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!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lots of Food and Fun

Last weekend my mom came to visit me here in Chicago.  It has been just over six months since I saw her last.  We talk on the phone often, but it was so nice to see her in person and spend time together.  I requested a few days off work so we could explore the city and hang out.  
Almost every time we talk I mention a new store or restaurant I have tried and she wanted to try them as well.  We had a list of things to try and do which made for a busy weekend.  

She came in around lunchtime so we headed to Chicago Bagel Authority for a tasty steamed bagel sandwich.  It is a little shop right off the Armitage stop on the Brown Line.  There are thousands of bagelwich options and instead of toasting the bagels they are steamed which make them warm, soft, and chewy. (sorry, I didn't take a picture)  

Later we had a plan to head to Bucktown/Wicker Park for a quick dinner and then a painting class.  We stopped by the new restaurant Melt, where they specialize in unique grilled cheese sandwiches.  It was a cute place designed like a school cafe.  I decided on the Santa Cruz which was really good.  It came with a side of soup, but was nothing great, the star was the sandwich!  My mom got the Provence, which was good too, but had a bit too much bread.   I think we both agreed mine was better. 
Santa Cruz: tomato wrap, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, vegetable cream cheese, provolone, mushrooms
We then walked down to the street to get some hot chocolate from Mindy's Hot Chocolate.  This is one of the places I visited on the food tour of Bucktown/Wicker Park.  They had a seasonal Pumpkin Pie flavored hot chocolate which we split.  Mom also picked up some hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows to take home to Florida.  The cocoa was crazy delicious and tasty like liquid pumpkin pie and of course the marshmallow was perfect.  These people know how to make hot chocolate!

A few months ago I bought a Living Social deal for Arts N Spirits which is a small studio where you paint a picture.  You can also bring food and drink and make a night of it.  My sister, Caroline, worked at a place similar to this in college and I was excited to try it myself.  
That's the original painting for the night on the right.
We got set up with easels, paints, brushes, and smocks.  
This is my "I'm a serious painter" pose 
There is a painting that the instructor leads the group through painting.  However, you can change the colors or paint your own thing if you want.  I liked the picture, but wanted to use some different colors and got inspiration from some of the other paintings on the wall and kind of made my own picture. They play a variety of great music while you paint and take you through the painting step by step.  We spent over four hours there and the time flew by.  I had a lot of fun and liked seeing how everyone interpreted the painting in their own way.  There were a few moments of panic and frustration trying to get the painting to look how I wanted and deciding what to paint.  We both weren't sure if we liked what we painted at the end of the night, but the next day were happy with what we created.  

We also tried a new (to me) place for breakfast called Bongo Room, per a recommendation.  This place was really good.  It has a small menu, but everything sounded good.  (I think a small menu is usually a good thing because the place knows what they make really well.)  We decided to split the breakfast burrito and white chocolate caramel pretzel pancakes.  Yes, they were both amazingly delicious.  

The pancakes were quite unique and not super sweet like we initially expected.  They were pretty filling and were the perfect mix of salty and sweet.  The burrito was also delicious.  This was great place and I can't wait to go back!

I have been talking about the amazing cupcake shops that are here in Chicago and had to take my mom to visit.  We both love cupcakes (but really who doesn't?), so we had to try a few... or ten. (We clearly have a cupcake addiction.)  We went to Crumbs first.  They make giant cupcakes that all look really pretty and taste good.  The Raspberry Brownie Cheesecake was the best of these, but we only had tastes of each.

Chocolate Milkshake, PBJ, and Raspberry Brownie Cheesecake
My favorite cupcakes though are from Sprinkles.  The shop is actually right around the corner from work, which is both good and bad.  These cupcakes are so fresh and the flavors are perfect.  They are a bit pricey, but I honestly haven't had a bad cupcake from them.  (I follow them on twitter and everyday they tweet about free cupcakes.  The first 50 people to say a secret password get a free cupcake.  We got the Pumpkin and Salted Caramel ones for free!) We ended up stopping there twice to try different cupcakes! 
Chai, Lemon Coconut, and Pumpkin 
Salted Caramel, Chocolate Coconut, Black & White, Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter
We completed the Hot Chocolate 15K on Saturday together.  

We ate at a few other places like a great local bakery called Dinkel's where they have awesome doughnuts and enjoyed deep dish from Pizano's.  Of course we had to visit my favorite, the Green City Market.  We also just walked around the city and did some shopping.  Traveling through and around the city involves a lot of walking which was good considering all the eating we did! 

I always enjoy spending time with my mom and I was so glad she took the time to come visit me!

Have you ever participated in a painting class?  What is your favorite cupcake?    

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Race Recap: Hot Chocolate 15K Chicago

This past weekend I completed my first 15K race!  As soon as I heard about the Hot Chocolate race early this year I knew it was a race I wanted to do.  

My mom came to visit me in Chicago this weekend and run this race with me.  Friday we headed to Union Station for the small expo.  The place was pretty busy, but we got our packets quickly.  RAM Racing, the organization that puts on the race, is known for having good goodie bags and well organized events.  All we really got in the goodie bag was a running jacket.  I thought we should have gotten a few squares of chocolate in the bag though too.  The sizes ran way small so we, and everyone else, had to wait in line to switch out the sizes.  I wore the jacket on my windy run this morning and it was perfect!   

The morning started with an early alarm and chilly weather outside.  After getting dressed and making sure we had everything we headed out to catch the El to downtown.  We both wore capris and long sleeve shirts with two jackets to get to the race, but were still cold.  The Hot Chocolate race is pretty big and the train slowly filled with runners as we made our way downtown.  I ate half of a blueberry crisp Clif bar and had some water while riding there.  When we arrived at our stop it felt colder than before, but we were closer to the lake so the wind probably contributed to that.  We followed the crowds and made our way to Grant Park.  The 5K runners were in the starting corrals getting ready to head off.  The race announcer said that there was a slight delay because a semi-truck got stuck under one of the underpasses on the course route, so the course had to be rerouted.  Soon the 5Kers were out and mom and I made our way over to gear check.  
After a quick port- 0-potty stop (they make a nice background for a picture, right?) we found our way to the corrals and after ten minutes started walking to start.  They were playing a funny little song that was essentially "Hot Chocolate, Hot Chocolate" repeated over and over; it made me laugh.  As we got closer we could see the thousands of people ahead of us filling the streets of Chicago.  This was a big race with over 13,000 people running the 15K!
Walking to the start.
Usually when my mom and I have run races in the past we go our separate ways and meet at the finish because we have different paces.  This time we decided to run together so my mom ran with me at my pace.  As we crossed the start line and began running, my legs felt really strange.  They felt wobbly and kind of tight at the same time.  They were so cold that it was strange to move them.  My toes also were a bit numb the first few miles.  In the first mile we went under a big overpass where I lost my Garmin signal for a bit.  I thought we were starting out at a relatively easy pace, but we finished the first mile around 11:50.  We slowed down a little for the next few and kept going.  It was neat to run through the streets of the city.  I had heard that in previous years the course was rather tight, but this year whole streets were closed, so there was plenty of room to run.  There were a few people spectating for their family members, but it was a pretty quiet course.  
The aid stations and volunteers were great.  They mixed the gatorade well, cheered on all the runners, and were placed well along the course. We took about one walk break every two or three miles along the course and walked through the water stops.  I ate about seven Honey Stinger Chews every few miles and sipped on my water bottle several times throughout the race.  

Once we passed the 10K mark I tried to increase my pace a bit.  Initially on my training plan I was working for a 12 minute pace, but wasn't sure I could maintain that for 9.3 miles.  Since it was my first 15K though there was no real time goal - no matter what it would be a PR.  That 12 minute pace was still in the back of my mind though, so I tried to push myself some more. 

The last mile was really tough.  We were running down Michigan Avenue right by Grant Park.  I knew the finish was close, but my legs felt so tired, I just wanted to walk.  My mom told me not to walk because we only had a half mile left and could walk when we finished.  If she wasn't there motivating me I definitely would have taken a short walking break.
My mom looks so happy and I look like I'm in pain.
When we saw the finish line I began to sprint and my mom and I crossed the finish line together!  We finished in 1:54:31 which is an average 12:17 pace!  I am always amazed out how much you can actually do if you train and you put your mind to it in running.  When I started running I was averaging 14-15 minute miles and I had just finished 9.3 miles around a 12 minute mile pace!  Besides tired legs, I felt great and really proud of my time! 
I love this one!  We were just crossing the finish!
Down the finish line chute we took a finisher's photo and grabbed two squares of Ghirardelli chocolate.   After getting our bags from gear check and stretching a little, we walked over to the after party.  The field was full of people and tents.  

We headed over to the fondue tent first and got an awesome post race treat.  Everything was delicious dipped in the chocolate!  It was still kind of chilly out so the edges of the fondue began to harden a little, but that didn't stop me from eating it.  I could eat that after every race!  We then grabbed a cup of hot chocolate - it was after all the Hot Chocolate race.  The cocoa was good, but honestly nothing really compares to the cup at Mindy's Hot Chocolate here in Chicago.   

I really enjoyed the Hot Chocolate 15K!  It was fun to run a race with my mom and I am proud of my race time.  I enjoyed the 15K distance too and would definitely do one again.  

Have you ever complete a 15K race?  What is your favorite post race treat?