Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What's the Rush?

It's Wednesday, hump day for many people. For me it is the start of a crazy busy five days, and I have about five minutes to tell you about it.

So, for people who NEVER get invited to do anything, this is a week of showing us how wrong we can be.  Between the four of us who live in this house, we have three parties and one sleepover we are invited to. I will let you guess who is going where, because really that doesn't matter. What does matter is that we have a lot going on.  Add to that two karate classes, one yoga class, gift buying for two different kids, food making for one event, and skiing on Sunday, and I think I will be ready to sleep for twelve hours straight Sunday night - after Dowton Abbey and Sherlock, of course.

Somewhere around all that I plan to fit in two treadmill sessions and at least one rowing session.

Speaking of which, I just finished my first walk/RUN on the treadmill since starting my heart-rate-monitor return-to-fitness routine.  I actually was able to run a bit at 12:30 pace while staying within my prescribed, inflammation-avoidance zone.  Of course, by "staying within" I mean I bounced a couple beats high when I ran and a couple of beats low when I walked.  It's turning out to be really hard to keep in the zone I need without erring either too high or too low. If nothing else, that is what makes this approach to exercise frustrating. More on that in another post, however.

The good news, though, was that I got to RUN again for a little bit.  Generally, as far as I could tell, I was managing about a one minute run to one minute walk.  I did that for 35 minutes.  So, with warm up and cool down and a bit of walking at incline at the end of the run/walk, I got in 50 minutes of quality exercise and 3.4 miles.  I followed that up with a bit of stretching and some upper body weight work.  (I have not done arm weights in about two years, but it suddenly sounded like a good idea. I'll let you know if it was in the next day or two.)  I will also be very curious to see if my leg backslides at all in the next couple of days.

By the way, while on the treadmill, I listened to a great Ultrarunner Podcast interview with Candace Burt, who recently came in second female at H.U.R.T. 100.  She is also the race director for the new Tahoe 200 Mile Trail Race coming up this year.  Anyway, good listen if you have the time.

Of course, I decided to celebrate my run/walk by negating all the calories I had just burned with a piece of vegan banana-walnut-chocolate-chip cake with chocolate ganache that I baked last night.

My daughter was thrilled by the idea of the cake, since - as she put it - I never bake cakes.  However, I don't know if she was thrilled with the cake itself, bananas and nuts not really being her thing.  My son just licked off the frosting being no kind of cake lover at all.  The husband thought it was okay. He's not a huge cake fan either, but as he stated this wasn't really cake and it wasn't really banana bread; it was somewhere inbetween. I took that to mean, he wasn't wowed either.  I thought it was okay, but as with a lot of vegan baking the texture was a bit dense. Ah well, back to the drawing board, I guess.

Healthy lunch today will be a smoothie!

Happy Running!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Mischung

Monday is my rest day. The end.

Haha, just kidding! If you are reading this, you aren't getting off that easy.  No, actually, today IS my rest day, and for that reason I don't want to blow my few precious hours alone on the computer, so I was trying to come up with a cool title for a this and that post - like you see on other blogs. I wanted to come up with some cool spin on Monday using the magic of alliteration, but that didn't work out so well for me.  Maybe because it's Monday, but my brain wasn't firing on all alliteration cylinders.  So then I was thinking Monday Madness, Monday Mayhem, yada, yada, yada, but those weren't doing it for me either.  So, finally, I settled on something that I love but of course no one else would understand...Monday Mischung.  Mischung being the German word for "mix."  (I suppose I could have done Monday Mix, but oh well too late.)

Anyhoo, and without further ado, here is my Monday Mischung.  A grab bag of thoughts and happenings, as spewed out by moi.


First of all, it's -9 degrees here.  Yes, nine BELOW zero. And, that is air temperature.  With wind chill it's like -20 or something.  And tomorrow is going to be colder with morning wind chills dropping to about 50 degrees BELOW zero.  There isn't too much more to say to that.  If you are reading this from the same neck of the woods as I am writing it, then you know what I am talking about.  If you are reading this from somewhere warmer, quit your belly aching about whatever temps you have right now and be thankful.  Because, frankly, I love winters, but there is nothing like a freeze-your-boogers, get-frostbite-in-five-minutes type of temperature to make you appreciate ANYTHING else.

the coffee-cocount-oil combo

So, I have recently heard of people putting butter in their morning coffee. I am not sure what that is all about, and I don't care since it is nothing I would ever do.  But then I heard of others putting coconut oil in their coffee.  Now you're talking my language. We happen to have two jars of that lying around the house.  Typically, we use it for cooking, although lately I have been experimenting with using it as a skin lotion.  (I am having so many dry skin issues and nothing seems to help.) 

Anyway, I thought I would try it this morning.  The conclusion?  Not sure.  I still have a really hard time purposely adding fat into my diet.  I mean, I don't eat low-fat by any means, but I don't go out of my way to add it in either.  I added all of about a half of a teaspoon to my cup of coffee, and I can't say that it really impacts the taste much.  There might be a bit more richness of flavor, but that is a might.  A definite con to this is that I am a little turned off by the globules of fat floating on the surface of my coffee.  (There is nothing that says good morning like drinking a steaming mug of oil slick!)

Not to be completely negative, though, on the positive side I don't feel like I need to add any Chapstick this morning.  

drag queen bingo

What can I say about this?  A cousin of mine recently celebrated her birthday by going to drag queen bingo with her friends.  Although I love where I live, there are just times when I wish we had some more goings ons in the area.  It's not every day you get to go to drag queen bingo.  And if you are living here - it's not ever.  I am missing out on some of life's truly must-do experiences.


After an entire lifetime of not eating pomegranates, this winter I have discovered this wonderful fruit and embraced it wholly.  Ever since learning how to whack the pomegranate arils out of their husks, I have been adding them to my morning oatmeal.  We are talking weeks now that I have been doing this.  Alas, it seems that pomegranate season is coming to a close, because I have been to three grocery stores in the past week and none has the fruit.  There is still one place I have to try, but if they don't have them, I will consider poms out of season.  Since running out of pomegranates I have been adding two little Halo oranges to my oatmeal and that's not half bad either.  

wellness project challenge

I am on Day 18 of my Wellness Project Challenge to eat a rawish lunch every day, and I am doing okay.  I have blown it two days out of the 18 - the one day being while we were on the road to Milwaukee and the second day when I couldn't pass up leftover soup - but otherwise I have eaten either a large salad or had smoothies for lunch.  I don't know if I feel any healthier for doing this, but I do enjoy the happy feeling I get from thinking I am making a good choice.  If nothing else, these past weeks have taught me how to efficiently make a salad that lasts a few days.  Seeing as it was always the making of the salad that kept me from eating them, I think I may be over that now.

downton abbey and sherlock

To illustrate to you how little of a life I have, let's talk tv.  I hardly ever watch television. In fact, we don't even have cable.  However, last year, I got hooked on Downton Abbey at the start of season 3.  I don't know why I started watching it, but everyone was talking about it, so I had to see for myself.  Now, every Sunday night, you will find me snuggled into the sofa with a glass of wine and the tv all to myself. (The husband flees the room to read elsewhere.)  Now, if that weren't bad enough, out of curiosity, I started watching Sherlock last night (I recognized the actor from Star Trek: Into the Darkness), and now I think I will be watching that as well.  Strangely, Sherlock is starting season 3 this year.  I guess I have to let shows mature for a couple of years before I'll watch them.  Anyway, I really enjoy these Sunday nights and will be sad to see the seasons come to an end.

running life

I am still not running. I haven't run a step - again - in about one and a half weeks, and it has been officially over two months since my IT band stopped functioning properly.  I have to say, though, that I am okay with it all.  I am taking on the heart-rate-monitor return-to-fitness approach and it's all good.  In fact, I should have realized at the end of last year - when I was having such a difficult time coming up with goals for myself in 2014 - that I needed a break.  Obviously, this is my body's way of giving me one, so I have decided to go with the flow.  I'll get back to it. I know I will.  However, I want to be running ultras until I am 100 years old, not have a brief but furious career.  Also, I have suffered a lot of injuries in the past few years, and by all accounts (I have had THREE running analyses done) I am a very efficient runner.  So, it's time for me to break the cycle now.  I don't want this injury better. I want it GONE, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to do that.

So, I have settled into a routine of walking on the treadmill and rowing, alternating between the two for six days out of the week.  I do both within my fat burning HR zone.  I do PT exercises every other day and yoga once or twice a week.  If I can get out and xc-ski, then I throw that in there as well.  Mondays are my rest days.  I have only been doing the HR thing for about a week now, so I am ever hopeful that as my base fitness improves I will be able to move up into slow running.  But, as stated before, I am going to keep at this as long as it takes to feel like I have really made a difference in this injury.  I am not going back into running with this "on the mend" or "lingering."  This time it has to be gone.  


Feeling better, but not gone.  This past week has been brilliant.  I noticed the leg acting up after the Samson Stomp last Sunday, but since then I haven't felt it get wonky at all. Occasionally I do notice tightness, though, so I know it is still there waiting in the wings.  Patience is my friend right now.

Happy Running!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Samson Stomp and Much Needed Night Away

It is no secret that I have been a little blue.  Not seriously, but enough. My running life is in flux, and I am not sure which way to turn. Should I go with the flow, or fight the flow with everything I've got?  I'm at a loss.  What is clear is that despite my despair this past weekend about heading to Milwaukee for a race I couldn't race, the night away was a much needed distraction.

Our busy 36 hours began with ski lessons in the Green Bay area for the kiddos.  We had already packed up the car, made a sandwich lunch, tucked some movies for the DVD player in the backseat, and dropped the dog at the kennel.  Skiing could have easily turned into a chore to get through before heading to Milwaukee for the main focus of our weekend, but instead it became a nice way to kick things off.

With the kids ensconced in their age-appropriate groups, the husband and I hit the ski trails. The snow was fantastic, much better than two weeks ago. And, although, the temperature was in the chilly single digits, our hour and a half spent skiing was pleasant.  Aside from being a bit overdressed, I quickly found my rhythm on the trails and really enjoyed the time out there.  I managed to go down the couple of hills along the route (including that one with the curve I wiped out on two weeks ago) without incident, and I even managed to walk UP a hill without holding everyone up or having to take off my skis.  Really, all in all, a fantastic experience.  To top things off, the kids each seemed to have a good day as well.  Skiing-wise, things are coming along.

As soon as we all got changed and into dry duds, it was time to take our adventure south.  We ate our lunch, plugged in a movie for the kids, and hit the road.

Every time we go to Milwaukee I am reminded of what a nice city it is.  There are areas that are absolutely charming, and I always leave there with the feeling that I would like to explore it more.  As with other visits, though, this one was a whirlwind tour, so we didn't get to see as much as I would like.

Getting into town, we had decided we would go see a National Geographic Penguin movie at the public museum's Imax.  (Our son is in love with all things penguin.)  Having some time to kill before the matinee, we headed over to Trader Joe's for some shopping.  We don't really go too crazy while there, but it is fun to pick up some TJ-branded items, such as cereal, dried fruit and trail mixes, wine, sauces, and chocolate items.  It's more of a novelty than anything, I think, but we enjoy it.

After the movie let out, it turned out we had ten minutes until the museum's free last half-hour of the day.  So, we got a little bit of bonus educational time going through the butterfly house, dinosaur and rainforest exhibits before we had to vacate the premises.  Dinner that evening was at Beans and Barley, a vegetarian-friendly restaurant and health-food store not too far from the museum.  Delicious food and then an hour in the pool for the kidlets was the perfect end to our day.

Sunday morning, we got up early to get ready to check out and head over to the real reason for our weekend trip - the Samson Stomp 5K, 2-Mile, and 1-Mile running events at the Milwaukee County Zoo.  After packing up and checking out, we had a nice breakfast at First Watch in Brookfield, which offered a really nice selection of healthy and not-so-healthy breakfast items.  (I had the banana granola-crunch multigrain pancakes, while the husband had house-made muesli and fresh fruit. E. had scrambled eggs, which she loves but never gets at home, while LG had a bagel with cream cheese.  Both kids had fresh fruit as well.)

Samson Stomp

As we were waved into the zoo's parking lot by the booth workers, we couldn't help but notice a sign: Samson Stomp Sold Out.  This is a popular event.  Two years ago, when we did it for the first time, we noticed that as well, and it wasn't even nearly as pleasant weather-wise then as it was yesterday.  With temps forecast into the 30s, but with a brisk wind, yesterday's race really wasn't that bad for a winter event in Wisconsin.

Originally, the husband and I had both signed up for the 5K race, while the kids were registered for the 1-Mile.  The husband's mom, who was hoping to come visit had signed up for the 2-Mile, but when her trip was canceled and my injury became a nuisance it was decided that I would take her 2-Mile bib.  Not a terrible deal because I had run the 5K two years ago. This would be husband's first time with it.

So, getting into the zoo and wending our way through to the packet pickup, we got our race numbers and shirts and then found a cozy corner to pin our numbers on.

The way the races are staggered at the Samson Stomp make it an ideal family event.  With the husband's 5K race starting at 9:30 a.m., and my 2-Mile starting at 10:15 a.m., he had time to run and wrap up his event while the kids and I watched the penguins and visited the ape house.  Then I was able to walk my 2-Mile event with enough time to see my kids and the husband off at the 1-Mile race start, which began at 10:45 a.m.  A kids' race of .25 miles also kicks off at 11 a.m.

There isn't too much to report on my 2-Mile event.  I had planned to walk it, and that I did, with the exception of four or five downhill segments, where I could not ignore the temptation to run. I could definitely feel the hamstring tendons tightening up on me, but the walk (or the short duration of the event) seemed to keep any real irritation at bay.  I finished in 30:10, and that is with stopping to take the following photos along the route.

Dall Sheep
One of the roads we traveled.
Polar Bear
Finish Line
All things considered, I was happy with my effort.  I failed to bring my heart rate monitor, so I have no way of knowing if I kept my heart rate under that 132 rate, but seeing as I know I spiked past that skiing the day before, oh well. Today is a rest day, but I will pick up the HR monitor again tomorrow for my treadmill walk. Sigh.

The others in my small group did well in their respective races. The husband bemoaned that he was "so slow" with a 20-minute or so finish.  Cue the violin.  The kids did great finishing their mile run in the 12-minute range.  Lots of fun.

After the race, we hit a Starbucks where I finally earned Gold membership.  (I am such a dork.  I really don't even care, but their marketing scheme worked. They threw out the challenge of the Gold level and I took it on.) After coffee and smoothies, we worked our way to Performance Running Outfitters where I spoke to some perfect strangers about all my woes.  After listening to me patiently, measuring my feet, watching me walk, and asking me lots of questions, they brought out the Brooks Defyance - a huge departure from my beloved Cortanas (at least stack-height-wise).  However, for the lady who can point out at least 10 things I hate about a shoe as soon as I put them on, I was struck dumb.  I had nothing to say. I put these shoes on, and I was just sort of like - oh, they feel pretty good.  I jogged around their minute track and hopped on the 'mill, and really I was sold.  So, I am trying something new - at least until Saucony comes around and gives me my old-style Cortanas back.

The interesting thing about PRO was that when I was videotaped on the treadmill, the person watching me commented that, running, I was about as efficient as efficient can be. To which I responded, then why am I always fricking injured?  He shrugged and agreed it's a mystery.  The husband's theory is that I clean up my running act when I am "on display."  That could be, I suppose.

In any event, having walked out with a brand-spanking-new pair of running shoes, we then went to REI where I bought a new pair of Dansko clogs on sale. It was my day for shoes.  I have now almost doubled my shoe collection.  Ha-ha....and you probably think I am kidding.

A linner at the Cheesecake Factory finished up our weekend.

So, a busy but good time, and as I said it was good to get away, even if just for a day.

Food-wise, I fell off the wagon on my one-rawish-meal-a-day challenge on Saturday. We had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch traveling to Milwaukee, but getting to a veg-friendly restaurant in Milwaukee, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a regular dinner there.  So, instead of the salad I should have had, I ordered a vegetable and tofu stirfry with coconut ginger curry sauce served over brown rice.  It was delicious.

I did get back on the wagon yesterday, though, as after the Cheesecake Factory for our late lunch, I really wasn't too hungry again until about 8:30 p.m., when I had a banana.  Today, I got back to the salad thing for lunch, and what do you know? It tasted good.

Happy  Running!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Heart Rate Monitor Training?

Lunch today was dictated by my trip to the dentist office to have a filling redone.  Two hours after leaving her office, my face is still numb and I was advised not to eat anything I would have to chew, lest I bite off the inside of my cheek or the side of my tongue. Lovely.  Since I have been on my crazy salad/smoothie lunch challenge, what I was going to eat turned out to be a no-brainer.

So, today's smoothie consisted of two bananas, a handful of baby carrots, two celery sticks, a large handful of spinach, frozen cherries, frozen blueberries, frozen pineapple, pomegranate seeds, and sesame seeds. Oh, and water.  It came out a much nicer color than last time, a cheerful purple-pink.  I managed to knock back three pints of this stuff without dribbling all over myself, so I call that a win for the day.

When asked what he thought of the smoothie, my lunch date just shrugged. So, I take that to mean it wasn't as tasty as the first one I gave him, which was "good" but it wasn't as bad as the last one, which he flat-out didn't drink. He did drink a full cup of smoothie, which lent a nice balance to his leftover pizza.

In other news, my exercise today consisted of a fast walk on the treadmill.  This is a new idea I am playing with - one meant to help heal me from my two-month old injury and build an aerobic base.  I don't know if I will follow through on it, because - frankly - it would take a lot of discipline and probably keep me from running with other people for quite a while. Not to mention that if I take it VERY seriously, then everything I do for exercise would have to be limited so as not to spike my heart rate past 132.

This whole idea started from an article I read by Joe Uhan, an ultra runner and physical therapist, called "Metabolic Concepts in Return to Running" on  The article essentially discussed using the Maffetone Method of training to improve pain and speed recovery from chronic or lingering injury.  Now, I had heard of folks using Maffetone before, although I had never really studied it too much myself.  The barest gist of all this is (or, I should say my simplistic understanding of it is) that you subtract your age from 180 and then apply a couple other factors, as appropriate, to determine what your maximum heart rate for exercise should be.  This is the theoretical border between your fat burning zone and your sugar burning zone, or in other words your aerobic versus anaerobic.  The idea is that most of us do not train in our aerobic zone consistently, but rather anaerobic. And, training anaerobically too much or before a sufficient base has been established is a recipe for injury, fatigue, illness and a host of other factors.  The Maffetone training has been long used (over 20 years) by triathletes and endurance athletes, because of course being in a fat burning zone is where it is at in ultras and long-distance events.  The idea is that as you train and build your aerobic base, then you will get faster at the lower heart rate. Once you are injury-free and your pace at that heart rate plateaus (and this is a months-long process, mind you), then you are ready to add anaerobic workouts.

Now, one example I saw definitely had me scared as it was a nine-month long process before the person was ready to start interval training. That requires some scary patience that I am sure I don't have. On the other hand - multiple injuries a year aside - there is a lot intriguing me about this principle, not the least of which is that I started running after years and years and years of sloth.  Through my teens and 20s, I didn't do ANYTHING in the way of exercise.  I started running and biking in my early 30s the summer before my wedding. (How's that for motivation?)  It just so happened that I enjoyed running and I never gave it up.  But, I went from nothing to racing.  It is apparent to me that I never took the time to properly build up a base.  The fact that I have spent years bemoaning the fact that I always get injured and never get faster should tell me something.  And that something is that I probably don't have any base fitness.

Now, you might be tempted to tell me that is all in my head and of course I am fit.  However, as evidence I will submit the following.  I got on the treadmill today with the idea of running three miles.  I figured I would do a run/walk or just run. (How cocky can I be?) I figured that maintaining a 132 heart rate must just be a slow run. Oh, how wrong I was! Much to my dismay, the pace I settled at was 4.3, becoming a 4.2 - that's a 14:17 minute mile! Obviously, not something I could even jog slowly at, so I did a fast walk.

That's it.  That is my theoretical fat burning zone right now.  So, why would I want to torture myself with this? Well, the impetus behind it of course is the injury from hell that just won't go away.  It seems like it is getting better but then it keeps getting re-inflamed.  I have joked it's a cha-cha, a couple steps forward, one step back.  Well, I am sick and tired of dancing.  I want to run.  So, it's back to basics for me.  The idea of keeping the heart rate in this zone is that spiking above the fat-burning zone releases cortisol and unleashes an endless unholy host of inflammation-causing particles, which might be what is making healing so dang slow.

At best, what I think I can expect is the following...that I will follow the 132 heart rate down the rabbit hole and see that it leads not only to pain-free healing but also a solid aerobic base. My hope would be that within a few weeks I will be able to do that slow jog at or below a 132 heart rate, and that as this continues I will be able to get faster and faster at this heart rate without injuring myself. As an added bonus, I hope it will also solidly train me to burn fat for fuel (necessary for ultras) as well as walk fast (also necessary for ultras).

So, I don't know.  I just had this fantastic massage (from hell) two days ago, and I can already tell that my leg is so much happier. It has more range of motion, it doesn't feel as tight, etc., etc. Part of me is loathe to put too much stock into this (I'll feel silly if I pursue this heart rate monitor training only to discover it wasn't necessary, that the massage did the trick). On the other hand, if my aerobic capacity is so pitiful, then really what will it hurt to take these winter months to really build this base I seem to be lacking? I may not be able to run with people for a long time, but I want to be running forever. And, that is not going to happen if I am constantly fighting through a cycle of injury-pushing myself too far-injury-pushing myself too far.

Am I grasping at straws?

Happy Running!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Week 1 of Raw Lunches Done and the Massage from Hell

So, I am on Day 7 of my personal Wellness Project Challenge.  Day 7 of eating mostly raw food for lunch, and I have to say this was the first day that I actually resented being on this challenge.  It's not that I am getting sick of eating only salad or smoothie for lunch.  Really, I am not!  But I made this amazing vegetable soup last night that was flavorful, healthy, and warm.  Of course we had leftovers and I actually resented the fact that this challenge was preventing me from eating them.  It's all of 14 degrees here today. You think I couldn't go for some warm soup about now? Sigh.  As it is, I am too stubborn to give up on my challenge just for a bowl of soup, so instead I am having a smoothie (perfect for those hot summer days...)

I thought the Vader glass was a nice touch given my attitude towards the smoothie today. I picture him saying, You will drink this, and you will like it! 

You will notice the color is not the pretty green of the last smoothie, but rather a muddled rose. It is not bad, although I think I added too many veggies, because the flavor balance tipped a little too far to the bitter side. It's still sweet, but not like the last one.  My lunch date did not care for this one and didn't drink his.  For the record, this smoothie contained two bananas, kale, celery, carrots, half an avocado, one orange, sesame seeds, frozen cherries, frozen pineapple, and water.

Also, if you are thinking that you would starve if you tried to get by on this, all I can say is don't judge based on the photo.  I actually have managed to drink three of these glasses each day I have had smoothie. So, seriously, THREE pints of smoothie for lunch. It's probably 1,000 calories worth of food. What do I know. So, if you think I am doing this to lose weight, think again.  I don't skimp on calories.

Speaking of calories and (not) skimping, I should also disclose that I eat snacks.  The past few days, my snacks of choice have been either citrus fruit, toast with peanut butter, or a Luna bar.  All that combined with my "rawish" lunch, breakfast and dinner, and you have to realize that I am in NO danger of wasting away on this challenge.

So, moving off the topic of food, the other big happening today was that I got a massage. This is the same lady I have seen off and on for the past several years, and truly she is brutal (in a good way, of course). Today, for example, if she had offered me a stick to bite down on, that would not have been inappropriate.

Mainly, she worked over my left leg (my injured side) and declared my hamstring tendons like cement. There was a golf ball sized knot at the base of my hamstring and not much mobility in the tendons.  Although the IT band was not completely innocent in this crime, she felt the hamstring tendons were the main culprits.  She kneaded the area, dug in her thumbs, and seriously worked me over for the full hour. There were times where I actually had to ask her to stop so I could take a breather, that is how painful this session was.  But, I suppose when you go in and ask someone to start digging around and eradicate any knots she finds, you have to expect some discomfort.

During all this fun, I did have an interesting conversation with her that got me thinking.  It was about how stress impacts the body and about the very real possibility that I may simply be the type of person who literally holds on to stress.  The upshot of the conversation was that I really need to find ways - outside of running - to rein in the stress I feel at times.  I am not exactly sure how to go about that, but it is something to think about in the months ahead.

In the meantime, I am left with a very bruised left side and the hope that this massage may have been just what I was missing on this road to recovery.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New Snow Means Skiing

What is it about a fresh snowfall that makes me practically giddy with excitement?  Is it the quiet that falls over the world? Is it the fresh beauty that is laid down over the muddled, marked, and used up landscape? Is it the promise made manifest that no matter how bad things look, they will always change?

I am not sure about the deeper ramifications of a simple snowfall; greater minds than mine have surely waxed poetic about the winter wonderland, so I will leave it to them to figure out.  What I do know is that when I hear a forecast that says five to nine inches of snow are possible, and close to eight inches are probable for my neck of the woods, I practically swoon with delight.  I am a child again looking forward to a possible snow day.  Except for me, a snow day isn't about not going to school or being able to skip out on my errands and chores. Rather, it means I can ski!

I will just say it. I am in love with cross-country skiing right now. You might be tempted to call it a marriage of convenience. After all, I can't run comfortably right now, but skiing feels a-ok.  However, skiing and I were first introduced a decade ago, and we've been friends ever since. It's only now, after my first love abandoned me, that our relationship has had the opportunity to blossom.

When we first moved to Wisconsin over ten years ago, we were coming north from the great state of Mississippi, where winter didn't have much meaning - at least not for this Michigan-born girl.  Moving to Wisconsin, I actually looked forward to snow and got excited about the possibility of trying some things I had never tried before - like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.  My parents, ever supportive, gave my husband and me for Christmas a set of cross-country skis, boots, and poles.  And, like kids delighted with a new toy, we couldn't wait to take them out to play.

Unfortunately, the weather didn't play along, and we spent the next several winters getting out maybe once or twice a season.  Then the kids came along, and the skis got pushed further and further back in the garage.

This winter has been different, however.  An activity that for years was but wishful thinking has become more of a reality. Good snowfall and being able to finally put the kids in ski lessons, combined with my running injury, have all motivated me to dust off the skis, get out the door, and really try to ski for exercise.  Now every chance I get, I am trying to ski. And what do you know? I really do enjoy it!

Skiing is something I actually feel fairly natural at. I am not a downhill skier, so I didn't have to relearn any techniques. I like the quiet swooshing sound the skis make. I like the feeling of gliding. It feels very graceful.  Each time I get out there, I feel a teensy bit more confident. Years ago when I first skied I felt wobbly pretty much the whole time.  Balancing on one leg to propel myself forward made me feel awkward. Now I feel graceful, efficient even. The balance doesn't seem to be the problem it once was and I am more confident about being able to lift my skis and place them where I want them.

Even though I ski classical, I don't have a problem skiing outside the groomed tracks and sometimes rather enjoy that option.  I am still no good at going up hills, and I am a big baby when it comes to downhills.  Even small hills can set my heart to thumping with dread.  But, it is saying something, that when faced recently with a steeper-than-normal descent paired with a curve at the bottom where two trails converged, I still opted to go down it - even knowing with 90-percent certainty that I was going to wipe out at the bottom.

And, I did.

Wipe out, that is.

I flew down the hill, halfway managed the curve, but towards the end of the run I fell over just before I would have slammed into a wooden trail marker.  I still shake my head in amazement that that fall didn't ruin skiing for me forever. The fact is, though, that I can't wait to get out again - and I would even consider taking on that hill again.

So, bring on the snow! I will accept the limitations with driving. And, I will not complain (too much) about the multiple rounds of shoveling.

As long as I can get out and ski this week, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! 

Our Christmas tree this year. After doing its duty inside, I plopped it in the snow
outside, and much to my surprise it stayed upright. Even through some windy days, it has
continued to grace our home with its evergreen beauty. Some may think this is a bit
low class, kind of like letting a car rust in your backyard.  I prefer to think of it as upcycling.
When it falls over, I will take it to the yard waste drop-off site. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Salad Versus Smoothie, and the Winner Is...

Day 5 of my Wellness Project Challenge is successfully underway. With my green smoothie in hand, I am enjoying my fifth day in a row of a "rawish" lunch.

If you will recall, on days 1 through 4 of this challenge I met my goal of eating relatively raw by having a big salad for lunch.  This was not a particular hardship for me, as I do love vegetables. They are probably my favorite food group of all time. With baby greens and a few choice veggies, making the salads was relatively easy and pain-free.  The one exception being Saturday when, looking forward to my leftover salad greens from the day before, my husband decided salad sounded good for lunch too.  So, instead of the quick grab-n-go lunch I had envisioned, I ended up spending some extra time chopping romaine and other ingredients to make my salad for one stretch enough to feed two people. Of course, I did this happily and with only a little bit of grumbling at the perceived inconvenience to myself. Ahem.

Veggie lover or not, though, today I already knew I was at the end of my salad tolerance, and the decision was made to try a smoothie for lunch instead.  (This decision was also helped in part by the fact that I no longer had any salad-making materials on hand.)

So, lunch as I know it today became a simple green smoothie. Ingredients were: two bananas, handful of kale leaves, two celery sticks, one orange, frozen pineapple, frozen mango, TBSP or so of sesame seeds, and water.

Blended until smooth, it came out looking like this:

I like the pretty green color, but the taste is decent too. It is sweet but not overly so, and there is just the slightest hint of celery flavor and a minute tad of bitterness from the kale.  All in all, I think it is a nice balance for a lunchtime smoothie.

So, which one wins out for me?  The salad or the smoothie?  Well, in all honesty I think it is the salad.  Smoothies are nice in that they are portable and I find that when I have one for lunch, I kind of "work" through lunch. For example, today I cleaned up the kitchen and am now typing on the computer while sipping my lunch.  Although that could be seen as a positive, I don't like it.  I like to sit down and enjoy my meals.  I suppose I could sit down and just drink the smoothie, but that seems odd.

The other thing the salad offers me that the smoothie does not is the actual feeling like I am eating.  I rather enjoy chewing food.

Finally, while the smoothie is good, it is a hair too sweet for me - even given how non-sweet it is! Hands down, when it comes to a face off between veggies and fruit, veggies will win for me every time.

So, there you have it, folks, the winner in my own personal lunchtime face-off match is salad.  Don't get me wrong, I will probably still have smoothies for lunch here and there (after all, I can't eat salad every day; I get bored too easily), but salad remains king.

(If you are wondering what my lunch date had today, he had half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two Halo oranges, one small apple, and the glass of smoothie on the left in the photo above.  He is definitely a fruit eater, and he declared the smoothie "good.")

Running Update: I was a bit more tight and sore today after the rowing yesterday, but I decided to hop on the treadmill anyway and try my run/walk again. I went 3.25 miles with little trouble, then did my PT exercises.  I am paying for it now, though, with a bit more discomfort than I have had the past few days. I have to say, I KNOW in my heart of hearts that I really probably should NOT be running. I should find some nice, safe exercise (whatever that may be) that doesn't exasperate the problem AT ALL and then do that until I detect no pain, discomfort, tightness, tenderness, or off feeling. But, unfortunately, that is not me.  I don't just run to participate in races or to maintain fitness, I run for my sanity and mental health. And, I just can't give it up completely.  I am my own worst enemy at times.

Happy Running!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Suddenly Drowning in a Wave of Optimism - Is This Injury on the Mend?

A funny thing happened when I got off the treadmill yesterday; namely, I didn't hurt.  Is this the magical turning point I have been seeking? Is this the sign from the running heavens that life may be returning to normal?  Is this what I needed before I could start committing to some ideas of what I wanted my race year to look like?

The short answer to all those questions is I don't know.

What I do know is that for the first time in many weeks, I feel a glimmer of hope.  And, it is amazing how - once you allow yourself that one whisper of hope to creep in - an avalanche of optimism follows.

It all started Wednesday, the day I had the big stabbing pain of a setback on my road to recovery, the day I became filled with despair that this injury would never go away. Was that my darkest hour?  The dark before the dawn? Because one thing came of that stabbing pain and the countless hours of venting to anyone who would listen afterwards, and that was the determination to figure out what the hell I was doing wrong.  And, barring finding the answer to that, then to at least figure out what I may be doing right.

You see, I think on the road to injury recovery I may focus a bit too much on the negative. What hurts, when it hurts, why does it hurt?  I don't pay nearly as much attention to the positive: when does it feel okay, what things make it marginally less painful?

In talking to my friends and reviewing my training log, what I came up with was that in all these short runs I have been doing at the track, I finally noticed a time when my leg felt better - and that was after walk breaks. I have typically been running about two miles on the track before taking a walk break. I would then run another half mile, take a walk break, and then run another half mile - for three miles total.  Well, what finally occurred to me is that I have been feeling marginally better after those walk breaks.  Not fantastic, but marginally better. The fact that walk breaks might be helping should have come as no surprise; I have, after all, been a huge fan of Jeff Galloway's method on and off over the years.

So, yesterday, when I decided I would give the treadmill a go, I opted to go back to the Galloway method, a method that someone once told me is a great tool to have especially when recovering from injury. Why it didn't occur to me before, I will never know.

Anyway, I got on the machine and opted to do a 3:1 run:walk for three miles.  Although I continued to notice the tightness while running (and walking), the big difference was when I got off the treadmill. I didn't have any lingering soreness or weirdness all of yesterday, and today all I feel is the teensiest bit of tightness hanging in there.  I felt probably 70 percent better than after any other run I have done in the past month and a half.

Although I know things are not back to normal, for the first time in a long time I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I have hope that things are on the mend.

Riding that wave of optimism are my first thoughts of races this year.  I had really put aside any plans for organized events (read: things I have to pay for). But with this I feel I can finally give some thought to what I would like to do, even if in the end it turns out I can't do them.

So, as a show of good faith, I did sign up for one race and have turned my attention to a handful of others I might want to do.

First on this year's agenda of hope is the Zumbro 17-Mile Trail Run, which is the one I actually put money down on.  This is part of a 100 and 50-Mile event put on by the good folks at Rock Steady Running (home of the Fall Superior Races the husband and I did last September). I am really excited about this because it will get me out on some new trails, and RSR really does put on a good event. Because I'll be part of the "short" race, I will get all the perks of the longer event - kickass aid stations, food, etc., - without the commitment. A win/win for me.  Additionally, since this is the short add-on race, I will get a crazy long cutoff of nine hours.  So, if things really still aren't going well, I know I can walk this event and still finish.

Beyond Zumbro, there are a few other races on the agenda of hope - nothing I have signed up for yet but ones I am interested Keweenaw again, for example.  The husband is signed up for Leadville this year, and that is really exciting.  He has mentioned the possibility of me pacing him for the last 13 miles, which I thought rather silly until he explained that I would be his mule. (Ah, it all becomes clear.)  So, I could look forward to crewing overnight and then joining him on what would surely be one of the most interesting experiences in my running life to date.  We'll see.

I am under no illusion that I am free and clear of this running injury yet. I will still continue to follow my plan - such as it is - that I wrote about last time. Cross-train, short run/walks, PT exercises, and yoga.  But now I will go about it all a little more optimistically. Only time will tell if I have really turned the corner on this, but I once again have hope.

Afternoon Update: Completed 30-minutes of rowing, including intervals, and still remain pain-free.  Still a bit of tightness lingers, and that worries me, but this is by far the best two days I have had in a long while. Oh, happy me!

Wellness Project Update: Completed Days 3 and 4 without a hitch. Huge salads both days for lunch. Seeing as I really do love my veggies, this hasn't been too hard, but I am getting a bit bored with the salad. I might have to try for a smoothie tomorrow.

Run with Joy!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What Happens When You Break the Running Habit

"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going." - Jim Ryun

I saw this quote posted on Facebook by Runner's World, and it really struck a chord with me. 

Motivation is a big factor in getting us out the door and running for that first time.  Or, it is the thing that gets us started again after a hiatus. We want to lose weight. We need to burn stress.  We want to change our lives.

That motivation, or enthusiasm, however, quickly dies away when the going gets tough. Things don't change fast enough, or perhaps we have unrealistic expectations.  Whatever it is, habit may be the only thing that keeps you going.  I know it has for me.

There have been so many times when I didn't feel like running, but I went through the motions because that is what I do.  On Wednesdays, I run. I might not feel like it all the time, but it's what I do so I do it.  The good habit that was formed over weeks or months might be the only thing that carries me through the rough patches until I can find my motivation or enthusiasm again.

So, what happens when the habit is broken for you?  With my IT band acting up on me lately, I have been forced to NOT run the way I want to. A habit that I had long taken for granted - and enjoyed - suddenly was no longer an option for me.  So, what does a person do?

As far as I see it, there are three options: do nothing and mourn the loss, replace the running habit with something else, or get a greatly modified run fix in to keep your hand in. Or, if you are me, you do all three.

When I first realized the severity of this injury, I recognized the importance of doing nothing.  I took a couple of weeks off and really just chilled out.  I moped about, felt sorry for myself, did all the usual things an injured runner does.

Thankfully, though, the do-nothing phase didn't last long. I am not a competitive runner. My ego doesn't feed off of my runs to the extent that if I have crappy runs I don't do them. (C'mon, we all know folks like that.)  I am a slow, not-so-good runner anyway, so - really - running while injured doesn't look too different for me than running while healthy.  

Immediately after getting over the mourning stage, I got busy trying to find something with which I could replace the habit of running, and I was surprised by what I came up with.

When I first set out to find something, I was looking for that magic cross-training elixir that would allow me to get my cardio fix and fill the void that running had left behind.  Really, I was looking for nothing more than a place holder.  I didn't want to give up my running habit, but I wasn't really running. So what could I find that would keep the habit going?  I tried the elliptical, rowing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, walking at incline and yoga, and I was disappointed when none of those really did it for me.  (Well, truly, skiing would probably do the trick, but it is so weather-dependent.) Oh, I enjoy them all to an extent, but they aren't running.

What I did find, though, was that I could use ALL of them for my purposes.  So, these past couple of weeks, I have simply been trying to maintain my six-day-a-week schedule of activity, giving myself one true rest day out of the week.  I don't stick to any one activity, though, but rather mix it up trying not to do the same activity twice in a row.  In this way, I have found that when the weather is right, I can ski or snowshoe, but otherwise I have rowing, yoga, and hill walking available to me.  I have been using the elliptical as well, but I am finding I think it aggravates the IT band versus helping it, so that is getting dropped for the time being.

Finally, I have found I just can't give up running entirely. As much as it might be advised, there is something that running gives me that I just can't find anywhere else. So, I have continued to run two to three times a week, just as long as I can manage comfortably.  Unfortunately, that amounts to about 2-3 miles at this point, but I'll take it.

So, am I a happy, content, easy-going, come-what-may runner-in-waiting?  Hell no! I am still mourning the loss of my running miles. I am still mad as a hornet that I am not out there. But, in a small way, I accept that this is the path I am on until I am not - whenever that may be.

I might be going about this all wrong, that's for sure. There are days when I doubt my choices.  Should I continue running? Should I do this cross-training activity versus that one?  I really don't know.  Only time will tell, I suppose.

In the meantime, I can say with all honesty that the one good thing that has come out of this is that it has spurred me on to finally devise a training log option that I like and can maintain.  It's simple. It's old school. It involves a pen and a day planner. But, it works for me. I am keeping a fairly detailed log on everything I am doing and how things are going. In this way, I am hoping to be able to - at some point - spot a pattern and figure out once and for all why I keep getting injured and how I can prevent it from happening in the future.

Happy Running!

Friday, January 10, 2014

My Simplistic Take on Food

So, we're on to Day 2 of the Wellness Project, and I already feel the need to qualify what I am doing.  I have never delved too much into my dietary choices here, because it's been my experience that - like religion or politics - diet can become somewhat of a hot button topic.  And, of course, by "diet" I don't mean what you do to lose weight, simply one's food choices.

As I stated yesterday, when I began this experiment of converting one of my meals to a raw food fest, I feel I already eat fairly health-consciously.  I have been vegetarian for about 18 years, and I have been "veganish"for about 15 years, ever since I noticed that when I cut out dairy products my joints didn't ache as much and the random rashes I had been dealing with for a while disappeared.  I call myself veganish, because it's a nice word and, frankly, I am not vegan. At home, my husband and I do eat mostly dairy-free and certainly egg-free, but there are times when we do eat cheese or bake with eggs (usually around holidays), so I could never consider myself vegan - at least not at this time.

I have a healthy relationship to food. I am not an emotional eater. Food is fuel and that is about it. I don't wax poetic about any particular dishes I was raised on (sorry, Mom!), and generally speaking I don't have any strong cravings for anything.  Those times when I really do crave something I eat it and don't beat myself up about it.  (My downfall is usually dark chocolate, if anyone is taking notes.)

My self-imposed food rules are, typically speaking, as follows:
  • Don't buy anything you don't want to eat
  • Don't go to fast food restaurants
  • Eat to fuel the body
  • Treat treats as treats
  • Don't think it's your God-given right to feast every day
  • Don't eat after dinner (unless you stay up too late reading and are REALLY hungry, then have a banana before bed)
  • If you crave baked goods, bake them yourself (amazing how that curbs a craving, especially if you are feeling lazy)
  • If you really want something, eat it
  • Drink water
  • Don't drink soda
  • Focus food choices on whole foods
  • Avoid processed crap
  • Try to eat organic
  • If you are going to eat dairy, make it the really pricey, locally produced stuff (limits purchases)
These may seem crazy. I don't know. And, it's not like they are hard and fast rules.  To (mis)quote Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, "[This] code is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules." In other words, I don't torture myself over them.  They are not really rules I think about; they are more just the way I live.  

Before anyone gets all defensive on me, let me stress that I try very hard not to judge others for eating meat.  In fact, most of the time, I don't think about what other people are doing. (Only-child syndrome?) At most, I wish people would make wiser choices when it comes to meat.  Don't eat it everyday. Buy the expensive stuff. Know where it is coming from. Ask questions.  I think fewer people would eat it if they really paid attention to where it came from.  If you know where it comes from and you are okay with it, so be it. I can respect that.

For myself, I am a vegetarian, and it is completely ingrained. I can't imagine eating meat again, although I will never say never.  I don't crave it, though. I don't miss it. And, for the most part, I am vegetarian not only for health reasons but because I think it is better for the environment and for animals. When I go biking in the summer past the farms and I see the cows in the field that look up and watch my progress, I can honestly feel good about myself. I can look them in the eyes and I am happy that I have no thoughts of eating them.

Not everyone is like that. I once knew someone who thought of cows as walking, breathing, bellowing vegetables. Everyone is different. My point is, though, that I am vegetarian to the extent that even if I found out that being vegetarian was going to shorten my lifespan, I would probably still be vegetarian.  I can't harm a fly, let alone a cow, pig, chicken, or fish.

So, this isn't all to alienate me further from others.  Rather, simply to give a bit of where I am coming from with this challenge.  Although I feel that I eat fairly well, there are too many times when I make the easy choices, versus what is right.  Eating more unprocessed, whole foods is my goal, not to convert to a full-on raw foods diet.  Too often I make a quick sandwich when I could have a salad. And that is what I want to change.  Every meal I eat may not be perfectly raw (point in fact, roasted sunflower seeds are by definition not raw), but I am trying to get better, not be perfect.

So, that is where I stand, and now you know a little more about me. On to lunch!

Day 2

So, I warned you that I am not too quick at thinking outside the box when it comes to food, so you will note that today's lunch looks startlingly similar to yesterday's lunch.  Once again, I enjoyed a salad with mixed baby greens. I did mix up the add-ins a bit, so ended up with adding cauliflower, baby carrots, mini sweet peppers, avocado, pomegranate seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds.  I realize now that the sunflower seeds are not technically "raw" in the "raw foods" sense, and that is what spurred me on to write the above. Still, I consider it a basically raw meal, and I am okay with it.

As to my lunch date, he enjoyed sweet mini bell peppers, mixed baby greens, raw cauliflower, baby carrots, avocado sprinkled with a bit of sea salt, and rice with soy sauce.  (The boy could be a sumo wrestler, I think, given that rice with soy sauce is his all-time favorite meal.)  He also ate a big glob of hummus as well. After he didn't eat it yesterday, I didn't give him any today, but he asked for some after I set his plate down.  I didn't photograph his plate when he was done eating, but I will say he ate everything on it except for one baby carrot and a small piece of the cauliflower.  He even finished the hummus.

As an added bonus, mainly because I am digging the way the white dishes show up against the black background, I photographed my breakfast, too.  (And, in case you are wondering, yes, my children do think I have gone off the deep end here. Luckily, my husband has yet to see me doing this, but I digress....)  Today's breakfast was oatmeal with unsweetened coconut, walnuts, chia seeds, pomegranate seeds, cinnamon, and a smidge of maple syrup. Delicious, nutritious, and crazy filling.

Still no run update. I have now had tea and coffee with two different friends on two different days, so I feel I have vented about as much as I can for now. I also emailed my PT and poured out my frustrations to her. So, I can't possibly do that again today. Suffice it to say that if there really are five stages of grief, then I am teetering between anger and acceptance.  I did go to power yoga today, and that was fantastic. Tomorrow I might try to get my run fix again.

Happy Running!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

21-Day Wellness Project Challenge - The Raw Story

A few days ago, the challenge was put out there by the Littlest Tumor Foundation to find something about yourself that you would like to change.  The Wellness Project 2014 is to last 21 days, just long enough to create a new habit.

When I first heard about this, I jumped on it.  I love these habit-changing challenges. A similar one last year got me on my hot lemon water kick.  Two years ago, it was core work. I can't say that I have always continued my new habits past the last challenge date, but invariably these challenges get me thinking and I believe bring me one step closer to who I want to be.

With the LTF challenge, I knew I immediately wanted to jump on board. The problem was that the challenge was wide open.  I could choose anything I wanted to.  So, of course, I could think of nothing.

I really wasted the first few days struggling to think of something - anything! - I would want to develop or further or work on.  But, because I am perfect, I drew a blank.  Hahahaha.....okay, not really. The problem is that there are SO MANY things I would like to work on.  How could I choose just one?

I had all but forgotten about this little challenge until today. As I was making a salad for lunch, I finally thought of something. It's a little thing, but if I could make it into a habit I would be quite pleased with myself. So, I have decided to challenge myself to eating at least one raw meal a day for 21 days. I am starting the challenge a bit late, so I will plan on extending it a bit further past the group challenge.  However, I am excited about this.  I eat fairly health-consciously anyway, but I don't eat a lot of raw foods. Even though I know they are good for me, and it would add more variety to my diet, I have struggled with making this into a habit. So, for 21 days, I will persevere.  Since I can't think too far outside the box, my challenge will most likely mean that I will have a smoothie or a salad for lunch. But, with the challenge underway, I think I will go out of my way to make this interesting and varied. We'll see.

So, here we go....DAY 1!

Nice salad of mixed baby greens, sliced sweet peppers, carrots, avocado, Kalamata olives, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and Udo's Oil and balsamic.

Because I thought it looked lonely, though, I added a whole grapefruit. Does anyone else eat grapefruit like an orange, or is it just me?

For my six-year-old lunch date, this is what was served for lunch: mini sweet peppers, baby carrots, hummus, leftover pizza, avocado, small orange, grape tomatoes, and sunflower seeds.

And here is what was leftover when he was done.  I tried to keep track of the order he ate things in, and it turned out to be peppers, orange, carrots, tomatoes, avocado, and sunflower seeds - in that order. He obviously took one bite of pizza and didn't touch the hummus.  The hummus surprised me, because he is usually a hummus fan.  I don't think he likes this olive hummus I bought. So, kids don't eat veggies, eh?

I won't show my plate after eating, because I ate it all, and it wasn't pretty. The lone exception - the two little tomatoes, which didn't taste that flavorful to me.

Want to eat healthier? Consider joining me on this three-week challenge. Should be interesting. 

As for running, not much to report there...or rather, too much to report. Not doing much running. Going on six weeks with this IT band issue. It's still unhappy. We're doing sort of a cha-cha approach to (what I hope in the end will be) healing.  Two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, one step back.  More on it later.

Happy Running...or Eating...or Whatever You Do!