Race Report: Vernonia Half Marathon

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After a year and a half hiatus from racing, it feels SO good to be back in the saddle!

When my plans to race 26.2 last fall got put on hold (because sleep > running), I set my sights on what felt like a more manageable challenge: the half marathon (my 15th!).

My PR was 1:47 and change from a few years ago, so when I signed on with a coach to help me with my postpartum comeback and restrain keep me from over-training, I told him I was eyeing not only a PR, but also an even bolder post-baby goal of 1:45.

We started working together in early January with a mission to get me safely to the start line of the Vernonia Half Marathon on April 9. Training went smoothly; after figuring out my paces, we exchanged emails each week as I eagerly tackled my nap-time workouts on the treadmill.

It felt good to be on a schedule. It felt great to be running regularly. And it felt awesome to finally start pushing myself again.

Although I was nailing workouts, my coach was frank about setting expectations when it came to race day: Based on my tempo runs, overall paces and our conservative build-up of mileage (I started at square one, so my long runs maxed out at 10 miles by the time we got to race day), he warned me that a PR may not be in the cards this training cycle.

By that point, however, I was just happy to be toeing the start line well-trained and healthy, so I figured it’d be a good opportunity to set a baseline from which I could work for my next race. It also meant that I’d leave my watch at home and just run by feel.

Fast forward to race day, and I was battling a serious case of self-doubt. Would treadmill mileage translate to the roads? How would I handle the last few miles (which I’d likely be running on fumes)? Could I even get in the head-space to go hard? Hell, I wasn’t even sure if my race kit from 2016 would fit.

We arrived about an hour and a half before the 9 a.m. start because the course was point-to-point and there was a 20-minute bus ride to the start. Luckily, it’s a super low-key event (~150 marathoners & fewer than 400 half marathoners), so everything went smoothly and we soon found ourselves inside Stub Stewart State Park at Hilltop with a little more than an hour until the gun went off.

To say it was cold for Oregon in April would be putting it mildly; there were more than a few “penguin” jokes circulating as several hundred of us huddled in a shelter, hopping from foot to foot, in an attempt to share body warmth.

Several cups of water and trips to the HoneyBuckets later, Ben, Matt and I lined up at the start barely able to feel our feet. The race started without much pomp and circumstance; no National Anthem or so much as a countdown or warning before we were off.

The course took us uphill for the first mile or so before joining the Banks-Vernonia State Trail at mile two, so my plan was to A) warm up for the first mile, B) go out conservatively so I didn’t expend too much energy, and C) try to run separately from Ben and Matt because they were anticipating slightly slower and faster finish times, respectively.

When we hit the first mile marker and I was still next to Matt, I figured he was having an “off” day because I just assumed my first mile would be around a 9:00 pace due to the hill. But when he said we were at 8:20, I decided to double-down and go for it.

The next six miles or so took us along a paved trail, through scenic woods on an abandoned railroad bed. And since we had a gradual downhill until mile seven, everyone was taking full advantage of it.

Things were going well until somewhere after mile eight when we hit an open section of the course and the wind picked up; even though the final stretch was flat, the previous downhill had taken a toll on my quads. That, combined with a lack of mile markers at this point made for a total mental battle as I fought fatigue and wondered where I was on the course.

Not wanting to tempt the GI gods, I had also avoided any kind of fuel for the first hour or so. But after mile seven I paused at each water station to take a few sips of Gatorade. Somewhere around mile nine, I felt the first gut flutter and around what I think was mile 12, I pulled over to take a quick nip of Gu to help get me to the finish.

For those final few miles my brain was squarely at the intersection of “I-just-wanna-walk,” “the-faster-I-run-the-faster-I-am-done” and “uh-oh-my-gut.” But words of encouragement from my coach and fellow mama runner friends kept me pushing along.

When we turned off the trail and into town I knew we had to be close to the finish. In a matter of minutes, we turned in to the Banks High School parking lot and made our way to the track where we had one lap to complete the race.

Per usual, that last lap felt like the longest portion of the race. I didn’t allow myself to look at the finish line until we rounded the first curve, then silently cursed because it was, indeed, a full lap.

As I rounded the last curve, I saw the clock read 1:46:XX. With one final kick, I crossed the finish line, found Matt, then headed straight to the bathroom; thank goodness for ample facilities at this race!

Matt had finished in 1:42, an impressive PR. Ben ran a 1:49, which was fantastic for the amount of training he didn’t do did for this race. And my official time was 1:46:06, which was good enough for a new PR, a 4th place finish in my age group and a top 20 finish among women.

Immediately my mind went to what I did well (in order to replicate it) and what I can improve upon (i.e. remove a negative variable) next training cycle: Having a coach was beneficial in so many ways, as was the consistency of my training and speed-work. But I definitely need to focus on improving my nutrition going forward — not only fueling during the race, but also the days/weeks leading up to it.

And although I’m still in shock about the outcome, the wheels have started turning about what’s next. My coach assured me that 1:45 is doable with more mileage under my belt, which is tempting. But I’m also mulling over going shorter and faster; I’d love to finally beat my 5K PR from my high school track days.

But just as life evolves, so does a runner’s relationship with the sport. And as good as it feels to nail a new PR and chase after the next one, I’m also realizing that there’s much more to it now than just the numbers.

I run because it makes me feel alive. Running makes me feel like I’m unstoppable. It makes me feel as though I’m capable of anything.

But now I also run because I’ve got an example to set for Wyatt. I want him to see his mom setting goals and working hard to achieve them. I want him to learn that it takes dedication to reach our goals and that we can do hard things.

And my ultimate goal is that he’ll be inspired to chase after his own dreams, running or otherwise.

Recipe: No Added Sugar Banana Zucchini Date (Smash!) Cake

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They say that with age comes wisdom. But, for me, it took being responsible for another little life to finally smarten up about my eating habits.

Sure, Ben and I have always tried to eat healthy, which mostly meant forgoing sugary treats until we’d eventually cave into temptation…only to start a cycle of guilt, restriction and inevitable relapse.

But it wasn’t until I got pregnant that I decided to cut myself some slack and relax when it came to cravings. Although with space in the belly at a premium, you’ve got to make every calorie count.

When I stopped thinking of foods as “good” and “bad” and started judging them on their nutrient density, I felt empowered instead of deprived. Not to mention it felt great to fuel my body — and my baby — with whole foods that would help both of us thrive.

Enter Bard Valley Natural Delights Medjool dates. I’ve partnered with them this year to help our family make the swap from refined sugars to a more natural alternative: whole foods that the body can recognize and pull nutrients from.

My 2015 almond milk experiment started what has become a passionate love affair with these little gems. Medjool dates deliver sustained energy from their combo of fiber and natural sugars, plus they’re packed with potassium to support muscle fuel and recovery.

So Wyatt’s first birthday “smash cake” became an experiment of sorts in substituting date paste for processed sugar. It may have taken me a few attempts — the first was too moist, the second was too dense — but the third time was a charm, as you can see from the shot below.

This recipe works for birthdays, but I think it’s even better made into muffins for a quick energy boost throughout the day. Finally, you can have your cake — and eat it (along with some very valuable nutrients), too.

No Added Sugar Banana Zucchini Date Cake

Ingredients: 

  • 2 small zucchinis, grated & squeezed dry (about 2 cups)
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup date paste
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease muffin cups with coconut oil (or use muffin liners).
  2. In large bowl, mix together zucchini and banana. Add eggs one at a time.
  3. Blend in date paste, peanut butter and vanilla.
  4. In small bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add slowly to wet ingredients, stirring to incorporate.
  5. Spoon into muffin cups, filling each 3/4 of the way.
  6. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into muffin come out clean.

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Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

StitchFix Shipment No. 13 Review

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After scoring a cozy cowl-neck sweater for winter from StitchFix no. 12 (read about it here), I requested some bright spring pieces to help lift me out of the dreariness that is Portland right now.

Thanks to weaning and half marathon training, my body continues to shape-shift. But I went ahead and asked for form-fitting pieces because I’m feeling fitter than I have in months — and so ready for warm weather already.

New to StitchFix? Read all about how it works here

So let’s take a peek at what showed up in this month’s box…

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First up was the Coffeeshop Aerin Hooded Cargo Jacket. I have yet to jump on the cargo jacket bandwagon, which makes me wonder if I’m too late to the party at this point?

The fact that this jacket came in a different color than the usual army green was intriguing, though. But I’m just not sure how practical it is, considering how much rain we get here…

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Next was the 41Hawthorn Portar Fitted Pullover. Stripes? Check. Bright spring accent colors? Check. Chic French flair? Check.

The only thing that gave me slight pause on this one was the length (maybe a tad too long?), but I’d have to see it on before making the final decision.

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Third was the StateSide Kirsta Knit Top. And there was only one thought in my mind when I laid eyes upon it: A glorified SWEATSHIRT that I can wear out and not look like a total slob?! Yes, please.

I can’t even begin to describe how soft the fabric is, too. Even though the price made me shudder, it’d have to look pretty horrible on for me to be able to send it back.

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After that was the Tolani LeeLee Silk Maxi Dress. My stylist said she’d seen a number of maxi dresses on my Pinterest page, which was the inspiration behind this pick.

I just couldn’t get past a few things, however: First, it’s waaay too bohemian for my taste. Second, it’s soft but thin and unstructured. And, third, it’s $200. So unless it looked absolutely fantastic on, it’d be going back.

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And last but not least was the Papermoon Annebel Cross Front Knit Top. At first glance, this one only registered as “meh” to me.

But then I took a closer look at some of the details — the collar, the soft fabric and the longer length in the back, in particular — and figured I should withhold judgement until trying it on, as well.

So what did I end up keeping? I’ll give you a hint: Two pieces.

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Give up?

Well, the jacket and top in the photo on the left both left me wanting more when it came to fit; the jacket flared out oddly at the waist, and the striped shirt was just too long for my figure. And the dress…it was ok, but I just don’t like the style — I prefer a lot more structure.

So the teal and light purple knit tops were the clear winners this round. Not only am I excited to wear some pretty pastels for spring, but they meet my criteria for part-time-working-mom-on-the-go criteria: Cute and comfy.

My next fix is scheduled for early summer. I haven’t put in my request yet, but it’s a pretty safe bet I’ll be looking for something fun to celebrate the warm weather!

Want to try StitchFix? Use my referral link to fill out your style profile and get started.

Disclosure: This is *not* a sponsored post; I pay for StitchFix on my own, and since I love the service, it’s fun to share my experience. If you sign up using my referral link, I’ll get a credit…so thanks in advance for fueling the next fix! 

Recipe: Sweet Potato Butternut Squash Gnocchi

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Homemade gnocchi on a weeknight? Yep, and we’ve got Olympic steeplechaser Emma Coburn to thank for it.

I spotted the recipe on her Instagram Stories; not only is it simple to make, but it’s also got a subtle sweet flavor that makes these little pillows of dough just delicious.

Not too shabby for something she whipped up using a combination of recipes and ingredients already in her fridge, as she told me via Twitter.

Emma Coburn’s Sweet Potato Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cup sweet potato, roasted & blended
  • 1.5 cup butternut squash, roasted & blended
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 4 cups flour
  • Pancetta
  • Parmesan cheese (freshly grated)

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.
  2. Using flour to coat hands, roll into ropes & cut.
  3. Boil for 5 minutes in small batches.
  4. Toss with pancetta, top with Parmesan & serve.

Bonus: It’s excellent fuel for this week’s half marathon training!

Portland Fit Fix: Feeling the MegaBurn in the ‘Burbs

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Moving to the ‘burbs has certainly had its perks: Baby’s own room. A good night’s sleep. A yard.

But it’s also got its drawbacks: Chain restaurants. Urban sprawl. Fewer/farther fitness options.

Until now, that is.

Just as I was mourning the loss of my studio-hopping days in the city, one of my favorite Portland instructors, Ellie, and her business partner, Carolynn, brought the heat to Beaverton in the form of MegaBurn Fitness.

The industrial-chic studio’s high-intensity, low-impact Megaformer M3S workouts are known for utilizing slow and controlled movements instead of momentum, which makes this a full-body burn that’s also friendly for joints.

Haven’t been properly introduced to the Megaformer yet? Think of it as Pilates on steroids at the hands of a medieval torture device (er, spring-loaded “carriage”). No matter how good of shape I think I’m in, the Megaformer always brings me back to reality.

So, yes, if you can’t already tell, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this machine. Sure, working out with it will sculpt your core, tone your legs, increase flexibility and chisel your arms like no other. But there’s also a good chance you’ll be shaking with muscle failure and mentally swearing up a storm in the process (trust me, it helps).

Luckily, though, Ellie and Carolynn are as motivational as they are knowledgeable, which translates to constant movement and quick transitions during class — including counting into and out of exercises — so none of those panicked moments where you’re left wondering, “How much longer?!”

In fact, both ladies specialize in choreographing seamless transitions between moves in an effort to keep your heart rate up throughout class. No fumbling around here; it’s a fast-paced and, dare I say, fun way to improve endurance while testing your mental mettle.

Just don’t let Ellie and Carolynn’s kind faces fool you; they’ll have you begging for mercy in a matter of minutes…yet coming back for more when you realize just how efficient and effective this workout can be.

For more info, visit MegaBurnFitness.com.

Less Talking, More Doing

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That’s my resolution for 2017. Simple and to the point.

Because hopes and aspirations are all well and good. But in the end, results — not desire — will get you to your destination.

First up: Finding myself in the midst of motherhood by getting back in touch with running.

It’s been a constant in my life for the past 20+ years, although pregnancy recently wreaked havoc on the relationship. What previously felt great was uncomfortable, and where I once was confident now filled me with self-doubt.

As a new-ish mom, taking time for yourself feels incredibly selfish. But after almost a year at this gig, I’m a believer that happy people make better moms, so it’s imperative not to lose touch with your passions. Even if a current one is scrolling through baby pictures after you put your little one to sleep at night.

So after stepping back from training and racing for the better part of a year, I’m making good on my intention above and am back at it. Knowing that I thrive on having goals, being on a schedule, pushing myself and checking off a to-do list made the decision a no-brainer.

Gut instinct told me that 26.2 is too much at the moment, so I’m focusing instead on the 13.1 distance. And now that training is officially underway, I can say that it feels good to prioritize self-care again…even if it’s just for a few minutes a day on the treadmill during naptime.

There’s also something different this time around: I hired a coach. Getting certified recently as a running coach myself makes me appreciate a more tailored approach to training, plus he came highly recommended from a college friend who successfully juggles family, career and racing.

His task? Helping me (safely and conservatively) get back in the game. I especially appreciate not having to overthink workouts; based on my feedback, he adjusts paces and mileage, so all I need to do is just trust the process.

Which leaves me more time and energy for paying it forward via Portland Women’s Run Club where I’m helping other women find themselves through running, as well. We fill the void for ladies who want to step up to a challenge, whether it’s getting out of a comfort zone, achieving a personal best or making an impact on their community.

That’s my challenge to you, as well, with whatever your intention is for the year: Don’t talk, but act. Don’t say, but show. And don’t just promise, prove.

So far so good, 2017.

A new addition for 2017…

pwrc_launch_pageNo, this isn’t a pregnancy announcement (sorry, grandmas) but if you’ve been wondering why things have been a bit quiet around here lately it’s because I do have a new “baby” in the works…

I’m thrilled to announce that 2017 will be the inaugural year for Portland Women’s Run Club!

Sadly, LUNA is winding down their local teams’ program. So even though Team LUNA Chix Portland Run will technically be no more, the company will still remain as a sponsor and support us as we transition into a team with a local focus.

What does this mean? Well, a few things (all of which are really exciting):

  • A brand new name, logo and website, along with social media accounts (give us a follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!)
  • Team-based, run-specific workouts led by a certified running coach (yep, I’ve been making the most of the off-season)
  • Partnership with a Portland-based charity (to be announced soon!), allowing us to make more of a local impact, as well as donate our time along with money raised
  • Dedicated walk captains, so we can truly offer something for every ability and level at each workout
  • Team races, which we will be working toward throughout the season, plus training plans for non-PWRC practice days
  • Awesome branded club gear, so you can show your team pride both during workouts and when racing!
  • All the usual seasonal swag for our regular participants – including attendance rewards and other fun surprises
  • Special discounts and perks at local businesses with whom we’re partnering for the upcoming season
  • Additional workouts for people interested in co-ed sweat sessions, group long runs, trail running, as well as rotating locations
  • Social events, clinics, charitable opportunities and much, much more!

And last, but certainly not least, our workouts will remain FREE for everyone. Adulting is tough enough; we want you to just show up, get after those goals, make some new friends and be able to give back to a good cause without having to dig into your wallets.

So if you’ve been wanting to nab that new PR, attempt a new distance or simply start from square one and see where it takes you, now’s your chance to be a part of Portland’s fastest-growing running team.

Don’t miss out – sign up here to get our latest updates as we prepare for our 2017 season!

We’ve got big things in store for 2017, and we’re looking forward to get faster, stronger, better – together.