A Blog By Any Other Name

My early summer trip to North Carolina was memorable for a whole bunch of reasons: seven friends, free flowing wine, and a photo shoot to capture the perfect shot ahead of L, C and my triple birthday party this November. You’ll never guess how old we’re turning.

You'll also never guess how many takes it took to get this right.

You’ll also never guess how many takes it took to get this right.

But of all the lovely moments that I’ll remember about my Memorial Day trip, one in particular has stuck with me: a beach-side conversation with one friend about the changes we could make in our lives to be really, truly happy.

Now don’t get me wrong: we’re both happy. We’re both with wonderful men in exciting cities with loving families, successful careers, and — after that sun-soaked conversation — killer tans. But as good as things are, there are always steps we can take to get even closer to our dream life, and as she and I sat on the beach, we challenged each other:

What steps could you take right this instant to get closer to your definition of happy?

It was an interesting exercise, since most of my goals aren’t the kinds of things I can put into motion at the drop of a hat. Get a dog? Not unless my hours change. Summer in Maine? Not unless I inherit a large sum of money. Capture the perfect goldendoodle selfie? Not until this floozy niece of mine stops smooching everyone in sight.

Coming in for the kill.

Coming in for the kill.

As we sat there discussing our goals, one stood out that felt more within my reach: find a way to take my blog a little bit more seriously.

Now I don’t mean more seriously like fewer dog photos or Star Wars jokes.

"Oh no! Those WERE the droids we were looking for!"

“Oh no! Those WERE the droids we were looking for!”

I mean taking my blog more seriously by trying to actually get it out there. Other bloggers I know are active on twitter, go to blogger conferences, attend sponsored events, review new workout products and pitch stories to national fitness magazines to grow their exposure. What do I do? I post to wordpress and facebook, and then go MIA for two weeks at a time because marathon training and, you know, writing for a paid living, push blogging to the back burner.

To be honest, I don’t know how much more time I could realistically carve out for this extracurricular passion of mine at this point in my life. But there is one thing I can do right this second to get closer to that end goal: I can finally buy http://www.rileduprunner.com.

So I did. For $26 a year — or about the cost of a late-night cab ride from the East Village to my apartment — I have bought a grown-up domain name to replace the much longer auto-generated wordpress one that I’ve used since I started this blog in 2012.

Was buying a domain name a giant leap forward toward my happiness-project goals? No, not really. But the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Also, with a small town girl living in a lonely world. #journeyjokes

What change could you make to your life today to get your closer to your goals?

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Saving My Own Skin

Running as a pastime has made me comfortable in my own skin. Unfortunately, my skin itself may not be so comfortable with running.

Although running has done excellent things for my overall complexion — from fewer breakouts to better blood flow to decreased signs of aging — all that extra time spent outdoors has one major consequence: it significantly ups my risk for melanoma.

I don’t usually discuss serious subjects on this blog like skin disease or the looming avocado shortage, but considering this is a health and fitness blog, I should probably address the ways in which my fitness could be damaging my health. Also, I just visited the no-compromise-about-it Angela Merkel of dermatology, and she scared the living daylights out of me. (“Nein! Do not use the vord daylights vithout vearing a hat!”)

When I visited her office for the first time last week, she took one glance at my skin and knew I was a runner. Even though I mostly run at 6 a.m. before the sun is at full blast and spend most of my time lapping the partially shaded reservoir, the hours I spend hitting the pavement are apparent, she said. And then she dropped the C word (“cancer,” come on, guys) and warned me my risk was elevated. Fortunately, no suspicious moles or markings this trip, but the Chancellor certainly got my attention.

Some of her recommendations seemed over the top — run in long sleeves, buy a hat that covers the back of my neck, look like a total nerd on the race course — but her message certainly hit home. Prone to overheating, I usually run in as little clothing as I can, and I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally slathered on sunscreen before a race. So I did what any modern woman would do: I went to Amazon, and I went wild.

I started by buying myself a running hat, and then (to my boyfriend’s humiliation) a sweet visor. Then I purchased some running sunglasses, a two-pack of good sunscreen and a summer fedora for gallivanting around town. Sure, hats are for hipsters, but they are also for the health-conscious, and it was high time I stopped borrowing Ben’s. (Just kidding, Ben, I’ll never stop. P.S. Can I borrow your superior fedora Saturday? K thanks love you bye.)

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My haul. I think the sunglasses like wearing the hat.

Will this newfound appreciation for skincare make a difference going forward and undo some of the damage I’ve done? I guess time will tell. But at least when it comes to proper sun protection, I can finally say I’ve got some skin in the game.

How do you protect your skin while training for a marathon?

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Celery-brate Good Times

I spent the first several years of my adult life largely avoiding the vegetable aisle, and not just because I had an innate fear of Jim Henson’s singing produce.

Source: http://blogs.disney.com/ and my nightmares

Source: http://blogs.disney.com/ and my nightmares

Raised in a typical American household of the late 80s and early 90s, my earliest memories of vegetables were microwaved broccoli florets, steamed lima beans and frozen peas – nutritional powerhouses, no doubt, but not the kind of introduction to plant-based sustenance that kindles a passion. Sure, I relished helping my mom grow a backyard garden each summer and loved a buttery ear of corn as much as the next kid, but it’s no surprise that one of my earliest memories involved sneaking away from the kitchen table to spit out a mouthful of dilled-carrots that my four-year-old self simply wasn’t having.

Throughout childhood, I mostly filled my five-a-day fruit and vegetable quota with fruits, and that general apathy toward the green stuff continued into college. Every evening at the dining hall, I’d build a side salad to accompany my carby-cheesy entre, but I’d rarely do more than pick the croutons (read: goldfish) off the top before retiring to the sundae bar. The trend continued during my early years as a New Yorker, where stir-fried eggplant from my favorite the Chinese take-out spot was the only crop to make it past my lips. Well, that and the garnishes to my bloody marys. What? It was an indulgent time.

I spent about 23 years of my life actively evading vegetables. And then, one day, that all changed, and I know exactly the dish that changed it for me: a plate of roasted Brussels sprouts prepared by my favorite cousin for a meeting of our book club at my first New York apartment. The preparation was simple — the sprouts were quartered, tossed with olive oil and sea salt, and baked until crisp in a high-temperature oven – but the outcome was sheer decadence. That momentous Monday I realized vegetables could be delicious, and thankfully, I’ve never looked back.

In the years since, my appreciation of vegetables and the sheer diversity of flavors they offer has grown and grown. As a first step, I started shopping the outside aisles at the grocery store. Two summers later, I enrolled in a CSA to get delivered farm-fresh vegetables twice a month. Today, Ben and I grow herbs and tomatoes in our very own outdoor mini-garden. And of course, I still order 38-ounce bloody marys. You know, for the antioxidants.

My brother knows what's up.

My brother knows what’s up.

But of all the ways I’ve found to bring fresh vegetables into my life, my favorite is still the original: the farmers’ market.

If you live in New York City, the odds are good you have a Greenmarket within 10 blocks of your apartment at least one day a week. The odds are also good that you should be buying pretty much all of your produce here, rather than at the grocery store.

Why, you ask? First and foremost, farmers’ markets only sell seasonal food that was likely harvested within the last 24 hours, meaning whatever you take home will be higher in nutrients and in flavor than grocery store items that have been in transit for days. Likewise, less travel time means a lower carbon footprint, plus if you have questions about how something was cultivated, you can ask the farmer right on the spot. In my experience, farmers’ market vegetables are less expensive, and since the carrots and beets often come with the tops still on, you basically get two vegetables for the price of one. Most importantly, farmers’ markets make for amazing Instagram photos.

photo 1 (76)

Hashtag blessed.

Today,  I arrived at my neighborhood market with $18 in Sacagaweas (thanks, gatorade vending machine, for making the second half of my nine-mile run today much heavier by only dispensing solid metal change) and left with two giant bunches of beets, tri-colored carrots, a giant zucchini, four ears of corn and a loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread, because, come on, I’m human.

That list of vegetables didn’t get your mouth a’watering, you say? What if I show you what I made with them?

The beets I sliced thin on a mandolin, tossed with oil and sea salt, and roasted in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes to make beet chips.

photo 4 (47)

The zucchini I grated and mixed with a half cup whole wheat flour, half a red onion, an egg, 2 tsp baking powder, a half cup shredded Parmesan, red pepper flakes and salt/pepper, then pan fried and ate with greek yogurt and a squirt of lemon. It was adapted from this Food & Wine recipe, except the brilliant addition of cheese was all my idea.

photo 3 (64)

The carrots I roasted with olive oil and sea salt until browned, then tossed with pesto made out of the carrot tops themselves. Doesn’t look like much, but this is probably the tastiest thing I’ve ever created.

photo 1 (77)

It’s not yet dinner time, and I’ve already consumed two pounds of zucchini, four beets, and a cup of carrots — quantities of vegetables that would have seemed comical to my earlier self. Come to think of it, I’ve even so many vegetables today, I forgot to have any fruit. Ah well. There’s always dessert.

What creative and delicious ways have you worked more vegetables into your diet?

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The Final Word

I’m an editor by trade, so I spend a lot of time thinking about word choice.

In my professional life, the word I’ve been thinking the most about is but.

(No, not butts, but ask me again after I see Magic Mike XXL this weekend. What up, homonym joke!)

Somewhere along my career development, the word “but” started slipping into more and more of my conversations and e-mails, and I know why — because it seems like a way to soften bad news with a sympathetic acknowledgement that it’s not what they wanted to hear. “I know you needed this by today, but it’s unfortunately not going to be ready.” “This is a good start, but you need to do some more work.” “I respect you having your own style, but we wear pants in the workplace.”

(Unless you’re Channing Tatum in the aforementioned highly anticipated movie sequel, in which case, proceed.)

I had thought my use of the word was doing everyone a favor, until a colleague in a leadership training class suggested something that had never before crossed my mind: Try replacing “but” with “and” to make statements more direct and positive.

It sounded crazy. But I decided to give it a try the next time I went to write an e-mail, and sure thing, once I got over the initial hesitation, it made so much sense.

“It’s clear you put a lot of work into this story, but let’s work on it some more” vs. “It’s clear you put a lot of work into this story, and let’s work on it some more” is like night and day when it comes out of your boss’s mouth. I may not catch myself 100% of the time, but and when I do, I know it’s worthwhile.

Why am I sharing this professional anecdote on my running blog, you ask? Because now that I’ve explained the power of word choice, I want to alert all my athlete friends to another word I’d like worked out of our communal fitness lexicon:

Should.

Why should “should” be banned? Let me use it in a sentence for you:

“I can’t hang out tonight. I should go for a run.”

Also bad: “have to,” “got to,” and “man cave.” That last one has nothing to do with running; I just hate it.

That sentence — variations of which I say on a near daily basis — implies that working out is a chore. And sure, some days it feels like it, but for the most part, I train for marathons because I LIKE training for marathons. There’s nothing “should” about it.

That fact became particularly clear to me this past weekend when I ran the 2015 Achilles Hope and Possibility 5-miler in Central Park. This race, sponsored by amazing non-profit Achilles International, is a chance for athletes with disabilities to race alongside able-bodied athletes in a celebration of the sport. When I lined up Sunday, I was surrounded by all sorts of athletes: amputees wearing Pistorius-style racing blades, wheelchair participants, autistic teenagers, blind runners with guides. Normally as I jostle my way through a crowded field, I find myself overcome with rage as other entrants block my way, but on Sunday, I found myself overcome instead with pride watching so many different athletes of different abilities come out on a drizzling, gray morning to run.

photo 2

As I logged mile after mile with these extraordinary athletes, it became increasingly clear to me that my go-to word choice is all wrong. It’s not that I’m going for a run tonight because I SHOULD. I’m going for a run tonight because I want to. More than that, I’m going for a run tonight because I can.

So next time I turn down plans for a workout, I’m going to try to get my lexicon in check. No more “I can’t hang out tonight. I should go for a run.” Here on out, expect to hear these just-so-slightly different words out of mouth:

“I can’t hang out tonight. I get to go for a run.”

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

photo 1

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Six Days a Week

A lot of good things come in sixes: players on a hockey team, muffins in a muffin tin, geese-a-laying, beer. Six is the motivation behind everyone’s ab workout, the number of good Star Wars films once December rolls around and the roll in obscure 1980s board game Race to the Roof that lets you pull an object card and potentially take home the gold.

I hope it's the top hat! Alternate caption: my friends and I are really cool on vacation.

“I hope it’s the top hat!” Alternate caption: my friends and I are really cool on vacation.

One area the number six shouldn’t have a place? The number of running workouts I do a week. Or in other words, my marathon training plan currently has me running a whopping six out of seven days a week, and, my god, I’m. So. Tired.

I’m a runner (clearly, welcome to this blog), so I know my training schedules are going to have me, well, running quite a bit. But given the choice, I prefer schedules with a more reasonable 4-5 days of required running a week. Fewer days pounding the pavement means more time for other cross training activities, like yoga and stretching and sleep, plus it makes every morning jog feel like a gift, rather than a chore.

Which is why my signing myself up to follow Hal Higdon’s “personal best” marathon training plan for the fall 2015 racing season may have been a foolish idea. And by may have been, I mean was definitely a foolish idea. Because I still have 18 weeks of training ahead of me, and I never want to see my Asics again.

According to my pal Hal, the plan was intended for experienced runners who have completed two or three marathons and would like to PR. He was practically pointing at me. The schedule is actually a combination of his 12-week Intermediate Spring Training Program with his 18-week Intermediate 1 Marathon Training Program, meaning the first half is intended to get runners in speedy, light racing shape with hill workouts and interval training, while the second half builds the necessary mileage to complete a grueling 26.2. I didn’t even do the first six or seven weeks since I only started this after the Brooklyn Half, and even these past five weeks of six-day-a-week runs have taken their toll.

How so, you ask? Well, yesterday I only did 4 miles instead of the scheduled 6. And today I’m planning on doing the unthinkable: I’m planning to skip my scheduled run altogether. Usually, I don’t lose my drive like that until tapering, or at least until the day after I eat a really big meal.

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Nom nom nom.

At six days a week, I’m about ready to 86 running altogether. Luckily, this upcoming Monday is going to bring a welcome reprieve: the start of Part 2 of the training plan, which replaces my Monday run with a day of cross training. I’m hoping that by scaling down to five runs a week, plus taking off a few buffer days off in the interim, will be just the kickstart I need to get excited about training again.

That, or the next 18 weeks will be torture. Here’s hoping for the former.

How do you keep motivated when you’ve — quite literally, to quote Chris Traeger — run out of motivation?

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Strength in Numbers

Tomorrow I’m going to arrive for my second monthly biometric weigh-in, and the results are not going to be pretty.

I realize that statement opens the door to all kinds of follow-up questions. What’s a biometric weigh-in? It’s a chance for me to stand on a body-fat scale and learn if I’ve built any muscle over the past four weeks. Why do it? Because after reading Matt Fitzgerald’s book Racing Weight, I realized I wasn’t going to get any faster until I upped my muscle content. Who performs it? The free nutrition coach at my office, which, let’s be honest, is a cool perk. Who’s my favorite ninja turtle? I’m embarrassed you had to ask.

For years, I didn’t give a darn about fancy things like BMI and muscle mass and Donatello, assuming that because I ran upwards of 40 miles a week in training for an annual marathon that I surely boasted a healthy body composition. But after I read Racing Weight, I decided to make sure. I made an appointment with my local nutritionist, stood on her shiny scale, and learned the disheartening truth: I have the muscle composition of a 47 year old woman.

Also, the celebrity crushes of a 47 year old woman. Thank you, Joe Biden.

I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t bulky muscle weigh a runner down? It could if you look like the former California Governor, but for most runners, a little lean muscle goes a long way toward injury prevention and higher metabolism and proper alignment and street cred with a West Side Story snap gang.

With that knowledge, I approached the circuit of strength exercises my nutritionist gave me with the ultimate vigor. I did squats. I did lunges. I did alternating superman, or as I preferred to call it, the Christopher Reeve/Dean Cain. And I felt sore and tired and awesome, and vowed to keep it up three days a week between now and the marathon.

I then I went on vacation. And oh man, when I go on vacation, I do it right.

I went to North Carolina and drank all the wine on the Eastern Seaboard.
wine

And chased it with seafood doused in butter by the pound.
shrimp

Then I went to a wedding where the main course was pig.
meat

And there ate several slices of a real, authentic “cheese cake.” They were just blocks of cheese in a pile. I fell in love.
cheese

With that kind of month in my recent history, I can’t imagine there’s anyway I could step on that scale leaner and stronger tomorrow than I was a month ago. There’s no way around it: the numbers are not going to be pretty.

Fortunately, my last four weeks were pretty pretty themselves.

food

Do you work strength training into your running routine? How about cheese cakes?

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Recipe for Success?

When it comes to cooking, I’m what one might call resourceful.

Resourceful, or forged in the Depression era. You pick.

Raised in a family in which the only thing worse than wasting food was running out to the store to purchase a single item, I internalized young the idea that you cook with what you have on hand. Even in my tiny New York City kitchen, I keep enough pantry staples on hand — canned goods, pasta, frozen veggies, wine — that I can always whip together something nutritious and palatable without making a grocery run.

To put it another way, I half-marathon PRed this spring, toasted my Pulitzer Prize winning colleague, and watched my little brother commit to the woman of his dreams, and my proudest moment of the year was probably the time I opened a barren fridge to find a head of cabbage, two eggs, and leftover Indian food — and managed to make the best fried rice of my life.

With ingenuity and frugality the crux of my cooking philosophy, I was as surprised as you when I signed up last week to receive my first ever Blue Apron delivery.

For those of you not familiar with Blue Apron, it’s a subscription-based delivery service where fresh ingredients in the perfect pre-measured proportions arrive at your door with step-by-step instructions for putting the meals together. Unlike take-out Chinese, you still do all the chopping and sautéing, but unlike traditional meal prep, you don’t do any of the grocery shopping — or even recipe selection — yourself.

In a lot of ways, Blue Apron isn’t my style. But considering a friend sent me a three-meal free-trial box free (a $60 value — thanks, Nina!), and considering wasting free food is the cardinal sin of my childhood home, I signed up.

Hello, beautiful.

Hello, beautiful.

My box arrived a week ago tonight, and in it were the makings of three dinners for two. I knew what I was getting before it arrived — you have the option of declining a week of delivery if the meals don’t excite you — and I knew these three recipes looked right up my alley. Here are links to the three meals I made, plus really unappealing photos taken in bad light with my iphone. You’re welcome.

Curry-Spiced Chicken Thighs with Sugar Snap Peas & Fingerling Potatoes (recipe)
photo 5 (26)

Chicago-Style Italian Beef Sandwiches with Roasted Vegetables & Giardiniera (recipe)photo 2 (72)

Seared Salmon with Sorrel Salad & Creamy Barley (recipe)
photo 4 (46)

Now that I’ve prepped, cooked and consumed all three meals, here’s what I see as the major pros and cons:

PRO: They deliver the ingredients right to your apartment building.

CON: They don’t deliver the ingredients all the way up to your fifth floor walkup.

PRO: They send exactly the right amount of everything you need for two meals, meaning you don’t buy a whole jar of some obscure spice you’re never going to use again.

CON: They send exactly the right amount of everything you need for two meals, meaning there are no leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

PRO: Their recipes are full of fresh, seasonal ingredients, purportedly making for healthy end-of-day fare.

CON: With the excessive use of olive oil and butter, some of their recipes run more than 700 calories a pop.

PRO: Salmon fried in butter is, to be fair, delicious.

PRO: Salmon fried in butter is, to be fair, delicious.

So what did I think? The jury’s still out. If you don’t like grocery shopping or recipe selection, want to try new recipes you might not otherwise, or really like following orders, Blue Apron is undoubtedly for you. If you want more flexibility to cook what you want to cook when you want to cook it, it probably isn’t. Or if you’re somewhere in the middle, you can do what I did: start with their ingredients, and make some minor additions to use up other items already in my fridge.

What? It’s a habit. You know you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The flower girl.

The flower girl begs to disagree.

Have you tried Blue Apron, Plated or any of the other ingredient delivery services? What did you think?

Posted in Food, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments