Sunday, January 24, 2016

An Ode to Winter Running

Oh, winter! How I love to hate you
This isn't always the best of time for driving ... or doing anything outdoors
But, oddly enough, it can be the most magical time to run

Sure, there are awful days
Days when you question your sanity
When you spend more time getting dressed than actually being outside
When the snowplow drivers offer to give you a ride home

But, there are also those perfect winter days
When it's not too bitterly cold
Not snowing or sleeting too hard
And not so windy that your hat blows right off your head

The streets are salted and the sidewalks are clear
And you can totally handle this winter thing

Sometimes, you might get lucky and see the sun peek through the gloomy, gray clouds
Maybe even feel its warmth on your cheeks
It gives you hope, reminds you that darkness can't last forever

Even in the dark, there's a wonderful stillness to the air
Everything has magically frozen over
And all the world has stopped in its tracks ... except for you, of course

Because you are more alive than ever
You feel every stride
You pay attention to every step
You feel the aches and pains (hopefully minor) that come with taking the occasional fall

The cold is startling at first, then refreshing
It makes every inch of your skin tingle and tighten
You're focused and you're fearless - you have to be if you're going to survive

Seeing your breath in the air can be reassuring
It means your lungs are working, your feet are moving

Seeing your tracks in the snow can be motivating
It means you've been somewhere and left your mark

You may finish feeling weary
But you also feel so strong
Because when Mother Nature is your only competition, the reward is always pride

Oh, winter! I'll continue to count most of the days till you're gone
But I'll treasure the few wonderful days that remain
And every time I want to hate you, I'll be patient
Because eventually, I know I'll fall in love with you again

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What Surprised Me at Disney World

I definitely had some expectations of what Disney World would be like before we traveled there in November. But, like most things in life, not everything turned out the way I thought. So, I hope other first-timers (or even Disney veterans) can appreciate learning about the surprises - good and bad - we experienced.

How big (yet small) it was … Let me explain. First of all, Walt Disney World Resort is massive. HUGE. When I found out it took an average of 20 minutes to get to the Magic Kingdom by bus, I was skeptical … but it really did take 20 minutes! Fortunately, that was our longest bus ride – trips to the other parks were more like 10-15 minutes or less. But still, the parks and resorts are soooo spread out in reality compared to my expectations. 

INSIDE the parks, on the other hand, everything is sooo close together. Shops, shows and rides are nearly on top of each other (or literally on top of each other) in many cases. We’re more used to Cedar Point, where the massive roller coasters force neighboring attractions to leave more wiggle room. (I know comparing Disney World to Cedar Point is apples to oranges, but Cedar Point is my biggest theme park point of reference, OK?) Also, I felt like a lot of walkways/streets at Disney were more narrow, forcing crowds to bottleneck often. I was a little claustrophobic at times, but there were times where I felt like we had some breathing room, too.

A view down crowded Main Street at the Magic Kingdom - MUCH more narrow than Cedar Point's midway. 
How CROWDED it was … We picked the week before Thanksgiving because all those online crowd calendars gave it about a 3 on a scale of 1-10. Sweet, right? Turns out, our first day at the Magic Kingdom was a 10 out of 10 according to TouringPlans, which gave me a bit of a shock right off the bat. Thankfully, that day was an anomaly, as the rest of the week was less crowded … they weren't exactly the “empty” parks I was picturing, but totally manageable (aside from the wall-to-wall crowds at the Osborne Lights (but that’s just because they’re going away after this season and everyone wanted one last look ... or first look in our case!). 

Highlights of the magnificent Osborne Lights ... They put the Toledo Zoo lights to shame ...
A few fantastic dining experiences … When we made our dining reservations, my husband BEGGED me to eat at Biergarten, the authentic German buffet in Epcot. I didn’t think I’d like it at all, but I didn’t want to deny his ONLY request. I’m so glad I listened to him! The food wasn’t as “weird” as I thought it would be – in fact, it wasn’t weird at all! Combined with the German beer, live music and authentic décor, this dining experience was one of the best of our entire trip!

Kyle was pretty much in heaven with all the food at Biergarten. And he kept it all down while dancing with Kenlee!
I say Biergarten was ONE of our best experiences because I think Boma and Sanaa, the two table service offerings we tried at Animal Kingdom Lodge, ranked toward the top as well. We ate at Sanaa for lunch, and the famous bread service – five different flatbreads with nine dipping sauces (or "accompaniments," if you’re feeling fancy) – more than lived up to the hype.

Sanaa's bread service. I would go there again just to eat this. 
At Boma, the brunch buffet had the perfect combination of familiar and exotic foods. My favorites included the French toast bread pudding with praline sauce (O-M-G!), as well as the carved turkey with African mustard. AMAZING. In my opinion, both picky and adventurous eaters can leave here MORE than satisfied.

And I can't leave out this one ... Honorable mention goes to ’50s Prime Time Café for having the best options for simple, “home cooked” comfort food. Kyle had "A Sampling of Mom's Favorite Recipes" and I had "Cousin Ryan's Vegetable Lasagna." We topped it off with dessert - Kyle got apple crisp a la mode, and I had an amazing chocolate milkshake. MMMMmmmm ...
Kyle lunch at '50s Prime Time was the best of three worlds - pot roast, fried chicken and meatloaf! 
Some amazing attractions … Disney is known for its incredibly immersive experiences with special attention to theming and technology. So I definitely knew we see some great attractions, but the ones that stood out for us were sort of unexpected: 
  • Soarin’ – Kyle, Kenlee and I all LOVED this experience. We truly felt like we were hang-gliding over California, and we left amazed at how REAL the flight felt. 
  • Toy Story Midway Mania – To be honest, I thought this ride sounded a little childish before I tried it. Yes, it is childish, but in the best ways possible. The gaming experience, 3-D effects and carnival atmosphere are perfect for kids ages 2 to 102, in my opinion. 
  • Mickey’s Philharmagic – This show was NOT on our must-do list, but when rain ruined most of our plans during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, we needed an indoor experience. At the recommendation of a coworker who raved about it, we decided to duck in the theater. It was Kenlee’s first 3-D show, and she didn't stop giggling the entire time! So. Damn. Cute. 
  • Festival of the Lion King – This show lives up to its fantastic reputation. It combines elements of Broadway, acrobatics, parades, fire twirling, dancing, singing, stilting (is that a word? I’m going to make it a word) and more.
Festival of the Lion King was our FAVORITE live show!
A few disappointments … Not everything was as magical as I thought it would be. The biggest disappointment was actually my biggest anticipation: Cinderella’s Royal Table. It's hard to explain, but here’s the review I left on Disney’s website: 
Left Hungry and Unimpressed  
For being the most expensive meal of our entire visit, this experience left us disappointed. First of all, we did not get enough food. It tasted good, but the portions were tiny and we all left still feeling hungry. Second, we were the first table seated (which seemed like a great thing), but we had to sit and wait 30 minutes after we'd finished eating for all the princesses to come out. My 4-year-old was starting to get bored, and so was I. When the princesses did come out, the announcement on the speakers could NOT be understood, and we also couldn't hear the directions for the wishing ceremony. All that money and you can't get good volume/acoustics figured out? It was nice to say we ate in the castle once, but I won't be going back. It's not worth the price, not to mention the hassle of getting a reservation.
::SIGH:: Live and learn, right? I can’t believe we ate IN CINDERELLA CASTLE and didn’t feel all that magical about it … On the plus side, my daughter met five princesses without waiting in long lines. So that’s priceless, yes? 

Even though I was disappointed with Cinderella's Royal Table, I can't put a price on those smiles!
Two other disappointments? Journey of the Little Mermaid at Hollywood Studios – holy outdated and strange show, Batman! This was like a “Worst Of” effects from the ’90s. And, Kali River Rapids? Too short and too dry. I hate compare Disney to Cedar Point again, but CP's Thunder Canyon is waaaay better. 

How much I miss it … When we returned home, I had to immediately jump into holiday mode, so there was little downtime to let my brain relax. But now? The post-Disney blues are really kicking in. I KNOW we’ll go back someday (the plan is two years), and I KNOW the parks aren’t going anywhere … but sometimes I just can’t help but crave that magic. My mind often wanders to our memories and I can *almost* feel like I'm there again.

Of course, we had our share of stressful moments and letdowns at Disney, but we also experienced an incredible amount of happiness. Our entire family was together – with no other obligations and distractions – and we could ALL enjoy and appreciate the magic around us. 

If it wasn't already clear, I'll go ahead and say it. This trip made me fall even more in love with the magic of Disney. Maybe it's the eternal optimist in me ... maybe it's the nostalgia of it all. Heck, maybe it's the magic of Disney marketing! ... I don't care. All I know is that this trip was just the beginning of something. And I can't wait to see where it takes us next. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

What We're Eating: Easy Breakfast Burrito Bowls

In our house, we could probably live on two meals: brinner (breakfast for dinner) and taco bowls (basically, taco ingredients without the shells). I'm pretty sure at least one, sometimes both, are on the menu every week.

So when I saw a recipe on SkinnyTaste for breakfast burrito bowls, I was intrigued - it's our two favorite meals in one! But then, I realized cutting up, seasoning and roasting the squash required more patience than I typically have for cooking dinner. (Other people may have no problem with it, but I'm a little lazy in the kitchen <--- Understatement!)

Immediately, I started brainstorming easier options. And, in a moment of pure genius, I came up with the anchor to my newest recipe: CILANTRO LIME HASH BROWNS. Yes, you read that right.

Cilantro. Lime. Hash browns. YES!

Because I'm obsessed with Chipotle, I mastered homemade cilantro lime rice a while ago, and I figured I could do the same with shredded hash browns. Not only does this better support the "breakfast" part of the meal, but it also cuts the points (2 points per cup for hash browns compared to 6 points for white rice!) AND it tastes just as amazing.

So no offense to SkinnyTaste (God knows I love ya!), but here's a much easier (in my opinion) version of the same meal.

All the ingredients (cute kitchen helper optional)

Easy Breakfast Burrito Bowls - 7 SmartPoints Total

Start by making the cilantro lime hash browns (2 points per cup):

  • 1 bag frozen shredded hash browns
  • 1 small bunch cilantro 
  • Approx. 1 tsp. of sea salt
  • Approx. 1/4 cup lime juice 
Cook the hash browns in a large skillet, mix in the cilantro, lime juice and sea salt to taste. Scoop out a 1-cup serving on your plate, then top with:
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute, cooked (I used Meijer's Great Egg Spectations for 1 point)
  • 1/4 cup 2% shredded Mexican cheese (3 points)
  • 2 tbs. fat-free sour cream (1 point)
  • 1/2 cup salsa (0 points for most brands)

A note about points: Weight Watchers recently switched over to SmartPoints instead of PointsPlus. I'm not going to explain the details, but this recipe was calculated with the new SmartPoints. My old recipes (like the one linked at the beginning of this post) were calculated with the old PointsPlus. Eventually I hope to update them ... but I think you have a better chance of seeing Oprah show up at my local Weight Watchers meeting. ;)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year of Adventures

You know I try to be pretty real online. I share a lot of highlights, but I've shared some lows, too. We all have good days and bad, right? We're human. In 2015, I think I can overlook the bad days because I had so many good ones.

I know sometimes year-end recaps can seem like bragging, but an article on BlogHer (go read it here) recently helped me understand why it's OK to share the best of our lives on social media.
"When you post about how your heart could explode with joy at the sound of your daughter's laugh or that you just had the BEST glass of wine of your life, you are archiving memories that you will be able to retrieve later with just a click of a button."
So here's my archive for 2015, what I'm calling The Year of Adventures. I went to new places, tried new things and met lots of really awesome people. Years from now, I hope I look back with happy memories of it all.

So to recap, this year I ... 

Hit my 1-year anniversary as a Weight Watchers Lifetime member
That was in May - I've now maintained my 105-pound weight loss for more than 18 months. Boo ya!

Met running celebs Lauren Fleshman, Dimity McDowell and Peter Sagal (but not together)
I met Lauren in January, when she spoke at the Fort Wayne Track Club banquet. In May, I went to the Another Mother Runner party in Indianapolis, where I got to meet Dimity (Sarah was out with a broken ankle). Then in October, I met Peter Sagal, who was the keynote speaker at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum (and I told him that I read his Runners World column when I poop ...) 

Ran my half marathon PR
Finished the Towpath Half Marathon in 1:56:59 and felt like a rockstar. 

Ran my 5k PR - TWICE
First, I ran 24:46 at the RBS 5k in Edon ... Then I ran the EXACT SAME TIME at our Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day. Ha! 

Ran my first marathon (which TOTALLY counts as another PR, right?!)
If you haven't already heard about the puddle I left on Market Street, you should totally go read the recap.

Completely gutted and remodeled our living room ... with a LOT of help 
What we thought would take a few weeks ended up taking about six months ... and I owe my family BIG TIME for all their hard work. Check out the difference - the ugly paneling is GONE, and we found hardwood floors under the carpet!

Rowdy likes the new rug ...
Went to Disney World with Kyle and Kenlee
I haven't blogged about it (yet), but it was everything I thought it would be - and more.

Wasn't sure if I wanted to do it all again ...
While all of those things were amazing, I can tell you three of them are NOT happening again next year: 
  1. We're NOT doing any major home remodeling projects - Kyle and I might do some minor things here and there, but nothing that requires near as much effort (or money) as our living room did!
  2. We're NOT going to Disney World. (Insert frown face) But we ARE already saving for our next trip, which will hopefully be in November 2017. 
  3. I am NOT running a marathon. Nope, nope, nope. It's not about the work involved in the training - it's about the TIME. This year, I'm going to spend more of my weekends with my family than with my Garmin. 
What I AM doing in 2016 is taking on a new kind of running challenge ... I'm going to run for Team Riley at the Indy Mini! If you didn't see the announcement on Facebook, please go check out my personal fundraising page. I'd appreciate any support - financial or otherwise - as I #Run4Bronson.

Honestly, I've never been good at fundraising, and I've never run for charity, but this felt like something that was meant to be. I can't wait to see what adventures this challenge - and the rest of 2016 - will bring. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Disney World DVC rental: How we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge for a FRACTION of the normal price

As you may recall, I spent approximately 18 months planning and saving for my family’s first trip to Disney World. We stayed Nov. 15-21, 2015, and I have to say every bit of research and budgeting paid off – big time. And, I can’t wait to share everything I learned.

But before I dive into any tips or tricks, I want to set the stage with the “stage” of our vacation: our resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge. This place is so incredible, it’s hard to describe. From the sights (animals grazing on the savanna), to the sounds (genuine African drummers), to the tastes (Indian and African dishes) and the smells (OMG I asked if they sold incense so we could take the scent home!!), every detail added to an immersive, amazing experience. 

Now, you may be wondering how we decided to stay here. I wish I could say we chose it after a lengthy comparison of features and costs … but really, we just got one hell of a deal. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a good discount or clearance sale. And I found that through DVC rental. 

Quick explanation: DVC stands for Disney Vacation Club, which is Disney’s timeshare program. Members can “rent out” their allotted points, allowing non-members to stay in deluxe accommodations for a deep discount. (If you want more details, check out WDW Prepschool’s post.) After doing some research (of course!), I ended up making a request through David’s Vacation Club Rentals … I say request because there’s no guarantee that points/rooms will be available for your specific trip dates/resort. In order to have the best chances, I made our request just before the 11-month mark (the earliest DVC members can make reservations at the home resorts) … and I got it! 

The team at David’s made everything easy. Their process is straightforward and simple, and they responded to all my emails the very same day. How many businesses can say that? Once the reservation was set up, I linked it to MyDisneyExperience (where you manage all reservations and tickets) and we were set. The price they quoted was the price we paid – no hidden fees or extra taxes. I paid the bill in full, and I never had to think about it again. BOOM. 

As I said, we stayed in a Value Studio Villa for six nights, seven days, and loved every single minute. Animal Kingdom Lodge is a FANTASTIC resort, and we got to stay there for a fraction of the normal cost. To be completely transparent, here’s a price comparison (total cost for six nights, seven days – remember, prices change depending on your travel dates): 
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge Value Studio Villa - $895 (with Dave’s DVC)
  • Pop Century Resort Standard Room - $785 (This was our original plan)
Just for reference, I’d like to point out without DVC rental, the price to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge was WAY out of our range: 
  • Standard View Room- $2,223
  • Savanna View Room - $3,236
So for the extra $110 (compared to staying at Pop Century), what did we get? 
  • Deluxe amenities, including an amazing pool with waterslide, more dining options (one cafeteria and three table service restaurants – one of which is a buffet), a fitness center (which we surprisingly never used) and, of course, views of amazing savanna around nearly every corner
  • A deluxe room – Kyle and I shared a queen bed rather than a double (Kenlee got the pullout couch); we had a coffee maker, microwave and mini fridge (Pop Century only offers the mini fridge – if you want coffee, you have to walk down to the food court); and a private balcony (with the option of a savanna view … more on that later)
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? For many people, it is. But before I booked, there were several things to consider:
  • We weren’t able to participate in any Disney package discounts, such as the popular free dining promo. We had already been leaning toward NOT using the dining plan because of the out-of-pocket costs, restrictions on what you could order, and overwhelming amount of food. (And I totally stand by this decision, but that’s probably a post for another day.) The free dining discount sounded amazing, but I calculated that by the time we paid for gratuities and extra meals not covered by dining credits, we’d ONLY save about $250 on our trip. PLUS, by going with the DVC rental, I didn’t have to deal with the hassle of booking free dining, which was a cluster this year, according to many Disney news sites.  
  • Because the room we wanted is extremely popular (READ: It’s the cheapest DVC room available), we had to book it 11 months in advance … and there’s absolutely no refunds. You have the option to purchase travel insurance if this makes you nervous. But, Kyle and I decided we were going to Disney World come hell or high water, so we passed on the coverage. However, we did make sure to check the dates with our employers before we booked … gotta have your bases covered!
  • We didn’t get daily housekeeping. Since DVC rooms are “home away from home” for members, we only got trash and towel service on day four of our trip. That’s it. To some people, this is a drawback … for us, it was totally fine. We just hung up our towels and picked up after ourselves. Not a big deal, but something to consider depending on how your family likes to travel. 
Oh, and about our view. Thanks to the TouringPlans room finder, I learned that Value Studio Villas can have either a savanna view or standard view. With other rooms, you have to specifically pay extra for the savanna view. Because I subscribe to Touring Plans, I used the awesome fax request tool, which automatically sent my room view request a few days ahead of the visit. Just after we landed in Orlando, I got a text saying our room was ready – 5124, a savanna view! Nailed it.

The view from room 5124 - absolutely worth all the effort!

I sure do miss watching the giraffes while I eat breakfast and/or sip some wine ...

So, in summary: we got to stay at one of the BEST resorts on Disney property with one of the BEST views and some of the most AMAZING amenities for a FRACTION of the normal cost. It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. Honestly, I hesitate to share my story for fear that everyone and their brother will want to do the same. ;)

Seriously, if you’ve ever looked at going to Disney World and thought, “I could NEVER afford to stay deluxe,” or “I want to treat my family without breaking the bank,” look in to DVC rental. But fair warning: You’ll fall in love with your new “home” and immediately start planning your next trip back ...  

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!