February Goal Check-In

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Two months down, 10 to go!

I wrote previously about the five goals toward which I’m working this year, and since this is my little corner of accountability on the Internet, here’s my update on how things are progressing:

1. Seeking Balance. I’m actively restraining myself from signing up for #AllTheRaces this year — which is difficult when you’re in a new state! — so you’ll see that my schedule for 2015 is still very much a work in progress. My strategy is to try to target new events, and I’m trying to mix things up rather than build toward a specific A race this season.

2. Training Smarter. Heart rate training went out the window this month in favor of a metric ton of cross-training. I’ve been barre-ing my butt off at PureBarre in an attempt to build more glute and core strength, riding at Revocycle to make sure I’m road-bike ready come spring, and testing out all kinds of other classes via ClassPass (post with details to come). Variety is the spice of life…and fitness, right?!

Ben and I also completed our own version of Whole30 (more like Whole45 since we had two minor cheat weekends with company in town), so nutrition has also been a major focus this month. As much as I used to pride myself on being able to eat whatever I wanted, I’ve got to admit that I feel so much better eating clean, unprocessed food and cutting down on added sugar.

3. Facing Fears. Ok, you got me — there’s not much progress to report on the swimming front. I haven’t been making regular weekly sessions, and although I’ve got a few standing offers for technique guidance, I haven’t had a chance to drag Ben to the pool to take videos of me in action. Hoping to remedy this in March!

4. Pushing Myself. I’m officially registered for my second ultramarathon — a 50K in May. I’m also eyeing a century ride earlier that month, as well as trying to decide between a sprint triathlon or Olympic duathlon in June. Throw in two overnight relays, and it’s looking to be an active summer!

5. Giving Back. We’re still in our pre-season for the Team LUNA Chix Portland Run team, so fundraising hasn’t started quite yet for the Breast Cancer Fund. However, we’ve been so excited to get going that we’ve gotten a jump on things by holding group runs once a month to touch base.

In the meantime, our potential century ride has fundraising component for the American Lung Association, so if we decide to bite the bullet on that event, Ben and I will be hitting up our friends and family to donate for another great cause.

Other than that, we’re looking forward to March coming in like a rainy lion and out like a damp lamb here in the Pacific Northwest…how about you?!

How are your 2015 goals coming along? 

Fave Fix: BioSkin Calf Skin Sleeves (+ giveaway!)

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During a particularly mucky morning workout recently (#BecausePortland), I bit it while running up some slick stone stairs and slammed my right shin directly into the corner of a step. It was one of those moments where your heart stops, your stomach drops, and a split second before the pain hits you try to do a full-body scan to assess the situation.

Fortunately, it was nothing too serious (aside from ego damage). It’s taken a few weeks, but the nasty bruise has finally subsided.

Unfortunately, though, this incident coincided with me needing wanting to ramp up my mileage base to get ready for the upcoming race season. And although a goose-egg lump and lingering tenderness certainly didn’t pose a huge threat, I figured it’d be the perfect opportunity to test a new pair of Calf Skin Sleeves that BioSkin sent me to check out.

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BioSkin designs and manufactures compression supports, orthopedic braces, and human performance gear for the orthopedic, sports medicine, and recreational sports markets worldwide. They’re an Oregon-based (Ashland) company, and I love their mentality — i.e. they chose the location not because it’s the easiest place to run a manufacturing business, but because it’s such a great place to live.

It’s this kind of attitude — quality over quantity — that usually carries over into great products. Especially because they also believe in focusing on the little details, which can make a big difference when you’re talking about products that people wear on a daily basis.

So, why compression? Well, it not only cuts down on muscle vibration, but also helps ensure that your muscles are in the proper position to maximize force production without wasted energy. Decreased muscle fatigue and improved proprioception also protect you from injury by giving you more precise control of your body.

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My first thought, out of the box, was that these aren’t your average compression sleeves. I wear a good amount of compression gear, but I’ve never run across anything quite like this; BioSkin uses a special material (non-neoprene and non-latex) that not only allows your legs to breathe, but also keeps it from sliding down your leg during vigorous activity.

They feel less like a sock and more like a super-thin wet suit. Getting them on can be a workout in and of itself — these suckers are tight! — but throwing on a thin sock makes it easier to shimmy them on over your heel and onto your leg.

The feel does take some getting used to at first; like I said, they’re designed to fit snugly. But I’ve been actively seeking a higher level of compression for my legs since my tibia injury last fall, especially because I envision it being a free mini-massage with every step.

And as much as I like them for workouts, I l-o-v-e them for recovery days. Whether it’s an easy session of running or biking, or just an off day, I’ll throw them on and feel noticeably less discomfort and soreness. BioSkin for the win!

Speaking of winning (I know; horrible segue) BioSkin’s been kind enough to provide me with a $20 gift card for one lucky reader. Enter here via a Rafflecopter giveaway!

Are you a fan of compression wear? When do you wear compression sleeves/socks? 

The Almond Milk Experiment

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Our recent Whole30 experience left Ben and I between a rock and a hard place when it came to morning coffee: Either drink it black or pay a hefty $1 or so per ounce for the deliciousness from Portland Juice Company.

Now wanting to blow through our grocery budget, I knew there had to be another way. Sure, we could fudge our way through with store-bought almond milk, which even when it’s organic and free of lactose, soy, gluten can have some nasty additives (just Google “carrageenan,” for example).

So that left us (read: me) with one, final option: Making it home-made, which I was trying to avoid at all costs — literally and figuratively.

A little math:

  • Nut-milk bag: $10.99
  • 6 oz package of raw almonds: $4.99
  • 12 oz package of dates: $6.99
  • Finally getting over the fear of using my food processor: Priceless

Is it worth it? Well, I might not be the best person to ask since I love my dairy and have since added it back into my diet — in moderation, of course (#BecauseIceCream). But almond milk is a delicious alternative for people with dietary restrictions — especially with the addition of dates as a natural sweetener and pumpkin pie spice for an extra kick.

Making it on my own not only was a learning experience, but it also got me thinking about all the extra gunk I’m consuming in my usual store-bought, sugar- and chemical-laden creamers, so although I don’t expect to make it regularly, I will add it into my repertoire of “every-now-and-then” recipes.

Here’s a look at the process:

Step one: Purchase nut-milk bag. Get mocked by husband when you tell him you’re “going to the store to buy a nut bag.”

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Step two: Soak almonds. Overnight, ideally, but for at least a few hours or until the nuts plump up.

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Step three: Rinse almonds and place in food processor with 3-4 pitted dates and a few cups of fresh water. Blend.

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Step four: Clean up explosion of water from said food processor. Locate manual and read instructions about not filling above “fill line.” Oops.

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Step five: Repeat step four. Clean up second mess, and wonder if you assembled it incorrectly. Nope — just too much liquid. Again.

Step six: Finally blend (for 1-2 minutes) until white and frothy. Smells lovely.

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Step seven: Hold open nut-milk bag over a large bowl and pour mixture into bag to strain. Gently squeeze to get excess liquid out.

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Step eight: Store in airtight container. Preferably a mason jar, particularly if you live in Portland, to cement neo-hippie status.

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Now…what do do with the almond remnants? I’ve got a recipe for that, too! Stay tuned…

Have you made home-made almond milk?

Don’t Just Sit There: DIY Standing Desk

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It’s funny how your body can speak volumes to someone without even saying a word.

Case in point: Every time I go in for a massage lately, my therapist gets stuck on my back. Or, rather, my back gets itself stuck, and then my massage therapist has to spend an hour convincing it to loosen up.

You see, working from home is a double-edged sword. Now I’m not complaining — my commute rocks, my workout-wear attire is comfy and my four-legged office-mates are pretty chill (unless they hear a knock at the door, then all bets are off). But the drawback is that sometimes the lack of ergonomics can be a pain in the neck — like, literally.

Some scary facts:

  • The moment you sit at your desk each morning, your calorie-burning rate immediately drops to one calorie per minute
  • Sit for six hours a day, 14 days straight: Muscles stop burning fat, blood sugar rises and maximum oxygen consumption drops.
  • After a year of sitting six hours per day, weight gain would be noticeable, as would higher cholesterol levels and loss of bone mass.

But the real kicker comes 10-20 years down the line. Us desk jockeys may need to augment retirement savings to account for medical bills. Sitting affects almost every part of our bodies from head to toe, raises risk of death by nearly 50 percent and creates a stunning 125 percent increase in the risk for cardiovascular disease.

So I’ve decided I’m not taking this sitting down. In fact, I’m taking a stand…as in, using a DIY standing desk.

Why? Well, our budget is zilch, and we’re lucky enough to have a bar-height butcher block table in the kitchen that works, so I’m trying that out for now. But Plan B is to “hack” our space using the specs and ideas below to create something that’s cheap, comfortable and won’t undo all the good I try do by way of exercise.

So, athletes, consider this my little PSA: We talk about the benefits of recovery because that’s where the body bounces back and the real gains happen. But if you’re sitting at a desk all day, you’re still doing yourself a disservice.

Get up, stand up. Stand up for your life.

Click to Enlarge Image

DIY Desk

DIY Desk
Infographic by CustomMade

Are you ergonomic at work?

Have any tips for doing it effectively (and on a budget)?

The Whole30 Truth, and Nothing But the Truth (+ giveaway!)

Credit: Chef Pete Evans

Credit: Chef Pete Evans

In mid-January, Ben and I started Whole30, which we viewed as a 30-day “experiment,” a fresh start for the new year. If you’re not familiar with the program, it’s a “short-term nutritional reset,” designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract and balance your immune system.

Sounds awesome, right? Well, where the rubber hits the road is in the rules: Eat real food. Avoid added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, dairy, carrageenan, MSG, sulfites…or any food product with a hint of anything like that in it.

Easy, in theory. We eat fairly healthy. We exercise. We expected it to be difficult at times (him: peanut butter and flavored coffee creamer; me: cereal and dessert after dinner). But what we didn’t expect was an experience that will forever change the way in which we view our food.

So, what’s it’s like to eat “clean” for 30 days? Truthfully, it’s hard. Not only are we used to grabbing whatever we want off the grocery store shelves, but our bodies are, sadly, so accustomed to being jacked up on sugar and artificial stuff that there’s even a timeline of what you can expect — both mentally and physically — as the month unfolds.

Full disclosure: Neither of us experienced anything as drastic as the “carb flu,” although we did blow through five jars of almond butter in the process. And there may have been a few nights at the beginning when I put myself to bed early in order to escape from the after-dinner dessert cravings… 

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But, reflecting back on the experience, we learned some valuable lessons:

1. I’m not in the habit of reading food labels. I learned this the hard way after using what I thought were W30-approved almond milk and hot sauce on day one, only to realize later that both products had a bunch of additives in ‘em. #Whole30Fail

2. There’s a lot in our food that isn’t “food.” As we perused the grocery aisles, Ben and I had bust out our phones and Google ingredients in things, most of which we couldn’t pronounce.

3. It’s tough to find whole-food products. They’re out there and are becoming more popular, as you’ll see below, but they’re not the default; you’ve got to make an effort to seek them out.

4. It’s not a diet. Don’t necessarily expect to lose weight. My number on the scale stayed the same, although my jeans do feel a little looser, so that’s a bonus!

5. There is sugar and soy in every.thing. If it’s not listed in the ingredients outright, it’s hiding behind a pseudonym. Do your research, and read those labels!

6. Food is very social. We didn’t realize this until we made a double-date for dinner the first Friday night. Two glasses of water and bun-less burgers, please. Wah-wah.

7. There’s a difference between stuffed and satiated. Well, duh. But no, really — bread baskets, apps and desserts used to be a free-for-all. Making better decisions about food has means no more nights riddled with regret — and heartburn.

8. Cooking is key. A month straight of hard-boiled eggs, broiled chicken and steamed veggies would get old fast. There are so many easy W30-approved recipes out there, and they’re delicious! Here’s one of our favorites, in fact.

But… I do have one confession to make: Snacks, which I credit for helping me get through the past 30 days. Although they’re technically discouraged — you’re supposed to aim for three large meals instead — I took a hall pass because I’ve got a pretty active workout schedule.

Here are a few of my favorite W30-approved game-changers: So good, you’d never guess they’re actually good for you!

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Meat snacks: Both Chomps Snack Sticks and Nick’s Sticks deliver all the goodness and none of the garbage. Made from grass-fed beef (Nick’s also has free-range turkey), which is higher in omega-3’s, all the sticks are gluten-, soy-, hormone- and antibiotic-free, but the best part is that they’re shelf-stable (great for on-the-go!) without any synthetic preservatives. I love stashing them in my purse for emergency mini-meals.

Nuts, seeds & bars: Aside from an admirable brand mantra, Living Intentions makes some downright addictive sprouted nut, seed and trail mix flavor combinations; I’m partial to the Rosemary Garlic Gone Nuts, in particular. Chapul Bars also made me a cricket convert; their chocolate-coffee-cayenne Aztec Bar (packed with protein, iron and vitamin B12) hits the spot — seriously, almost better than a brownie.

For workouts, my new pre-sweat-session obsession pick-me-up are Yawp! Bars, which are a delicious grain-free alternative to granola bars because they’re dehydrated ’til crispy (another confession: I already ordered a second box because I can’t gt enough of ‘em).  And, finally, Barnana — literally, just dehydrated bananas — is an unbelievably good mid-workout fuel with its mild flavor and candy-like chewiness.

Sauces & flavorings: My biggest tip for tackling Whole30? Flavor up that food! Paleo Powder takes seasoning back to basics with an all-purpose rub that’s free of MSG, gluten and sugar; it gives a great kick to meat, veggies and eggs. Our go-to weeknight dinner was chicken breasts, baked with this and a smidge of white wine.

And then there’s Tessemae’s, my absolute favorite find (thanks to Erica for the heads up!) — not just for the spunky nature of the company, but also because they keep it real (real yummy) when it comes to all-natural condiments and dressings. The Lemon Garlic dressing was a life-saver for salads. Another tip? Try their Lemon Chesapeake dressing over salmon and braised greens!

Hydration: I read that drinking rooibos tea could help combat sweet cravings due to its deep, earthy vanilla taste, so I stocked up on Numi’s version. It’s caffeine-free and full of antioxidants, so it’s also become my afternoon drink of choice with a splash of home-made almond milk.

And as important as it is to replenish fluid and electrolytes when you’re working out, you’d be hard-pressed to find many without added sugar, carbs or artificial flavors and colors. That’s why I’ve also been using elete’s Electrolyte Add-in, a pure, flavorless liquid electrolyte concentrate that contains magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride in order to help facilitate proper muscle and mental function. It’s gotten me through countless long runs and rides these past few weeks!

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As for my final take on the program, it’s something I’d highly recommend. Think of it this way — it’s a month with some occasional discomfort (mostly mental) in exchange for something that has the potential to impact you for the rest of your life in a positive way: A new relationship with food.

Removing the junk out of your diet helps chip away at some of the emotional baggage regarding what we eat and why, as well. Your taste buds will reset, you’ll regain control over cravings, you’ll feel healthier overall…but most of all, you’ll learn to approach life after Whole30 with a whole new outlook.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ben and I had a running list of post-Whole30 restaurants to visit and items to eat! We fully intend to indulge in them, too — although this time it’ll not only be deliberate, but also in moderation so we can truly enjoy it.

Have you tried Whole30? What’s your take?

Also – it’s your lucky day! Yawp was kind enough to offer a mixed case (12 bars, four of each flavor: Naked, Cafe Mocha and Coconut Chai) up for grabs. Enter here via a Rafflecopter giveaway!

Race Report: Hagg Lake Mud Run 25k

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The alternate title for this race write-up? There Will Be Mud. 

Our friends Matt and Christian came in from San Francisco to spend Valentine’s Day weekend in Portland, and we’ve got a little tradition every time they visit the Pacific Northwest: Trail runs of escalating distances, which are usually sprung on them at the 11th hour (I’m lucky they’re such good sports — and strong athletes).

Last time it was a half marathon, so this time it was only fitting to bump it up a few miles to a 25K. And since the Hagg Lake Mud Run has been dubbed by Runner’s World Trail Edition as one of the top trail races in Oregon, we figured it’d be a great way to round out their trip.

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If you’re interested in all the details, keep reading. But if you want the short version, I can illustrate the run in just three pictures:

First, here’s the “before” from when we made our way over to the start.

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Next is the “during,” which I took at the first aid station, a little more than six miles into the race. That right shoe had just been submerged (and was nearly lost) in a huge pile of muck.

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And, finally, the “after,” which pretty much speaks for itself, doesn’t it? This shows Ben’s and my feet about half a second before we hopped into the lake — shoes and all.

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If you want all the gory details from in-between, I’ll start over at the beginning…

After a few dreary weeks of fog and intermittent rain, we got lucky with some unseasonably spring-like weather the week before the race. And since our last event was a cold, rainy one, we were thrilled to have ideal conditions for this one: 40’s at the 9 a.m. start and up to mid-50’s by noon.

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Hagg Lake is about 45 minutes outside of Portland, so we left around 7:30 a.m. to allow time for packet pick-up and a port-a-potty stop. The parking lot is about a quarter mile from the start, so we had ample time once we got there to get organized.

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The start area itself was clean, quiet and super mellow — a.k.a. another reason why I love trail races!

We casually lined up, took a quick group selfie and waited for the round of pre-race announcements from the race director.

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After the gun went off, we shuffled over the start line chip-time mats and made our way down the road for the first portion of the race, which is a quick out and back on a gravel road.

They tack this portion on for two reasons: First, to make up the difference in distance (the path around the lake is just a little less than 25k); second, to help runners space themselves out a bit before they hit the single-track trails.

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Also interesting about this section? It’s the largest elevation change in the race, so we ended up climbing most of the first mile.

But the good news is that ‘what goes up must come down,’ so we also got to descend the same distance before hitting the lake trail.

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Talk about some great scenery — and terrific running conditions! We eased in with some lovely damp, spongy footing as we started out on the trail headed counter-clockwise around the lake.

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The temperature was perfect, the sun was shining, we were all warmed up, getting into our respective grooves and in high spirits. How much better does it get than this?!

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Well, it was right about then that the mud hit. And shit started getting real…real muddy, that is.

Any hopes I had for keeping my shoes clean(ish) and dry were dashed as we slogged through the slop.

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Try as we might to avoid the worst of it, we eventually gave in and just ran straight through. Between navigating the rolling hills, managing the slick footing and avoiding roots and rocks, it just simply wasn’t worth the extra mental and physical energy to go out of our way around it.

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In between the rolling stretches of single-track trail, however, we enjoyed a few breaks on pavement and through open fields. Both were a welcome respite — not only were they flatter so we could catch our breaths, but the surer footing also allowed for a mental reset for what would come next.

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And what might that be, you ask? Well, more mud, of course.

In my estimation, we got to experience pretty much every kind and consistency of the brown, wet, sticky stuff…from quicksand-like mud that grabs hold of your shoes to murky puddles that are deceptively deep with squishy bottoms…

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…and from fluffy brownie-batter mud with footprints that disguise dangerous tree roots to thick clay mud so slippery and sticky that they have to throw hay in it to keep you from going off the rails around corners.

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And then there’s a combination of ALL of these kinds of mud in one place dubbed the “Pig Pen.”

In fact, this segment even came marked with a warning that if you somehow managed to keep your shoes clean up to that point, you should abandon all hope of keeping them that way.

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It was around this point, as Ben and I slipped, slided and skidded through the nastiness, that I wondered if Matt and Christian might be cursing me and cancelling any future travel plans.

Last race it was “Nutcracker Hill” that was the final insult, yet this race may have had that beat with a muddy mess of a stretch that was both physically and mentally demanding.

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Even though the mounting mileage was starting to wear on us, Ben and I both managed to keep our shoes. Whew.

A small, but much-needed, victory to get us to the finish!

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After we emerged from the Pig Pen, we had about a half of a mile to go, so Ben and I picked up the pace to bring it home.

Because we were both admittedly under-trained going into the race, my loose goal for the day was to complete the course in fewer than three hours. We crossed the finish line together in 2:51:54.

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Matt and Christian, who are both training for the Big Sur Marathon this spring, finished together in an impressive 2:28.

The best part of the race, though? You cross the finish just steps away from “Hagg Lake Spa,” which is also known as wading into the water, shoes and all.

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Waterlogged and jello-legged, we then made our way up to the (heated!) pavilion for a delicious feast of chili, hot dogs, grilled cheese, beer, cookies, candy and all the other usual ultra fare.

After chowing down, we hobbled to the car and began the process of stripping off filthy clothing, scraping off caked-on mud and getting ourselves just clean enough to get in the car for the ride to our next destination…brunch!

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And, of course, my wheels are already turning when it comes to planning the excursion for Matt and Christian’s next trip up north…

I’m thinking we continue the trend and shoot for 26.2. What do you say, guys??

Recipe: So-Good-You-Won’t-Believe-What’s-In-‘Em Pancakes

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I may very well be the second-to-last person on Earth to have tried this recipe, as a quick Google search will reveal that it’s been circulating the interwebs for quite some time now. But in the off-chance you’re that lucky last person to have heard about it, I wanted to share it again here.

Which culinary magician originally invented this? No clue. I just happened to find out about it from a former co-worker, Claire, who posted some pictures on social media that had me drooling. Cue the following morning’s brunch where Ben and I tweaked a double batch and devoured the entire thing ourselves.

Traditionally, it’s a two-ingredient pancake with just banana and eggs. But in lieu of drenching the ‘cakes in maple syrup (damn you, Whole 30!), we spiced things up instead and added some extra protein to make them a more substantial meal.

So-Good-You-Won’t-Believe-What’s-In-‘Em Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 4 Tbsp almond butter

Directions:

  1. Add bananas, eggs, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice to a medium-sized bowl.
  2. Mix until smooth with an immersion (or regular) blender.
  3. Cook on pre-heated griddle, greased lightly with coconut oil, until both sides are browned.
  4. Keep hot, and serve immediately — with almond butter!

I love recipes where you can throw everything into one bowl; you can also change the flavor profile by adding other spices, fruit, cocoa powder, etc.

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Next step? Blend, baby, blend! Don’t be surprised if the batter gets all aerated and frothy.

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Spoon batter onto a hot griddle, and flip when pancakes are bubbly and have set.

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Cook on the other side for about a minute until lightly browned and cooked through.

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Layer hot ‘cakes with almond butter…and get ‘em while they’re hot!

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Have you tried the famous two-ingredient pancakes?