Blue Apron is a subscription-based meal/grocery service that sends recipes and ingredients (portioned out) on a weekly basis. Blue Apron does the “legwork,” as they say, by planning, shopping, measuring and delivering. And then you do the cooking, estimated to take about 35 minutes. It comes out to about $10/person per meal, with 3 healthy meal ingredients and recipes sent each week. You can customize your account online for any dietary restrictions.

I’ve always been intrigued by this idea but never thought it would be for me. Mike and I plan out our meals each week and go grocery shopping once a week. Sure, sometimes it’s a pain to go to the grocery store, especially when it’s packed but it’s never been a big issue.

My co-worker had tried out Blue Apron through a Groupon-type deal but there was a week where she was planning to go out of town (you need to put a hold on it 6-7 days before it delivers). Since she didn’t need 3 meals that week, she offered one to me so it wouldn’t go to waste. She gave me the Chicken, Baby Artichoke and Spinach Casserole recipe. Each box comes with three double sided and sturdy 7.5 X 11 recipe “cards”. The front gives a description and photo of the dish, as well as a list and photo of all ingredients.

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The ingredients arrive in a very large box that has a lot insulation and freezer packs in it. Ingredients aren’t separated by recipe so we went through the box, pulling out ingredients listed on the recipe card. We had everything except the white onion, which was missing from the package unfortunately. All small ingredients are put into a paper bag labeled “Knick Knacks” for the recipe.

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All ingredients are packaged separately. Most are in plastic baggies with labels but the white vinegar, for example, was in a tiny plastic bottle, measured out for the recipe. Milk came in a juice box form (have to measure it out) and even butter came measured in a little plastic container. So cute! I’m surprised most people wouldn’t have milk or butter but Blue Apron only requires that you have olive oil, salt and pepper for their recipes.

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So this recipe looked com-pli-cated. I would never have chosen to make this on my own. I have to admit that it was kind of fun to be presented with these actually pretty easy to follow directions for a recipe out of my comfort zone.

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Step One – Preparing the ingredients took me awhile. Why couldn’t everything come chopped already? That’s the part of cooking that I like least.

Step Two – I learned how to prepare baby artichokes! A new, random kitchen skill. Here, the directions could have been better adjusted for this recipe. Directions suggest you chop off the top inch of the artichokes, but the artichokes were pretty small so I wasn’t sure how much to actually chop. It would be cool if you could go on Blue Apron’s website to see video demonstrations of preparing artichokes and follow along with a person, rather than reading the recipe card.

Step Three – cook the pasta. I think I’ve been way over-portioning. Look at how small of an amount this is for 2 people! How could this fill us up?! (but it actually did…)

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Step Four - Saute chicken, onion and artichokes (minus the onion since we didn’t have one in the Blue Apron box). Here things started picking up since I decided to do step five at the same time as step four. We had three burners going: pasta, bechamel sauce and chicken saute – much more than our usual dinner cooking!

Step Five - The bechamel sauce (sounds so fancy) required constant stirring so it was helpful for Mike to take over the chicken sauteing while I handled this. We were worried about messing up the bechamel sauce since it a) sounded delicious and b) seemed like a major component to the recipe.

Step Six – Bake the Casserole.

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The casserole came out great and was much more than I had anticipated from just looking at the baggies of ingredients. We actually had leftovers (maybe a little less than a serving worth). It was absolutely delicious and like nothing we have ever made (or really eaten!) before. The Panko coating on the casserole added a nice bit of crunch.

Overall, a fun experience! This took longer to make than our normal dinners, but was fun to try out for a change. The recipe was delicious and pretty healthy at about 500 calories for a generous serving. I don’t think this would be something we would subscribe to on a regular basis, but I can see doing it once in awhile to change things up, learn some new kitchen skills and be exposed to different recipes. This could be a good option for urbanites who don’t get to the grocery store often; it offers a healthy and fun alternative to take out (although you have to put in some time and effort).

I like cushioned sneakers but the Hoka One One takes cushioning to a whole new level. The Hoka One Ones are fairly new to the market (2010) and were recently bought by Decker Outdoor Corp (behind Ugg and Teva) so are being marketed more and are more widely available. Hoka One Ones look a little bit like moon shoes or Skechers Shape-Ups (speaking of Skechers, Meb just won the Boston Marathon wearing Skechers sneakers so perhaps the brand is going to make a big push into the running world).

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According to their website, Hoka One One’s offer 3 unique features:
- Midsole Volume – the sole is gigantic with about 2.5X the volume of normal running sneakers. But despite the larger size, they feel super lightweight! The increased volume is meant to help absorb shock and offer a stable run that should decrease leg fatigue.

- Meta-rocker – the sole is curved like those Skechers Shape-Up sneakers that claimed to help with weightloss. The shape of the sole makes these look kind of goofy. But apparently this curve helps to encourage proper and natural running gait.

- Active Foot Frame – The frame allows the foot to sink into the midsole, offering comfort for every runner’s foot time and stride.

I learned of these sneakers just yesterday when Mike and I went to City Sports Georgetown with our friend Brian who told us about the Hoka One Ones. They were displayed front and center in the shoe section. He tried a pair on and raved about how comfortable they felt. But they do look pretty goofy.

Brian modeling Hoka One Ones

Brian modeling Hoka One Ones

Out of curiosity, I decided to try on a pair of the women’s Conquest ($170), which were a little more attractive than the men’s Hoka One Ones. I actually felt kind of unstable because I was raised off the ground quite a bit due to the thick sole. They add a few inches to your height. I did love how cushiony they felt though! It was like walking on a cloud of memory foam. These are like no sneakers I have ever worn.

Close-up of Women's Hoka One One Conquest

Close-up of Women’s Hoka One One Conquest

CitySports is pretty small so I couldn’t really run around the store although I tried doing a few laps around the shoe section. These are really bouncy! I felt like I was skipping rather than jogging. However, my current Saucony Omnis have a lot stabilization. With these, I felt like my foot could easily roll to the side and I’d fall or twist my ankle. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting used to them but I don’t think they provide enough stabilization for me. In addition, I am a midfoot striker so I’m not sure I’d benefit as much from the curved sole as heel-strikers would.

Also, this zip-up is from Costco - Kirkland brand - love it!

Also, this zip-up is from Costco – Kirkland brand – love it!

I did continue to browse and came across these cool looking Brooks Transcend sneakers (the color drew me in right away) that offer stability as well as extra cushioning. Hungry Runner Girl is a fan, as well, mentioning them often on her blog. Plus, they come in a pretty awesome shoe box. Brooks promises a “float experience” with the added benefit of “Guide Rails” for stability. Although I didn’t try these on, they appeared much more stable with not quite as large as a sole as the One Ones. The price is slightly higher than normal running sneakers but about the same as the Hoka One Ones at $160. I might try running in the Transcends at a running store with a treadmill in the future. They may replace my Saucony Omni sneakers! I’m nervous to invest in and try out a new style of sneaker when my current ones work fine. But I am missing out on extra comfy cushioning…may be worth trying them out!

Brooks Transcend

Brooks Transcend

The Science of Runners’ Sore Legs article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal focused on long-distance runners, why we get sore legs and ways to delay and alleviate leg soreness while running. I experienced this first-hand during the Richmond Marathon last November when around mile 18, all I wanted to do was sit down and rest my legs. I slowed down thinking I was helping the situation, although, according to this article, slowing down doesn’t help relieve any leg pain.

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So what should I have done to help deal with the pain while running? First of all, I probably should have incorporated some more strength training into my marathon training regimen. Dr. Metzl, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in NY, in this article recommends “quick, explosive repetitions” including squats, planks, push-ups and leg lifts. I immediately thought of P90X3, which really focuses on plyometrics-style exercises that use one’s own body weight. I’m currently trying to incorporate more of these leg-exhausting moves and will be sure to add them into any future marathon-training schedule. Adding in these exercises won’t necessarily prevent legs from getting sore during a long race, but will help delay the soreness.

Next marathon, I'll do more strength training like P90X3 (this is Crescent Chair)

Next marathon, I’ll do more strength training like P90X3 (this is Crescent Chair)

Maybe you didn’t do enough squats during your training and now you have a big race coming up in a few weeks. Well, grab some pickle juice or tart cherry juice! Although sports drinks dominate race beverage options, these non-traditional drinks may be just what your body needs. When you are dehydrated, your muscles don’t contract as well, leading to soreness and pain. In addition, your muscles need electrolytes to conduct electrical impulses, enabling muscle cells to contract. Sports drinks like nuun (my favorite!) and G2 have electrolytes but pickle juice has “about as much concentrated sodium as any liquid on the planet that athletes have been able to stomach during intense exercise.”

After some quick Googling, I found a Pickle Juice Sports Drink available at H-E-B grocery stores in Texas! According to the website, this Pickle Juice Sport has 15X more electrolytes than Powerade and zero calories. Pickle Juice Sport is recommended to drink before and during exercise to prevent muscle cramps and dehydration.

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Before, during and after the Richmond Marathon, I took ibuprofen but perhaps I should have been drinking tart cherry juice. Ibuprofen is pretty rough on one’s stomach and I definitely felt it afterwards (partly due to my sensitivity because of IBS). According to recent studies, tart cherry juice can offer many of the same benefits as NSAIDs without the side effects. Those that drank tart cherry juice before, during and after long-distance running experienced less pain and soreness. Because tart cherry juice is packed with antioxidants, it reduces inflammation from the inevitable muscle tears.

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Lastly, the article talks about the power of positive thinking when running long-distances. Although your legs might be sore, you can push through that final leg by thinking optimistically, while negative thinking will just drag you down. This is easier said than done but worth working on because your mind-set can really affect your performance.

So, according to this article, to combat sore legs: strength train during training, drink pickle juice and tart cherry juice, and think positively!

First costume run! Mike’s work group wanted to sign up for a 5K together and found Heroes vs. Villains Run for Justice after looking around for a costume or themed springtime 5K. Potomac River Running is a lead sponsor of the race, which is actually put on by and benefits the Fairfax Law Foundation. We’ve done a few of the PR races in the past and have been impressed with the price, food, logistics, t-shirt, etc., so we figured this race would have to live up to PR standards – and that it did!

Pre-Race:
We drove about 30 minutes outside of DC to the Fairfax Corner shopping plaza on Sunday morning. We met up with Mike’s work crew. A co-worker had made cute Despicable Me minion hats from directions she found on a blog; they came out great! It was a pretty chilly morning so the hat was a welcome outfit addition. Another co-worker made the “overall bibs” that we pinned on our shirts to complete our minion outfit.

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The race had taken over the open-air plaza at the outdoor shopping center. Highlights included the excellent DJ, pre-race coffee, bubble machine and group stretch session prior to the run. Also, it’s worth mentioning that there were plenty of portapotties and they were clean! The atmosphere was really fun and festive as everyone gathered in their costumes in the plaza. There was a short kids’ run before the 9 am 5K start. It’s nice to have a later start for a 5K so we can fully wake up and the weather can warm up a bit before start time.

Mike modeling the race t-shirt semi-tech tee; Gildan Dry-Blend

Mike modeling the race t-shirt semi-tech tee; Gildan Dry-Blend

The course had not been posted online so I had no idea where we’d be going. But it already looked better than the hilly trail course from our previous PR 5Ks in Reston. I thought I’d probably be able to PR if the course was pretty flat and paved. Because it’s a small race, there were no corrals.

Outfit:
UnderArmour Victory Tank Top
Nike shorts (last year’s style)
Zensah compression calf sleeves
Balega socks
C9 by Champion sports bra
Garmin watch Forerunner 10
Mizuno Breath Thermo arm warmers (wore for first time and had bad chafing – good thing it was just a 5K!)
Target running gloves (with handwarmers inside)
Oakley sunglasses

Race:
The course began in the shopping center but we soon headed out on the large road around the perimeter. At the first turn out of the shopping center, there was a nice long downhill but I knew an uphill must be coming up. I had already lost Mike and was still trying to get around some runners and settle into a pace. Half of the 4-lane road, separated by a median, was closed for the race so there was plenty of space to spread out. There wasn’t a whole lot to look at since we just ran by entrances to housing developments but a few people had come out to cheer on the runners. The volunteers were also excellent, spread out along the course, cheering on runners as we passed by. There were a few hills but at a very gradual incline.

I realized around mile 2 that there were no women in front of me and none close behind me. I decided not to push myself to PR because I didn’t want to have any stomach issues post-race, especially with Mike’s co-workers around. I kept going fast but didn’t give it all I could. After I made the turn back into the shopping center to the finish line (and up a gradual hill…), I realized I was going to be the first female finisher!

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I took a left by the Ann Taylor Loft and saw the finish line arch and Mike waiting there cheering me on. The last stretch was packed with spectators! A couple of volunteers started to get the finisher tape across the finish line for me to run through. I was going to get to run through the finish line tape!! But how does that work? I’ve never actually seen someone run through it in person. Will it snap in half? This one did! It was really exciting! Although this wasn’t a PR for me, it was pretty close and I think I can definitely PR on this course next time.

Mike finishing

Mike finishing


Really excited to run through the finish line!

Really excited to run through the finish line!

Post-Race:
The food! I have never seen such a spread before for any race. From breakfast chimichangas to Wegman’s cookies (yes, important that I mention the brand) to fresh-baked bread from a local bakery to breakfast burritos to granola bars. AMAZING. The sun had really warmed things up so we all relaxed in the plaza, waiting for the awards ceremony to begin.

Hanging out in the plaza

Hanging out in the plaza

I was called up on the stage for the Top Female Finisher and given a very generous American Express card for a prize! Mike’s boss (Gru) won in his age category. Mike (in the most competitive age/gender group for this race) lost 2nd place by 1 second!

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All seven of us minions won the “Magnificent Seven” costume category prize. There were a few other categories for costume winners, as well. We all received gift certificates to Potomac River Running stores.

Magnificent Seven!

Magnificent Seven!

Overall, this was a really fun and family-friendly 5K race with great prizes, excellent food and entertainment. I did wish there were photographers along the course, like other PR courses, but there was only one at the finish line and at the awards ceremony. But the photos they did take were made available on flickr for people to view and download. This was a great race that I’d definitely recommend!

This past fall I purchased two pairs of Balega socks at the Marine Corps Marathon Expo. I was first attracted to this booth because of the very large crowd of people surrounding it. As I browsed the racks of socks trying to figure out what makes these socks so special, several people commented to me on their favorite socks, as they could tell I was a Balega newbie. I’ve found runners to be pretty friendly people but was really surprised at this strong outspoken brand loyalty. I had to experience these socks for myself.

I’m a picky running socks person. Before Balega, I didn’t have a brand I’d excitedly tell people about. My socks were okay but not perfect; they were too thin or too padded, too high or too short. Sometimes my non-Balega socks would slip when I ran, leading to rubbing and cuts on the back of my foot if I didn’t stop frequently to adjust the sock. Annoying.

Then Balega entered my life. No, Balega did not pay me to write this post. I just really like their socks!

I bought a pair of pink Hidden Contour socks and a pair of purple blister resistant socks at the MCM expo last fall just in time for our long marathon training runs. They soon became my two favorite running socks. I’d do laundry just to have a clean pair (I should probably buy a few more pairs).

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First of all, a bit about Balega, the company – the “leader in run”. All their socks are developed, tested and manufactured at their facility in South Africa. Balega is very focused on community and has successfully implemented many projects to give back. A couple of characteristics of all their socks are a hand-linked toe closure to prevent rubbing and a deep heel pocket so the socks don’t slip. Balega incorporates high quality yarns and fibers to produce comfortable, performance running socks.

One of my favorite things about their website is that Balega calls out their people who hand inspect the socks. Stickers are found on the socks with the inspectors’ photos but their stories are all online.

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Hidden Contour Socks (pink ones) – These socks look very high-tech with all the different stitching and yarns. They are a bit thinner than the blister resistant socks but have the right amount of padding in all the right spots. Here are some features as listed on their website:
- elastane throughout for a more structured hold providing a second skin fit
- reinforced heel and toe
- mesh construction for ventilation
- medium volume construction (volume is such a funny way to describe a sock…)
- plush under sole cushioning for added protection
- heel tab prevents the sock from slipping into your running shoe (and from your heel rubbing on your sneaker)
These socks are light, comfortable and keep my feet cool!

Cool volume and cushion indicator on packaging

Cool volume and cushion indicator on packaging

Blister Resist (purple) – These are new, just released last year and are unique because the Drynamix patented fiber is blended with natural South African mohair. Sweat is wicked by the Drynamix and the mohair prevents friction helping to prevent blisters. This is a higher volume sock so is more cushioned than the hidden contours. Because of the thicker material, they feel warmer but the ventilation is excellent so they can be worn year round. I wore them for the Richmond Marathon. The weather forecast did not predict rain but it started pouring as we crossed the start line. I ran 26.2 miles with wet feet but finished with ZERO blisters! Thanks, Balega! Check out this interesting video by Balega’s brand manager about these new socks and all the thought that went into them.

Lastly, I want to mention Balega’s outstanding customer service. A hole was developing in the toe box of a pink sock and a purple sock last month. I emailed Balega’s customer service and they said they’d put two new pairs in the mail and apologized for the holes. The holes were not necessarily where my big toe would be either (see photos below).

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Hopefully they were just defective pairs and the holes won’t happen again in the new socks. So which sock is better? As you can tell, I love them both, but would probably choose the Blister Resistant socks. I love the fabric – keeps my feet warm in winter and cool in summer – and the extra “volume” is nice. But you can’t go wrong with either style!

As much as I want to be out running under the cherry blossom trees this time of year, I know what that means for my allergies. With the long cold winter and a quick warm-up approaching, this spring is predicted to be one of the worst for seasonal allergy sufferers – short but intense. A massive pollen boom is predicted this week and I’m already starting to feel the effects. But I want to be outside and running! There’s no way I’m getting on a treadmill when it’s warm and sunny outside.

Running in the morning, while the dew is still on the ground, is the best time for allergy sufferers. I had been wanting to get into a morning workout routine anyway. Now that it’s not freezing outside, it’s easier to get out of bed and get moving.

5:10 AM came quickly! Mike and I got ready and were outside at 5:20, with our Garmins on and locating our position. Sometimes our Garmin watches take awhile (10+ mins!) to locate us so we wanted to allow time for that. It was already 53 degrees out. I wore shorts and a light-weight and loose long-sleeve.

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I like running on a pretty-empty stomach so I just had 2 bites of this mini Larabar uber (delicious) that I got from a race expo and some water.

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It was pretty dark out still but really cool to be one of the few people on the National Mall. It was kind of fun (maybe I sound crazy) to be up and running before the city is really awake. The few other runners we saw at that hour were all very friendly – saying hello or waving. I felt part of an elite and dedicated runner group. The National Mall was just beautiful, with the monuments all lit up and we felt like we had it all to ourselves.

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My Garmin watch did stop for about half a mile going down Capitol Hill (user error) so I actually ran longer than what the Garmin registered. I don’t usually see the cool backlighting on my Garmin (not usually running in the dark).

Having trouble holding my hand still - you get the idea - blue backlighting!

Having trouble holding my hand still – you get the idea – blue backlighting!

We ran 5 miles and were back at home by 6:15 am. I’m usually still in bed at 6:15! What a productive day so far!

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I made my usual kale smoothie for breakfast in the Nutribullet (LOVE it! So fast and easy and clean-up is a breeze!). I put in kale (not sure why it only comes in ginormous bags), frozen fruit that varies week-to-week, a small banana and almond milk. I had tried unsweetened almond milk but the vanilla is just so much better. I like the little bit of sweetness!

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The finished product!

The finished product!

Mike and I made the last minute decision to try out the Tuesday night run club at City Sports on 19th Street in downtown DC. With the beautiful spring weather finally here and our desire to change things up from our typical route, we thought a run club would be a fun way to mix up our routine and meet new people.

Mike met me at City Sports with my running clothes a little after 6 pm. I changed in the changing rooms in the store and stored my bags behind the register. Matt had done the City Sports Tuesday run once before in the fall and enjoyed it (despite the fact that he got injured during it). He planned to also join this Tuesday’s City Sports run club.

Post- run.  Mike and Matt coincidentally wore the same shirt!

Post- run. Mike and Matt coincidentally wore the same shirt!

Once the group of about 10 people started to congregate in the store, the run club leader led us all outside. He said we could do a 5K or a 5 miler so we took a vote and decided on, almost unanimously, a 5 miler. I got a little nervous thinking about running without my music for 5 miles. But I didn’t want to seem anti-social so left my iPod shuffle in my bag. I only noticed a couple people with earbuds for the run.

Everyone was really friendly while we all made small talk outside. Most were regular run clubbers, with only 1 or 2 other new runners. Two City Sports employees ran with us and said we’d keep about an 8:30 pace. Once we started running, we quickly broke into two groups, partly due to the street light timing and partly due to speed. I was surprised how fast some people were running – I’d guess about 7:30. Unfortunately my Garmin wasn’t able to locate me for about the first half mile. Once my watch turned on, I tried to keep around an 8:00 pace. Matt and I ran together while Mike sprinted to the front of the pack and we quickly lost sight of him. The group thinned out pretty quickly but Matt and I were following a girl in her 20s who luckily knew the route (since I wasn’t really paying attention when the run club leader told us).

We all met back at the store and were given bottles of water. I was surprised at how quickly the 4.5 miles went! It actually wasn’t bad not listening to music. Matt and I chatted for awhile and we talked with the girl we were running with, as well, about upcoming races and run clubs. The group hung out outside for awhile.

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For one of my first run clubs, I really enjoyed it. It’s nice to have other people push you and to have a different running route. Everyone was very social and friendly. The time flew by! Also, I think you can build up credits at City Sports when you do their run clubs for store discounts. On our drive home, we noticed fairly large groups of runners running down the Mall. Apparently Nike and another City Sports location also hold Tuesday night run clubs. Maybe we’ll try a different one next week!

The Rock ‘n Roll USA Half Marathon in DC is one of my favorite half marathons that I’ve done. I love that it’s just a quick Metro ride to the start line, it’s well organized, the Brooks finisher’s shirt and that the course winds through DC neighborhoods. This is the third year Rock ‘n Roll USA has been in DC and the kinks seemed to be worked out pretty well this year.

Expo
Mike and I went to the expo at the DC Armory on Thursday (2 days before the race) to hopefully beat the crowds. Unfortunately the expo is only open until 7 pm so it’s a little tough to get there after work (outside of downtown area but still metro accessible) and be able to browse and be out by 7 pm. The expo was HUGE this year with a new and more efficient set up and much better flow. There was NO line to get our bibs or t-shirts. The Brooks shirts run small so I always choose a size larger than my usual size. I typically don’t like black t-shirts (hot running when it’s sunny out) but this one is pretty cute:

Women's Rnr shirt

Women’s Rnr shirt

The expo was very large and well-laid out. Some highlights:
- bought a new navy blue Bondi band (love Bondi bands – review to come)
- The Brooks section was huge with a great selection of RnR branded and plain gear. Teal seems to be a trend in women’s running gear. I bought a new pair of arm warmers (in teal!) because I wear my pink Brooks arm warmers ALL the time.
- nuun flavor tasting – the iced tea and cola ones were surprisingly good!
- Westin spin the wheel for a prize game – everyone wins!
- Run Disney booth with all the Disney medals on display; It’ll be so much fun to do a Disney race one day!
- Free food samples – Food Should Taste Good chips, mini Lara bars, Jelly Belly energy beans

Day Before
I was excited for carbo-loading the day before because…well I love an excuse to have some extra carbs. I’m always careful with what I eat the day before (actually a few days before) because I have IBS and I often have stomach issues after races. So I cut out dairy and fiber a few days before.

Day before breakfast

Day before breakfast

Race Day
I woke up around 5:00 am on Saturday morning, braided my hair (I hate when it bounces when I run), had a Larabar, coffee and water. Although the weather was going to be in the 60s later in the day, it was only in the 40s in the morning. I’m not a very good dresser for races because I hate being cold before and at the beginning of the race. So I decided on a Run Swiftly tee from Lululemon, new Brooks teal arm warmers, Nike capris, CEP calf sleeves and Saucony earband (pushed back at mile 4). I think I could have gone with shorts but was pretty comfortable for the duration of the race.

We metro’ed to the start area around 6:40 am. Pretty early! But we had to check a bag and wanted to allow plenty of time (debacle last year). Portapotty stop #1 = zero line! Checked bag with the UPS bag check area = zero line this year (last year without UPS the lines were extremely long!). The UPS trucks were designated alphabetically by last name. So we had more time then we had planned. Portapotty stop #2 = VERY short line. AMAZING. Granted, we did find a line-up of portapotties a little more out-of-the-way than the mainstream portapotties. Then into the fourth corral, with plenty of time to spare. It’s exciting to start on Constitution, right by the Washington Monument, at sunrise.

VERY reflective - before bag check

VERY reflective – before bag check

And we’re off! It’s nice to be really familiar with the race and know what’s coming up (hills, etc.). Many people ask me if Mike and I run together during races. Sometimes. Not for 5Ks – Mike is much faster than I am! But for half marathons we usually run together, with the understanding that we don’t NEED to stay together. While we were running, I realized we haven’t started a race running together since RnR Half Marathon last year in DC, for various reasons.

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There were a few things that didn’t go right during this race, for me. One, I had made a new playlist for the race with a good mix of songs that I was excited to listen to. The problem with the iPod shuffle is that the name of your playlist isn’t imported, so if you want to change the playlist you have to know the corresponding playlist number. I thought this one would be #3 since it was my third iPod playlist. Anyway, I accidentally had my 5K super-fast playlist on with only 5 songs. It’s not easy to change the playlist while running but I was finally fed up with Pitbull by mile 7 and changed it to All Songs. Kind of annoying.

Second, my stomach started really hurting around mile 6. Usually, I just have problems after races. But I was concerned I wouldn’t even be able to finish. I also didn’t want to hold Mike up. This was also a big hill area. I slowed down at mile 8 (still uphill) and lost Mike at that point. I knew I could pick up the pace downhill, a majority of the latter half of the race (nice!) and thought maybe I’d catch up to him.

BIG uphill

BIG uphill

My stomach did start to feel better after I had my Accel gel at mile 8. And the sun came out! That always gives me a boost of energy. I carried my small Nathan quick-shot plus water bottle that I got for Christmas. Full review to follow. It’s nice to have the pouch on the bottle (the “plus”); I stored my Accel gel, extra gum, ID and Metro cards.

H Street, NE is always a fun area to run through and comes at the perfect time around mile 11 – lots of crowd support, restaurants/bars, bands. But those last couple of miles after the turn off H Street were rough. My legs felt so tired and I really needed a Pitbull song at this point. But the last half a mile is actually FUN with crowds lining the course by the finish. The energy is contagious. I did one big push to the finish line. It’s always an exciting moment, no matter how many races I do, to cross the finish line.

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Finish Line
The good thing with Rock ‘n Roll races is that you generally know what to expect. The races are professionally run and the finish line areas usually have pretty good snacks and chocolate milk (!). Runners were ushered through the finish chute to pick up medals, get photos taken and pick up food. It’s always a little tricky to carry everything because you don’t have a bag. I picked up a Gatorade, water, chocolate milk, clementine (nice surprise – but no bananas!), small hard pretzels. There seemed to be less variety than at other Rock ‘n Roll races or half marathons in general – no bananas or bagels. Cookies are usually nice post-race too. Also, you get one chance to get your drinks and food. After you’re out of the Finish Chute, you can’t get back in.

I had no problem picking up my bag from the UPS bag check – HUGE improvement from last year! I waited for Mike for awhile there, used the portapotty and headed to the “L” family meet up area. No sign of Mike. Strange. I had my iPhone (checked it) but he didn’t bring his. I stayed there for awhile and then got worried so went over to one of 4 or 5 (!) medical tents. Mike and I didn’t really discuss a post-race meet up plan. Anyway, lesson learned to always make a plan for that. After some panicked moments, I went back to “L” and Mike was there! He actually finished a few seconds after me and waited for me by the Finish Chute, thinking I would finish after him.

Back at home, post-race

Back at home, post-race

Cool medal!

Cool medal!

We met up with some friends and went into the Beer Garden/Concert Area. Great post-race band – The Head and the Heart. They frequently show up on my Mumford & Sons Pandora station. My stomach started hurting (no surprise), so I popped an immodium (new post-race routine) and laid on my stomach…yes, in the beer garden… Other people were sitting on the ground so it wasn’t too weird. I felt immensely better. A surprisingly mild post-race IBS (I think immodium really helps!).

Overall, perfect weather and really well-run race! I was really impressed with all the improvements from last year’s race in DC. I was a few seconds above my goal time (under 1:45) – still a PR though!

Five Guys post-race

Five Guys post-race

The perfect post race lunch!

The perfect post race lunch!

Ok, so exercise isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when most people think about vacation. My and Mike’s exercise level really depends on the type of vacation, but we usually incorporate being active in some way. For some vacations, we’re walking a lot during the daytime and staying pretty active. That’s our exercise. Exercise doesn’t have to mean gym time. We recently got back from a few days of vacation in Florida. Luckily, we had perfect weather and were able to do all our exercises outside, soaking up some much-missed Vitamin D.

Saturday, Day 1 – travel day, beach day, no exercise

Sunday, Day 2 – LONG run in preparation for the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon the following weekend. We brought our new Nathan hydration vests so we’d be prepared for a long run in the Florida heat. But we forgot the tubes/straws for them. Oops. Change of plans. Rather than doing an out and back run for 12 miles, we did smaller out and backs, stopping in the hotel lobby for water. A great thing about our hotel is that there are excellent paved running/walking paths outside the door. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of shade so it gets pretty warm if you don’t get out really early.
First out and back was 3 miles – to the inlet, through a neighborhood and back to the hotel. I love the four types of fruit-infused ice water in the lobby. Traditional lemon water is my favorite, while Mike prefers pineapple. Much better than hydration vest water! They also have cucumber, green apple and orange. I’m going to make an effort to put fruit in my water at home; plain old water can get boring.

Second out and back the other direction was about 4 miles. It was getting HOT by this point so we decided to finish out the run on the treadmills at the gym. We had an Accel gel (left at the front desk) before the treadmill portion of our run. The treadmills are brand new and really nice so it wasn’t bad at all for a few miles. I decided to stop at 11, rather than 12. With all the stopping and going, it felt like we were running for so long. I was anxious to get out on the beach.

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Monday, Day 3 – Mike put a few P90X3 workouts on his phone before we left, so we did the Warrior workout on an astroturf lawn area at the hotel. Although we didn’t have separate speakers, we put the phone in a water glass so the sound would be amplified and we could still see the screen. It worked pretty well. It’s really important to us to maximize our workout time on vacation. The day before, we felt like we were running for a large portion of the morning – not very fun on vacation when you want to relax! It felt good to spend just 30 minutes working out, but working out effectively. The Warrior is intense! We deserved some R&R beach time after that.

No equipment needed

No equipment needed

The Warrior

The Warrior

Tuesday, Day 4 – Shorter run day. I always run with water so it was very out of my comfort zone to run close to 6 miles without water. But it was actually fine. I guess I was distracted with how SORE I was from the previous day’s Warrior workout. Running, although kind of painful at first, did actually help loosen up my muscles. We ran at our marathon-training pace and it felt really great for a change-up. Mike and I could talk without getting out of breath and really fell into the comfortable pace (about 9:09 average).

On balcony post-run

On balcony post-run

Walk on the beach – felt great on my calves and feet. Walking on the sand reminded me of exercises the PT gave me for extensor tendonitis. I had to pick up marbles with my toes. It’s really good to get your feet moving in that way and walking on the sand mimics requires lots of toe and foot bending.

Wednesday, Day 5- P90X3 Yoga day. We had a similar set-up with the iPhone in the water glass. We wanted to get yoga in after our runs and before the weekend race. I do prefer P90X original yoga to the P90X3 30 minute version. I just think I get a lot more out of the 90 mins of stretching and balancing. But this worked, especially on vacation! This was Mike’s first time doing this DVD and it moves quickly, unlike the original version. I did miss the glute stretch, happy baby, and cobbler pose so I did those afterwards. Still sore from the Warrior two days later.

Followed by mimosas and muffins offered by the hotel pool-side!

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Thursday – Back in DC – no workouts until Saturday’s half marathon!

You don’t need to exercise for hours on vacation to get in a great workout. And you don’t necessarily need equipment either! Exercise can actually be enjoyed on vacation. Choose to do yoga under the palm trees rather than spending time indoors on the elliptical. Take a long walk on the beach. Do things you don’t normally do to mix things up and keep exercising fun.

An intense game of Ping Pong

An intense game of Ping Pong

Through my college alumni club, Mike and I were able to spend an afternoon curling at the Potomac Curling Club in Maryland. We watched curling on the Olympics coverage recently so we had a basic understanding of the sport. Mike thoroughly read the Wikipedia page so he knew all the rules and curling lingo (and impressed our curling instructor with his knowledge).

When we entered the Curling Club, we were in a sparse room with some tables, chairs, small kitchen and pro shop. You could see the attached ice “rectangle” with 4 lanes, allowing 4 games to be played at once. There wasn’t much space around the ice, just a narrow walkway on 2 sides, so it was basically just ice. We heard a brief introduction to the sport, did some stretches for legs, back and shoulders. Then we had to grab grippers for our shoes. We were told to wear clean sneakers but also encouraged to put on a gripper. Unfortunately, my size was a popular one so I could only grab one to slip my sneaker in. Then it was onto the ice!

I have only been on traditional ice rinks so walked very gingerly at first on the ice, focusing on my gripper foot. But the curling ice is sprayed with water, creating a textured surface. It takes awhile to get the hang of walking comfortably. But the texture (and the gripper!) really helps prevent slipping and sliding. First we just walked down the ice and back to get a feel for the surface. We then broke into small groups of 8 (2 teams of 4).

Mike pushing the stone

Mike pushing the stone

Then we took turns pushing the stone. This is much more complicated that it looks and sounds. There’s about 100 things to think about all at once. You have to get into a stance, bend your legs a certain way, angle the stone handle a specific direction, raise your hips before push off, etc. So for a right handed person, I put the slider foot pad under my left foot and put my right foot in the angled holder to push off. Get the stone in position. Bend legs, raise hips, lean forward. Push off hard with right foot, keeping left knee bent 90 degrees, put right knees on ice and move forward in lunge position. Balance is very important. I can see why having a strong core would help you stabilize as you lunge and slide. I was pretty wobbly, even holding onto the stabilizer (white thing in photo). In addition, leg strength and flexibility is important since you’re in lunge position when pushing off and have to stay pretty low to the ice. A lot of coordination happens in a short amount of time when pushing the stone! However, it’s really fun and we did keep getting better the more we did it.

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We then practiced some sweeping, which is also harder than it looks. You’ve got to move fast to keep in front of the moving stone. You’ve got to be careful not to fall, not to hit the stone (and kill it), to not trip on other stones. Sweeping seemed to be a pretty great arm and back workout; my arms were tired! It was pretty fun to help get the stone moving into the “box”. Sweeping helps melt the ice a bit, helping the stone move faster. Our instructor then told us the rules of the game; pretty straightforward (similar to bocce ball).

Then we got to play a couple of games! The entire experience was about 2.5 hours. I was concerned it would be really cold (my hands and feet get cold very easily). My feet were actually okay – thank you SmartWool socks! I tried to get on the narrow walkway and off the ice, whenever possible, as well. I did whip out my hand warmers for the last half hour. You’ve got to dress pretty warm for this sport. However, I imagine if you are really playing and there’s less downtime, you’d stay warm. Curling can be a pretty good workout!

The next day I woke up with two huge bruises on my knee from kneeling on the ice when I pushed the stone. Crazy! Mike and our friends who also curled had bruises the next day, as well. I felt pretty intense. But overall, curling was a lot of fun and a great experience to have the chance to learn and play! I had no idea how difficult it would be, and how much strength, balance and flexibility you need.

#curlinginjury

#curlinginjury

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