Monday, December 30, 2013

Holiday Eats

I know it’s Monday but I want to share my holiday eats that haven’t yet made it to the blog. I did my best to eat the way I know works best for my body, but I did indulge on some relatively healthy vegan cookies and spiced nuts!

I did my best to make delicious vegan food for my carnivorous parents. This is my version of PPK's Butternut Rancheros.

My version of these cookies: delicious!! 
More below!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Running Goals

Goal setting is important. It's especially good to set goals that are motivating, yet still achievable, and that can be broken down into smaller goals that move you toward your big ones. I don't necessarily like the idea of New Year's resolutions because those tend to be vague and more difficult to implement. I also think goal setting is an iterative process that should be evaluated regularly. I have a set of work goals that I have broken down into short and long term, and then into smaller parts underneath.

In my personal life I've tried to focus on one small goal each month, especially for goals that revolve around new habits (as many often do). This time last year I was working on flossing every day, and I am happy to report that I only missed a handful of days during the entire year. When I started losing weight I set a goal of 180 pounds. When I got there, I knew I could go further and set my sights on 160, the lowest I'd weighed since high school. When I got there, I changed my goal to increasing my physical fitness rather than aiming for a specific number on the scale.

Now that I've become a runner, I want to set some running specific goals for the year. I hadn't thought much about it but I saw a post on setting running goals from fellow blogger Brandon at Forks to Feet. Then I got my first two issues of Runners World magazine (thanks to Carly for the gift!), and much of the January issue is devoted to the same topic. I've been using some of my down time to think about goals that are sufficiently difficult but achievable.

Goal #1
Run the Best Damn Race 10K in March - I haven't ever run a 10K so I don't have a PR to break, but I'd like to come in under an hour.

Goal #2
Run the Florida Beach Halfathon in March - I'd like to beat my 2:16:56 time in this race, and I'd love to come in under 2:10.

Goal #3
Do different speed work runs each week - I've been doing the same interval run once a week. I know it's helpful, but I think mixing it up will help me break through some time goals

Goal #4
Increase my weekly run total - during my first half marathon training I was running between 13 and 19 miles each week, I'd like to stay between 15 and 22 this year. I'm going to tentatively aim for 950 miles this year and reach for 1000.

Goal #5
Make some running friends - so far every run I've done in my life except two races has been solo. While I appreciate this time to be with my thoughts as an active meditation, I would like to have some people to meet up with on a semi-regular basis. I've joined a few Meetup groups and hope to run with one soon.

These five goals are certainly achievable but I will have to be consistent. I definitely want to run at least one or two more races in 2014 but I haven't looked that far ahead yet. I rewarded myself for setting these goals today by buying some new shoes from Running Warehouse.

Before I go, since we're on the subject, I am pleased that I've kept up my training even though it's a holiday week, I am in a different place, and I am freeeeeeezing!

Post-Jingle Jog - my phone camera lens was foggy!

Yesterday I did my first annual Jingle Jog - only 2 miles because it was 10-12 degrees out and I am used to balmy Florida sunshine! Today I did my planned 4.5 miles with speedwork on the treadmill at the gym. I now know why runners refer to it as the dreadmill, but I'm glad I stuck with my plans!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

If the Body Likes

It's the time of year when health related blogs share their tips for surviving the holidays. Some focus on staying active, some on eating, and some on stress. These are all important, but tend to get a bit cliche. This is my first Christmas since I became a more serious athlete. Last Christmas we went to Curacao for the week so I stayed active naturally. I was worried about this week because I flew to my parent's house in chilly NY state yesterday.

Being skinnier helps on planes!

I sat across from Santa!

When I left home it was in the mid to high 60s first thing in the morning. Here, we're lucky to break freezing. I see a lot of tough bloggers running in these conditions, but I don't think it's smart for me to do any long or hard runs in the cold when I'm only here for 5 days. It was about 22 when I got up this morning, so I headed to the local Planet Fitness. I purchased a black card membership before I left so that I could use this gym while I was in town.

I can't resist a scale like this. Wasn't sure if I would post this, but this is a weight loss blog so here it it: 143, the absolute lowest I've seen since maybe middle school?
I had planned to do 3 miles today with a goal of negative splits and my last mile at tempo. This is much easier to control on a treadmill. I did my 5 minutes of warm up followed by a mile at 5.8, a mile at 6 and a mile at 6.2. I haven't run on a treadmill since April so I knew it would be weird getting used to it. I also didn't like having to watch myself for 35 minutes! After I finished I stretched and did 30 minutes of strength and core.

Seriously rocking the layers!

The title of this post comes from my absolute favorite online yoga practice from My Yoga Online with Jesse Enright. It's a 30 minute sequence that focuses on movement, strength & flexibility. There's a section where he encourages you to do a cobra or upward facing dog "if the body likes". I love that phrase because I think listening to your body is the most crucial skill you can foster on a health journey. Every decision I make in terms of food or movement or sleep starts with a self-assessment and mindfulness of what my body needs.

My advice for the holiday season is to continue to treat your body as you would any other time. If you always run 3 miles on Wednesday, the fact that it's Christmas shouldn't stop you from trying to fit it in. Yesterday I got picked up for the airport at 8AM and didn't have time to exercise. I chose to get a half caf coffee at the airport and later regretted it. I felt jittery and then a crash (I almost never drink caffeine). I wish I had respected my body instead of my id!

My flight was delayed and I faced another challenge - to find a vegan lunch to bring on the plane. Fortunately I brought some raw veggies and an apple with me, and I bought a boxed meal with black bean dip and a mix of edamame, pepitas, and watermelon seeds. This was the best choice, but unfortunately didn't fill me up like my normal lunch would.

Draft kombucha!
When I got to Albany my Mom and I visited Honest Weight Co-op and it was amazing - one of the best natural food stores I've ever been to! I've spent today making delicious and healthy vegan desserts, wrapping gifts, and hanging with my family. I don't know when I'll post again, so I hope you all have a restful holiday that makes your body happy!

Ridiculously good Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Oat Bars from Ambitious Kitchen

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Stretch Marks (100th post!)

I had to get an ultrasound of my abdomen this week. I've been having some abnormal blood work results with no symptoms so my doctor is looking for signs of infection internally. When I was thinking about it the night before I steeled myself for the question I get quite often when I get my abdomen examined “Oh, have you had a child?” (or something to that effect). I have fairly prominent stretch marks on my stomach, hips, and back. I distinctly remember the first time it happened. I was seeing a doctor about my liver problems that led to this journey, and she almost aggressively challenged me on my reply that no, I hadn't ever had a child. I was 20 years old and completely mortified. I still cringe when I think about it. My stretch marks are one of the parts of my body that brings me the biggest sense of shame and embarrassment.

People who gain weight at a fairly rapid pace (I went from around 160 to around 300 in about 2 years) tend to get stretch marks. Some people I know don’t have them, and some people’s are worse than mine. I also have that arm flap thing happening. It’s all skin and I've worked on it for years. It’s definitely decreased, but people still point it out. I don’t prefer that either. I never wear anything that exposes my abdomen. I don’t change in front of people. I get weird about the angle of my arms in pictures.

I wonder if men feel the same pressure when they lose massive amounts of weight. From what little I understand of gender differences in biochemistry, testosterone and related male sex hormones make it easier for men to lose weight and build muscle. And on the flip side, women’s bodies are better designed to store fat. It’s not really a surprise then that women tend to have more body image issues than men, especially when you consider the messages we are getting from the media on this issue:

I can remember so many trips to the dressing room either alone, with Carly or with my Mother that ended in tears. As my body gained and then lost weight I had so many low moments in regards to how I feel about my body. One of the most incredible and honest and brave things I've ever seen is this series of photographs from artist Julia Kozerski. She took photographs of herself in dressing rooms throughout her weight loss journey. You can see such a range of emotion in her images. It made me feel connected to the greater experience of being a woman and almost brought me to tears.

I've been wanting to write about this for awhile because I made a promise to myself that this blog would be filled with radical honesty. I wish I could say that I don’t have these issues anymore. I have a lot fewer low moments, but every day I see that visceral reminder that my body will forever bear the scars of my mistreatment. Most days now have high moments too. I can fit into size 8 shorts at Old Navy, a number I thought was impossible. People who meet me now typically react to my before pictures with a statement along the lines of “I would have never thought you could be fat”. Several times this month I've been told I’m skinny without it being prompted by any discussion of weight.

Unfortunately, those negative internal messages are a constant in my life. I sometimes feel like an imposter because people can’t see what’s under the clothes. Women have learned to be quite deceptive in our use of fashion and make up to cover our perceived ills. It makes me sad that I can never wear a bikini, that there’s a sagging pouch of skin covering what I know are pretty strong abs, that I fear ever having to find a new romantic partner because I don’t think anyone would find me sexually attractive, and that any progress I make moves at a glacial pace.

Fortunately, there are positive examples to draw from every day. The Internet can be a magical place for self-expression. I adore this video about the thigh gap because it points out how ridiculous some of our beauty ideals are. Even better: radical honesty from people portrayed in a positive way. This piece from runner Lauren Fleshman details the true story behind her incredible post-baby ab photo that spread quickly around the Web. Women and weight loss winners need to continue to build an online presence that is honest about these issues. I am hopeful that our beauty ideals can and will evolve to a place that is more attainable, sustainable, and accepting.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Foodie Catch Up

I was reading in bed Wednesday night and realized that I had completely forgotten my usual What I Ate Wednesday post! Things have been crazy this week so I am just now able to catch up on food pictures. I am heading to my parent's house in the Albany, NY area on Monday, but I hope to get in at least one more post before Christmas!

Our library has a fantastic collection of vegan e-cookbooks. I found this recipe for Lemony Lentil Vegetable Soup in the book Undiet

Last Friday we had errands to run in the evening & went to Cantina Laredo for dinner. I had an amazing holiday spice margarita and veg fajitas 

Lunch at one of our faves Infusion Tea. Half salad and bowl of tempeh chili. 

Sauteed broccoli, mushrooms, onions & tomatoes served on quinoa, topped with fresh pepper, black olives & vegan parm. 

Last weekend I roasted my own beets - nothing like it!

One of my all time favorite dishes - raw pasta with hummus

Too cute - my co-worker gave me jicama instead of cookies!

Enjoyed the beets on a salad with homemade portabella leek rice soup.

Hands down best dinner this week! Roasted chickpeas, cauliflower  & carrot on a bed of greens and massaged kale. Topped with peppers, tahini dressing and smoked paprika.

Taco salad topped with nutritional yeast

Date night on Thursday - dinner at Lac Viet Bistro. Dessert at Drunken Monkey.

Date night continued - Tegan & Sara concert! They have been my favorite band since 2000 and I love seeing them live. 

Carly flew to St. Maarten this morning so we had dinner out at one of our favorites, Izziban Sushi. Oshinko and a veggie roll. 

Today's lunch. Leftovers from Izziban on a salad (I also got a dish of tofu and veg in broth which I saved most of). 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Interval Workout

In late Spring, the big news in the fitness community was the science backed “7 Minute Workout” – a set of 12 exercises meant to be done for 30 seconds each with 10 seconds of rest in between. The research showed that doing these 12 body-weight exercises would give you an effective and efficient full body workout. I began using this workout right away. We had just moved, and I hadn't signed up for a gym membership. I was looking for something that would get my heart rate up but still strengthen my  muscles.
I followed this program pretty closely at first, although I would do two and then three sets at a time to get a proper workout. Now that I am focusing more on running I have been doing less strength workouts, but I still like the format of this one. I've slowly been adapting it to better reflect my needs (quads! and still working on tightening the leftover arm skin from losing lots of weight). I adapted it again yesterday, and did the workout this morning after a mile run for warm up. I use the app IntervalTimer to time my intervals. Each exercise is performed for the full 30 seconds, either as many reps as possible or static hold for the 30 seconds (plank ,etc.).

A couple points of clarification:

Side planks – 30 seconds per side, I usually do one set on my forearm and one on my hand with 10 leg lifts while in the plank

Laterals – I use this to refer to a shoulder exercise where I lift dumbbells first in front, then to the side, then to the side with my pinky fingers aimed toward the ceiling

Step ups – I wasn't able to do these this morning (nothing to step up on!), I subbed with a mix of squat jumps and tuck jumps

Ball – this refers to bridge position hamstring curls using an exercise ball

DD to UP – down dog to up dog, I put this last because I do them slowly and usually for more than 30 seconds

The rest should make sense, if not send me an email or a comment. Enjoy!

Monday, December 16, 2013

In Other Words

I've built up a nice collection of articles and blog posts to share, I hope you enjoy them!

The 5 Skills That Will Increase Your Happiness
Happify is a newer site that lets you make an account and sign up for tracks based on your goals. Each track includes activities to try and space for reflection. You can also interact with other users. Beyond that, they post some interesting articles! This one talks about using the STAGE method (Savor, Thank, Aspire, Give and Empathize) to increase happiness.

This site is simple, each time you load the page it gives you a motivational phrase. When I just recently loaded it I got “You've got the moves like Jagger.” The site’s tools allow you to easily post your phrase to various social media outlets.

Running Terminology Deciphered 
Forks to Feet is a blog that discusses running and plant based eating. The posts are always short and usually very useful. This is my favorite yet! If you read my blog and are not a runner it will help you understand what I’m talking about when I say negative splits.

Thinking of ‘Working Out' as a Privilege, Not a Chore 
Fit and Feminist is a must read for any woman who has any interest in fitness. The articles are always insightful and meaningful. In this post she talks about the societal changes that have allowed us the ability to work out and enjoy it.

Strong Isn't Really the New Sexy/Skinny 
This article is super long but worth the read. The gist of the post is “There is no one right answer, and we don’t have to disparage one body type to celebrate another. When we recognize and internalize that, we will be free.” Please read!

Can Rotating Running Shoes Reduce Injury Risk? – New Study Suggests Yes! 
Librarians are suckers for scientific research, and I appreciate Runblogger’s use of said research in many posts. This article shows why rotating shoes helps reduce risk AND helps me justify buying more pairs of shoes!

10 Regrets No One Has At The End Of Life
A simple list to remind us of what is truly important in life. I was going to pick a favorite, but they are all gems.

How To Become A Mindful Eater In 10 Days
I don’t think it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with food without mindfulness. Here is a step by step plan to bring mindfulness to your plate.

20 Surprising, Science-Backed Health Benefits of Music
More research! My post on my half marathon playlist discusses the importance of music for my running, and this list applies research in music to many areas of health and wellness.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Training Analysis

I had hoped to post this yesterday but the day got away from me. When I started my half marathon training plan I used Excel to modify the plan as I went, and to track my actual workouts. I also added a notes field to the end of each week. I believe that self-reflection is crucial to any important endeavor and I knew that keeping a training diary would help me reflect on and analyze my training. I am a week and a day past my half marathon so I thought it would be nice to write a post analyzing my training. I am scoping out more races, and I know that this analysis will be crucial in forming a new plan.

Here’s how the actual training looked (as compared to the original plan):

I was able to do yoga every Monday. Weekly yoga practice is something I plan to continue in any running plan I do, and as a life tool. I think it’s helped me to be more balanced, flexible, and mentally strong. All great benefits for a runner!

Every Sunday was labeled crosstrain, which for me meant a bike ride plus strength and core work. I started biking regularly when I started following this plan. I tried to match my distance to my long run distance for the week. Once I got my Garmin, I made a point to keep my heart rate in zone 2 for these rides to help build my low and slow cardio base. I've really enjoyed using my bike more regularly. Unfortunately, the Sunday after my race my quads would not let me ride and today it was raining so I biked at the gym instead (not as satisfying!).

In terms of the runs, I pretty much stuck to the plan in terms of distance and type of workout, although I didn't always do them in the order I had written. I did all my long runs on Saturday morning at the same time as my race and made a point to use these runs to develop and practice my nutrition/hydration plan. I had to take some time off when I got strep throat, and I chose the type of weekly run based on how I was feeling when I got up in the morning and the weather conditions.

The most inconsistent part of my training was what I did for my strength training exercises. I varied between a modified version of the plans from “Thrive Fitness”, a timed 30 seconds on/10 second rest series of 3 sets of 14 exercises, and random amalgamations of plans I’d found online for runners.

The two biggest weaknesses of my race day were not slowing down for my nutrition/using a new source, and not having had any hill practice. I think in the future I will stick to dates for fuel. I also might take in more fuel before the race. A banana is great when I have just gotten up and will be running in a half hour, but I don’t know that it was sufficient for having been awake for almost 2 hours before the race started.

Lack of access to hills is an issue. I might use the cooler weather to do some hill runs in the evenings after work, something that is impossible here in Florida for much of the year. I also will incorporate more leg work into my strength training. I think I was afraid to make my legs sore for my midweek runs and I paid the price during the race.

I am thrilled overall with my ability to train, recover, and perform in my first half marathon. The more I talk to other runners, the more I realize that running a half marathon about six months after starting to run outdoors seriously without any real race experience (besides a 150 person fun run 5K) was not an easy task. I probably should have stepped up to a 10K, but the timing and location for this race were too tempting.

The last few weeks of my training after I had strep were admittedly more difficult, and I had a harder time recovering. I did some routine blood work recently and have found out that my blood cell counts are abnormally low and that my cortisol level was high. I am going to see a hematologist tomorrow about it, fingers crossed that it’s not serious. I feel somewhat better knowing that there was a medical reason for the prolonged recovery I needed after my race.

I wasn't able to run until Thursday, when I did my first evening run in Orlando. I enjoyed the run and went out with the intention of 3 easy miles, but felt so good that I did a sub 30 minute 5k! Yesterday I wanted to put in a decent distance to keep my endurance up, and I planned for 6 miles. I ended up running the six miles in less than an hour and had negative splits. I felt great after.

My next race is a 10K on March 1st, and I found a really intriguing half at Fort De Soto park in St. Pete Beach at the end of March. It’s a flat course that runs by the water and only has about 900 participants. I think the 10k would fit nicely in a training plan as a step down week plus more race experience. I have until the end of the month before prices go up, so I will likely sign up if the doctor gives me the okay.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Half Marathon Playlist

There is mixed opinion on the use of headphones/music while running. Some races don't allow it, and some do. I always run with music (set to a volume where I can easily hear traffic), and the few times I've tried to run without haven't been as enjoyable. I usually run with electronic dance podcasts, but I knew for the half marathon I wanted to have songs that were both familiar and motivating.

I've discussed the importance of mantras and positive self-talk, and I was super pleased with my music selections when I was out on the course with a side stitch and feeling miserable. There were so many moments where I felt bad or overwhelmed or like I wouldn't make it and then a song lyric would pop through my headphones and give me a little push. I wanted to share my playlist with you.

Click to go over to 8tracks and listen

Track listing:

Aphrodite Ready Or Not (Jungle Remix)
Kid Cudi Day 'N' Nite - Crookers Remix
Outkast The Rooster
Foster the People Helena Beat
Rodrigo Y Gabriela Hanuman
Vampire Weekend Mansard Roof
MGMT Electric Feel
Gorillaz Dare (Junior Sanchez Remix)
Kelis Acapella (David Guetta Edit)
Santigold GO!
Otep Breed
Kevin Rudolf Ft. Lil' Wayne Let It Rock
Michael Jackson P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)
Big Sean Slight Work (Feat. Wale)
Elliphant TeKKno Scene feat. Adam Kanyama
No Doubt You Can Do It
Calvin Harris Sweet Nothing (Feat. Florence Welch)
Outkast Gasoline Dreams
Morgan Page Body Work (Club Mix) (ft. Tegan and Sara)
Knife Party Bonfire
Dizzee Rascal & Armand Van Helden Bonkers (Radio Edit)
Band Of Skulls I Know What I Am
Bush Everything Zen
Ellie Goulding Lights (Bassnectar Remix)
Brazilian Girls Don't Stop
Gossip Move in the Right Direction
Jim Jones & Ron Browz Pop Champagne
Major Lazer Original Don (Crookers Remix)
Major Lazer  Keep it Goin Louder (Tom Stephan Harder Remix)
Missy Elliot 4 My People f. Eve
Nicki Minaj Pound The Alarm
Rihanna                        Jump
Tegan & Sara Hell
Dave Matthews Band Two Step
No Doubt End It On This

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What I Ate Wednesday

It's pretty obvious at this point that my week was dominated by getting ready for and competing in my first half marathon. I don't think it affected my food choices too much though, although the day of my race was atypical!

Madras curry with chickpeas, cauliflower, broccoli and peas. It was good but not great, I'll post a recipe if I can get it right!

Thursday night I had to pick up my race packet at the local running store, which is across the street from one of our favorite restaurants in Orlando - Hawker's Asian Street Fare.  It's basically Asian style tapas so I got a bunch of raw and steamed veg options. Plus...

Tofu lettuce wraps - yum!

This was my dinner the night before my race. I wanted to carbo load responsibly so I made some of my favorites: roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted sweet potato, and black beans. Served with greens and raw veg. 

Sunday morning my legs were not feeling my usual bike ride, so I made pancakes instead! I added some pumpkin to this batch which might have to stay in the recipe. Served with apples mixed with sunflower butter and maple syrup. Also a good idea. 

Sunday lunch - leftover celebration pizza and a big ass salad.

This is the Ranch Salad from Isa Does It. I'm not sure if I loved the combo of steamed potatoes and chickpeas, but the dressing was awesome. 

If you've been following these posts, you know we eat this dish a lot - Vietnamese bun salad. This time we used a pre-marinated peanut tofu which was awesome. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Italian Chopped Veggie Bake Recipe

We knew that we'd be taking it easy around the house yesterday as I recovered from my race, so we planned on a casserole. What started as an idea for veggie lasagna turned into a more rustic chopped veggie bake that is one of the best meals we've made in a long time. A special thanks to Carly for creating this amazing dish and for letting me share!

Sorry for the sub-par photos, I think I got too much sweat on my phone camera!

Italian Chopped Veggie Bake
serves 6 with side dishes, or 4 as a main course

Tofu ricotta:
1 block extra firm tofu, sprouted if possible
¼ C nutritional yeast
1/8 C almond milk, plain & unsweetened
1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
Italian blend spices (salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, oregano, basil), to taste

Veggie blend
1 eggplant, peeled & cubed
1 cup cauliflower florets (can use more, that’s all we had)
3 medium zucchini, chopped
1 C carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 large can whole tomatoes, chopped (reserve juice!)
12 large pitted black olives, chopped
1 cup chopped spinach
Italian blend spices (salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, oregano, basil, crushed red pepper), to taste

Reserved tomato juice
1 C red wine (optional, if you don’t cook with alcohol just add in more crushed tomatoes/tomato sauce)

¼ C vegan parmesan cheese, optional

Preheat your oven to 400 and roast the eggplant cubes and cauliflower florets until just fork tender. Olive oil optional.

While this is cooking, you can make your tofu ricotta. We pressed our tofu for about an hour before this step, but I think it comes out fine either way. Preheat a frying pan on low-medium heat. Crumble the tofu by hand into the skillet. Add the nutritional yeast, spices, and lemon juice. Saute for a few minutes to cook out some of the water. Add the almond milk and cook until it’s reduced into the blend.

Combine the reserved tomato sauce and wine in a small sauce pan and cook until it’s reduced by 1/3 or so. We eyeball everything!

Combine the rest of the veggie mixture in a bowl with the roasted eggplant and cauliflower. Season to taste with Italian seasonings.

To make the casserole:
Put a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a 13x9 pan. Add half of the veggie mixture, then a layer of 2/3 of the ricotta. Cover with the rest of the sauce. Add another layer of veggies, then the rest of the ricotta.

Sprinkle the top generously with vegan parm.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes covered (30 if you refrigerated the dish). Take off the cover and cook 10 more minutes or until it’s bubbling.

Carly has a tropical vacation planned for Christmas and is tracking her calories now to get in bikini shape. I don't normally generate nutritional information for my recipes, but I have it for this one. Here it is if you're curious!

For 1/6th:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Half Marathon: Challenge Completed

Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. I completed my first half marathon in 2:16:56. I finished 1784th out of 3344 finishers, and 734th out of 1763 women. Now that the big questions have been answered, I’m going to recap my day. I am really writing this for myself, but hope some of you will enjoy it.

We set the alarm for 5AM and were out of the house by 5:50. We got near the start by 6:20 and I put on my compression socks in a parking lot. I gathered my things and walked into the park where the race started/finished. Carly left to get breakfast and find a cheering spot (more on that later). I got in line for the park’s only real bathroom and waited about 20 minutes. While I was in line I ate a banana. One of my favorite moments of the day happened then – a group of 10ish year old girls were in line ahead of me, and one shyly tapped my arm and told me she liked my shoes. Adorable. And it helped relax me and realize that no matter what happened it would be a special day.

I made my way to the start area and tried to walk briskly for a warm up. As I got to the start area they had just started announcing that it was time for the half marathoners to line up. I set myself in between the 9 minute and 10+ minute mile signs and did a final check of my vest and my phone. I also ate a date for a quick burst of energy to start with. I made a half marathon playlist that I had cued up to start when I crossed the start line, and I put my phone’s metronome app on about a minute before the 7AM start. I don’t remember exactly how they announced the start, but I didn't make it across for over a minute.

The only race I’d ever done prior was a 5K as part of a work event with 150 participants, so being in a crowd of over 3000 was incredibly intimidating! The first two miles were totally surreal and I had a tough time getting used to running in a crowd and keeping my own pace. In those first two miles my pace (according to Garmin) varied from 9:20 to almost 12:00! After about two miles I was able to settle my nerves and get into a groove. The time passed quickly through 5 miles. I found my pace and was hovering between 10 and 10:15. One thing I loved about the race was that all the mile marker signs had motivational/funny slogans. My favorite of the day was “Sweat is just fat crying”.

These signs were all around the city yesterday, love them!

The course also had bands and musical performances about every two miles. They had a bagpiper, amazing Japanese drumming troupe, and some live rock bands. There were people cheering at almost every blocked intersection, and tons of people watching us from their front lawns. The support and camaraderie was incredible, and I did my best to say thank you to as many people as possible. I stuck to my usual fueling plan and took a swig of mango puree somewhere around 5.5 miles. I think that’s where I made my big mistake.

First, I only tried using puree once before on my last long run and it was a less acidic flavor. Second, I was running around 10 minute miles at that point and didn't slow down much to eat, whereas I usually am running closer to 10:30 or 11 minutes while I eat. Shortly after the mango I started feeling a side stitch. As Wikipedia describes it, a side stitch is “is an intense stabbing pain under the lower edge of the ribcage that occurs while exercising”. I used to get side stitches quite often when I was first starting to run and do the Couch to 5K program. I haven’t had one in the whole time I've lived here (over 6 months), and when I started to feel the pain that early in the race I almost started to cry.

In the past when I got them I would do my best to breathe deeply, relax my diaphragm as much as possible, and rub the pain out. Most of the time though, I’d be in so much pain that I had to stop running. I was so early in the race and terrified that I wouldn't be able to finish or would have to walk. I immediately slowed down my pace and tried all the strategies I listed above. Unfortunately, nothing worked, and the pain stayed with me for the entire race. After I realized I could still run and not double over I started playing a mental game. I told myself to accept the pain and stop trying to fight it. I told myself that I would still finish and that I would give myself permission to walk if I had to.

Running toward my cheering squad

By this point I was nearing 7 miles and knew Carly might be there rooting for me. As I got near the live band I could see people cheering and I found her! She made me this amazing sign, and our friend Jen came out to cheer with her – a total surprise! I had planned to walk over to her if I found her and tell her about the stitch, but I changed my mind because I got such a burst of energy from seeing them. I ran over and gave Carly a kiss and kept running.

I did fine through about 8.5 miles, and then we turned a corner into a long long hill. For most people it probably wouldn't seem long or steep, but I literally have NO access to hills on my running route. It’s quite flat here in central FL and I didn't do any hill training. Another mistake! I probably pushed too hard on that hill because later in the race my quads were hurting. That never happened on my training runs. My calves and feet would usually get tired by 10 miles, but never my quads! There were several short but semi-steep hills from miles 9-10.5 and I did my best to attack them without ruining my legs. I ate a few dates along the way, can’t really remember when. I was afraid to have more mango puree! Around 10.5 miles the course turned to bricked streets, and that’s about where I lost my groove.

The 2:15 pacers caught up to me and I was happy because that was my “reach” finish time (whereas 2:30 was my “I’d be happy with this time”). Before the side stitch I felt like I could pull off a 2:10, but those hopes were dashed. The last 2 miles were really tough. My side hurt, my legs were killing me, and I had trouble keeping a good pace while running. It was also much warmer than any of us expected. By that time of day it was probably already 75 degrees and sunny! I grabbed water from a station and poured it on my head. I took a few walk breaks and watched the 2:15ers get ahead. Fortunately, the last miler was lined with a live DJ and hundreds of people cheering. One volunteer from the race organization made a point to call out my name (our bibs had our names on them), and that gave me a huge boost. The finish was about 4 tenths of a mile after a turn, and I did my best to turn it on for that last section.

As I neared the finish I spotted Carly and Jen and blew them a kiss. I sprinted through the finish even though I was miserable. I walked a bit, got my big medal, and made my way to a clear spot on the side of the street. There was a long row of fencing along the start/finish area and I stopped to stretch while I waited for Carly and Jen. I got my electrolyte enhanced water from Carly and grabbed a free banana but couldn't eat it yet. We all walked to the port-a-potties and went to the bathroom. After that we took a few pictures, and then made our way to the after race party area.

My first mission was to get ice wrapped on my calves. Carly also hunted down an ice pop for me. Those were both crucial, I was feeling nauseated and overheated. Carly checked the race board and found out my official time, and I was super stoked to be so close to 2:15 even with a side stitch. We wandered around a bit and I started re-fueling with a Bonk Breaker bar. I sat on the ground with my ice and that was probably a bad move. I started cramping in both legs and my cheerleaders helped me rip off the ice, socks & shoes. Carly rubbed my calves/feet to help the cramping stop, and we decided to slowly make our way to the car.

We spent some time at home resting and getting clean, and then went out to Winter Park to celebrate. In the course of the night I had sushi, hummus, pizza, salad, and raw vegan cake plus a few delicious cocktails. My co-worker, fellow runner, and new friend Kelly came out to celebrate, and Jen and her boyfriend came along later in the evening. We spent most of the night sitting out doors, talking and laughing through our meals. It was the perfect way to cap off the day.

Even though most of the race was mentally and physically challenging, the experience was one of the best of my life. Running through the finish, hearing my name called and being surrounded by people cheering was a feeling that would be hard to replicate in any other setting. I think it’s safe to say that I have the running bug, and I will definitely be racing more in the future. I am already signed up for the Best Damn Race 10K on March 1st, and am eyeing a sprint duathlon at the end of January.

As I was describing moments from the race to Carly on the way home I started crying. I was and continue to be overwhelmed with gratitude. I am grateful for a supportive partner, great friends, family cheering/tracking me from afar, all the people that donated their time to come cheer, give out water and supplies, play music and encourage the runners, and to my body and mind for allowing me to have this experience.

Crossing the finish

The people who knew me in 2007 when I could barely walk up two flights of stairs are astonished that I achieved this goal. I am too. When I started running (after about 160 pounds of weight loss), I could only jog for a minute without needing to walk. When I moved to Florida in May of this year, the most I’d ever run outdoors was about 3 miles. I fully believe that anyone can lose weight, and anyone can learn to run/bike/ski/swim/achieve their athletic goals. It is not easy. I've made a lot of sacrifices, and have had to work incredibly hard. That being said, being able to tell people that I ran a half marathon is a feeling like no other and is definitely worth everything that came before.

One of my favorite pictures from Jen - both feet off the ground!