Worth the Run

(photo source)

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.

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.

Strong Abs, Better Running

(Photo source)

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!

How Running is Like Blogging

(Photo source)

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….

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!

5 Reasons To Eat Dark Chocolate Every Day

Dark Chocolate

(Photo source)

The health benefits of dark chocolate have been widely reported in the last few years. It has even been called a superfood due to its positive impact on a variety of health conditions. I rarely need an excuse to eat chocolate. But if you were looking for another reason to eat chocolate every day, here are five good ones!

5 Reasons to Eat Dark Chocolate Every Day

  1. Helps our Heart – Numerous studies have associated heart health with eating dark chocolate. Even recent studies have shown that the powerful antioxidants, flavanols, in dark chocolate can help prevent the activation of platelets in the blood, which contribute to heart disease. Other studies show that the antioxidants can even reverse some of the artery damage cause by smoking, although this is definitely not an incentive to keep smoking nor is it a good excuse to start.
  2. Makes You Smarter – Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids) is a major source of magnesium, a mineral essential for brain health, while it also helps prevent the plaque build-up that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, there is evidence that chocolate boosts memory, attention span, and increase our reaction time.
  3. Boosts Our Immune System – A 2009  study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that dark chocolate has immunity boosting power, possibly helping us fight off infection.
  4. Reduces Stress – Eating about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate every day may help to reduce your stress level, particularly those with moderate to high anxiety.
  5. Helps Us Live Longer – Finally, Harvard researchers found that people who ate chocolate lived an average of one year longer than those who did not, although the association was stronger in men than women.

Have a great night everyone – I’m off to eat some chocolate!

Top Foodie Towns in the US

Bon Appétit magazine has just named our nation’s top “Foodiest Towns” of 2010. To even be considered for this prestigious list, towns had to fit certain criteria including:

  • Small, fewer than 250,000 residents or a small town feel
  • Quality farmers’ markets
  • Concerned farmers
  • Dedicated food media
  • First-rate restaurants
  • Talented food artisans
  • Community of food lovers

With this strict criteria, standard top foodie cities, like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, didn’t make the cut. However, by keeping this criteria to smaller towns, you’ll see that some true gems were able to shine. So who made the cut?


Boulder, CO – Hands down, Boulder topped this list for many reasons. It is the home of innovative food companies, top-tier restaurants, and one of the best farmers’ markets in the country. Other runner-up cities included:


  1. McMinnville, OR
  2. Big Sur, CA
  3. Traverse City, MI
  4. Louisville, KY
  5. Ithaca, NY

Surprisingly, I have actually been to one of these small town foodie destinations – Traverse City. However, the last time I was there, at least 10 years ago, it was really just coming into its own as a foodie town.

What top foodie towns have you been to? What’s your favorite?

Yoga for Runners

yoga tree pose

(Photo source)

Although running is my main source of cardiovascular exercise, I also try to cross-train by practicing yoga one day a week. A runner cross training with yoga might sound like an odd practice, but the two exercises are actually quite complementary. But before I discuss the benefits of yoga for runners, let me first explain the benefits and challenges of running.

Benefits of Running – Running is an awesome exercise for weight loss because it burns major calories. It also provides the cardio exercise that your heart needs to stay healthy. Running also is considered a weight-bearing exercise, building muscles in your legs, glutes, arms, and back. Not to mention, running is very inexpensive, all you need is a pair of good running shoes and a path or street.

Challenges of Running– The downside to this is that running works the same muscle groups each time you run. So, unless you cross train, you don’t get much of a workout for these “off” muscles. This constant pounding with no change in exercise strategy may also make you more prone to injuries.

That is where yoga comes in.

Benefits of Yoga for Runners

  • Learn Better Breathing – Both exercises depend on very smooth and controlled breathing. Runners who can improve their VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen they consume during exercise) can ultimately improve their running performance. Yoga, when practiced correctly, also can help you increase your VO2 levels. So, if you’re still trying to find your breathing rhythm for running, yoga may help you find it. Likewise, if you’ve mastered breathing for running, then it should be an easy jump for you to adapt to yoga breathing.
  • Builds Your Core – Yoga is great for strengthening a runner’s core, the body’s foundation for all movement. Runners with a strong core, including abs and lower back, tend to run faster and harder than those with a weak core.
  • Works Opposite Muscles – According to Yoga Journal, a typical runner experiences too much pounding, tightening, and shortening of the muscles and not enough restorative, elongating, and loosening work. Without opposing movements, the body will compensate to avoid injury by working around the instability. Compensation puts stress on muscles, joints, and the entire skeletal system, and may eventually lead to injuries. Yoga strengthens your intrinsic muscle groups that support and strengthen the body’s skeletal system. It also provides a nice counter balance to a runner’s one-dimensional workouts.
  • Improves Flexibility – Most runners would agree that you don’t have to be flexible to be a good runner, but being flexible does not hurt running efforts, and it may even help. Runners who are flexible are often less prone to injury, recover more quickly from runs, and see improvements in overall strength and endurance. Yoga can be used to work opposite muscles groups but it can also increase  a runner’s flexibility, especially in the hips.
  • Provides a Break – When you’ve been running as long as I have, you can easily get burned out and even a little bored with running if you don’t change it up every so often.  As with any cross training activity, yoga gives you a physical and mental vacation from running and may give you the energy boost you need to continue with your running workout each week.

Namaste and Happy Running!

A Runner Is Born…

(Photo source)

As some of you know, I’ve been a runner for more than 20 years. For someone who is only in her 30s, that’s a pretty long time to be a runner. Colleagues, friends, family members, and even bloggers have asked me why and how I started running. Good question. Every runner has a story about how and why he/she started running – and this, my friends, is mine….

When I was a Freshman in high school, I played on the girls fast-pitch softball team. I was a pitcher, and a pretty good one too. At the beginning of the season, I was told that I would be moved up to varsity by the end of the year. At that point, I decided softball would be my life. Little did I know that my dream of becoming a major league women’s softball star would become derailed just as quickly as I could throw a pitch.

“You can swim…or you can run”

A few weeks after the start of the season, my throat began to hurt and I started running a high fever. My throat began to swell, so much that it was hard to swallow, and sometimes, even breath. I was extremely tired and felt weak all over. After a trip to the doctor, I learned that I had mononucleosis, the kissing disease, as it was so lovingly called in my school (I swear I contracted it from the softball water bottles!) I was told by the doctor that I could not play softball or any contact sports for the rest of the year because of the risk they posed to my enlarged spleen. Fearing I would gain weight and be out of shape for next softball season, I asked the doctor what I could do to stay in shape. He replied, “You can swim…or you can run.”

When Life Hands You Lemons…

Not being much of a swimmer, I contemplated running. I never really gave it much thought before that day. However, I always ran faster and farther than the other girls on my softball team during our mile warm-up lap around the school. In the next few days, I was approached by the girls’ track coach, who just happened to be the former coach of the national women’s cross country team. He had heard about my softball situation and suggested I join the track team (apparently, he had seen me run during softball practice). So, running it was.

Just like softball a few months before, running quickly became my life. For four years, I ran on the track and cross country teams. During this time, I learned a great deal about running. My coach and the seasoned runners on the team taught me about warm ups, cool downs, running form, pacing, interval running, proper stretching….and about racing.

Convincing Myself…

Despite this new-found love for running, I didn’t call myself a runner nor did I think I was any good at it. Although others may have seen me as a runner, I was constantly trying to prove (to myself) that I was a runner. Throughout college, I did strenuous running drills, because I thought that’s what real runners did. I entered road races, because I thought that’s what real runners did. I didn’t win the races, but often finished in the middle of the pack or even at the end. Yet somehow, just being involved in racing made me qualify as a runner, or so I thought.

On Being a Runner…

Fast-forward 20 years. After many years of running and many races under my belt, I now know that it’s not winning or even racing that makes you a runner. It’s about the commitment to running and the enjoyment and benefit you receive from running. But most of all, it’s about the desire to run.

If I were asked today, how do you know you’re a runner? I would reply – You will know when you’re a runner because you will run even when there is no race, no finish line, and no fans.

Yes, I am definitely a runner.

As I said, everyone has a story about how he/she starting running, biking, doing yoga, etc. So, what’s your story?