prior to start time to help with race-day registration and packet pickups and could tell early on that the darkness and cold were not going to deter nearly as many people as we'd feared.  We even received last-minute registrations!  Most of the runners huddled in a big group near the starting line, bouncing around to stay warm before the 8am start sent us out on the trail.  I connected with some runners I'm starting to know from various Hermes events, made some new friends, and even found some running buddies!

With all the weather threats and the plunging temperatures, I'd already changed my "plan" before the race; though originally it had been a loose goal to repeat my 2:15 PR from Sunburst, I was just hoping to make it from start to finish without walking and with some level of enjoyment.  The night before, I prepped a big playlist, with just enough classic rock to last me 2.5 hours, hoping I wouldn't need more than that - but come race morning, I ended up not listening to ANY of it!  Instead, I teamed up with some other runners who were running just a little slower than my originally intended pace, and we chatted the whole way.

A few miles in, my new running buddy mentioned she'd never finished in under 2:30 and had given up hope of it on the Towpath due to the weather.  But when I checked my phone's GPS, I realized we actually weren't going much slower than the pace we'd need for her to PR.  I told her I thought we could make it, but didn't say much more.  Instead, I slowly increased the pace little by little over the next few miles.  I was feeling amazing for most of the race, and I probably could have hit my 2:15 had I run for myself.  But I remembered Sunburst, and how easy it had been to run an unexpectedly fast time thanks to a new friend who helped me through, and I opted to make a friend and help her find her strength instead.  We started struggling a little around mile 11, when my toes started to feel bruised and she started noticing the now much faster pace, and at mile 12 we separated as I tried to empty the tank (up a crazy hill) while she stayed steady through the finish.

I crossed in 2:27, but felt so light and energetic after finishing that I just knew I could have run the race much faster.  I've never been so prepared for the distance, but I'm totally okay with having the fun I had on a course that carries so much meaning for me.  The Cleveland Rite Aid Half Marathon is about a month away, and I anticipate a PR on that course, which I will be sharing with many of my Hermes coworkers and fellow local runner friends!  What I am MOST proud of at the Towpath Half is my new buddy's PR - she finished only two minutes behind me, gutting out the hill and maintaining the right pace to get in under 2:30!  We waited for the others in her group (with whom I am also now friends, but who were running at different paces) before heading to the after party down the road for sandwiches, bananas, and eventually a warm ride back to the starting line where we'd left our cars!

Towpath Half Marathon Breakdown

Organization: I'm a little biased here, having worked previously for Canalway Partners and currently working for Hermes, but these Towpath races are ALWAYS amazingly well put-together.  There's a reason they've been a staple of the Cleveland running world since 1992, and it's pretty easy to understand why when you participate in their events.  Registration, early packet pickups, email communication, race-day logistics - everything is always in place, and any issues are addressed quickly and with professionalism.  There are three events run concurrently (half marathon, 5 miler, and 3 miler), and everyone has a great experience no matter which length of trail they cover.  Other runners have a lot of positives to say about both companies, so it's not just me!  But I did help on the back end of this race, as well, so maybe I am tooting my own horn a bit here too...

Two of Canalway Partners' biggest assets!

Course: The Towpath Trail is beautiful, even when it's buried in snow!  So beautiful, in fact, that Runner's World includes October's Towpath Marathon as one of the most beautiful courses in the country!  I've run most of this particular section of the trail previously in the Towpath Ten-Ten last year when it was muggy, humid, and even pouring down rain.  I actually enjoyed it more when it was freezing!  But some of that has to do with my preparedness for the race, and my mental state leading up to the event as well.  We were very lucky that the snow held off and the Metroparks staff was able to plow the entire route, and we were even more lucky that most of the icy cleared up before the race too!  A few patches remained, but runners communicated clearly and everyone I know across all three events made it safely.  Turns and distances are distinctly marked for all three event distances, and there was no confusion as to where I was supposed to be going at any time.  Mile 12 contained a massive, ugly hill, but it was the perfect amount of challenge for me at the end of what was otherwise a pretty easy course.

The Swag: I love the Towpath totem pole logo, and I love even more that each of the races takes a piece of the totem for the swag.  My tech shirt is a gorgeous blue color, and it's soft like heather cotton while still being made of lightweight performance material (it's a new style, and we're loving it for our other Hermes races).  The medal for this race is HUGE!  And it was a little heavy after running, but I have no problems blingin' it up after a half marathon.  I'm impressed with the quality of the items Towpath runners receive, and I also know that the majority of an entry fee goes towards preserving the national and local history all along the Towpath Trail, so I find the entry fees for the Towpath races to be an incredible value for runners looking for a challenge, some cool stuff, and a great cause.  Canalway Partners just recently used proceeds from the races to break ground on a new park in Cleveland that will be an amazing addition to our city!

The Bottom Line:  I love this race, I love the people involved, I love the path, and I love the cause.  If I could run every Towpath race, I'd be there in a heartbeat!  More likely, though, I'll be officially working the next couple races with Hermes, but I'll always find a way to be present at these events.  Be sure to come find me at the next one - EVERYone in the area should be running a Towpath race at some point!

Did you race last weekend?  How about this coming weekend, any plans?  What's your favorite or most meaningful course?  Would you rather PR alone or run a solid race and make some amazing friends?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Ashi Box March Unboxing - Holi Celebration

After months of amazing Sapphire Soul boxes, I started to wonder what other mystic-themed subscriptions boxes I might be missing.  Surely some other spiritually-inclined minds have put together curated collections of beautiful, meaningful things, right?  YES!  There are other boxes out there with holistic, meditation, or even yoga themes, and I'm hoping to bring additional diversity to my spiritual growth by exploring some of the other wonderful treasures the world has to offer.  And for the lover of Indian culture I've been for most of my life, Ashi Box resonates perfectly!

Disclaimer: I received this product at no cost in exchange for my review.  All opinions expressed herein are my own, as always.

The month of March is many things, but most notably, the end of March marks the official beginning of SPRING!  Here in the northern Midwest, spring can never come soon enough (and won't truly be here for another month), so when it finally comes around there's plenty of reason to get excited.  But celebrating the return of spring is never done better anywhere on earth than it is done in India, during the incredible festival of Holi, which is the inspiration for and the theme of the March Ashi Box!

Holi is perhaps best known for the vibrant colors associated with one of the festival's tradition of smearing powdered dyes on the skin of your family, friends, and loved ones.  Naturally, one of the first items I uncovered inside the beautiful recycled-silk sari was a packet of Holi powders in red and yellow!  If you've ever participated in a color run, you've probably played with the same colored powder dyes.  In the same colorful vein, I also received an Imeganation headband in a bright, funky pattern.  It's very comfortable and easy to wear in several different ways, making it a versatile and fun wardrobe accessory perfect for any festivities!

In addition to the Carnival of Color, Holi also honors the vernal equinox (first day of spring) and the triumph of good over evil (symbolized by the retreat of winter in favor of warmer seasons).  My Ashi Box brought spring into my life with a packet of wildflower seed paper cut into adorable little butterflies!  A soon as this nasty last blast of winter clears up, I can't wait to plant my little butterflies and grow myself a wildflower garden.  I also received a little lotus tin with solid perfume inside.  It smells wonderful and is perfect for tucking into my bag for my on-the-go life.  Oh, there were chocolates too, but ummm...  They're gone now.  Yup.  Just vanished.  Noooo idea what happened to those...

Holi is kicked off every year in the evening with a huge bonfire meant to banish evil, so Ashi Box brought the bonfire right into my lap with some Palo Santo!  Though not from India, these incense sticks are such a cute way to bring the symbolism of a larger-than-life event into the home.  The sari in which everything was wrapped is another gorgeous piece of India, and it is perfect for laying across sacred space on a table or shelf altar.  Finally, I received a copper lota, which is used to purify water of negative energies.  It is recommended to fill the pot in the evening before bedtime, allowing the water ample time while you sleep to purify before you drink it upon waking.

What a perfect first-time box!  For those of you who don't know much about my past (which is likely most of you), I actually spent many years studying the religious art and culture of ancient India at the post-graduate level.  Ashi Box intrigued the scholar and the spiritualist in me, and I was not disappointed!  April's box theme is "Goddess Within" - with what I know of Indian goddesses (and it's quite a bit), April ought to be even more amazing than March!  I can't wait to see what treasures I receive next time!

Oh, and you can see for yourself, if you like!  Use promo code goddess20 for 20% off the first box of a new subscription or any single Goddess box from the Ashi Box shop!  The cutoff for Goddess Within orders is April 15th, but even if you miss this one, I guarantee you'll love whatever comes next just as much!

What is your favorite holiday to celebrate?  What traditions make it so special to you?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

If I only knew then...

It's been almost two years since my first race.  I've come a LONG way since that first obstacle course, non-timed, low pressure Zombie Run!  I've run many miles, moved many miles, and learned a lot along the way.  Today for Tuesdays on the Run, we're sending a message back to our former newbie-runner-selves with some words of advice!  I have two pieces of advice I'd send to myself two years ago, but since I talked a lot about the importance of recovery yesterday, I'll just stick with the second piece of advice today.

Dear Innocent Little Newbie Runner Amanda,

You grew up playing soccer and lacrosse, and you spent most of your time working on speed and agility.  Now you have big legs full of spring muscle, and you hate long distance running because it's really hard for you.  Endurance muscles aren't really your "thing" after all that short-range work.  But you know what?  You're still a runner.  Those legs are STRONG, and they're going to carry you to amazing places.  The most important thing to remember when you are running is that every step forward is your choice.  You only have to go backwards if you choose to - and you never have to choose to go backwards again, if you don't want to.  You'll never run a six minute mile, but you'll still be able to run distances that scare you right now, and you'll feel incredible afterwards.  You'll meet people and go places that will make your life better, all because you keep choosing to take another step forward.

And it's not just your legs that are strong.  It's your heart that is strong, too.  Just like running a long distance, life is an endurance event for your heart.  There will be some courses with lots of hills, and those uphill battles will be battles, but when you crest that hill and it's all downhill from there, you're going to love the ride.

Always choose to take that step forward.  It's worth it every time.


Future Awesomesauce Amanda

Tuesdays on the Run is hosted by MarciaPatti, and Erica!  Check out what other runners have to say to their former selves in week's linkup, and stay tuned for more Tuesdays on the Run every week!  Don't forget to share the advice YOU would give to yourself in the comments on any Tuesdays on the Run post!

So, how 'bout it - what advice would you give to yourself back when you started your fitness journey?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Towpath Recovery with SLS3 Compression Sleeves

Yesterday, I ran my third half marathon at the Towpath Half.  It was COLD, but I still managed to have a great experience - I'll tell you all about it later this week.  Today, though, was the day I was dreading, far more so than the actual run itself even in freezing temperatures.  Today was the day I thought I would barely be able to move.

I've run two half marathons in the past.  The afternoon and day after each was spent in agony, barely able to hobble around and often fighting tears from the screaming pain in my legs.  Yes, I know what you're thinking: WHY would I do another if I'd had these experiences in the past??  The reason is simple: because I enjoyed the run and know with better preparation I can do (and feel) better in later races.  Well today, I suppose I have proved myself correct: I have almost no soreness today, and yesterday I was in far better post-run shape than the last few times.

There are a few reasons why I feel so good today compared to past races.  I've been training a little better, so I'm stronger and more accustomed to the stresses of running longer distances, that's for sure.  But I can tell you with certainty that the reason I have minimal soreness today (and haven't called off my back-to-back group exercise classes tonight) is that I have spent so much time learning how to recover.  Sure, training for and actually running a big event are the main focal points for runners, but as I've learned the hard way in the past, skipping recovery can turn a great race into a painful memory.  I have been determined to not let that happen again in my longer races.

There are two parts to recovery, from what I have learned: an active part, including things like yoga and foam rolling that require you to perform an exercise, and a passive part that can kind of "run in the background" of your everyday life.  I've geared up and learned how to foam roll and use a muscle stick when needed, and I still try to practice a little yoga every day, so I'm covered for active recovery.  Proper nutrition is a big passive recovery hurdle that I have yet to jump, but there's a very easy bit of passive recovery that I added to my radar over a month ago, and it has been paying dividends after my races and long training runs.  I have started wearing SLS3 compression sleeves on my calves after I run.

Disclaimer: I received my sleeves at no cost in exchange for my review.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Actually, I've tried compression socks in the past, which are essentially the same as the calf sleeves, but they have a full foot with arch compression as well.  That experience wasn't ideal, as the foot compression actually cut off my circulation!  It's been a long time, but I finally decided to give just-sleeves a chance.  The beauty of compression gear is that you slide it on and leave it - the sleeves do all the recovery work for me!  Sleeves are designed to have strategically placed pressure points along the legs that help increase blood circulation, especially while standing (like milling around the post-race after party), to enable more blood to reach your hardworking muscle tissue.  It's like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube - the compression is tightest around the ankles, then gradually lessens up through the calf towards the knee, gently pushing blood flow from the lower extremity back up to the heart.

For me, this is more important than just any runner.  Years ago I had problems with fainting from blood pooling up in my legs.  My veins weren't pushing the blood back up to my heart properly!  For a while, I had to wear prescription compression socks (thankfully without arch pressure) just to keep me from keeling over while standing around.  I know how better to adjust my body to prevent fainting now, but I still experience the same blood-pooling effect, which can be detrimental to my legs' recovery after a long run.  With the SLS3 compression sleeves I've been wearing, I have the perfect balance between comfort and compression.  Basically it's like walking around all day getting a little mini-massage!  I'm even wearing them at the office today, to maintain the positive blood flow that is helping my legs heal after yesterday's 13.1 mile beating.

I'm definitely adding "compression sleeves" to my regular recovery routine, especially after today's results.  Being able to move almost normally just 24 hours after crossing the finish line was something I previously thought to be impossible.  Of course the training helps too, but training alone can only get you so far.  If you need a little extra help with recovery, considering compression gear!  Especially since you can snag 40% ANYTHING in the store over at SLS3 Compression with promo code BLOG40!  Check out more than just compression socks and sleeves, and gear up for your next big race!

How do you recover?  Do you prefer the active recovery methods, or passive options?  What's your next big race?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sapphire Soul February Unboxing - Valentine's Magic

I'm behind on my unboxings - but I've been LOVING all my goodies from Sapphire Soul back in February!  The Valentine's Magic box was packed on a "What Color Is Your Love?" theme, and of course with Allison's special touch, the whole package truly was magical!  She always stuffs her boxes with love, but this month's was overflowing with love!

Disclaimer: I received this box at no cost in exchange for my review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.  This post contains affiliate links.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the box was the incredible aroma!  That Amor incense is potent and divine - as much as I liked last month's Moon incense, this month's scent was bursting with so much more fragrance!  I also received a green candle with an affirmation for prosperity.  Obviously green is usually associated with money, but did you know that in some cultures green is also associated with love?  Not the passionate firey love of the color red, but a love of nature and of the earth as a whole.  This box literally contained universal love!  Additionally, my box contained a couple Stash teas, which were calming and delicious, and a bit of a sneak peak from the upcoming March "Moon Goddess" box: a beautifully illustrated card from the Moon Phases Oracle deck from Mystic Moons Tarot!

What Sapphire Soul box wouldn't be complete without one of Allison's little fortune papers?  This one says "sometimes, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself."  I've said it before and I'll say it again: this woman gets me.  Every box finds an amazing way to speak directly to my soul, and this was one of those spine-tingling moments when I could literally feel the universe sending me a message through my Sapphire Soul box.  The sensation only intensified when I found my pair of Adam Rabbit earrings, which are my amethyst birthstone!  And of course, no self-respecting Valentine's box leaves chocolate out of the equation!  I ate my candy before I even got around to my video review...

Speaking of chocolate - the inspiration for the main feature of the Valentine's Magic box should look familiar!  Allison put a great twist on the traditional box-of-chocolates by swapping out sweets for stones, making this the perfect gift for any crystal junkie.  Each of the seven stones included in my tray came with an information card to identify the crystal and explain its powers.  What a great way to grow a collection!  I especially loved the abalone shell (lower left).  I also got a small bottle of gem-infused essential oil.  For anyone new to Sapphire Soul, Allison loves to infuse the power of crystals into sprays, oils, and even writing implements!  It's a great little way to add an extra burst of positive energy to any package.

Every month, I am blown away by how well-done these Sapphire Soul boxes are.  The themes are relevant and modern, the items included are always on-point, and the thoughtfulness and care with which each box is created is readily apparent the moment I open the lid.  It's been many years since I was last invested in my own spirituality at a level that made me feel fulfilled and happy, but thanks to these boxes I am rapidly finding my way back to my old soul.  The March Moon Goddess box, and the NEW Boho-Luxe Quarterly box, sold out quick, and it's very easy to understand why!  Up next is the April "Gypsy Soul" box, and guess what?  They're almost gone!  Hop over to Sapphire Soul to reserve yours ASAP so you don't have to miss out on another month of magic!

JUST HEARD!  The May theme is "Go Smudge Yourself With Soul"!  Use code THRIVE by to receive 20% off your first monthly bundle when you subscribe by 4/28/16!

What's your favorite non-traditional Valentine's gift (to give or to receive)?  How do you bring magic into your own life and your own soul?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Preparing for the Towpath

In a few days, I get to run on the Towpath Trail again, a course that has become very meaningful for me in the past year.  My first race upon returning to Cleveland was the Towpath 10-10.  Soon after, I was hired by Canalway Partners as the volunteer coordinator for the Towpath Marathon in October, a job which pulled me deeper into the world of race management and planning, and ultimately helped me land my dream job at Hermes as a race manager.  To say the Towpath has been instrumental in rebuilding after leaving Chicago would be an understatement!

Every year, the Towpath is host to runners for three events.  I've been involved in two of the three Towpath Trilogy races, but this weekend will be my first experience with the Towpath Half Marathon.  Ironically, my third Towpath race is also my third half marathon - I feel like this was meant to be in so many ways!  For my past two half marathons, I couldn't sit still this close to race day.  Right now, though, I'm surprised how calm I feel.  Maybe it's having more experience behind me.  Maybe it's the past few weeks of solid training runs at surprisingly fast paces.  Maybe signing up for a full marathon severely diminished the impact of a half in my head.  Whatever it is, I'm enjoying this at-peace feeling.  It's WAY better than pre-race stress!

Hopefully this new-found sense of calm will prevail on Sunday and I'll be able to appreciate the Towpath for all that it has come to mean to me.  I'm excited to see my friends from Canalway Partners at the finish line!  As the Towpath series is also timed by Hermes, it's likely I'll be working at the next two races, making this my one chance to enjoy the Trail as a runner.  It would be great to PR on the path, but I'm more interested in having yet another great experience in one of my favorite parks!  Wish me luck!

Do you have a race or course that holds special meaning for you?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Yup, I'm going to talk a bit about the Marine Corps Marathon again.  Get used to it - I pretty much have a one-track mind these days.  At least this post is going to help explain why the MCM is such a big deal to me, and the reason is simple: bravery.

Many times in my life, and especially in the past decade or so, I've encountered some major hurdles.  At times it's been one thing after another, an onslaught of setbacks and deterrents that have fought to throw me off my path.  Honestly, there have been times when those issues succeeded, and I have had to change direction or scrap a plan I'd outlined for my future.  But more often than not, I have powered through and found some sort of success.  Most recently, the slow deterioration of my marriage set a lot of upsetting wheels into motion - but also some very unexpected (and exciting) ones.  Primary among the positives was my introduction to the world of running.
Though I think in many ways I have always been a little brave, running has given me stores of courage and confidence unlike any I've had before.  Now that I'm a runner, I am brave enough to go after life changing things, like pursuing my dream job or running a full marathon.  The steps at time have been small, but I can look back at the past two years to see miles and miles (both literally and figuratively) of progress.  A few days ago as I was running, it dawned on me that only I am in control of the direction I travel.  Just as I never have to stop moving forward during my running unless I want to, my life can continuously head in the right direction as long as I choose not to step backwards.  Every step I take at a race or in training now is symbolic of the choice to bravely move forward.

But here's the thing about bravery: it is defined by fear.  You cannot have bravery without fear, as it is moving forward despite being terrified that makes one brave.  It was not easy to pick up and leave my awful situation last year, and I was so scared to do it.  Pursing a goal no one else around you believes in is just as frightening; pouring all your resources and hopes into something meaningful but rare without support can feel like jumping off a cliff.  Putting in my lottery bid for the MCM was exciting, but also terrifying, knowing how much effort and stress and dedication and sacrifice I would have to make to follow through if I was accepted into the field (not to mention loved ones who don't even think I can finish it).  I did it anyway - not because the fear went away, but because I have become stronger than my fear.

I have become brave.

Deb Runs

Don't forget to visit Deb Runs, host of this wonderful linkup, to see what other bloggers are saying about bravery in their lives!  And check back next week for another edition of the Wednesday Word!

How have you become brave in your life?  How has running helped you overcome fear or adversity?