Thursday, December 29, 2011

An Active Holiday at Home

After seven months away from home (the longest I've been away) I finally got to visit last week.  I got time off work the four days before Christmas to see my family at home in Orlando.  My sister, Caroline, is on break from her work in AmeriCorp and my brother, Patrick, came to visit during his winter break from college.  It was so nice for us all to be together again and during my most favorite time of year!  

I have been looking forward to this visit for the longest time.  I love being in Chicago, but it is hard being hundreds of miles away from family.  At the beginning of the month my mom sent me a surprise package in the mail.  It was a nifty advent/countdown calendar to me coming home.  She wrapped 20 small package and numbered them 1-20 for me to open everyday until my visit.  It was perfect!  I looked forward to opening each gift.  
Here are a few of the things I got: Santa window clings, gum, a daily cat calendar, Balega running socks, Honey Stingers. 

Tuesday I opened my last gift to find a picture of our house and our three cute cats saying they couldn't wait for me to get there.  After a full day at work I flew out and arrived around 12:30am EST.  Mom and Patrick stayed up to come and get me.  When I got home I made sure to pet all three cats, Callie, Daisy, and Marbles.  I miss seeing there cute little faces everyday.  

Wednesday Mom and I went out for a run through the neighborhood.  It was so much warmer than it is here in Chicago and was a nice change not having to run in layers.  We chatted and completed four miles.

Thursday Patrick and I went on six mile bike ride though the neighborhood.  It had been months since I last rode a bike and it was great to ride again.  Later we all decided to check out a nature trail at Split Oak Mitigation Park that, Andy, our step-dad, had discovered.  Mom and I checked the map and we decided to do the three mile loop and follow the green trail. 
The path itself was very sandy at times, thick dirt, grass, or pine covered depending on where we were.  It was perfect walking weather though with a bright blue sky.  We were pretty much the only ones walking the trail.  
We found some deer and wild hog tracks, stopped to take pictures, sang songs, and talked about survival techniques if a bobcat or wild hog were to appear.  We actually ran right into a small snake across the trail.  Patrick noticed it just in time for us all to kind of freak out and tip toe around.  We couldn't figure out what kind of snake it was, and didn't really want to wait to see if it was poisonous.  
Patrick totally photo-bombed us!
We discovered a pretty lake in the middle of the forest.
Mom was tracking the walk with her Garmin and as we approached three miles we found ourselves no where near the trail head or car.  We just kept walking thinking perhaps the mileage was off.  Uh, it was way off.  We kept with the green trail, but it was in fact 5.3 miles and not just three.  Caroline and Patrick got a little worried we were lost, but we kept following the green trail and made our way back.  Although it was much longer than we planned, we had fun and it made for a good adventure!

Later that evening I met Kristin, my Chicago roomie, and our friend, Mari, for dinner at our favorite sushi place Seito.  Every time the three of us get together we visit this restaurant.  The sushi is made fresh to order and they have some unique rolls to choose from.  Mari and I went to high school together and she introduced me to Kristin, her cousin, and we soon became friends and later roommates at FSU.  It was nice for all of us to get together again.  We chatted, laughed, and walked around Celebration, which made for a lovely evening.

Friday morning Andy and Mom made breakfast bowls and homemade cinnamon rolls, which were delicious.  I think I ate four cinnamon rolls that day -that's how good they are!  Then the four of us, Mom, Caroline, Patrick, and I headed down to Holopow, which is a rural area of Central Florida.  We went to Forever Florida where they offer lots of outdoor activities.  We signed up to do canopy cycling.  We took a big dune buggy bus through the forest to get to our location.  The guide told us about the organization and pointed out some of the animals on the land.
Sally, the alligator, had about eights babies around her.  A few are in the water and some are on the bank above her (they are the brown and tan striped things). 

Once we arrived at the spot we were given some safety instructions and put on harnesses.
Canopy cycling is when you are hooked into a bicycle looking contraption that is attached to cables above the ground and you move through the forest by pedaling.  The track itself was just over a mile or so, but you definitely get a good leg workout by pedaling.  We were about 25 feet above the ground.  It took around 45 minutes to get through the course.  It was something different and we all had a good time!
After our cycling adventure we were all starving and made our way to BJ's Brewhouse for dinner.  I enjoyed a tasty berry cider and buffalo chicken pizza.  Menchies, a frozen yogurt shop, was nearby and we couldn't pass up an opportunity to grab some. 

Since Patrick and I weren't going to be there on Christmas day we decided to have our Christmas that night.  We went through our stockings upstairs and then opened our other gifts down by the tree.  One of my major gifts was the tickets to fly to Orlando.  To open I got a long sleeve shirt, scarf, some cash, pajamas, iFitness hydration add-on bottles for my belt, and a year subscription to Runner's World!  My mom wrapped up a box with this cover of the magazine with my face imposed on Kara Goucher- it made me laugh!
After gifts we decided to go on a walk through the neighborhood that evening and check out the Christmas lights.  The Family Stone is one of our favorite Christmas movies so we all piled in on the couch to watch it together. 

Saturday I went out for another four mile run by myself.  We spent most of the day hanging out at the house.  We took some family photos for Christmas cards and such.  Patrick left midday to head back to Beaufort and after a homemade dinner Mom and Caroline drove me to the airport.  I was not ready to go back and really wish I could have stayed longer.  After a tearful goodbye I checked my bags, boarded the plane, and landed back in Chicago late that evening.  

Since the spa and fitness center, where I work, is located in a hotel, we are open 365 days a year.  I got up Christmas morning and opened my last gift (a pair of slippers) before heading to work.  It was really strange to not be with family on Christmas day, but I made sure to text everyone Merry Christmas on my way to work.  
The day wasn't horrible, it was just different.  I wasn't the only one working, so my coworkers and I made the best of things and had fun day.  I work with some great people, so it was nice.  In the afternoon I Skyped my mom and Caroline and chatted with my dad and Patrick to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  The rest of the evening was pretty quiet though.  I had my fill of rich, sweet foods at home, so I enjoyed hummus, carrots, and pita chips while I laid in bed listening to Christmas music and watching Home Alone.  

Although it was a short visit I had such a great time seeing my family and friends for a few days.  Not being able to see them regularly throughout the year makes me appreciate the time we do spend together even more!

I hope you all had a great holiday as well!  What did you do to stay active?  What were some of the best meals or treats you enjoyed?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Favorites

Source: via Cate on Pinterest

Nichole over at Live For the Run did a great post recently listing her favorite things about Christmas and a few others have done the same.  Since Christmas is my favorite holiday as well I couldn't pass up making a list of my own.

Tradition: When we were younger we used to open one present on Christmas Eve.  Driving around to see the Christmas lights on houses. For the past few years my siblings and I have made gingerbread houses as well.
Movie: The Family Stone, Love Actually, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Santa Claus

Songs: I love tons of Christmas songs, but these are a few of my favorites: Christmas Canon, Hard Candy Christmas, The Christmas Song, Merry Christmas Darling, All That I Want.  I am enjoying the new Michael Buble album and some Straight No Chaser this year.  Plus A Rosie Christmas has lots of great songs and most of the Glee Christmas songs too.  Honestly, the only Christmas songs I really dislike are I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas and All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.  I cannot stand either- so annoying. 

Naughty or Nice: Nice

Real or Fake Tree: Real.  I know they're a pain to clean up after, but I love the fresh pine tree smell.
Multi-color or clear lights: I think both are nice.  It just depends on how they are used.  For instance I like the clear lights on my grandmother's tree, but colored works for ours at home.
Smell: The christmas tree, homemade dinners, baked goods, peppermint.

Seasonal Treat: Our grandmother makes her famous Christmas cookies every year.  They are just sugar cookies with green frosting, but are crazy popular.  Everyone always asks "Has Granny made the Christmas cookies yet?"  We look forward to them every year and they are gone in no time.  Unfortunately, I can't make it to Beaufort this Christmas so I won't get to have them this year.  Maybe when I visit next year she can make a special batch!
From Christmas last year in Beaufort.
Giving or Receiving Gifts: The anticipation of both are exciting.  

Sight: I enjoy sitting in the glow of the Christmas tree.

Best Gift: That's hard to choose... Games or activities that we can do together as a family are always fun, because then it becomes an experience we remember.  For example when we got a Nintendo Wii a few years ago.  We have had so much fun playing Guitar Hero or Wii Sports or Just Dance together.  

Special Memory: I had the hardest time sleeping on Christmas Eve and when I was younger would wake up super early.  I remember a few Christmases when I walked out of my room to see if Santa had already come.  I would tip toe to the tree and check out all the presents (gifts from Santa were unwrapped when we were younger).  I distinctly remember when I was about eight and walked out to see a big plastic play store!  It was really hard to go back to sleep then!  

Dislikes: That the season isn't longer.  Not being able to spend more time with family.

I arrived in Orlando Tuesday evening and have been having a great time so far with my family.  Hope you are having a wonderful holiday as well!

What are some of your favorite things about the season?

Source: via Cate on Pinterest

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rudolph Ramble 8K: Race Recap

This year I got to run in a wonderful holiday themed race, which combines two of my favorite things: running and Christmas!  It is the smallest race I have done here in Chicago, but there were still about 1100 participants, which isn't that small, but I guess for here it is.  Fleet Feet Sports was one of the major sponsors for the race and offered a few entries to FFCheer members and I was lucky enough to snag one!  
The Rudolph Ramble was my first 8K race, which was exciting and not a race distance you see often.  I enjoyed the distance, which is almost five miles.
The great long sleeve tech shirt we got.
The race was on Sunday morning and began at 9AM.  I gathered my gear and bundled up to head to Lincoln Park.  It was literally freezing; the thermometer read about 30 degrees but it felt more like 23 with the wind.  I ate part of a Clif bar and had some water on my way.  Once I arrived I had to check my gear, including my warm coat, and got into the start corral.  Luckily my timing was perfect, so I didn't have to wait too long in the cold before the race started.  The announcer said, "Go!" and I started up my Christmas music running playlist which was full of upbeat Christmas tunes!  
Waiting in the cold to start
And we're off!
It had snowed earlier in the week so there were a few patches of snow around the trail and some ice puddles, but there was a good amount of room to maneuver around them.  The race course had us run on the paths of Lincoln Park and Lakeshore Trail in a big loop.  This meant that we got to see the lead runners speed by during certain parts of the course.  The one thing I didn't care for was running right by the finish line.  Seeing the finish and hearing others crossing the line when I was only halfway through was not really fun.  When you see the finish line it should be time to finish, right?  That was the only downer, other than that it was a good race.  There were three water stops which were well spaced on the course.  

My goal for this race was mainly to have fun (which is a major reason I sign up for races anyway).  I was also hoping to complete the race just around an hour.  Most of my other five mile runs were about five to eight minutes over an hour, so I was hoping to beat that.  I went for it and ran pretty much the whole race.  I only walked through the water stops!  I started running using the run/walk method (and still use it), but when I run longer than I knew I could with little to no walk breaks I am always amazed.  For fuel I had some Honey Stingers about halfway through.  The first mile was cold, but I soon began to warm up and even felt kind hot for the last mile. 

I tried to race by effort and only looked at my Garmin about four times during the run.  Turning in mile three we started to run into the wind.  I felt like I was putting forth the same effort as the first two miles, but when I glanced at my Garmin, my pace was not showing that; the wind definitely took some of it.  On the way back the wind was at our backs for the last mile or so, which was nice.  In the last mile I picked up my pace and made small goals to pass certain people. 
I loved these ladies' costumes (which I told them as I passed).  I just couldn't be beat by a present!
As I approached the finish line I kicked it into high gear and zoomed across. I felt great!  My Garmin said I completed 5.01 miles in 58:47 -awesome!  The official 8K results read 58:29. 
No race is complete without my post race thumbs up pose!
After getting my gear and some post-race treats, I met some fellow FFCheer members and other runners at the Fleet Feet tent.  Sara and Mana, who I met at the Women's 10K, were there and I also got to meet Lois and Alexandria, as well as few others.  It was nice to chat with and meet everyone!  

There was a mini costume contest which I stuck around to see.  There were some great costumes.  The winners were chosen by crowd applause.  The tree and present I passed ended up winning which I thought was well deserved considering they ran with such big costumes!  
Santa and some Elves
Rudolph, the Heat Miser, a Present and Christmas Tree
I was pretty hungry after the run and decided to stop at Feast.  I had a tasty breakfast burrito filled with eggs, cheese, guacamole, pinto beans, and pico de gallo, with cheese grits on the side.  I mostly ate the inside of the burrito though.  It was a great post race meal.  

Thanks Fleet Feet for the race entry and for putting on another great race! 

Have you participated in a holiday race this season?  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tell Me Seven Things About Yourself

Katie at Peace Love & Oats nominated me as Blissful Blogger back in October and Diana of Veggie Next Door recently tagged me to participate in Tell Me About Yourself so I thought I would join in!

Being tagged means that I have to write 7 things about myself.

1. My family moved to Florida from South Carolina in the summer of 2001.  It was a quite a change moving away from my dad, grandparents, cousins, and friends.  It was hard, but moving from a small town to a bigger one gave me more opportunities I would not have had otherwise.

2.  I fell down the stairs about six years ago and broke my ankle.  My sister and I were staying in Atlanta with family.  I was carrying my five year old cousin going up the stairs and we decided to go back down and as I turned around I somehow missed a step and we fell.  My cousin was OK, just a bump on her arm, but as soon as I hit the ground I felt and heard a snap and screamed.  I was helped into the car and driven to the emergency room.  The pain was excruciating.  To make a long story short I had broken my fibula (the outside bone) in half and somehow chipped my tibia bone by my inner ankle.  They couldn't do surgery that night so after getting some medication and a splint we went back home.  I was in a simple splint/cast for about a week.  Whenever I used the crutches I could feel my bones moving around in my leg -it was so weird and really painful.  My mom drove to Atlanta to meet us and I had to ride back to Florida with a broken leg before I finally had surgery. A plate and several screws were put in my leg to fix everything.
My scar on the outside of my leg.  It's about four inches long, but not that noticeable anymore.
Two scars by my inner ankle are still visible.  
The whole experience was pretty bad.  I never realized how important being able to walk is, until I couldn't easily walk myself.  For a couple years following I was very cautious and kind of scared of stairs.  Everything ended up healing fine, but I continued to have some ankle issues, like rolling my ankles several times and another fall down the stairs.  Clearly my body couldn't handle the weight it was carrying.  Whenever I think about the whole thing I still get chills; it kind of haunts me. It has gotten better as the years have passed though.  Losing weight and getting stronger has definitely helped, but I am still pretty cautious going up and down stairs.

3.  My siblings, Caroline, Patrick, and I loved making lemonade stands on the weekends when we were younger.  We would set up a little table at the end of the driveway and make lemonade to sell to our neighbors.

4. I am kind of a magazine junkie.  I love reading magazines.  I like the health and fitness ones, celebrity gossip, running, food, and home stuff.  I subscribe to a few and my mom sends me the ones she has after she's read them.  Also at work we can take the older issues of the magazines we have throughout the spa and fitness area to read for ourselves.  They are easy to read, informative, and give me ideas for recipes or workouts.  In high school and college I would go to the bookstore, grab a bunch of magazines and spend the afternoon reading in the store.

5.  I only went to two Florida State football games during my four years at college.  It wasn't until my senior year that I finally went to one.  I rooted for our team every weekend and had intentions every year before to go, but never actually did.  I had fun at both games and I kind of wish I had attended more.

6.  I have only been to three concerts: BackStreet Boys, Howie Day, and Lady Gaga.  We were lucky enough to get 11th row seats at BSB, for my 11th birthday, which I was totally stoked about.  Howie Day was in high school and was when I had cast on my leg so I got a great place to sit close to the stage.  He hasn't done much since, but I really enjoyed the show.  Lady Gaga was about two years ago with my friend and roomie Kristin.  The concert was amazing.

7.  In my apartment right now (my first that I pay for by myself) the only furniture I own are my bed, a dresser, a fold up chair, and tiny bookshelf which are all in my bedroom.  The living room area is really my workout/office space with boxes of books, files, weights and a yoga mat.

So there you have it, seven kind of random things you might not have known about me.
I am going to leave this open ended and pass this on to anyone that wants to participate.  Let me know if you post I want to check it out!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fitness Goals for the Holidays

The holiday season and winter months in general is a time when some people slack on their workouts and eating habits.  Being around family, lots of delicious food, and the cold weather can put a kink in your routine.  Many media sources say the average person gains between 7 and 10 pounds during the season (source).  Edit: Although it is actually less, that extra weight accumulates over the years and is not easily lost (source). 
I seriously love this time of year and will spend time with my family and eat tasty homemade treats, but will continue to be conscious and smart about my choices.  There is nothing wrong with indulging every now and then!  I do want to avoid a big holiday weight gain though (I am just over 20 pounds away from my goal!), so I am joining some online fitness challenges.  

I could wait until the new year, but why put off what you can do today, right?  The holiday season may be a challenge, but I am up for it!  Are you?  

Firstly, I joined the Holiday Booty Buster Challenge put together by Amanda at Run to the Finish.  Essentially you earn points for the exercise you do, which then transfer to entries in a drawing for a variety of great food and fitness prizes.  Just by signing up I have noticed a difference in my workout effort.  Since I am not training for anything in particular I have skipped days when I could have, and probably should have, worked out.  The HBBC just started last Saturday and it has motivated me to be active almost everyday!  If you are interested in the challenge, you can still sign up as a late entry over at Run to the Finish or follow on twitter with the #HBBC stream.  I think this is a great idea and will keep me active over the holidays. 

About two months ago I was lucky enough to be invited to join the FFCheer team. 
"We are a group of Chicago runners, of varied experience levels, from beginners to marathon runners, who want to spread the joy of running. We believe that running changes everything. We are also gear enthusiasts. Want to chat about running gear, how it fits, how it feels? Join us on Twitter @ffcheer or by using hash tag #ffcheer. We are the Fleet Feet Sports Chicago Cheer Team."  
This is just another reason why I love Fleet Feet Chicago.  I have had the opportunity to connect with some other runners and participate in some great events.  
One of the members came up with a great winter running challenge for all runners in the Chicagoland area called The Frozen Tundra 100.  The goal is to run at least 100 miles from December 1st - January 31st.  This is my first winter in Chicago and is predicted to be pretty bad, but I am going to go for it.  If you live in the area you should join along at Daily Mile and you could even win some cool prizes from Fleet Feet!

And finally the Holiday Challenge from Coach Jenny Hadfield.  She is the co-author of Marathoning for Mortals (which I used to train for my first half marathon) and a Runner's World contributor who has great running advice, plans, and tips.  All you have to do is set a mileage goal for the week and post your mileage to her facebook page.  I love reading all of her advice and there are some great prizes up for grabs.  There will be weekly drawings and blog posts from Coach Jenny through January 1st.  This challenge works in conjunction with HBBC and the FT100 so I am thinking between 12-18 miles a week. To join all you have to do is enter your email address here.  

It may seem like a lot, but I think they all kind of work together and I have faith I can do it.  I am a little nervous about the Frozen Tundra 100 having never experienced a Chicago winter or run in the snow before.  I attended a seminar on winter running at Fleet Feet last week, that was really informational, so hopefully all will go well.  Having these challenges and sharing them with you will definitely keep my motivated to keep moving this winter!

Next up on my race calendar is the Rudolph Ramble 8K which is next weekend.  It will be a new race distance and hopefully I will have a chance to meet some fellow FFCheer members. 

Do you have any goals this season to keep you active?  Are you participating in any holiday challenges this year?  Up for joining any of these with me?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

No big family Thanksgiving this year.  sigh.  Being hundreds of miles away from family and having to work (Thanksgiving is actually one of our busiest days!) means no time to visit family.  This was my first Thanksgiving not spent with family.  It was strange not being with them, but I am thankful for their love and support.  I am also thankful for all the opportunities I have had here in Chicago with my job, running, and the new people I have met.
It was nice to get texts, tweets, and phone calls from my family yesterday -it made me smile.
Since the Spa, Pool, and Fitness Area (where I work) are in a hotel we are open 365 days a year; I am working through the weekend.  My friend and roomie Kristin is staying in town too, but since I work Thursday through Sunday we couldn't really plan a meal ourselves.  At work we have free meals in the cafe at work.  They had turkey and I mixed it into some tortilla soup with some veggies, which was actually quite good. 
A friend from work invited me to an early Thanksgiving dinner with her family Wednesday evening.  They made a big dinner that was tasty.  It was really nice of her and her family to have me over.  I brought along some homemade cranberry bliss bars for dessert, that were delicious!

I'm not the only one working over the holiday weekend, so I thought about bringing in some pumpkin snickerdoodles for my coworkers.  I, of course, had to try one just out of the oven, but they were really bland.  I threw out the rest of the dough and just kept the ones I made in a bag.  I tried them again this morning and they were so much better- maybe they needed time for all the spices to set in?  I wish I hadn't thrown the rest away, but oh well.  I am going to try to bake something else and just bring it Saturday.  I am thinking pumpkin pie brownies, regular snickerdoodles, or trifecta cookies.  Any other suggestions?  

I had hoped to do a Turkey Trot, but the timing didn't work with my schedule so I joined the virtual one on Daily Mile.  All you had to do was make a donation and then run 5K by Sunday.  This year all of proceeds go to charity:water.  They help get clean water to areas of the world that don't have easy access to it.  Being able to turn the faucet on and get water anytime is very easy for us, but in less developed areas it is very difficult.  I liked the idea of this virtual Turkey Trot, because instead of my race cost going to get a t-shirt for myself it goes toward a good cause.  Plus the holiday season is upon on and spreading some holiday cheer is good for everyone!  You can still participate too if you are interested - it lasts until Sunday.

I got up to chilly weather and grey skies, but hit the trail to get in a 5K.  My thighs were a bit sore from level two of the 30 day shred, which I did yesterday, but that soon went away once I started going.  I ran around and through the nearby park.  There were actually a good amount of other people being active this Thanksgiving morning and lots more smiles on the trail.  I kept a pretty even pace throughout and finished feeling good.  

Now that Thanksgiving is over that means I can officially get all my Christmas stuff out.  This is my absolute favorite time of year!  I love the music, the energy, the trees, the decorations, being with family, and the spirit of the season.  I work downtown near Michigan Avenue and all of the trees lining the street are full of lights, which makes the street look beautiful in the evenings.  
I have already been listening to Christmas music for a week or two, but now it is going to be playing almost all the time through Christmas.  Thankfully, I get a few days off just before Christmas day, so I will be heading home to see my family and I can't wait!  

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!