Sunday, October 18, 2015

I'm a Marathoner! Recap of the Akron Marathon

WARNING: This post is nearly as long as my marathon. It's taken me nearly a month to put together, and it's probably too long and rambling at parts, but I don't care. You're about to read more than a race recap. You're about to read my memories of one of the hardest, craziest and most incredible days of my life. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Part 1: The hills are alive
If you were looking at elevation maps (hills) for a marathon course, which of the two below would you rather run?

Yeah ... That's a trick question – they’re for the same race ... my race! They’re just scaled differently, which is REALLY hard to see unless you’re some sort of map guru (which I am not). 

So when I saw the first map back in December last year, I didn’t think the course for the Akron Marathon looked so bad. Yes, it would have hills, but I thought they seemed comparable to the hills I run out in the country. 

Fast forward 10 months to when I saw the second chart … and I nearly shit my pants. I prayed that maybe the second map was deceiving, maybe the first one was more accurate. A girl can hope, right? 

WRONG. When we arrived in Akron, I might as well have been in San Francisco. Helloooooo hills!

You think I would know some basic Ohio geography by now (Hello, northeast Ohio IS closer to the mountains!), but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my first marathon course would be so hilly. Seriously, when we arrived for the expo, I started singing in my head, “The HILLS are alive … with the sound of Akroooonnnnn!”

OK, you get my point. This course was hilly. It was so damn hilly, Kyle told me some of the elites being interviewed at the finish line commented that it was one of the most challenging courses they’d ever run. And I've since been told that the course is often compared to the Boston Marathon ... So yeah. I was in for a challenge.

Part 2: The puddle on Market Street
After the expo and a fairly decent night of slept (honestly, it was probably the best pre-race night I’ve ever hard), I was READY for race morning. Everything was laid out and ready to go. My body cooperated with its morning duty, and I felt strong. Nervous, but strong.

Kyle drove my brother, Scott, and I downtown and hung out with us at the starting line for a bit. After one last hug, Kyle started walking to our pre-selected meeting point just after mile 13 … and I started getting in the zone.

I’m so glad I decided to start the race without my headphones because they had an excellent starting ceremony, and I loved taking in the amazing energy all around me. Scott and I started out running next to each other, but he knew he’d be running slower, so after barely a quarter mile, he told me to go on ahead. 

From there, I was racing. I was a serious athlete, focused and in control. I stayed near my goal pace, charging up the uphills and letting the downhills carry me forward. Everything felt good, almost too good, just as Kim had warned me. 

I mean, look at these splits! I'm so proud of these. I felt like absolutely everything was going right ... I really felt like a finish time close to 4 hours (9:09 average pace) was within my grasp. I BELIEVED.

Mile 1 - 9:39 (Started out slower than goal on purpose ... but quickly got in my groove. Maybe too quickly?) 
Mile 2 - 9:34
Mile 3 - 9:09
Mile 4 - 9:18
Mile 5 - 8:51 (Fastest mile of the entire race - must have gotten a little speedy going downhill!)
Mile 6 - 9:18
Mile 7 - 9:19
Mile 8 - 9:02
Mile 9 - 9:11
Mile 10 - 9:27 (Slowest mile of the first half - had to stop and change podcasts!)
Mile 11 - 8:59
Mile 12 - 9:12
Mile 13 - 9:08
First half - 2:02:12

Even though I was forced to stop and switch podcasts around mile 10 (and curse the new podcast app for not working the way I'd hoped), I refused to stop and use the port-a-potties to pee. I was having a great race - I didn't have time to pee, right?! For goodness sake, I use a Camelbak so I don't have to stop at water stations, why would I stop for anything else? Thinking about the race map, I thought for sure I'd see some more port-a-potties near my meet-up point with Kyle ... 

Well, I thought wrong. When I finally met up with Kyle to switch out my Camelbaks (he had my second one, filled with more water and Gu), the first thing I said was, "I'm going to pee my pants." Soooo ... I did. At first, I figured a little trickle would come out. No big deal, right? But then it started gushing ... suddenly, I had Niagra Falls running down my capris and into my shoes, and there was no way I could stop it. 

Mortified, but EXTREMELY relieved, I laughed at myself, allowed Kyle to snap a couple of pictures, gave him a hug and took off again. (But not before I asked him to snap a picture of the puddle I left behind ... ha!)

It's funny that the first half of the race is so blurry in my mind - it went by in a flash! The second half was so much harder, yet so much more memorable ... (Also note there aren't as many pictures because I didn't see Kyle again til the finish.)

Part 3: This can't be the same race
After I left Kyle, I had to make a slow and steady death march up Market Street. Yes, I will forever remember that street name - I left my mark on it, after all! The night before the race, Kyle tried telling me, "It's not THAT bad. It's just like the hill in front of Jodie's house (back in Edon)." I quickly replied, "Thanks for lying to me." And he laughed. Because we both knew I had NEVER run such a monstrous hill in my life. 

Anyway, I had planned to run while eating my Clif bar, but I quickly decided it was OK to walk up the rest of the hill while I finished my snack. After all, the first half of the race had gone perfectly - didn't I deserve a break? Of course. 

But once we turned off Market Street, the entire race seemed to change. Gone were the throngs of crowd support and music. Gone were the fantastic views of the city. Gone was my adrenaline from the starting line ...

Suddenly, I felt like I was running a COMPLETELY different race. With the half-marathoners gone, the field around me was very thin, and the crowd support was thinner. Sure, several neighborhoods came out to cheer, but the spectators and aid stations were much more spread out then they had been in the first 13 miles. I'm not making excuses here, I'm just trying to paint a picture of what I was going through.

I started walking up the bigger hills, giving myself permission to rest - goal be damned, I knew it would be great to just finish standing up ... Actually, I was walking up one of the hills, I told another marathoner I would crawl if I had to, or maybe do a zombie walk. He said he'd be happy to just get feeling back in his quads. Ha!

Part 4: Marathon drunk
At some point earlier in the race, I saw a sign that read, "There will be pain, but there doesn't have to be suffering." And suddenly, I knew EXACTLY what it meant. I may have been hurting, but I didn't have to miserable. A switch flipped in my brain, and I remembered to smile - I WAS RUNNING A MARATHON!! I wanted to enjoy every moment.

So for a little while, I was what some people refer to as "marathon drunk" - so deliriously giddy and out of my mind I forgot how bad I was feeling. If you've ever been around when I'm really drunk, you'll know I tend to get super happy ... I LOVE EVERYONE!! EVERYONE IS AWESOME!! Well, it was the same sort of thing.

There were plenty of high-fives, dance moves and cheers as I made my way through the roller coaster of suburban Akron. I started taking advantage of aid stations, asking the little kids to splash me with water, which they did with glee. At one point, I even ran through a homemade PVC-pipe shower/sprinkler, just because it looked like fun and WHY THE HELL NOT?!

Around mile 19, I saw one of many beer stops along the course (not officially sanctioned, mind you ... the residents of Akron are just very generous). Again, "Why the hell not?!" I said out loud as I stopped for a Solo cup filled 1/3 of the way with some sort of cheap brew. "This may be a bad decision, but right now I don't care."

"Beer is NEVER a bad decision," a runner behind me said. I turned to see her and read her name on her bib - Mary. I laughed, thanked her and started sipping.  And OMG ... She was absolutely right. That little beer was probably the best beer of my life. It was just enough to help me relax, kinda like those awesome drugs they give you in labor - it didn't dull the pain, but it made me care about it a little less.

Part 5: Where's the next hill? 
I went forward, continuing to walk up the hills ... but it was getting harder and harder to keep running between them. So hard, in fact, I started WISHING to see a hill so I could have an excuse to walk.

Then at mile 20, I saw a few shuttle buses with relay runners. A police officer waved one of the buses through the course ahead of me and a couple other runners, which was fine because they had plenty of room. But then a second bus decided to pull out, and it nearly hit me and another marathoner! WTH?!

I. WAS. LIVID. Who pulls out in front of people running a race? Especially people running at MILE 20 of a MARATHON? !The shuttle driver pulled ahead and was stopped alongside the course a few hundred feet ahead. I turned and shouted, "Hope you're happy you almost hit us!" and the other marathoner yelled something as well. Not my proudest moment, I admit ... but I didn't have the energy to think about manners at that point.

A few miles later, I saw the other marathoner nearby and tried to catch up to him. I wanted to say something encouraging like, "I know we're in pain, but at least we're not dead under a bus right now." It was funnier in my head, I think. Sadly, I couldn't catch him.

Around mile 23, there was another MONSTER hill. Instead of offering a long and steady climb like the hill on Market Street, this one was a straight shot into the air. SERIOUSLY.

OK, maybe it was just really steep. But it felt like I was climbing a ladder, and I had trouble even walking to the top - so did everyone around me. Who puts a hill like that at the end of a marathon course? And WHY did I choose this for my first marathon? I'll never know the answer to either question ...

After that, I became really discouraged and had to stop and walk through a flat part of the course. To make it through, I pulled out my phone, which had been silenced to notifications, and found nearly a dozen messages, comments and tags from people who had been tracking me and cheering me on. I had no time to reply, of course, but seeing everyone's love really made a difference.

I thought of my family, who had sacrificed a lot of time during training, my friends, who offered encouragement and advice, my coworkers, who listened to me talk about this marathon since January, my fellow Weight Watchers members, who cheered for me every step of the way ... I thought of all the people who had been there for me, and I let their support propel me forward.

So before I forget: THANK YOU, everyone, for being awesome and helping me get through the race. You're the reason I didn't stop. I mean it.

Part 6: That's the last hill, right? WRONG!
Eventually, the course dumped us back on Market Street, except this time, we got nearly a mile of downhill running. For some people, this can be just as painful as uphill running. But for me, it was pure heaven. I opened up my legs and let them fly (as much as they would allow). I was passing people left and right. The crowds were building again, and I was back in my groove ... WOOHOO!!

Well, until I hit another hill. SHIT. All of my momentum stopped and I wanted to cry. I asked out loud, "This is the last hill, right?" And a woman walking nearby said, "No, there's another one just before we turn the corner to the stadium (the minor league ball park where we finished)."

"DAMMI!" I cried. But I kept trudging along.

Not-so-random side note: Kyle had written me a letter before the race. The letter was very sweet and included a picture of Daryl Dixon (HOTTIE!) from The Walking Dead - he wrote, "Run like zombies are chasing you and Daryl Dixon is waiting at the finish line." As I was walking up the last two hills, a man next to me had "Darrell" printed on his bib. Sure, the spelling was different and he wasn't so good looking (I mean, I'm sure he looks better when he's not at the end of a marathon) ... but I decided it was a sign to motivate me.

As I turned for the final stretch, spectators were cheering on both sidings, yelling my name and pushing me on to the finish. Of course, I started crying, which made it hard to breathe, but I gave it everything I had. Finally, I made it to the stadium and saw the word, "FINISH" at the end of the chute. I couldn't believe I was almost there!

I sprinted (hobbled) down the chute and reminded myself not to fall - to soak up the moment and remember how incredible it all felt.

And so, with my hands up in victory and an ugly cry all over my face, I finally finished my first marathon. BOOM!

I'm back in the pink - unfortunately, Kyle wasn't able to get a clear finish line photo.
Second half breakdown: 
Mile 14 - 12:40 (Pee break + Market Street death march)
Mile 15 - 9:34
Mile 16 - 10:25
Mile 17 - 9:14 (Fastest split of the second half, not quite at goal pace, but the closest I would get!)
Mile 18 - 9:59
Mile 19 - 10:07 (Beer break!)
Mile 20 - 10:05
Mile 21 - 9:40
Mile 22 - 10:14
Mile 23 - 12:00 (I think this is where I walked the second monster hill)
Mile 24 - 12:24 (This is where YOU ALL carried me through ...)
Mile 25 - 9:48 (Downhill! WOOHOO!!!!)
Mile 26 - 11:33 (Those last two hills with Darrell ...)
Final stretch - 4:34
Second Half - 2:20:11
Finish Time - 4:22:23

Part 7: Taking it all in
After the finish line, everything was once again a blur. I immediately saw Kyle and Scott in the stands, cheering loudly and waving. I thought, "When the hell did Scott pass me?" and suddenly was bummed I didn't see him on the course. Well, turns out he did the smart thing and decided to turn around after mile 13. He started a new job this summer and wasn't able to train as well as he would have liked. So I'm proud of him for listening to his body and not hurting himself just because he paid to run the full 26 miles. Good job, bro!

Shortly after I got my medal, a familiar face stopped in front of me to shake my hand. It was Mary from mile 19! "So was I right about the beer?" she asked. "DEFINITELY!" I told her. "I'm off to get some more!"

After making my way through the tents for pizza, snacks and beer, I found a spot on the outfield grass and finally say down. Only runners were allowed in the post-race area, so Kyle and Scott couldn't come find me right away. But that's OK, I needed a few minutes to reflect, to let it all sink in. I JUST RAN A MARATHON. Holy shit.

Eventually, I stood up (verrrrry slowly) and asked someone to take my picture. NOTE: That was the SECOND best beer of my life.

Finally, I made my way to find Kyle and Scott, and immediately started crying as Kyle pulled me into his arms. What a good man, right?! According to my brother, I smelled, "Like a hobo on a poop train," but Kyle embraced me anyway. Now, when we got to the car it was a different story. He wrapped me up in an old picnic table cloth in an attempt to trap the stench and keep my seats clean ... but I like to think it was all with love ;)

Part 8: Reflections 
Since the race, everyone has asked me two things: Am I happy with my time? And will I run another marathon?

After some time to think and reflect, the answers are yes and yes.

Yes, I am happy with my time. I knew from the moment I set my goal that it was lofty, even if the course would have been flat. They say you should just be happy to FINISH your first marathon, and I am - especially now that I know the course is one of the hardest out there. I no longer feel foolish for choosing Akron as my first marathon - I feel like a badass.

Could I have started slower for a faster finish? Should I have conserved some of my energy for the last half? Maybe, but what's the fun in that? Back in January, Lauren Fleshman told me, "Go fast, take chances." And so I did. Don't regret it one bit.

And yes, there will be another marathon. I knew it the minute I crossed the finish line. BUT (this is a big BUT), it won't be any time soon. I loved the distance, but I also respect it. My body needs time to heal, and my mind needs time to recover. My family, home and work also deserve some of the attention they've been missing. Training for a race like this is a huge commitment, and it's one I'm not willing to agree to for at least a couple of years.

In the meantime, I have my medal, my memories, and a sweet new sticker for my car. I learned, once more, that we all can accomplish so much more than we ever imagined. We just have to try.

And we have to enjoy every moment, even when we're struggling. Because it means we're still alive. 

ALSO: Remember what Mary said. BEER is NEVER a bad idea. At least when you're at mile 19. ;)

In the end, I'm a marathoner. And I always will be.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

My First Marathon, By the Numbers

The Akron Marathon is a mere 14 days away ... 

First of all, holy shit. 

Second, I thought I would share some details about my training and plans (for the marathon on my legs ... since I already explained the marathon in my mind). 

I'm normally not a numbers person, but these stats excite me. The numbers say I'm ready ... My heart and brain need some convincing, but I know I'll get in the zone eventually ... hopefully before Sept. 26!  

Total weeks: 19 (I cut an extra taper week from the Train Like a Mother plan)

Miles so far: 498

Miles to go before race day: Approx. 39

Most miles in a week: 43 (the week of my 22-miler)

Most miles in a month: 154 (August)

Number of times I quit mid-run: Only 1 (humidity + hills = hell)

Number of times I wanted to quit: Infinity + 100

Race Day 
Hydration: 2 Camelbaks, each holding 70 oz. of watermelon Nuun – I’ll start with one and Kyle will meet me near the halfway point with the other

Gels: 6 Gus, 3 in each Camelbak

Snacks: 1 Clif bar

Goal time: sub-4 hours

Pace required for goal: 9:09/mile 

Number of times I’ve reconsidered that goal (especially considering it’s my first marathon and I just want to FINISH): Infinity + 1,000

Chance I’ll try like hell anyway: 100%

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Marathon in My Mind

For the past three-ish months, I’ve been training for a marathon … though it feels like two marathons – one on my legs and one in my mind ... Let me explain.

Back in June, in the same week I started my marathon training plan, I also started going to therapy for anxiety. (To clarify, training for a marathon didn't cause my anxiety ... In fact, my therapist says running is one of the best things I can be doing to help my anxiety. But I digress ...)

I say it’s felt like training for two marathons because running and therapy have had MANY similarities: They both got worse before they got better. They pushed me to places I didn’t want to go/didn’t know I could go. At times, they drained me all of my energy. And at times, they have been a great source of energy.

I’ll cut to the chase: I’m better now. Much better, but continuing to work and grow. Therapy has given me tools and discoveries that are helping me understand and better handle my anxiety, even appreciate it at times. But a few months ago, things were different. It’s hard to describe how I felt, and I honestly don’t want to.

I will say this: Remember how I almost made it on Jillian Michaels’ podcast? I submitted a question, and they said they wanted to call me to talk on air. Here’s the email I sent:

“So I’d love to get some advice on how to deal with anxiety. Over the last few years, I’ve taken control of my physical health and managed to lose 105 pounds. In addition to shedding pounds, I shed several emotional layers that I realized were holding me back. However, I’ve come to realize and accept that I sometimes struggle with anxiety. In the past, I would simply feed my feelings, so since that’s no longer an option, I’ve been trying healthier ways of coping.

I have an appointment to discuss this with my doctor soon, but I’m nervous. I’m afraid he’ll suggest medication and, ironically enough, the idea of taking a prescription gives me more anxiety … so I’ve been doing some research on supplements, but I’m not sure what information is good or bad. Can you – and maybe your awesome mom – give me any guidance?” (Note for those who don’t listen: Her mom is a therapist and regular guest on the show)

So I never got the call for the show, but that’s OK. And the few natural supplements I tried on my own seemed to be a giant waste of money. They just didn’t do anything for me. I needed to get to the root of my problems.  

To be honest, I never talked to my family doctor about my concerns. I like him just fine, but I didn’t feel like I could have that conversation with him. Instead, I searched for counselors in my insurance network and happened to find a woman with an office just two minutes from my work. It was meant to be.

I’m not gonna lie. Scheduling and actually going to the first appointment was soooo hard, but now I wish I’d gone sooner. Also, writing this post has been extremely difficult. There’s been several drafts, and several cuts. I’ve wondered if I should share this at all. In the end, I decided it’s been a HUGE part of my weight loss/running journey, so I wanted to come clean, so to speak, because I know there’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

Also, I didn't feel like I could write any more about running or my health without addressing the elephant in the room (even if the elephant was invisible to most people).

This is what I've realized: I spent two years losing 105 pounds, and more than a year maintaining the number on the scale, yet I didn’t feel like I truly lost the weight that was holding me down until the last month or so. That’s HUGE. That's transformation (as Chris and Heidi Powell would say).

Publishing this won’t do much for me … except maybe explain what I can’t say out loud to people who wonder what’s been up lately. My hope is, however, this post will help someone else – someone reading this who maybe doesn’t know what to do. The answer? Get help. We all need it from time to time. There’s no reason to be afraid, embarrassed or ashamed.

I can’t tell you how to treat your anxiety, depression or other silent struggles, but I can tell you this: Like marathon training, the first step is the hardest. And it never really gets easier. You just get stronger.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ask Me Anything!

Since I’ve been in a blog slump lately, I decided to go to Facebook for some help. I said, “Ask me anything!” and got a few great questions about Weight Watchers, running … and a few other random things. 

Just so you know, I will gladly answer questions, give my (non-professional or certified) advice (damn you, compliance, for always being in my head!), or just encourage you if you need it. Many people will send me messages on Facebook from time to time (like the one at the end of this post), and I’m happy to help in any way I can! 

What kind of music do you listen to, to help you stay motivated?
A little bit of everything! I have a playlist on my iPhone that’s called
A small sampling of my playlist
“Run,” and I constantly add songs that are upbeat and make me happy. There’s so many – everything from the “Frozen” soundtrack to Blink 182, the Dixie Chicks and Fall Out Boy – that I don’t care about the order and just put it on shuffle every time. 

More often, however, I listen to podcasts or audiobooks when I run. I know it sounds crazy, but focusing on a conversation really keeps the focus off how many miles I have to go. My favorite podcasts are Another Mother Runner, Naptime Radio, Serial (though I’m impatiently waiting for the next season!), Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me and several Disney World shows. It’s been a while since I’ve had an audiobook because I download them from my library’s app – because they’re free I often have to wait on hold for several months before I get to check them out. 

Since I’ve been marathon training, I’ve been running out of new episodes/books and recently downloaded some new ones (and placed some new holds). Thanks to people who gave me suggestions on Facebook!

Thoughts on Trump? 
You’re fired. Also, please stop with the comb-over. No one’s buying it. 

Tips on staying on Weight Watchers when on plateau. How to really only eat 26 points. Local wineries.
  1. Change things up! I often find a plateau means my body has adjusted to whatever food/exercise that are part of my routine. I usually start by switching up my breakfast – oatmeal instead of eggs, maybe? Then I like to buy some produce that hasn’t been in the house in a while – I’ll use it for a snack or include it in a recipe. Then I try to change up my workouts. Even a small change like doing my normal route in reverse can help because I’m taking the hills in a different direction. 
    When you're stuck, mix things up! We recently tried a twist on our BLTs - add avocado and an egg. Delicious!
  2. If you figure this out, will you let me know? Because I RARELY eat less than 30 points a day. My average is more like 35 or 40. As I got closer to my goal weight, I realized I HAD to eat all of my activity points and most of my weekly points. One of my leaders advised me to focus on making those extra points as much lean protein as possible – add chicken or turkey to your salad, have Greek yogurt with your fruit for a snack, or throw a hard-boiled egg in your lunch pail. So start with your daily points, but don’t stop there. Add a few each day so you know you’re giving your body the fuel it needs. 
  3. I’m sad to admit I’ve only visited one local winery – Stony Ridge in Bryan. And it wasn’t even to drink! I wrote a few stories about them back in my newspaper days, and I’ve gone out there to shop for gifts, but that’s it. Trust me though, I’ve tried many of their wines, and there’s not any I don’t love.  

Sometimes, running sucks!
How do I get into running when I despise it?
Well, if you truly despise it, then don’t run! Simple as that. Find an activity that makes you happy – biking, walking, yoga, weight lifting, kayaking, mountain climbing, Zumba … It’s so much easier to stick with something if you actually enjoy it. 

On the other hand, I don’t think anyone loves every single workout, no matter what kind of workout they’re doing. If you know you really love the feeling you get AFTER a run, but despise the idea of getting out there, you’re not alone. It’s so hard to get started. The first mile (or more) still really suck for me most days. But once I hit my stride and the endorphins start flowing? It’s magic. 

So if you really want to run, then find a way to push through and be consistent. I’ve read before that you should tell yourself, “I’ll run for 10 minutes – if I still don’t want to run, I’ll stop.” Usually when the 10 minutes are up, you want to keep going. But if you want to stop, then stop! No one ever said you have to like running to be healthy and happy. 

Bonus Question (sent to me as a private message, but I feel like a lot of people might resonate with this): My wife has been trying to lose weight and has been trying gimmick products and yo-yo diets. Two months ago she started running and was doing great. Yesterday she weighed in and gained all the weight back that she lost on her last gimmick diet. She is so upset she hasn't gone for a run since. I know you struggled with similar setbacks and was hoping you might have some advice for her. I try to help and encourage her, but I think I just come off as being judgmental. I think the experience of a working mother who has been through it will mean more to her than her skinny-as-a-rail husband telling her to stick with it. Any advice or encouragement would be greatly appreciated ... She's in a bad place right now.

First and foremost, I realized a while ago that motivation has to start from within. You/I/the world can say anything to your wife, but she has to want to make a change. It’s hard with so many quick-fixes out there making promises, but real change comes from within and just takes time. I had to try/fail at those other things before I finally figured out that there is no secret potion that can replace a healthy lifestyle.

As far as running goes, I will say consistency has been the biggest key to my success. Speed and distance don’t matter as much as getting out there on a regular basis. If she truly wants to keep running, then she’s got to find consistency, whether it’s three miles three times a week or one mile each day. Ask Kyle how much it sucks to have to constantly start over in your training! ;) I think he’s finally starting to learn his lesson.

The other big part to weight loss change is obviously finding a way to eat healthy. Now, healthy has a lot of definitions – you can go gluten free, low carb, vegan, paleo, etc. Personally, I love that Weight Watches allows me to choose anything (there’s nothing off limits!), and I’ve been able to eat foods that I love and that my family loves. Having Kyle on board really made a difference because I don’t make two versions of dinner or buy extra foods that would be tempting.

Maybe you could sit down together and decide on some healthy foods/recipes to try together? Again, Kyle has learned that trying new stuff can be really great, and it’s been much easier to have his support. You don’t have to really restrict your diet – you need to add to it. If she can change the diet mindset and think of things to ADD instead of REMOVE, it’ll be so much easier. You have to think “I need more fruits and vegetables” or “We need to eat more chicken,” then you’ll naturally have less of the other stuff that’s not as good for you!

I hope that helps a little and makes sense. Again, you can talk to her ‘til you’re blue in the face, but she has to decide she’s really ready to commit to a change. I’m happy to answer any other questions or give you/her more support.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Freezer Meal: Cilantro Lime Chicken

I’ve saved the best for last! This freezer meal recipe was BY FAR our favorite – twice over. 

First, we accidentally created a vegetarian option when I forgot to tell Kyle that the chicken was in a separate bag … and neither of us noticed the missing meat until I came home from work and found nothing but veggies in the Crock-pot. Oops! Kyle convinced me to try the filling in our taco shells anyway, and they turned out great (and of course, lighter in points). 

(NOTE: You'd think that since we made this twice, I would have taken a picture at least once ... alas, I did not. Sorry!)

Cilantro Lime Chicken - 6 points per serving for regular, 3 points for vegetarian (filling only - shells/rice and toppings extra points), serves 6

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or none for vegetarian!)
  • Juice from two limes
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1 16-oz. bag of corn
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • ½ red onion, chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers (can substitute one bag of frozen pepper blend)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. each salt and pepper (more to taste)
Prep Directions
  • Place lime juice in small sandwich bag; place all seasonings in separate sandwich bag
  • Add chicken to large freezer bag; add remaining ingredients (beans, pepper, onion, garlic, corn, cilantro) in a separate large freezer bag
  • Seal all bags and stuff into one large freezer bag (or two if they don't all fit ... just don't forget one of them like we did!)
  • NOTE: The original recipe also calls for you to freeze a cup of shredded cheddar cheese in its own freezer bag ... but it's only used as a topping, so I left it off the list of ingredients
Cooking Directions
  • Remove bags from freezer and let thaw in fridge overnight
  • Dump all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low 6-8 hours 
  • Serve in taco shells or on rice, with topping of choice: cheese, avocado/guacamole, sour cream, scallions, etc. 
This is the eighth of eight freezer meal recipes I'm sharing after attending a party sponsored by my local Farm Bureau. Recipe credit goes to Michelle Rudolphi -  check out her LivingIt Facebook page for more information or if you have any questions. Thanks again to the Farm Bureau and Michelle for throwing a fantastic, tasty and educational event! 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Disney World Planning Part II: Budget

In case you forgot (or in case you haven’t seen me in person and heard me obsessing over it …), I’m currently planning my family’s first visit to Disney World! Woohoo! I’m sharing my planning experiences to hopefully help other first-time planners/parents. My first post was all about research, but today, I’d like to talk about the next big hurdle you’ll encounter when planning a trip: the budget! 

How much does it cost?
Disney makes it seem easy to price a vacation. You simply visit their website, enter in some dates, choose a resort, add tickets, select a dining plan and … voila! You have your final price, right? WRONG. There are soooo many factors that go into that equation, and you can dramatically change your bottom line by shifting some key decisions and exploring all your options. 

The TouringPlans Blog has a detailed post explaining the various methods you can use to price your vacation – it’s a lot of detail, but it’s worth reading if you’re trying to get the most bang for your buck!

Personally, I think it boils down to a few factors: 

Dates – Like a lot of vacation destinations, Disney World adwdjusts its pricing based on expected crowd levels – the bigger the crowds, the higher the prices. If you have the flexibility to visit at an off-peak time, you can save a lot of money. 

This is why the first step in WDW Prepschool’s six-step process is picking dates. You can use her crowd calendar or a myriad of others around the Internet that have the same basic information. Esentially, any time schools are out, you can count on Disney World being crowded. That’s why we decided to take our daughter out of school for our first trip – go ahead and judge me, but I think the savings in our budget (and sanity) will be well worth it. Plus, she’s only going to be in preschool; as she gets older, I don’t think that decision will be as easy. 

Transportation/lodging – In my opinion, these go hand-in-hand ... From the get-go, I knew we would be flying to Orlando. (I still have flashbacks to our loooong family road trip when I was 8 … plus, I drive enough on my commute to work.) So I immediately knew I needed to factor airfare into our budget. And then Disney sorta trapped me attracted me to stay at one of their on-site resorts because they offer Magical Express buses to/from the airport as well as free transportation (bus/boat/monorail) all around property. This means we don't have to figure out navigation/parking on our own ... DONE! 

Despite my preferences, I fully realize a lot of people choose to DRIVE to Orlando instead. This makes staying at an off-site resort more appealing because you already have a car and don't need to rely on any transportation. This is a HUGE money saver if you're looking to do Disney on the more frugal side. Do you think Disney is going to show you off-site resort/hotel prices on their website? Nope! This adds some complication to your research, but it can really cut your budget and take that Disney-generated price waaaay down. 

How can I save for it? 
My first piece of advice to anyone planning a Disney trip: It's never too early to start. Why? Well first of all, there's soooo much to learn, and you'll appreciate having the extra time to research all your options and make decisions based on what's best for your family. And second, you'll have more time to SAVE!  

Last year, before we booked ANYTHING, we opened a separate savings account just for our Disney fund, and our giant jar of change (every family has one, right?) was our first deposit. It wasn't much, but it was a start. Over the next six months or so, we were able to add a few larger deposits. 

After we’d made some more concrete decisions on lodging, tickets and food, I calculated how much we still needed to save. I took that amount and divided it by the number of weeks until our trip – then I had a weekly “payment” that was much easier to manage. With the magic of automatic banking transfers, our Disney trip was suddenly funding itself! 

Another thing we did? We opened a Disney Visa Rewards credit card … I realize not everyone is a fan of credit cards, but we decided to try the whole “charge everything, pay it off and keep the rewards” method … For us, it works! I am completely OCD about checking our account balance daily to be sure we’re not overspending, and I always pay the bill in full on the day we get the statement. I don’t wanna disclose how much we’ve received so far, but let’s just say we’re on track to fund our entire dining budget with rewards. BOOM! 

If you’re interested in more strategies for saving, check out these other websites I found helpful: 

If you’re starting to price your Disney vacation, I hope you found this helpful. Next up? How I got lucky got a hell of a deal on our resort ...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Freezer Meal: Curried Pork Loin with Sweet Plantains

Before I write about this recipeI need to disclose a few things:
  1. I did not know what a plantain was before the freezer meal party ... I honestly thought they were something like a tamale ... don't judge! So obviously I never tried one before ... 
  2. I'm not a fan of pork loin in general - yes, I've tried it several ways, but none of them really excite me
  3. The recipe recommends that you serve the dish over rice, but I didn't see that beforehand - instead, I cleaned out some leftovers in the fridge and served it with mashed potatoes and broccoli
So, let's say that you actually had tried plantains before, liked pork loin and served this dish with rice: Then I bet you'd like it a lot better than I did. I'm definitely NOT saying this dish was bad, but it's just not something that suited my taste buds. My husband really liked the pork loin's flavor, but he wasn't digging the plantains. I, on the other hand, actually liked the plantains better than the pork loin, but wasn't crazy about either.

I hope you'll try it for yourself and see! This could be a really unique dish in your rotation - defintiely not your run-of-the-mill freezer meal. 

Curried Pork Loin with Sweet Plantains - 6 servings, 13 points/serving (not including rice)

  • 2-lb pork loin
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. each, salt and peper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 3 yellow/black plantains
  • 1 bag frozen chopped onion
  • 2 14.5-oz cans fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 bunch chopped cilantro
Prep Directions
  • Place pork loin in freezer bag; place all spices in small ziploc bag, then add to pork bag and seal
  • In a separate large freezer bag, add onions, fire roasted tomatoes and chopped plantains and cilantro
  • Squeeze lime juice into small ziploc bag and add to veggie bag; seal 
  • Free both bags
Cooking Directions
  • Thaw ingredients completely
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees; place pork in center of a large baking dish and rub spice mixture all over it
  • Spread plantain/veggie mixture around the pork loin; reserve lime juice for serving
  • Bake for about 30 minutes or until pork reaches internal temperature of 145 degrees; remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving
  • Serve over rice; Drizzle with lime juice just before serving

This is the seventh of eight freezer meal recipes I'm sharing after attending a party sponsored by my local Farm Bureau. Recipe credit goes to Michelle Rudolphi -  check out her LivingIt Facebook page for more information or if you have any questions. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Racecation Recap: Cedar Point Run and Ride

For once, I don’t have a lot of words for a race recap. I think I can sum up the Cedar Point Run and Ride Half Marathon weekend in a few bullet points:
  • Despite a few minor issues, our family had a pretty fantastic time in the parks (and in our cabin), which isn’t surprising since we’ve been vacationing at Cedar Point for years. Kenlee especially LOVED our “ba-cation” and rode every ride she could (she’ll be my coaster partner in a few years!). Her favorite part of the entire trip was playing in the water at Soak City. 
  • Steroids did the trick, and my sciatica didn’t bother me the entire weekend, including race day! (In case you don’t follow on Facebook, I’ve been having some trouble …) Because I wanted to run the race as a marathon training run, I took it easy and averaged around a 9:30 pace – finish time was 2:03:24, which is great, but I’m just happy I finished without any hip pain.
  • Most importantly: KYLE RAN HIS FIRST HALF MARATHON! He finished in 2:26:50, which beats my first half time by nearly 10 minutes! I know he was a bundle of nerves the night before the race and the morning of … but he managed to stay calm and run smart. Needless to say, I was soooo excited to see him coming toward the finish line still upright and looking strong. Trust me, I’ve ridden all the coasters at Cedar Point, but NOTHING was more thrilling than seeing him finish this race. So, so proud of him. 
Before I start to cry, I’ll just finish with some pictures.

I think that last one says it all. :)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Dear Husband - Before You Run Your First Half Marathon

Dear husband,

Before you head out to run your first half-marathon, I'd like to tell you a few things. First of all: DO NOT GO OUT TOO FAST. (I know I've already said this 20 times in the last week, but it's worth repeating ... I just want you to learn from my mistakes, OK? Also: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.)

Second, no matter how the race goes this weekend, I AM SOOOO FRICKIN' PROUD OF YOU. (Yes, the frickin' is necessary.) For I-don't-know-how-many weeks, you've been training for this and you've never once given up. Sure, not every run was perfect, but you ran anyway. You've done the work; you've taken the challenge. YOU KNOW YOU CAN DO IT. This race is just your victory lap.

Kyle and Kenlee after a stroller training run - LOVE!
I'll be honest, just a few years ago, I could have never imagined I could run a half marathon ... let alone that YOU can run a half marathon. (I know you won't hate me for that statement because we both know it's true... smooches!) You say I've inspired you ... but you've inspired me even more, I promise. As we've gone on this journey together, I've come to realize we BOTH have more strength and potential than we could ever know. It's been an honor to watch your incredible transformation.

So, remember how blown away you felt after my first half? How you kept saying, "Holy cow, I can't believe you just ran 13.1 miles?!" Take that feeling and multiply it by about a thousand. That's how I'll feel when I see you cross the finish line Sunday. (Plus, add a few tears ... we all know I'm a cryer.) Now, take the hunger you felt after running 12 miles last weekend, and multiple it by about 100. All those endorphins will burn some extra calories, and you'll never be so happy to see chicken wing in your life. :)

Not gonna lie, it's been nice having another runner in the house. You finally understand why I spend so much money on shoes, and you no longer roll your eyes when I suggest going to Under Armour just to see what they have. I'll also never forget our first family run a few weeks ago ... even though we didn't stick together, we were still out there being active, showing our daughter exactly what it means to work hard for all your dreams.

To wrap this up ... as you head out for your first half marathon, don't focus on the finish line - instead, focus on all the work you've done to get to the starting line. That's all that matters.

We love you. You've got this.


P.S. Don't go out too fast. Don't go out too fast. DO NOT GO OUT TOO FAST! And hydrate.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Freezer Meal: Balsamic Roast with Roasted Carrots

You can't go wrong with a good roast, am I right?! This recipe has a lot of unique ingredients I wouldn't normally use in a roast (tamari, honey, red pepper, etc.), but the combination is DELICIOUS! And the carrots? Those would be the perfect side to a number of other dishes. I might need to add those to our regular vegetable rotation. 

Ingredients for Roast - Serves 6 (10 points per serving)
  • 3 pound beef roast (chuck or round)
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1.5 tbs. tamari
  • 3 tbs. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. ground clove
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
Ingredients for Carrots - Serves 6 (1 point per serving)
  • 2 pounds baby carrots
  • 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
Prep Directions
  • Place roast in freezer bag; add all other ingredients and massage to combine, then seal and label (NOTE: After making the pork chops, I decided it would be much easier to combine the spices/liquids in the bag first, then add the meat and massage)
  • Place carrots in a separate freezer bag, and place spices in another separate, smaller bag and add to carrot bag; seal and label
Day of Directions
  • Remove both bags from freezer and let thaw in fridge 
  • Add roast to Crock-Pot and dump remaining ingredients on top
  • Cook on low for 6-8 hours
  • About 45 minutes before serving, combine carrots, spices and 2-3 tbs. olive oil in a large blow; toss to combine, place on baking sheet and roast in over at 415 degrees for 45 minutes
  • Remove roast from crock pot, break apart slightly and add a bit of juice on top; serve with carrots
This is the sixth of eight freezer meal recipes I'm sharing after attending a party sponsored by my local Farm Bureau. Recipe credit goes to Michelle Rudolphi -  check out her LivingIt Facebook page for more information or if you have any questions.