Friday, January 25

Chobani special delivery!

It's a snowy day here in Pittsburgh, so I worked from home. Good thing I did! I was here to receive one more prize from the Healthy Holidays Challenge... An entire case of Chobani Greek Yogurt!

I had completely forgotten that this was part of the winner's package, but what a delightful surprise on a Friday morning! Coincidentally, I had just written "yogurt" on my grocery list dry-erase board this morning... Now I've got a dozen cups of Chobani with my name on them!

I love the creamy, delicious goodness of Chobani. It's my yogurt of choice these days since it provides me with a source of protein in addition to calcium, and the flavors can't be beat! (My absolute favorite is pineapple!) I haven't tried the passion fruit or cinnamon apple flavored yogurt before, so this prize is, again, exposing me to new and wonderful things!

If you haven't tried Greek yogurt, I urge you to try Chobani. It's the best out there in terms of texture and flavor. The plain yogurt is great as a substitute in a number of different recipes. Personally, I love the fruity flavored varieties and, when I can get it, I eat it every day!

Needless to say, I'm stoked to have such an awesome prize delivered to my door. Thanks, Chobani! I'll enjoy every bite!

Sunday, January 20

Injury Prevention Clinic with UPMC Sports Medicine & Pittsburgh Marathon

I knew I'd learn something, but the hands-on experience at yesterday morning's clinic was what made an impression on me.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Sports Medicine and Pittsburgh Marathon hosted a clinic on injury prevention at UPMC Montefiore in Oakland, and we heard from runners, trainers, doctors, and physical therapists--some of whom fill more than one of those roles!

First up was Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at UPMC, also known nationally as a speaker and author who regularly appears on the Dr. Oz television show. She was raised in what she called a "running family,"  so in addition to her vast professional experience, she brings the "I know what you mean" part of running pain to the table. She shared with us a number of videos detailing stretches ideal for runners, focusing on form.

I don't know about the rest of the people in attendance, but this miniature encyclopedia of stretches will surely set me straight with a number of my oooos and ouches. I really enjoyed hearing Vonda speak, and, for anyone interested, she has other online resources as well as classes, DVDs, etc.

Next we heard from Ron DeAngelo, known nationally for working with NFL and NBA players, who taught us a plethora of wonderful, deep, dynamic stretches. He had us up and moving around the room for these. My blood was pumping for sure! I wished there was a worksheet with a stick figure or something to remind me of the moves... But some of the stretches are in Vonda's videos.

Finally, we heard from Dr. Aaron Mares, an internal an sports medicine expert, who described a variety of common injuries he sees in his runner patients--everything bursitis to the stress fractures and tendonitis to the dreaded plantar fasciitis. He described what these feel like and where, some things that go wrong to lead to these and, naturally, some preventative measures to keep in mind.

All in all, this clinic was full of great information for runners at all stages. I consider myself a novice, but my friend Eleanor is definitely intermediate and she said she learned quite a few things too.

Thanks to UPMC and Pittsburgh Marathon for the invitation to this event. Well done! Can't wait to see what you have next!

Check out the Pittsburgh Marathon on Twitter: @PghMarathon
UPMC Sports Medicine: @UPMCSportsMed
Dr. Vonda Wright: @DrVondaWright

Saturday, January 19

30x30: indiegogo campaign

Know anyone affected by depression? What about anyone who has ever been so low that they considered suicide?

Every one of us probably knows and loves people affected by these painful facts of life. We support them and love them the best we can, but sometimes outside support makes a difference.

Enter Amy Clover. She is on a mission to make a difference in a new way because she has, herself, struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. She's started an indiegogo campaign to raise money for her effort. She's trying to raise $18,000.

Now, if a kickstarter project for a choose your own adventure book about Hamlet can raise hundreds of thousands beyond its goal, I think it is reasonable to place hope in humanity that we can fund this seriously worthwhile campaign.

Can you spare a few bucks?

Thursday, January 17

Adventures with RunnerBox (review)

Oh my goodness, Monday morning couldn't have started out any better. I was getting ready for work when I saw a tweet from Rebecca at Running With Music telling me that I won her RunnerBox giveaway!

I was ecstatic! RunnerBox is filled with full-sized product samples of hand-picked goodies like protein shakes, energy gels, and other on-the-run (literally or figuratively) snacks.

Late last week I entered the giveaway. Evidently I didn't read the entire prize listing very well because I'm not just getting ONE RunnerBox... I'm getting THREE: one every other month! So I'll have a surprise again in March and May. Woo! I can only imagine the cool things I'll get to try out in just three boxes!

So the excitement of winning on Monday was shortly followed by the arrival of my first box on Wednesday! (Talk about lightning fast!)

Staci at RunnerBox was so kind--she put a little note on top, congratulating me on winning the contest, along with the tiniest holiday bow I've ever seen. I loved that personal touch. I think it's clear that there are people behind these boxes (not machines).

I also loved the little quote inside the top of the box. As I lifted the lid, I first noticed the bright green tissue paper (my favorite color!), but the quote made me slow down a little:

Ability is what you are capable of doing.
Motivation determines what you do.
Attitude determines how well you do it. - Lou Holtz

That couldn't be more appropriate for me right now! I'm slogging through winter running like the rest of you, and I'm trying to reach new heights (also like most of the rest of you!). I think I might pin this quote up on my wall somewhere so I can see it each morning.

Then I pulled back the green paper and found the delightful, colorful surprises inside! Rebecca said she felt like she was digging into her Halloween pumpkin. This is EXACTLY what it feels like. :)

I was thrilled to find that some products I had recently been considering trying were in the box. Now I can try without a big commitment...

RunnerBox feels like an adventure to me. I don't know what I'm getting, but I can be sure that other people put a lot of thought into making sure it's worthwhile. I might have heard of these products, or maybe not. Either way, it's easier to try them in a small quantity before deciding on a 24 pack or a canister of protein powder, and, at the same time, plunking down a considerable chunk of change.

Rebecca did a great job wrapping up the joys of the RunnerBox with her review here. The contents of my box are exactly the same as hers, it seems (I'm thinking we should compare notes :).

I'm really looking forward to my relationship with RunnerBox. So far I am really impressed. The brand is clean-cut and professional, but the people and website are friendly and accessible. When I think about what I want as a runner, I realize that I am enjoying getting to know the landscape of people, races, gear, magazines, and nutritional items almost as much as I enjoy going for a run. This is a community. I think that RunnerBox fits into that community by making the myriad of products available to us as runners accessible in a user-friendly manner, with little hassle or heartache. I actually like that they pick things for me so I don't have to choose... Have you SEEN the food/nutrition stuffs shelves in REI or a similar store lately?! It's impossible to pick unless you KNOW what you want. And how will you know what you want? By trying it out.

Bottom line: RunnerBox helps you root through goods to find what you want by sampling a variety of things. (Or, you can help someone you love do that by sending RunnerBox as a gift.)

And I'm doing just that right now! Thanks, RunnerBox! (And thanks again, Rebecca, for the giveaway!)

Wednesday, January 16

New Gear! Heart Rate Monitor

My running pal Eleanor really outdid herself with my Christmas gift... I was floored when I opened the little box to find a Nike+ iPod kit and a Polar WearLink+ Heart Rate Monitor! (She even got me a little green Mivizu pouch to put the Nike+ transmitter in since I don't wear Nike+ shoes.)

I was thrilled and excited and ready to learn about how my heart rate and my asthma and my running all work together... and, at the same time, I was a little bit intimidated.

A heart rate monitor. Wow, that's intense. It's a *serious* piece of gear... I mean, not clothing. I dig the clothing, socks, shoes, and accessories aspect, but this technology feels like it's almost out of my league.

But is it really?

No. I'm just psyching myself out like I do sometimes when I'm really excited about something. :)

I'm excited about using my heart rate monitor to learn about how my heart's behavior during exercise, and especially to learn how my asthma affects me during running.

Tonight I'm hooking myself up for my first run with the heart rate strap and the new baubles for my iPod.

So far, though, I'd like to report that my iPod nano (6th gen) was delightfully simple to link to the heart rate monitor. The instructions were so simple that I thought for sure I'd be on tech support later, but, no! Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come!

I'll probably post a review as I get more familiar with my new gear and how it's working for me. Stay tuned. :)

Monday, January 14

I won the Healthy Holidays Challenge!

I won in the Muscle Building category of the Healthy Holidays Challenge! :) It was a real boost--reaffirming my workout goals, reclaiming my nutrition goals, and renewing my basic commitment to myself. The Healthy Holidays Challenge was just the beginning, though. I'm committing to a more focused approach to my physical health in 2013, and I look forward to sharing my journey with you as I continue to learn!

Becki over at Fighting For Wellness ran the Challenge via Facebook. It was a pleasure to get to know the group of ladies and gents that came together to be part of the challenge. Some were working towards weight loss, others towards losing inches off their waistlines, and then there were a few like me who weren't looking to lose weight or inches, but, instead, to build muscle. Whatever these folks were working towards, they did it with grace, perseverance, and humility. We all patted each other on the back and cheered each other on, but we also encouraged each other when we "fell off the wagon" or even got run over by said wagon, haha... and kept everyone going. It was a great group of people.

Each week of the Challenge, we emailed Becki our measurements. Sometimes I was reluctant to measure myself because I wasn't sure I was going to like the result... But I knew that my fellow participants were probably facing that same struggle, so I did it for solidarity when I couldn't do it for myself.

Wednesday, January 9

Outdoor Research Facemask review

I knew there would come a day when I would need to face the elements and learn to run outside in the winter. When I first started running, I built my endurance during the winter on a treadmill at the gym I joined, happily logging miles to my favorite tunes in a climate-controlled environment. My lungs were happy too.

My racing experiences taught me that my lungs needed to be exposed to a variety of different air types in order for me to do well in races that, well, weren't on a treadmill. (And unless you're doing a virtual race, it's likely that you're not racing on a treadmill.)

My asthma actually got so much worse in the summer's humidity (hallmark of western Pennsylvanian summers) that my race times suffered significantly. I even had to not attend a one-miler because the humidity was so bad and my asthma was bothering me so much... So I knew that the cold weather, the opposite extreme, would be a challenge. I just wasn't sure how to handle it.

Cue running coach: he recommended that I buy a face mask. I had been using a neck cowl, pulling it up over my nose and mouth when I felt like I needed to, but its fleeciness--albeit warm--got damp with my breath and the inconsistent temperatures for my breathing actually seemed to make things worse...

The local running store didn't have what I was looking for, so I had to look somewhere hardcore. I went to the outdoor enthusiast's store and--behold!--I found the Outdoor Research face mask for $26.

I ran a 5k for this trial. It was 20 degrees Fahrenheit with a windchill of 7 degrees in St. Louis, Missouri, on New Year's Day. This was the coldest weather I ever attempted to run in... but I did it!

$26 might seem like a steep price for such a dainty thing, but when you first wear this, if you struggled to breathe before, you will thank your lucky stars to have found it and you will feel like you stole the thing for the price that you paid...

The technical composition is stellar--Windstopper fabric pulled gently across your face, shaped to cup your chin and nose without rubbing, secured at the nape of your neck with Velcro. Awesome.

It does not:
  • Restrict your movement
  • Feel like a turtleneck two sizes too small or grandma squeezing her shoulder into your throat as she hugs you.
  • Allow you to suck in cold air. (Clutch for asthmatics with cold air-induced bronchospasms!)
  • Restrict your breathing*.
  • Increase your likelihood to be scoped out for a fashion magazine. It's functional, but you're not going to be mistaken for Kate Middleton in it.
 It does:
  • Have a thin inner fleece lining that will brush against your face as you bounce along in your run. 
  • Collect a little bit of moisture inside the front near where your nostrils or mouth are. 
  • Move a bit if you dip your head towards your chest (like you're looking down).
  • Wash well! I put it in a gentles bag with my running socks and sports undergarments. It goes in the dryer on low, too. Easy wash, easy dry.
  • Help manage breathing by providing consistent air temperature.
  • Come in different sizes. (I wear a small.)
All that being said, I would definitely recommend the Outdoor Research face mask to my fellow asthmatics! I think you'll be satisfied with the relief. For others struggling with cold air intake during the winter, this might be a good bet for you too if you find that you're frequently breathing out of your mouth.

*I did not have an asthma attack during this run, so I was breathing as I would normally during a run. That is what I mean when I say that it did not restrict my breathing.

Tuesday, January 8

In Stitches: Time Off

Back in October, I wrote about a dermatological hiatus... And now the time has come. Today I went to the dermatologist to have two skin "items" removed. One on my back and one on my shin.
At 5 mm each, the cuts required the doctor to close them with one stitch each. When you have stitches, it's a bad idea to exercise because if you bleed, you interfere with healing. (And, seriously, who wants to interfere with healing?) The appointment itself went okay, but the local anesthetic is wearing off now and I'm feeling the soreness in my back. Oww...

My follow-up appointment is later this month. By then, they'll have the results of the biopsies and the stitches will be ready to come out. Until then, though, no exercise.

I raced on January 1st and my next race isn't until late February, so I'll be healed and back to training before then. Once I have the stitches removed, I know I'll still have to take it easy, so I plan to use a GroupOn I bought for a local yoga studio and stay limber.

Monday, January 7

New Year's Day Commitment Day Race, St. Louis

I started 2013 out with a bang: my first race on the first day of the year! I signed up for the Commitment Day race in St. Louis, Missouri back in November. Why St. Louis? Well, I learned about the Commitment Day race via Twitter and was psyched about the idea, but the closest races to me were in Cleveland, Columbus, or D.C. I've been to those places before... And when the NYC Marathon was cancelled, I suddenly had an airline ticket I needed to use pronto. So after discussing possibilities and flight prices with my boyfriend, we decided that St. Louis would be a great place to visit--neither of us had been there before, there were many things to do and see (both indoor and outdoor), and there was a Commitment Day race there on 1/1/13!

The flight on the way there was awful, to be frank. I misjudged the right day to try to travel for New Year's... 12/30 is not the day, at least not for a 6 a.m. flight.After we arrived, we rested and in the evening we went to the St. Louis Zoo's "Wild Lights" event to see light displays of animals you'd normally see at the zoo! The indoor portions of the zoo were open to the public (but were crowded since they were warm), but this included PENGUINS! Despite the fishy aroma, we took our time watching the penguins. So adorable.

The next day we learned why not to travel to a city where you don't know anyone else for a holiday: nothing is open. We had a number of things we wanted to do, but they were all closed. I expected some places to close, but I hadn't really anticipated mass exodus. We made do with what was open and stuck with our dinner reservations at a fancy steakhouse. We ate whatever we wanted! (The bill was more than my car payment!) But we never do that kind of thing and it was really an epicurean experience.

The race was Tuesday, 1/1/13 at 10 a.m., and it was FREEZING outside. I hadn't ever run in such cold conditions. Usually when it's below 40, I go to the treadmill because of my asthma. I've been trying to ease myself into cold weather with the training group I'm in, but this was by and large the coldest experience yet! It was about 20 degrees. Oww. The race wasn't huge, but the crowd that was there huddled together and shook for warmth.

Running was exactly what I needed to do that morning. I was ready to warm up. The 5k route was mostly flat (what I expected for Midwest), with a few rolling hills (a la Pennsylvania). The volunteers on the course were so sweet, cheering for us and holding cups of mostly frozen water... I slowed down and took one to drink even though it was so cold I choked on it a little.

I was able to stay focused for the duration. I focused on my form and my breathing to keep my asthma in check, and I was successful. This was also my first race wearing my facemask. (I plan to write a review soon!)

I finished in 34:04. I'm proud of that time for a few reasons. 1) I did not have an asthma attack, 2) I slowed down to catch my breath to make sure I wouldn't have to stop altogether, 3) I've never run when it's this cold, so I'm grateful to know I can do it, and 4) this is a better time than I did for a 5k midsummer (in humidity).

We spent the rest of our time in St. Louis exploring various restaurants and museums. If you're looking for a relatively inexpensive place to visit in the near future, consider St. Louis. We enjoyed our time there. (And if you want recommendations, I'm happy to tell you a few places to try! Just drop me a line!)

2013 is off to a great start! Let's keep it up!