Worth the Run

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On Sunday, I cranked out the best run I’d had in a long time. I ran a 7-miler in 58 minutes, which is a very strong, hard run for me. Ironically, despite my fast pace, the run seemed much easier than the runs I’d had in the previous weeks. It’s really strange how little (and big) things can affect my runs. This time, I think my time and amazing exertion are to due to two factors: sleep and weather.

For the last 3 weeks, I have had an incredibly difficult time staying asleep. No matter what time I go to bed – whether its 9 PM or 1 AM, I’ve only been able to sleep 4-6 hours a night. For those with insomnia or newborns, this may seem like a gift. But for a full-time professional, wife and mother of two, runner, and traveler, 4-6 hours is not enough to sustain all of my responsibilities with a smile.

On Saturday night, I managed to get a full 7 hours of sleep, despite staying out later than normal. That extra 1-2 hours made all the difference in the world for my mood and for my run. I woke up feeling refreshed and completely awake. This brief reprieve in sleep deprivation caused me to be extra enthusiastic about my typical Sunday morning run.

In addition to sleep, the weather played a significant role in the success of my run. It just happened to be perfect weather for a Fall run – 48 degrees and sunny. Just crisp enough to clean the air, but not too cold to make your lungs hurt after exertion. It’s the kind of weather that tricks you into thinking it’s cold enough to wear a running jacket, but then after your first mile, you are kicking yourself for wearing it.

I know my sleep issues are far from being over, just like I know that snowy and cold winter weather are merely days away. But it’s days like Sunday, where my run seems effortless, that make running on any given day worth it.

Not a Greek Yogurt in Site

During my travels over the last few weeks, I had my fill of restaurant food. For 12 days straight, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, consumed in a place other than my home sweet home. I know there are many people that would consider this a luxury, but eating out all of the time can get old fast. By my 6th day on the road, all I wanted for breakfast was a Greek yogurt, something I was used to having every week, if not every day at home. However, in our staff lounge, the convention center only provided “regular” yogurt. No matter how much I begged, pleaded, and flirted with our lounge staff, no one could seem to find a Greek yogurt within two miles. Sad, but true.

Little did I know what was waiting for me when I arrived home one week later.

While away, Scott called to tell me that I received several packages in the mail, one being a perishable package. Lucky for me, I arrived home to find a dozen perfect cartons of Siggi’s yogurt! Now I know Siggi’s is not “Greek” yogurt per se, but after tasting it for the first time that night, I can honestly say it is VERY similar to Greek yogurt, and maybe even better! Gasp!

Siggi’s yogurt is a type of skyr yogurt – the traditional yogurt of Iceland. It’s similar to Greek yogurt in that it is much thicker than regular yogurt because it’s strained several times. Because of the straining process, it has a significant amount of protein. But, unlike most Greek yogurt brands, Siggi’s skyr is comes in several flavors, including vanilla, grapefruit, blueberry, orange, acai, and more. Plus, Siggi’s is fat free and only flavored with real agave nectar  – no sugar or artificial sweeteners.

So how does it taste? I have to admit, the vanilla and blueberry Siggi’s hold their own against any Greek yogurt I’ve tried, but the orange flavor is more of an acquired taste.

Although I am still partial to my Greek yogurt (oh how I still miss you!), Siggi’s is really giving Greek yogurt a run for it’s money.

A Runner’s Travels: Leaving My Heart in Vancouver

As many of you have gathered, I’ve been MIA these last two weeks, traveling to such places as San Francisco, Sonoma and Napa Valleys, and Vancouver. In each of these destinations, I was able to experience a tiny bit of the local life through visiting the sites and tasting the amazing foods each city had to offer.

One of the things I loved about my time away, was that each city had it’s own spectacular views and equally spectacular places to run.  San Francisco offered a coastal path along Fisherman’s Wharf, with amazing shopping sites just a few blocks away. Napa provided a much needed peaceful run through, what seemed like, a sleepy bedroom town surrounded by green and gold vines. And finally, Vancouver…I have so much to say about running in Vancouver and most of it revolves around the beautiful Stanley Park. On three separate occasions, I was able to run from my hotel through Stanley Park. Each time I would nearly gasp in wonder at the beauty of the mountain-lined harbor, the fall foliage at its peak, and the pristine surroundings that are famous in the Pacific Northwest.

Unlike most people who judge a city by the sites, restaurants, and atmosphere, I find myself forming an opinion of the city based on my running experiences there. I have to admit, of all the places I’ve run outside of Chicago – and there have been MANY – Vancouver is, by far, my favorite.

I can quite honestly say, I left my heart, and running shoes, in Vancouver.

Destination Running

Like many people, before I travel I think of all of the sites I want to see, all of the restaurants I want to try, and the best places for shopping. In addition to these things, I also think about where I will run. I know I’m a little odd when it comes to running, but it’s true. When I’m out of town, finding new, fun places to run is just as exciting as finding a cool new bistro.

In my many years of running, I’ve run in 8 countries, not including the US, and have run in 22 of the 50 United States. I’ve had so many wonderful running experiences – running along old and winding streets in Ireland, past Gaudi’s legacy in Barcelona, by totem polls in Vancouver, and right up to the gates of the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. All of these places are reminders of wonderful trips and wonderful runs. However, I would not consider any my favorite.

In September, I was fortunate enough to be able to run my favorite route – a route I haven’t run in years – the Chicago lakefront path. If you’ve ever been to Chicago’s lakefront, you will know that the path goes on and on for miles. On one side of the path, you run with beautiful views of the Chicago skyline on the horizon. On the other side is the calming shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Years ago, when I worked and lived downtown, I would take my running clothes to work. After work, I would change and run home along the path, starting from Navy Pier and finally turning into the Lakeview neighborhood near Belmont Harbor. It was such an amazing feeling to combine my 45-minute commute with a strong running workout, something I’ve greatly missed while being in the suburbs. On days that I was not able to run home from work, I would get up extra early to run the lakefront. Rain, snow, or shine, I pounded that beautiful pavement with hundreds of other athletes, yet somehow, felt completely lost in my own thoughts and in my own world.

Each time I go back to the lakefront for a run, I have a slight melancholy feeling. I’m so happy that I’m running my favorite path, but sad – almost like not knowing when I will be reunited with an old friend. And when I do return, the path seems to say, “it’s been way too long my friend, way too long.”

Where is your favorite place to run?

Strong Abs, Better Running

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Some people hate doing abdominal workouts – I love them! To me, ab workouts are almost as addicting as running. Although many of you may be shocked at my love for belly burn, as a runner, this view is not uncommon.

Strong abdominals go hand-in-hand with strong running. Abdominal muscles support the torso and stabilize the pelvis while you run. Runners with weak abs tend to tire quickly. Also, they tend to have a less stable pelvis which can lead to lower back pain and hamstring injuries. Runners with strong abs tend to have better posture, a more stable gait, and have fewer lower back problems. Furthermore, the stronger your abs are and the more they can endure, the better you will run.

On the flipside, running also help strengthen and flatten your abs. Think about it, have you ever seen an experienced runner with a large midsection? Running burns more calories/fat, including that which is stored in the belly. Plus, to keep our balance while running, our ab muscles must stay contracted – in a constant state of flexing.

However, don’t rely on running alone for flat abs. Women Fitness reports that running works your hip flexors and your lower back more than your abs. If you don’t stretch these areas, you could develop an imbalance known as excessive anterior pelvic tilt – a fancy way of saying runner’s pouch, which makes your stomach protrude and look much bigger than it is.

Obviously, not all runners will have six-pack abs. Besides, it is harder for women to achieve the six-pack goal than men because we have more body fat. Still, female runners who strengthen their abs (and hence, their core) can expect to see improvement in running, not to mention a tighter tummy.

No need to rely on crunches alone for your ab routine. Try to incorporate a mix of ab exercises that work all abdominals – obliques, upper, lower, etc. For a great ab workout sans the typical crunch, try Shape magazine’s 4-Week Ab Makeover, a workout that utilizes pilates to build ab muscles.

Even if you’ve hated ab workouts in the past, I encourage you to give them another try, especially if you’re a runner. You may not love them at first, but when you start seeing results – look out!

Happy Running!

Headin’ Up To San Francisco

In less than 48 hours, I will be in beautiful San Francisco. As you may recall, I was in San Fran briefly last week, as a stopover on my way to Sacramento. I was there so briefly that the only place I actually set foot in was the airport, otherwise I was in a car.

But on this trip, I will be spending four lovely days in San Francisco. Although I will be quite busy with writing assignments, I am hoping that I actually see some of the sites around the city, as well as the trendy restaurants. Maybe I’ll even meet up with a few blogger friends!!

Aside from work and site-seeing, I am also hoping to go for a few runs – naturally. It is true that before I head out on a trip I research my destination like CRAZY – just ask my husband. I almost become obsessed with finding the coolest restaurants, shopping, sites, etc. But I also love to plan out my runs! I go to great lengths to map out routes, plan scheduled runs for my light work days, etc. Knowing that I am keeping to my scheduled runs gives me a sense of familiarity in a new place and helps to keep some kind of calm in my, otherwise, crazy schedule.

And I do mean crazy schedule! San Francisco is just the first leg of my trip. From there, I will head to Napa for a few days, then onto Vancouver until November 3. So, when everything is over, I will have been away from home for 12 days. My stomach hurts just thinking about being gone for that long – especially since Scott and the kids will NOT be coming with me. Oh the things we do for work!

Thank goodness for iPhone Facetime!

How Running is Like Blogging

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This time of year is my busiest season for writing and other projects. And, it is at this time each year where I contemplate sacrificing some of the things I love – like running and blogging – in order to make more time for work. Last year, I did actually take a hiatus from blogging for 1-2 months in order to spend time working on more lucrative projects. As for running, although I’ve never stopped running for work-related reasons, I took a planned hiatus from running for 2-3 weeks after I had both of my children.

When you really think about it, blogging is a lot like running. In many ways, at least for me, the two go hand-in-hand, with running as an impetus for blogging and vice versa. Plus, giving up blogging or running, even for a short amount of time, is difficult for someone who does it every day. But although the “giving up” part was difficult, the coming back after the time off was even more difficult than I imagined.

Let’s take a look at the other similarities between running and blogging:

6 Ways Running is Like Blogging

  1. Love/hate relationship: I truly have a love/hate relationship with running and blogging. I love to run, just as I love to write. But I hate that both have me so entranced that they are hard to give up cold turkey. Both are definitely hard habits to break.
  2. Practice makes perfect: Although blogging is not a sport – unless you consider taking hits from women’s magazines a sport – like running, your blogging/writing skills will typically improve the more you engage in that activity, be it running or writing. Running and blogging also take practice and dedication to get to the level that you want to be. Furthermore, many experienced bloggers and runners will keep to a set schedule in order to become more consistent in their practice and to gauge their progress.
  3. Varying Levels: Like runners, bloggers can be considered anything from novice to experienced, or from casual to professional. Some runners run for fun, some bloggers blog for fun. On the flipside, some runners run professionally, to earn money, prestige or just to beat a previous personal record. Bloggers are the same way in that many experienced bloggers write because of the money it earns them or with the intent of receiving some sort of recognition in the blogging world.
  4. Socialization: Blogging and running can be solo or social activities. You can write for the masses but never read or respond to comments or you can engage in online communities, conferences, and more. Similarly, you can run by yourself to your heart’s content or you can join a group of runners for weekly workouts.
  5. Outlet for feelings and ambitions: Running and blogging can be used to help alleviate stress, tension, anxiety, make you feel empowered, or simply help you achieve a purpose – whether it’s to run a 5K or to write your first novel.
  6. The Good and the Bad: Runners and bloggers have good days and bad days. On a bad day, a blogger may post just to get something posted, while runners will force themselves just to finish a few miles. But on good days – both runners and bloggers can be on fire – writing strong content or achieving that runner’s high.

Now, if I could just find a way to run and blog at the same time….

Touring California Walnut Country

I recently had the great pleasure of touring California’s walnut county on behalf of the California Walnut Commission. The tour was quite an adventure that spanned two days – two days of learning about walnut harvesting and processing, as well as the many great benefits that walnuts hold.

My adventure started at the beautiful Citizen Hotel in downtown Sacramento where I joined a group of 20-25 other journalists and walnut experts for an elegant dinner. Prior to dinner, we watched cookbook author Mollie Katzen and Chef Michael Tuohy from Grange restaurant whip up some very easy pesto.

We all proceeded to get our hands a little dirty making Chef Tuohy’s own version of white walnut pesto. This was, by far, the best pesto I have ever tasted and not just because I made it. I am not a huge fan of pine nuts or basil in pesto, which are standard ingredients for many restaurant pestos. But Chef Tuohy’s white pesto was made with a base of cheddar, olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and, best of all, ground walnuts! Again – the best pesto I have every tasted! Don’t worry, I do plan on posting the recipe in a few days!

Our cooking demo was followed by a three-course dinner, with walnuts playing a starring role. We also were very fortunate to hear award-winning researcher and author Dr. Brian Wansink discuss some of the pitfalls to American eating, much of which was discussed in his book, Mindless Eating.

The next morning, we were treated to a walnut-studded breakfast at Old Soul Co. in Sacramento, which included walnut scones, banana walnut sweet bread, and even spinach and goat cheese quiche with walnuts.

After breakfast, we headed to the main event – a tour of the walnut trees at Fedora Farms in Meridian, CA. Here we learned about the varieties of walnuts, how they are shaken from the tree and collected, and how they are hulled and dried before being sent to the processing plant. What I was impressed by most about Fedora Farms was how much time and care they put into harvesting quality walnuts – it really is a great source of pride for the Fedora family and for walnut growers in general. Like Fedora Farms, most walnut farms/orchards are experiencing a fantastic harvest this year. According to the California Walnut Board, California will produce a record harvest in 2010, estimated at 17% larger than that seen in 2009.

Lunch was a gourmet meal underneath the walnut trees provided by Chef Patrick Mulvaney, owner of Culinary Specialists Catering. Chef Mulvaney prepared a first-class lunch for our tour, right in the middle of the walnut orchard – very classy! Oh, and did I mention the menu included 4 uses for walnuts, including the chocolate pudding!

After lunch, we headed to Yuba City to visit the Sacramento Valley Walnut Growers, where they process, package, and distribute the walnut grown in the area. What surprised me most about the processing and packaging of the walnuts was how many steps are in the quality control process – I counted at least four but I’m sure there were more!

For dinner, we headed back to downtown Sacramento to The Kitchen Restaurant, touted as one of “the most entertaining and distinctive dining destinations in Sacramento.” This meal and whole experience truly lived up to the hype. Not only was the atmosphere like no other that I had experienced (when do you ever get to go into the kitchen of a restaurant and just hang out?) but the food was unbelievable! Granted, I did not eat all of the 6 courses because they included seafood and beef, but the presentations were extremely entertaining and amazing looking!

Aside from the highly interactive dinner preparations, I was really impressed with the fact that each dish could be, and was in my case, tailored to fit each guest’s likes/dislikes. Don’t care for frog legs? No problem! They will just replace them with tender breaded chicken made to look like frog legs – so  you don’t feel completely left out! Furthermore, as a testament to the Chef’s creative genius, 5 of the 6 courses included walnuts. After my 5-hour culinary experience, I was quite full and ready to fall into a deep, walnut-induced food coma.

Overall, the California Walnut Harvest gave me a new perspective about the growth, harvesting, and processing of walnuts. It’s not every day that I get to see a food that I love go from the tree to the table. And, although I have written about the many health benefits of walnuts before, this tour reinforced how healthy these little nuts are and how incorporating them into any meal is possible and easy.

If you don’t know by now, walnuts are one of the best, if not the best, nuts in regard to nutritional value. Don’t believe me? Check out the California Walnut Commission to see the full details!

Trots to Chafing: How to Cope with Running Ailments

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Repetitive strenuous exercise can cause our bodies to retaliate in very unladylike ways. It’s true that strenuous exercise, including running, may lead to injury, but it can also cause a host of other minor health issues, that can sometimes stop you dead in your tracks. Here are just a few of the little problems runners face and how to prevent them.

Runner’s Trots: This is something that many runners experience at some point in time; however, you may never hear about it in regular conversations, especially among women. Why? Because it has to do with something that no one likes to discuss (except for mothers of newborns), diarrhea! Runner’s trots is essentially the uncontrollable urge (and then proceeding to do so) to go “number 2”. Yes, I admit, this happens to the best of runners, but there are a few ways to decrease your chances of developing this bowel spasm. Make sure you are well-hydrated before a long run, because dehydration has been known to irritate the problem. Also, if you’re prone to the trots, avoid heavy meals, fibrous foods, fruit, caffeine, sugary foods, and dairy before your run. They can all irritate the GI track and leave you searching for a port-o-potty mid-run.

Side Stitches: That sharp pain you feel in your abdominal area, just under your ribs, is the unmistakable side stitch! Although most often experienced in novice runners, even seasoned runners get stitches every now and again. According to Runner’s World, side stitches are typically caused by cramping of the diaphragm. To stop the stitch, you can either walk until the pain goes away or press your fingers into the stitch, then inhale/exhale forcefully, while continuing to run. I have done this MANY times and, more often than not, it works! To avoid stitches, remember to breath deeply from your stomach during your run and avoid heavy drinking/eating 30 minutes prior to your run.

Blisters: I’ve had my share of blisters over the years and they always seem to pop up (no pun intended) when I least expect them. Blisters are essentially trapped water in between your skin, caused by the friction of your feet rubbing against your socks/shoes. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that they can be painful, but they are not a reason to stop running. For most blisters, you can cover them with a large band-aid, blister plaster, moleskin, or even surgical tape. Also, this would be a good time to check your socks and shoes to see if it’s time for a new pair.

Chafing: Chafing, when the skin becomes red and irritated, happens when our clothes don’t fit properly, causing the clothes to rub the skin over and over – and not in a good way. Sweat can further irritate the area. Chafing most often happens around the bra-line area, inner thighs, and underarms. To prevent this, make sure you wear clean, properly fitted clothes (not too loose, not too tight), preferably of the dryfit kind. If you do experience chafing (and you will know when it starts to burn in the shower!), rub a small amount of petroleum jelly or other anti-chafe product on the irritated skin.

Black Toenails: These are the result of bruising and a blood blister forming under the toenail, typically caused by the toes forcefully and repeatedly being pushed up against your running shoes. Your toes may do this for many reasons – your shoes may be too tight, your nails may be too long, the seams of your socks may be irritating you toes, etc. If you do notice your toe becoming black, immediately assess you shoe/sock situation. You may actually have to move up a size in shoe to accommodate this new, but temporary ailment. As for treatment, black toenails look ugly but they don’t always hurt. Many times it will naturally fade or the nail will fall off on it’s own and grow back. However, if your blood blister does become sensitive or appears to be getting worse, check with a doctor who will likely drain the blister for you.

Urinary Incontinence: Although I never really suffered from consistent UI (except for a brief time while running during my pregnancy), I know it is a common problem among female runners. UI is usually caused by a weak pelvic floor and can cause you to leak urine while running. To help prevent UI, you can strengthen your pelvic floor by doing Kegel exercises (that’s right, they are not just for the bedroom!). It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeinated drinks before running and to go to the bathroom right before you leave the house.

No runner is immune to these health issues, just like no runner is immune to injury. The key is to prevent these sidelining mishaps before they start.

Happy and Healthy Running!

Vermont Soap Giveaway!

Vermont may be know for maple syrup and skiing, but it is also home to this organic soap company!

I recently received a box of homemade soap products courtesy of Vermont Soap Organics, the purveyors of everything soap – from cleaners to wash your counters to sultry body soaps for your shower and tub. If any of you follow my other site Bistro Chic, you know by now how much I love soap products, especially little guest soaps, so I just couldn’t pass up a sample or two. And, after doing some research about the product, reading about the ingredients and history, and more, I was smitten with the little soaps.

Like the name says, the products are made from all organic ingredients, handmade from hypoallergenic vegetable bases like coconut and palm oil. The facial and hand soaps are made to fit any skin type from sensitive to dry. Plus – and this is my favorite part – many of their soap products come in a number of scents, including lavender, citrus, butter, and honey. Ooh la la!

Vermont Soap Organics Giveaway!

Now, I have quite a selection of soaps on hand, too many for me to use – so I have a great idea! Why not give some away and let you try them!

One reader will receive a selection of soap products from Vermont Soap Organics, including:

  • Liquid Sunshine for cleaning
  • Lemongrass Zen foaming handsoap
  • Shea nut butter to soothe chapped lips
  • Little bar soaps

To enter, go to Bistro Chic and leave a comment on Bistro Chic telling me which Vermont Soap Organics scented soap intrigues you the most. Or, you can always Tweet or Retweet the Bistro Chic post!  You must enter the giveaway by 9 PM Eastern on Wednesday, October 13, 2010.

Good luck!