Navigating the Holidays: Tips and Tricks for a Healthier, Happier Season – Week Two: Booze Bets and Surviving the Day-to-Day (i.e., Watch out Office Donuts!)

It’s here! Thanksgiving week. As you gather with friends and family don’t forget to remember the reason for the season and all you are thankful for. One activity I love is sharing what we’re thankful for around the dinner table – actually saying it out loud. It can mean so much to our loved ones – who we don’t tell nearly enough how important they are to us. I know that personally, I have so much to be thankful for — this year especially. In addition to my loving family, health and career, I am thankful for my partner in life. To my husband on our first thanksgiving as a married couple – you are what I’m most thankful for this holiday season. Your patience, smile and calming nature truly has swept me off my feet and I’m so in love with and thankful for you. So now it’s your turn: I want to know, what are you thankful for?

And now, on to this week’s tips and recipes. Enjoy!

Be Bashful Around BoozeCelebrating Christmas

Why? Alcohol has 7 calories per gram as opposed to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein. That means it’s calorie dense – and those calories can add up quick if you aren’t careful. Just because you are celebrating shouldn’t mean you should send your weight maintenance plan on holiday as well.

Alcohol interferes with blood sugar by slowing the release of glucose into the blood stream. Alcohol also breaks down your inhibitions and can impair your judgment, making you less likely to resist (and often times eat more of) the foods you might otherwise pass up.

Here’s how a typical drink adds up:

  • 90 calories/5 ounce glass of wine
  • 150-170 calories in a pint of beer
  • 75 calories in about 1.5 ounces of spirits

So what to do? For starters, try to keep visual evidence around of what you’ve consumed so you don’t forget. Leave an empty bottle of wine or beer in view and you’ll be less tempted to drink more. You can also follow each beverage with a glass of water to ensure you stay hydrated and potentially drink less. Last – watch the added mixers. Stick with clear spirits mixed with calorie-free beverages like sparkling water or club soda vs. juice or soft drinks.

Survive the Day-to-Dayoffice-snacks

Again — just because it’s the holidays, doesn’t mean you should forego your healthy habits. Continue to meal prep, bring your own lunches, and keep healthy snacks at the office so you’re not as tempted by the treats that will begin to pile up. It’s hard – I know! Just last week a coworker brought in a box of donuts and I felt peer pressured into eating one – even though I truly didn’t want it. Stand your ground. And if you want to indulge – do so mindfully. Not while typing away at your desk. Take a minute to truly enjoy the treat. You’ll be less apt to go back for a second or third.

Some other tricks to try: keep those communal office goodies out of view or in an area that is less trafficked like the kitchen or a break room. Why? Out of sight, out of mind.  Another idea: before you splurge, consider doing something healthy. We are on the 8th floor of our office building. So instead of just diving into that cupcake or cookie, I’ll sometimes walk up/down a few flights of stairs or go for a walk first. Often times, when I return, I’m no longer in the mood for that sweet treat. And if I am, I enjoy it – without multitasking.

Recipe Inspiration

Since it’s Thanksgiving week, here are a couple of my favorite side dishes you can swap out for more traditional sides. They are still healthy and delicious but without all the extra calories, sodium and healthier sources of fat. If you try one of these recipes out, I’d love to hear what you think!

Coming up next week, I’ll discuss why it’s so important to get, or continue to get, moving as well as why it’s so important to plan ahead before heading out to an office party, holiday shopping or cookie exchange. Cheers!

Green Beans and Walnuts with Lemon Vinaigrettegreen beans

Serves 8

A tasty alternative to green bean casserole with less sodium and calories than the traditional dish. The walnuts add healthy crunch and the vinaigrette really makes this dish pop. This is one of my go-to recipes during the holiday season. Enjoy

Ingredients:

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup walnut oil or olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. minced shallot
  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
  • 2/3 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped

Directions

  1. Remove peel from lemon with vegetable peeler and cut into very fine strips.
  2. Cut lemon in half. Squeeze enough juice to measure 2 tablespoons and transfer to a small bowl.
  3. Whisk in mustard, then oil and shallot. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Cook green beans in pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, 5—6 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
  5. Combine beans, walnuts, and lemon peel strands in a large bowl. Add dressing; toss to coat and serve.

Smokey Apple Butternut Squash Soupapples

Serves 6-8 (Makes 7 Cups)

Adapted from the U.S. Apple Association

I love this simple soup as a holiday starter. As I mentioned in the tips, starting with a broth based soup can fill you up so you indulge less in the calorie dense foods served next. This soup has a nice added kick from the chipotle powder. If you find it too spicy you can back off or omit that ingredient entirely. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large onions, finely chopped (about 4−1/2 cups)
  • 1 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks (about 6 cups)
  • 1 pound sweet apples (I like Galas), peeled and cut into chunks (about 3−1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup apple juice (more if necessary)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat oil and butter in large saucepan; add onions and chili powder; cook and stir until onions are tender, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add squash, apples, apple juice, chicken broth, salt and pepper; bring to boil.
  3. Cover and cook on low heat until apples and squash are very so, about 30 minutes. Cool.
  4. Puree with an immersion blender or a food processor; return to saucepan.
  5. Add additional apple juice or broth, if needed.
  6. Garnish with toasted pecans, plain Greek yogurt swirls and thin apple slices, if desired.
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Navigating the Holidays: Tips and Tricks for a Healthier, Happier Season

It’s hard to believe it – but the holiday season is just around the corner! I recently had the fortunate opportunity to give a nutrition seminar to Orange Theory Fitness members around the Chicago-land area on how to navigate the holiday season while keeping your health and fitness goals in check. Since the tips were pretty well received – I figured why not share them with you! But instead of all at once – I’ll share a couple every week so as not to overwhelm you!

Holiday-weight-gain.jpgBut before I dive in – why bother? “It’s the holidays – let me eat what I want,” right? I wholeheartedly agree that you should celebrate and enjoy yourself – but also feel that just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you have to derail your health and fitness goals. There’s a misperception that we gain a ‘ton’ of weight during the holiday season. And while some may gain more than others – the truth is the average person only gains about one pound during the holiday season. The issue though is we don’t lose that pound leading to an increase in weight over time.

Second – let’s face it – the holidays are stressful (amen!). Between work, holiday parties, family, friends, church, and other obligations you may have – there just isn’t enough time for everything and often our health takes a back seat. That shouldn’t be the case. If anything – now is when you should make it more of a priority to ensure you ward off illness and stay healthy during this festive time.

So on to my tips and tricks. I hope you enjoy this series of posts! Let me know – I always love feedback!!

Tip #1: Party Time Prep

Holiday season likely means a slew of get-togethers filled with hor ‘douerves galore. How do you navigate them when pigs in a blanket or creamy artichoke dip are calling your name? First – never – if at all possible – show up hungry (or in my case, hangry). Why? You are more apt to eat everything in sight and alcohol will hit you faster. Have a snack before you leave the office or house. One of my go-to snacks when I’m in a pinch are Health Warrior Chia Bars (full disclosure: I serve on the Health Warrior Dietitian Council). These little goodies pack a punch of fiber (5g per bar) and healthy fat with only 3g of sugar. And they are only 100 calories and the perfect size to through in your purse, work bag, car or back pack. They come in delicious flavors too – like chocolate chip cookie dough, banana nut or coconut. Have a little more time? Then follow my suggestions for a healthy snack: it should include a carbohydrate (e.g., bread, cereal, fruit, dairy, etc.), healthy fat (e.g., nut butter, avocado, nuts/seeds, etc.) and quality protein (e.g., dairy, soy, egg, meat products or some combination of nuts/seeds). Examples include a yogurt parfait made with greek yogurt of your choice (look for low or no added sugar), granola and some chopped apples or other fruit; a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter and sliced banana; or a handful of carrots with some hummus, whole grain crackers and 1 oz of cheese (about the size of your thumb).

7790ecd6-edf2-4a43-94f4-6343f41dec49Once you’ve arrived to the party, attack the snacks mindfully. Survey what is offered and take what it is you truly want to eat vs. a little bit of everything. Research has shown that when faced with a wide variety of foods, people tend to eat more—regardless of true hunger level. Really try to tune in to your hunger level and whether you really want the chips and dip or the veggies and hummus. Take a little and call it a day. Another tactic – fill your plate with better-for-you options first. I like to encourage clients to follow the 1/2 plate rule – at meals and with snacks. 1/2 of your plate (or bowl) should be fruits/veggies. One quarter grain and the other quarter a lean protein of your choice. This visual will help keep portions in check.

Last – once you’ve had your fill, stand away from the snack table so you aren’t prone to mindless nibbling. You can also hold on to something to lessen your likelihood to munch. Think about it – when our hands are full, it’s hard to stuff our face. Try to really be keyed in to what you are eating when you are eating – focus on enjoying each bite you take.

My next two tips will focus on alcohol and how to survive the day-to-day (hello office donuts). So stay tuned for more and feel free to comment with the tips that you take during the holidays to stay on track! I’ll end each post with one of my favorite holiday recipes – because food! All are holiday inspired but health-ified (still delicious). Cheers!

Avocado Chocolate Mousse

You’ll save over 250 calories, 20g of fat (while also switching to a healthier fat), and gain 3g of fiber per serving compared to traditional chocolate mousse. Have fun with your guests by asking them to guess the mystery ingredient. This recipe is also a great way to use up avocados that have started to turn brown. Enjoy!

New Picture (2)Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe avocado (the riper, the better)
  • 1/4 cup milk (I prefer Fairlife to get an extra dose of protein)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup honey or agave nectar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth/creamy. Transfer to a bowl or custard cups and chill for 20 min before serving. Eat within 2-3 days. Makes about 4 servings.

Nutrition Facts per Serving: 166 calories, 6g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 52 mg sodium, 31g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 3g protein (if using Fairlife – regular milk has about 2g protein/1/4 cup)

 

2018 Global Running Day: 10 Reasons Why I Run

On this Global Running Day – a day that celebrates the sport of running – I thought I’d reflect on why I run. So here’s 10 reasons. This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are a multitude of reasons. Why do you run?

  1. It brings me joy and puts a huge smile on my face every daySoldier Field.
  2. No matter what is thrown at me, I know I can count on running to calm my nerves, help relieve life’s stressors, and just unwind.
  3. It helps me overcome obstacles and challenges – not only on the track or race course – but in life as well.
  4. I really like food – especially pizza, beer and ice cream – all of which taste even better after a good run!
  5. I’ve discovered so much about myself and what I’m truly capable of through running.
  6. I love helping others discover running – whether coaching Chicago Endurance Sports, pacing various races or encouraging current/past teammates.
  7. The community! I’ve met some of my best friends through running.
  8. It reminds me that hard work can lead to a great reward.
  9. Some of my best thoughts, reflections and ideas come to me when I’m running.
  10. Because my biggest inspiration (my father) encouraged me to start and while I can’t run with him today in person, I do in spirit every time I lace up my sneakers.

Good Life 5k race recap and why getting injured may have been one of the best things that could have happened to me…

 

17 weeks. 119 days. That’s how long I went without toeing the line of a single race. Anyone who knows me as a runner – knows that’s a darn long time. I can still remember the twinge that took me over the edge. The moment I knew something was wrong. January 11th. I was finishing up the cool down of an otherwise good pre-dawn treadmill workout. I had decided to bring it inside due to the dark and cold temps. Out of no where, I felt a sudden pain behind my right knee. I tried to run through it as many of us mistakenly do. But this pain was too much. I shook it off – no worries I thought – I was done with the workout and it’d probably go away later. I finished up my morning routine – but the pain continued to linger.

Flash forward 3 weeks. This had been the longest I had been down and out and to be honest, it was depressing. I had a sprained hamstring and, per my MD, very weak hips and a somewhat severe case of pelvic tilt. A video gait analysis confirmed everything the MD said and then some. I run funny (which I know) and had been getting away with it for years. But it finally caught up with me.

I cried. I cried a lot. And I got even more depressed. I watched countless running friends prep for, race and PR big races while I could barely run a mile without pain. I was jealous. I had to block running posts and updates from my news feed. It was that bad. I had a lot of pity parties. Why me? You see – the last year and a half – I’ve struggled to stay healthy. I get to about the 2 week out point from a big goal race – and I get injured. I made every excuse in the book prior to those races. But now – I didn’t have a goal race. I had to face this thing once and for all. I could not continue this cycle.

After a couple rude awakening talks with my mom and boyfriend (who both deserve a gold medal for putting up with me during that time) I woke up one day and asked myself would it be so bad if I couldn’t race again. No, it wouldn’t. I realized that both running and racing had started to feel like something I had to do rather than wanted to do. And in that moment I knew that I had burned myself out. I actually had started to dread racing. I hated workouts. I despised long runs.

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Strength training has made a big difference

This injury allowed me to reevaluate what I was doing. It was time to work on why I felt inclined to push myself the way I have for the last few years. And it was time to re-develop my love for running while knowing that it does not define who I am. That I run because I get to. That when I’m healthy, I’m actually kind of good at it. And because I love it–the way it makes me feel alive, provides me with a break from stress (and shouldn’t add stress) and because I love the community. This injury would not break me. And even if I couldn’t race again – I needed to fall back in love with running.

So I started slow. I went to see an AWESOME physical therapist twice a week for 10 weeks who just gets it (have an issue? go see Bethany Ure at NovaCare in Park Ridge!). She didn’t tell me to stop running once – but she gave me parameters. I slowly started to creep up my mileage. Once I could run without pain for a couple of weeks, I decided to give back to the community and started pacing runners in the Chicago Endurance Sports (CES) spring training program. I stopped looking at my watch for paces and times. That and getting back to some of the basics (new shoes, extra strength training and a real focus on post-run recovery) resulted in a re-found joy in running and the process.

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Following my first pain-free run

About 2 months after the injury, I felt like I was ready to test the waters again. I started doing some light workouts and started working with my coach, Dan Walters (DWRunning) again. At the start of the year I had set some big goals. We reevaluated those and have set our sites on a late spring/early summer 1/2 marathon and a full marathon in the fall. This will be the first year in a while I will only run 1 marathon. And I’m quite happy with that. The new primary goal – find joy in the process and stay injury free. I could already tell that my head was in a better place as I actually started to look forward to workouts and long runs again.

 

Once I had successfully completed a couple of speed workouts with no lingering pain – and actually feeling stronger than ever – I decided it was time to sign up for a race. I was nervous. What if I embarrass myself? What will people say if I’m super slow? “What if, Allison?” Dan asked. “It’s your race. Run your race.”

He’s right (as he usually is). It’s my race and it doesn’t matter what anyone else runs, says or does. If I show up, put in my best effort and finish strong – there is nothing to be upset about. If I let my nerves get to me, focus on others, and run poorly – then I only have myself to blame. I decided on the Good Life 5k a local race that I’ve always wanted to do and one that brings a lot of the Chicago running community out to race.

The day before the race I decided to run with the CES folks for their 12-mile training run. Not my best pre-race decision. But this wasn’t my goal race either. Rather it was a race to get me over my fear of racing. To remind me this was something I love to do. I spent the day before pretty relaxed. Made dinner at home and tried to go to bed early.

I slept pretty soundly and woke before my alarm. I got up and made my typical pre-race meal before heading to Oak Park with my boyfriend for the race. It was a perfect day. A bit chilly but by the time of the race it was in the upper 50s, sunny and clear. I did my warm up – 2 easy miles and a couple of 100m strides and walked around. I ran into a few people I knew and said hello. I was beyond nervous though. My hands were shaking and my stomach was all over the place. I texted my coach who encouraged me to embrace the nerves. Use them to my advantage. I took a deep breath, kissed my boyfriend and found my way to the starting line.

Unlike most races – this one was separated by gender. The woman’s race first followed by the men an hour later. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this but as it turns out – it was great for this race since the streets are pretty narrow and it allowed the pack to thin out relatively quickly.

Even though my coach suggested lining up farther back than I was usually do, a few running friends coaxed me into the front starting area. This could have spelled disaster for me as it was a very competitive group that showed up to race that day. I recalled my race plan – to go out smooth and controlled but not guns-a-blazing – and for once I listened. The gun went off and I settled quickly in to a slightly too fast pace – but one that felt good in the moment.

The Good Life Race
Crossing the finish line – trying not to collapse

The race itself is a blur – as it often is when I run 5ks (or any race for that matter). I made it through the first mile in about 6 minutes and change. I knew I needed to slow my roll as this was not a pace I had seen myself run in months. I settled into a more reasonable (but far from comfortable) 6:20 pace and started to employ my coach’s recommended strategy of picking runners to catch to take my mind off of the pain. A girl about 100m in front of me became the target. And I passed her at about the 2 mi mark. But after her, there was no one for a while. I tried to just push forward but it felt like the wheels might come off. And then a running friend who was spectating saw me and started cheering me on (thanks Dave!). He told me to pick up my feet and just keep going. Sounds pretty obvious – but in that moment it gave me something to focus on and that is exactly what I did.

That last 1/2 mile I clocked a sub 6 minute pace. I crossed the finish line and almost collapsed. I had tried not to set a time goal for this race. But deep down I knew I wanted to break the 20 minute mark. And I did. 19:40. Good enough for 15th female and 4th in my age group. Not my best but far from my worst. I was happy. But more importantly I was over my fear of racing and I had had fun!

Over celebratory omelets, pancakes and coffee, I reviewed the race with my boyfriend and realized the fire had been lit. I wanted more. But mostly – I want to feel like I did crossing that finish line. Strong. Fast. Joyful. 18077278_10100822044343378_7375491155167137691_o

So I’m ready for what’s next. And I’ve learned so many lessons. To never take this sport for granted. To take time for the little things because they really do make a difference. To listen to my body when it needs a break. To always run with joy in my heart. And that I am lucky – I get to run. I don’t have to – I get to (thank you Stephanie Bruce for sharing your inspiring story – which I just so happened to hear the day before my race!).

And special thanks to my love, Andrew — your support and motivation through all this has truly helped me more than you know. I couldn’t have gotten through this without you and I am so lucky to have you in my life.

Getting Back in the Kitchen in 2017 with Turkey Stuffed Acorn Squash

After indulging a little too much this holiday season, I made a resolution to get back in the kitchen more in 2017. I have way too many cookbooks. So my plan is to try a couple new recipes each week. I use recipes as inspiration. I take from them new cooking techniques and ideas and then modify them to create my own delicious dishes. The following recipe was inspired by the acorn squash recipe in the Racing Weight Cookbook. It is a hearty, nutrient rich, high volume meal and a great way to enjoy acorn squash. It not only tastes great but is super easy and will impress your guests with its presentation. I like to pair it with a spinach salad and crusty whole grain bread. After I posted the pic of this dish to Instagram, the recipe was requested by a few people – so here you go. Enjoy!

Allison’s Turkey Stuffed Acorn Squashsquash

Ingredients:

1 acorn squash

1 lb. ground turkey

1-2 cups sliced mushrooms

1/2 medium onion

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/3 cup shredded mozzarella

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Slice the squash in half from stem to root and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle cut-side with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
  2. Place the squash halves cut-side-up in a baking dish and pour in enough hot water to fill the pan by about 1/4 inch. Place in oven.
  3. Roast the squash until soft and tender when poked with a fork, 30 to 50 minutes. Exact roasting time will depend on the size of your squash.
  4. While the squash roasts, sauté turkey, onion, mushrooms and seasonings until cooked.
  5. Once the squash is tender, remove from the oven and set oven to broil. Carefully poor liquid out of pan. Stuff squash halves with turkey mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Return to oven for 3-5 minutes or until cheese has melted.
  6. Remove from oven and serve!

Nutrition Information (1 serving = 1/2 acorn squash; 1/2 turkey mixture): 420 calories, 16g fat, 28g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 40g protein

 

 

Unfinished Business: 2016 California International Marathon Recap

To recap this race, I have to take you back a few months. Back to the completion of my 12th marathon (Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN) – which I unfortunately didn’t recap (likely because I wanted to forget the experience as soon as it was over). That day was one of the hottest, most miserable races of my life (second only to 2012 Boston). Following that race I was disappointed. Disappointed that I had had an amazing training block and the only thing stopping me from getting that PR was the weather. I was crushed and the first thing I did following the race was turn my focus to the next one. Unfortunately, as can be expected, going head first from one training block into another block without taking any rest, and then being thrown a bunch of life curve balls – well it didn’t exactly lead to ideal conditions to PR less than 6 months later.

Reality Bites

I don’t want to make excuses. God knows I have them for this race. The bottom line – and it’s hard to face – is I could have worked harder, trained better, been more disciplined. But sometimes life gets in the way and we have to take a deep breath and slow down.

I spent the summer attending four weddings (and unfortunately, like the movie, a funeral), traveling, moving across town and starting a new job. And attempting to fit running in when I could. By the time October rolled around I was burned out. Like really burned out. So bad that the one thing I could count on to bring me joy, help me destress and work out any problems no longer brought that. It became a burden. Another thing on my to-do list. And I grew to wonder if I’d ever find that joy again.

Burn Out

I began to dread every workout and long run and found even easy days felt like a hassle. I started to count down the days until race day. I just wanted a break. I didn’t know how to shake my mood – just that I had to keep pushing forward.

Once I started my new job and got into more of a regular day-to-day routine, the joy of running slowly creeped back. It was gradual. But day after day, minute by minute, I started to enjoy running again. Some of it I can attribute to the cooler temps of fall. And some was inspired by watching my teammates crush the Chicago Marathon. A lot was watching my coach nail his marathon debut. But ultimately, what helped the most, was changing my attitude. I would do the best I could do in each run. It might not always feel good – but I would give it my best and I would be realistic going into this marathon. Unfortunately with less than a month to go, it was too late to hope that my fitness would catch up.

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The final long run

Two weekends before the marathon, I did my last long hard effort at Busse Woods. A slightly rolling trail in the northern suburbs of Chicago. It went about as good as it could go for me. 15 miles at marathon effort with a long warm up and cool down for a total of 20 miles for the day. I felt great – maybe this could go well. I treated myself to a mani/pedi and enjoyed a rest day. Two days later I woke up early for an easy 6-mile run. I was actually looking forward to it and really liked my changing attitude. Unfortunately, less than 2 miles into the run, shooting pain from my hip down to my foot caused me to cut the run short and walk home in excruciating pain (and tears). I contacted my sports chiropractor who graciously fit me in. After 30 minutes with him, I felt better – but nowhere near able to run a mile let alone 26.2 in less than two weeks. I was crushed. I talked to Dan, my coach, and he reminded me the power of the mind. Staying positive and doing everything I can to rehab my back/butt issue, was the only way I was going to get to that finish line.

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At the finish line of the Turkey Trot with my Uber Fan

 

Thanksgiving came and went and thanks to a very supportive boyfriend and his family, I hobbled my way through a Turkey trot and a couple treadmill runs. Gradually the pain started to subside and I was able to get my last week of workouts and easy runs in. I actually felt good and even nailed my last tempo run prior to the race.

Race Weekend

Heading into race weekend, I was full of nervous excitement. I enjoyed my shakeout run with my uber fan (boyfriend) followed by a quick stop at the expo and team lunch. We went back to the hotel after lunch and really enjoyed the rest of our lazy Saturday in California. Our team dinner came with more words of encouragement from our fearless leader and an early bed time.

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Pre-Race at the Expo

I awoke race day rested. For once. Typically sleep is hard to come by the night before any race – but especially a marathon. I was thrilled. I showered, at my pre-race meal and was off to the bus with my team. We enjoyed the quiet bus ride to the start. The race is a point to point race – from Folsom, CA to downtown Sacramento. We made our way to the port-o-potties. Let me tell you – these race directors are clearly runners. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many in one place before.

 

We started our dynamic warm ups and tried to stay warm. Conditions were absolutely perfect for running – upper 30s to low 40s at the start and anticipated mid to upper 50s at the finish with barely a cloud in the sky. I decided I should use the bathroom one more time and realized I might not have enough time. Thankfully I did but had to sprint to the bag check – which was the likes of a mosh pit – then up to the front of the start line.

Let’s Do This! #TeamNoHeadLamp

I planned to start right behind the 3 hour group and attempt to negative split – go out in the 6:55-7 min/mile range then try to cut that down at the half mark. The anthem was sung, I lost my throw away shirt and we were off. The whole first 6 miles feels like a blur. I felt beyond amazing. My legs felt strong and I was keeping the pace in the easy range – well at least for the 2 miles. Then miles 3 and 4 I dropped closer to 6:40. I knew I couldn’t maintain that and slowed my roll. 5-10 continued in the 6:55-7min range and I was feeling great. I saw my coach and uber fan and smiled away.

Somewhere in between miles 4 and 6 I noticed a blind runner with a couple guides running about my pace. They were engaged in a pretty entertaining conversation so I latched on to them to take my mind off the race a bit. As we jogged along, I laughed along with their jokes and was inspired by this runner and his guide. Come to find out the guide was Scott Jurek! Pretty cool to say I ran about 10 miles with the Eat & Run author.

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Around mile 17

Half Way Still Means Another Half To Go

 

As I neared the half way point, one thing that started to catch up with me were the rolling hills. Going into the race, we knew it would be net downhill and a fast course – but that there would be a few hills. Well that was no joke. While the uphills weren’t too steep, the downhills started to just destroy my quads. And my legs started to feel it. I started to get into my head after mile 15 and it was all I could do to get through each mile. I had to break up the race into 2 mile increments. It’s amazing the mind games you play with yourself during a marathon. At 18, my butt/back started to remind me of the pain I was in a couple weeks prior. I really struggled through 22. At one point trying to cover up my watch – and even considering taking it off and giving it to my coach. Just before mile 20, I saw my uber fan and this time instead of a big smile, I told him ‘no pictures allowed’ and did my best not to cry.

As we made our way into the city, I realized – regardless of the time – I would finish this race. I would be ok. I started to recall the pre-race motivational text our fearless leader and coach shared with us – something about how Rob Krar runs his ultras without a headlamp — ensuring he finishes before dark. There was no turning back. If Rob Krar can run without a headlamp, I would finish this race. I didn’t need a headlamp. And I would finish with a reasonable time AND without stopping. I started to feel strong again and pick up the pace. I started to pick people to pass – and I did. I turned the corner and saw the finish line, my uber fan waiting for me, and I sprint to the finish – and almost collapsed in the arms of the volunteers handing out medals. I was so happy to be done running. I embraced my boyfriend (uber fan) and we made our way to the bag check. At this point, my legs felt like complete crap. I couldn’t control the muscle spasms and had to sit down. I started to cry as my boyfriend handed me my bag. His first time watching one of my marathons – I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am and was in that moment to have him with me. His support – and encouragement – all those early mornings and moments when I know I was a lot to handle – well he deserves a gold medal. Needless to say – we both enjoyed that post race beer and celebration of a tough couple of months leading up to this race.

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Finish line smiles (and free beers!)

Gratitude

 

While it wasn’t my best race — it was so hard fought and one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in a long time. I’m fired up for 2017. I left a lot of unfinished business out there on the roads this year. And now that my life is in a great place, I can’t wait to see what the future holds. But first – I’m taking a couple weeks off – enjoying some R&R – so I can start the New Year fresh and in the right mindset.

It’s amazing what the human body is capable of. Special thanks to all the support, well wishes and encouragement I received from friends, family, my coach/teammates at DWRunning and especially my uber (and super) fans. You are what helped me get to that finish line with a smile on my face. Here’s to a New Year with new goals, dreams and aspirations!