Monday, February 25, 2013

Trying New Things

I am very much a creature of habit.  I find something I like and I stick to it.  This means I eat the same sandwich for lunch everyday, do the same running routine, cook the same recipes for dinner.  Lately I've been breaking that trend.  I have actually tried new things.

I see this all over the internet.  Such a brilliant man!
First new thing - I went swimming!  To be fair, swimming is not a brand new activity for me.  In high school I taught swimming lessons at the city pool so I have a good background of all the strokes.  However, it has been a good 4 years since I've put on a pair of goggles to swim laps.  It was my boyfriend's idea.  He wanted to try water jogging for his injury recovery, but I latched on and begged him to take me to the pool.  Our first swim was last Monday and in half an hour I swam about half a mile with a lot of breaks.  It felt soo good though.  It was the day after my long run, so my body appreciated the break from hitting the pavement.  My knees were no longer sore, but I knew my leg muscles still got a good workout.  We went for a second swim tonight.  I even bought a new swimsuit for the occasion.
So pretty!
Tonight I tried a second new thing - coconut water.  After about 1000 meters of swimming today and some handstand practice in the water, I hopped out of the pool and immediately my calf cramped.  Charley Horse - ouch!  I knew I needed potassium so I headed home to try the coconut water I had recently stocked in my fridge.  I didn't love the flavor, so I looked up some recipes.  I ended up making hot chocolate out of it and the taste of that drink was amazing.  The best part is I know I'm still getting over 600 mg of potassium.
There have been a handful of other things I've been trying lately.  I've made new recipes like this pasta one from Self Magazine and a butternut squash mac and cheese from nutritionella.  That was my first time dealing with butternut squash and I really liked the flavor.  I've also tried out compression socks and tabata workouts.  I'm a fan of both.
I know these are small changes, but for someone who is used to a precise routine, these steps are groundbreaking.  What new things have you tried lately?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

For you are dust, and to dust you shall return

Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent in the Catholic Church.  I attended mass in the morning where my forehead was adorned with ashes as a reminder of my humility.  As a priest or layperson puts the ashes on your forehead, they usually say “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” which comes from Genesis 3:19.  This is a reminder of humankind’s morality and that our life on earth is just a small portion of the eternal life God has planned for each of us.  It is a wonderful service to attend regardless of your denomination.

Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter.  It is a time of reflection and sacrifice to prepare spiritually for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Since Lent is a time of sacrifice, you often hear people ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?”  I struggle each year with this question.  When I was younger, this often meant choosing whether I would give up candy, TV, or soda for the 40 days.  As I got older though, I began thinking about the deeper meaning of the sacrifices we make during Lent.  I would question the intentions of others asking, “Why did you give up _____?”  The answer kept coming back, “Because ____ is unhealthy for me,” but I continued to see people indulge in whichever delicacy was given up as soon as Easter Sunday mass was over.   It didn’t seem like Lent was helping people form better habits.
When I got to college, the trend for Lent was to give up facebook.  While I agree, time spent on facebook can be time wasted, I again questioned the intention.  What were these people filling their time with instead of facebook for 40 days?  Were they cultivating personal relationships with others in person?  Were they setting aside time in their day for prayer and reflection?  Were they using that time to volunteer and help others?  Often times, the answer was no.  It seemed like an empty gesture. 

My favorite Lenten tradition is to buy a 40 day book of devotionals with scriptures, reflections, and prayers and read it each night.  One year, I focused on reading the daily mass readings instead of a daily devotional.  However since I was adding a good habit instead of giving something up, it was still difficult for me to answer the ever popular question of “What are you giving up for Lent?”
This year, I really wanted to focus on the sacrifice part of Lent.  It has been at least 5 years since I have actually given something up.  I struggled because I wanted it to be something with a purposeful intention.  So I turned to the internet for advice and found this site about what to give up for Lent.  One sentence on this webpage stuck with me.

“Sit down and pray about what has become a controlling factor of your life. It could easily be a food, activity, or object.” [Source]
Controlling factor?  That sounds so harsh, like something they would talk about in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  However after some thought, I figured it out.  Lately for me, I’ve become obsessed with running and fitness and reading blogs about these subjects.  It has led to many late night internet browsing sessions and honestly was taking a toll on my sleeping schedule.  No matter how many times I told myself that I need to go to bed sooner, I couldn’t pull myself away from the endless tweets and blog posts.  I had already purchased my Lenten devotional book for 2013 and knew that reading that before bed would take some time.  I couldn’t keep up this nighttime internet habit/obsession/addiction.

So…[drumroll please]…my 2013 Lenten sacrifice is giving up internet use after 10 PM.  To some, this may sound like nothing, but to those who stay up reading blogs until late or those who take their smart phone or tablet to bed to scroll through Instagram updates (yes, I know you do this!), it is a struggle.  Our society is overrun with technology and we are so often glued to our screens and missing the beautiful simplicities of God’s creation.  I believe that by shutting down a little sooner each night, I can improve my relationship with God by creating time for extra prayer before crawling into bed exhausted.

This post is a few days late because of my new 10:00 rule.  It has been different this week when I have to put down my laptop and phone at 10 PM.  I set a daily alarm on my phone to remind me to turn everything off.  It was especially difficult on Friday and Saturday after I was out late with friends.  I have to remember that checking my email or posting a picture will have to wait until the morning.  So far, it has been liberating and my body is thanking me for the sleep.  Plus I am not rushed when I am thinking about each daily reflection.  I know I can keep this up for 40 days and hopefully continue with the habit far beyond Easter.

Please let me know in the comments, Do you give anything up for Lent? What are your intentions?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Will Run for Chocolate

This weekend I ran in a race that I've been waiting for since I heard of its existence 2 months ago.  It is a part of a nationwide race series put on by RAM Racing Series called the Hot Chocolate Run.  With advertisements like this, how could I miss this race?

If you don't know me well, I am addicted to chocolate.   If chocolate is a flavor option (whether it is cake, ice cream, or protein powder), you know this girl is choosing chocolate.  I think you get the point that I HAD to do this race.  This is definitely the largest race I have ever participated in (6140 runners in the 5k and 3759 runners in the 15k).  It was overwhelming to be surrounded by so many runners in the starting corrals, but I must say the race was very well organized and executed.

After a small amount of convincing, Daniel and I registered for the 5k online.  There was a race expo hosted on Thursday and Friday before the race.  We drove to Fair Park in Dallas after work on Friday where we were quickly given a race bib and swag bag (free sweatshirt).  We browsed the vendors and sponsors.  I tried "The Stick" massager and actually really liked it.  I wasn't ready to shell out $34.95 for one, but perhaps I will add it to my Wish List.  I also tried on a pair of Newton running shoes.  I've heard the hype, but never tried for myself.  I really liked the way the "MOTION" model felt as I walked around.  They were marked down the $80, but I just wasn't liking the color.  I think they are about to release new colors, but of course the price will be high for the new style.  Again, another item for the Wish List.  There was also a lot of "Will Run for Chocolate" merchandise for sale.  Here is a picture of me and Daniel before we left the expo in front of the large inflatable mug of Hot Chocolate.

Julie and Daniel at the Hot Chocolate Run Expo
The race began at 7:30 am on Saturday morning.  This meant I had to drag myself out of bed at 5 am.  It was a chilly Texas morning, but luckily 45 degrees which isn't too freezing.  I got dressed and had my pre-race breakfast (small yogurt, granola bar, and a banana).  Daniel picked me up and we were off to fair park.  There was a lot of traffic to exit the freeway and get to parking, but we had given ourselves plenty of time.  We made a quick pit stop at the porta pottys (my least favorite part of pre-race).  Then bag check before warm-up.  I snapped a few photos before I gave up my bag.
I'm such a happy camper before 7 am. Note: still dark

Daniel with his race bib

Me ready to run

Daniel and I were fortunate to be in the same corral for the race.  During warm-up, he decided his calf injury was still hurting him and he was going to pace me instead of running his normal pace.  I was happy to have the company of someone who knows exactly when and how much to push me.  I had been nervous about this race because my last run during the week was kind of tough and my calves had been tight for the last week.  Daniel sticking with me eased my nerves.  After a small delay in the corrals and then the singing of the National Anthem, we were off!
Throughout the 5k course, there were 3 music stations with DJs and bands and 1 water station.  These were a nice distraction.  The course was all on the road, but traffic was blocked.  I felt good during my first mile.  I knew I started off a little faster than planned and was happy to see 8:53 flash on my screen at the mile marker.  There was a hill during mile 2, but not too tough.  I made sure not to slow down as I'm often tempted to on mile 2.  8:38 flashed on my Garmin, still feeling good.  Halfway through mile 3, Daniel told me we're going to run the last 0.2 miles faster.  Mile 3 time was 8:33, still getting faster!  I finally round the final corner and see the Finish line.  I sprint it in as always.  I looked down at my watch after I safely passed the finish and see that I was under 27 minutes.  I couldn't believe it!  My former PR was 27:49.  My official time came in at 26:51...a whole minute faster.  I was ecstatic!
Finally it was time for the post-race celebration.  Every racer was given a "Finishers Mug" filled with Ghirardelli hot chocolate and fondue chocolate with marshmallows, a banana, pretzels, and cookies for dipping.  You can tell from my face that I was filled with joy at this point.
Joy after receiving my Finishers Mug and new PR
After it was over, Daniel and I decided that we will be doing this race again next year.  Maybe the 15k distance?  I feel like the strength training through fitmixer boot camp has helped my endurance and leg strength.  Even Daniel has commented that my stride looks a lot stronger than it did 6 months ago.  Hopefully I can continue to make improvements as I prepare for my next half marathon.
One last picture

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

False Start

February seems to have started before I even realized.  The first day of the month zipped over the starting line while I was still in the pre-race bathroom line.  It was Sunday night (the 3rd) before I realized I was supposed to start working on all of my goals 2 days prior.  I would like to call a False Start on the Offense, 5 yard penalty, redo first down.  Is that possible?

I am back on track now.  Sunday I did a long run of 7.5 miles.  It felt really good to run long again.  I took a nice and easy 10:26 avg pace and made sure to stretch afterwards.  It helped that the weather was perfect and sunny.  I ran again Monday and after 5 days of neglect completed a fitmixer bootcamp workout.  It was a nice strength workout that left my arms a little sore on Tuesday.  Today I did a Tabata workout for fitmixer bootcamp. Umm...who knew straight arm pulses (no weight) could make my shoulders burn?

I've done #plankaday 3 days in a row.  My goal by the end of the month is to be able to hold a plank for 3 minutes.  I think it is possible.  My current record is 1:55.  I also did a 5 minute ab workout for #AbsByApril today.  I plan to work more on core later this week as well.

As for #flexibleFebruary, I am up to a total of 30 minutes of stretching for the week.  In a stroke of luck, I got an email today from Appetite for Health informing me that I won a yoga DVD from their giveaway last Friday.  I will be receiving Shiva Rea's Daily Energy Collection.  I can't wait!

One last thought for the night.  I saw this on another blog and had to share.  I think everyone has had this thought at least once.