20/18 Vision

Alright folks, it’s time to talk about New Year’s Resolutions!

But wait — you may be asking yourself — isn’t it a little late to be setting 2018 goals? I mean, the presents have been opened, the tree’s been untrimmed and the bearded man in red came and went.

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(and he brought belly rubs for all bears on the nice list.)

True statements, all of them, but formally setting my intentions for the new year after January’s already in full swing brings one key benefit: I already know after two weeks of testing if they’ve stuck.

That’s right: I actually set my resolutions on Jan. 1 like the rest of the world, somewhere between waking up semi-hungover and binge-watching the entire season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — which, let’s be honest, everyone should stream this three day weekend. (Except people working MLK Day at the inconveniently timed Detroit auto show, but I digress.)

People set absurdly unattainable goals all the time and then are disappointed when they don’t work out, so I opted instead to give mine a trial run during January’s first half before sharing them with the world. And since these survived all the way to Epiphany and then some, I now have more faith in my ability to keep them.

So what am I doing in 2018? Nothing as dramatic as my past resolution successes, like losing 30 pounds or running my first marathon or starting this blog. Instead, I’m targeting incremental tweaks that I’m hoping can have an outsized impact with fairly little legwork.

1. Strength training just enough not to get injured. I’ve set muscle-building resolutions before, and they’re hard to stick with 1. without a personal trainer to hold me accountable and 2. because strength training stinks. So this year, I’m trying something lower key — I resolve to do one set of each one of these Bart Yasso-recommended runner-strengthening moves every week. I’ve subbed out a few of them for more me-appropriate exercises (i.e. swapping in hip-strengthening clamshells for totally-impossible pull ups), but so far, so good. By squeezing in squats in empty elevators and doing bridges during Jeopardy, I’m finding little ways to fit in the moves that should make me a more well-rounded runner.

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From Runner’s World magazine aka the bible.

2. Eating cleaner, sometimes. Full disclosure: I just ate three slices of pizza dipped in Hidden Valley ranch for lunch, so I think we can all agree moderation has its limits. But for the most part, I’m trying to double down on last year’s good habits with even more smart choices this year, from more fruits and vegetables to less processed meat and white grains. I’m not planning on cutting out anything completely, like alcohol or chocolate, but hopefully by targeting more healthy choices, I’ll be able to keep my weight in check and my running well-fueled in the new year.

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Taste the rainbow.

3. Brushing my teeth for the entire two-minute electric toothbrush cycle even though it’s so long and boring I could die. This resolution is reminiscent of my 2011 goal to start flossing (and also to run a marathon.) This resolution is the hardest one on my list by far, and I’ve already thrown in the towel several times mid-clean. To try to get through the full cycle, I resolve to do more tree-poses and calf raises and other things from resolution #1 while trudging through resolution #3.

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“My teeths is so cleanz and you’s can, too!”

There are several other things I want to do this year — visit my brother in Hawaii, throw an epic bachelorette weekend in LA, maaaaaybe revisit the marathon distance — but I think three goals is plenty sufficient. Well, maybe just one more:

4. Get an excellent haircut.

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And here you thought Keira had been replaced as RiledUpRunner ambassador!

What are you resolving for the new(ish) year?

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Excuse Me: I’m Streaking Here

I’ve googled A WHOLE LOT of things this year, from presidential lines of succession to alpha-dog behaviors to whether a human and bear can ever truly be friends (spoiler alert: they can’t.)

But the thing I’ve surely asked the internet most often this year is a telling sign of my often-wavering commitment to fitness: “Should I go for a run today?”

If you saw my internet browsing history, you’d think I’m always looking for an excuse to get out of my morning workout. (You’d also think I have an unhealthy level of curiosity about Bernedoodles, and you’d be right.)

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This is the world’s most adorable equation.

Seriously though. When I wake up with a sore throat, I immediately consult the internet for validation it’s OK to stay in bed. When the temperature falls below 15 degrees, I always ask Jeeves if it’s safer to just take the morning off. When I feel the beginning of shin splints, I confirm online it’s cool to lay low for as many days as needed. I’m always asking if I should go for a run today, and I can usually find a credible excuse to bag it.

That is, until I started my holiday running streak. (Read more about that here.) By committing to run every single day between Thanksgiving and Christmas — no excuses — I suddenly transformed my constant refrain from the wavering “Should I go for a run today?” to a new, happier mantra: “When should I go for a run today?

Amazing how just a single word can transform a sentence.

[Kind of like: “My childhood bedroom featured an original Michelangelo” is just a tad different than “My childhood bedroom featured an original Michelangelo … turtle.” No less valuable though, I assure you. But I digress.]

Changing my mindset from “will I run” to “when will I run” these last few weeks has been an eye opener. When I know skipping isn’t on the table, working out suddenly feels more like a gift and less like a chore. It also means I’ve had to get creative: logging treadmill miles when it’s freezing or doing hill sprints in the light of my husband’s headlights at night or jogging in place in the living room during a snow storm while watching the hands-down very-best episode of Boy Meets World ever.

More of my runs during this streak have been 1-milers instead of the 3-5 milers I’d been hoping for, but I haven’t thrown in the towel — even with shin splits, holiday hangovers and a Bernese who’d rather snuggle than go for a jog.

Funny how finding time to run isn’t so hard when not finding it isn’t an option. Funny, too, how our dog thinks she weighs 12 pounds.

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I’m a lap dog, seriously.

Here’s to my final streak week! Who’s also still going strong?

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Streaking in a Winter Wonderland

As the excruciatingly painful Frozen “short” being forced upon innocent movie-goers before Pixar’s lovely feature film Coco tells us, it’s the time of year for traditions.

Whether your family’s traditions involve eating fruitcake or baking cookies or pounding tallboys at the Hanson brothers’ Christmas concert, this season unfortunately goes hand-in-hand with another holiday tradition I just can’t shake: holiday weight gain.

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(Also, loving Taylor Hanson. I’ll wait for you. Don’t tell Ben.)

The New York Times said it best in this poignant October 2016 article entitled “This Is Probably the Least You’ll Weigh All Year. Sorry.” The gist: U.S. adults’ weights tend to bottom out in in mid-autumn before peaking around New Years. It takes until April for most Americans to erase their extra holiday pounds.

“Instead of trying to come up with a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, it’s a whole lot better to maybe have an Oct. 1 resolution to gain less in the first place,” said one expert quoted in the story who clearly majored in obvious but difficult-to-pull-off observations in grad school.

I’ll be the first to admit it: keeping slim during the holidays is extremely difficult. From candy canes and spritz cookies to buttered rum and eggnog, the temptations are everywhere. Just look at the massively delicious pies served (and quickly polished off) at my Thanksgiving dinner of seven!

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My sister-in-law makes better dessert that your sister-in-law.

Some healthy eating blogs will tell you the only way to avoid December weight creep is to avoid holiday temptations altogether. “Don’t drink liquid calories at holiday parties,” they say. “Bring your own crudité plate to ensure there’s something healthy you can eat.” “Fill up on protein before walking by the dessert table.”

That’s probably good advice, and if you have the willpower to follow it, by all means, proceed. But if you’re like me and you actually WANT to indulge in some holiday treats without feeling guilty about it (and without needing maternity pants), might I propose another solution.

Instead of eating less this holiday season, why not just commit to exercising more? Weight = calories in – calories out, and while science shows it’s a little more complex than that, moving more to counteract eating more is a pretty good rule of thumb.

There are plenty of ways to pull it off. Maybe you park at the far end of the parking lot when Christmas shopping. Maybe you start a game up pick-up football with your fam. Maybe you go ice-skating, snow-shoeing, tobogganing or take your winter-loving friend for a cold-weather hike.

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Follow the leader.

Or if you’re a runner like me, maybe you commit to a holiday running streak. That’s what I’m doing this year — running every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, no excuses. I’ve streaked before, and while it can be tough to lace up on dark winter mornings, knowing backing out isn’t an option is a strangely strong motivator.

Now everyone’s personal streaking rules are different, and in my case, even a mile-a-day cuts it — and I’ve already done the bare minimum a third of the days. But even then, I’m averaging almost 5K a day, which is enough exercise to counteract about 2.4 pounds a month of holiday weight gain.

Of course, it’s very likely I’ll put on more than that, but luckily the New York Times said I have ’til April to burn it off.

How are you keeping your pants fitting this holiday season?

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Thank You Kindly

As is my tradition post-turkey coma, I spent the Thanksgiving weekend thinking about all the things I’m grateful for.

  • I’m thankful for my family and friends’ good health.
  • I’m thankful for a loving first year of marriage.
  • I’m thankful shy little Lucille has finally started to express herself freely.

Despite the divided political climate, the deteriorating environment and the proliferation of sexual assault across every industry known to man, there are somehow still lots of things to be grateful for this holiday season, from royal engagements to a new Star Wars installment to Fiona-the-hippo’s remarkable recovery. And let’s not forget how thankful I am for little lap dogs so tiny they could fit in your handbag.

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Use a magnifying glass and you might just see her.

I’m thankful each time I get a seat on the subway and whenever a lox bagel lands in my hands, but as an athlete, there’s one thing that makes me feel particularly grateful: cars that give runners a wide berth when they pass you on the shoulder. You, my dear conscientious drivers, are the real heroes this holiday season.

This may not sound like a big deal to you non-runners, but I truly mean it: drivers who slow way, way down and give ample space when passing a jogger on the side of the road make all the difference between a fun, carefree run and a harrowing one. I clock nearly half my miles in the sidewalk-free Hudson Valley, and I cannot count the number of times a sedan or pickup hugging the shoulder has nearly run me off the country road. I don’t know if they’re texting or distracted or just vehemently anti-exercise, but zooming past a human at 45 miles per hour with less than two feet of wiggle room is terrifying indeed.

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If you think running on this shoulder is scary, check out that sky!

If you have a runner in your life, I’m sure they want their stockings stuffed with all the normal things this coming Christmas: body glide, reflective sports gear, peanut-butter in all shapes and sizes. But believe you me, they also want another gift that everyone can give: slowing the heck down as you take those turns. Deck the halls, not the shoulders!

Ho ho ho!

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Shoe In

I’ve just done something so unlike me I’ll probably end up on some kind of FBI watch list.

  • No, I didn’t eat a head of celery.
  • No, I didn’t adopt a cat.
  • No, I didn’t give Lucille the night off on Halloween.

I did something far more out of character: I packed for a weekend away and left my running shoes behind.

For the past six years, my Asics and I have been virtually inseparable. I’ve brought pairs everywhere, from Hong Kong and Mongolia to Australia and Greece, and no matter the time zone, I’d always find time to squeeze out a few on-the-road miles.

I love running while traveling, since it’s a great way to learn a new city and burn off the croissant weight that every red-eye inevitably brings. But I also know the power of rest, and this weekend during a quick trip to London, I’m granting myself that rare gift.

To be fair, I assume “rest” in this case really means a lot of pints and some late night pies, not actually putting my tired legs up and relaxing, but I’ll take what I can get.

Good luck, New York marathoners! Will be toasting you across the pond.

London, England: here we come!

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Choose Your Battles

I tend to have a pretty low bar when signing up for road races. Sure, I’ll consider the crucial things, like whether I can actually run that distance or if I’m physically out of town. But mostly I’ll register for anything that crosses my path, especially if 1. The swag is good (see this weekend’s upcoming 5K) or 2. My running coach demands it.

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A little more petting, a little less stretching, please.

So when I first learned about the Fall Foliage Half Marathon in Rhinebeck that took place this past Sunday, the only race research I did was checking my calendar. Even though I wasn’t in half marathon shape when I signed up in May, I figured I could get there by October, so I filled in my info, forked over $75 and started the slow but rewarding process of remembering how to run. I trained all summer, then made my way upstate this weekend for what I assumed would be a walk in the park, considering I’d successfully run 12 half marathons before.

Turns out, I should have done a little more research.

Although this race was ultimately a success for me — I didn’t turn back at mile 3 in tears like I was very, very tempted to do — Sunday’s event was really tough, and it’s mostly my own fault: I didn’t pick the right half marathon for me. Choosing a race simply based on whether it’s close by and the calendar’s free neglects all the other important factors that can help you decide if a specific event is right — or wrong — for your individual needs.

Here are some race factors I wish I’d considered before picking the Fall Foliage Half as my flagship fall race:

  • Start Time. Nearly every race I’ve ever done (save for some NYC marathon waves because 50,000 is a lot of people) starts at the normal hour of 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. or mayyybe 9 a.m. That timing works for me because it’s the same time I do my own training runs, meaning I’ve already figured out what to eat, what to drink and how many port-a-pot trips I need to start the race feeling my very best. I hadn’t realized it when I signed up, but Sunday’s race began at 10 a.m. to allow time for NYC or Albany runners to get into town. While some runners might have appreciated sleeping in, the late start time threw me way off. I didn’t know whether to drink coffee or eat a full meal, or whether my Saturday carbs were still enough to power me through. Even worse: finishing a half marathon under the powerful noon sun is not fun.
  • Course elevation. A race along the Hudson River certainly sounds flat, but my god, this half was anything but. The rolling hills of the first few miles I could manage, but the mountainous out-and-back into a ravine was positively soul crushing, and had I known it would be so hilly, I might have passed on this particular event. I spend a decent amount of time running the Queensboro Bridge, so I thought I was hill-primed, but I was wrong and Sunday’s road did NOT rise up to meet me like all those Irish blessings promised.
  • Spectator Density. I pretend I run races for the BLTs I get to eat afterwards, but it’s really waving at strangers and high-fiving little kids that powers me through. The 2015 NYC marathon left me clutching my side in tears on the race course, but believe you me I’ll never forget the roar of the crowd. I know this about myself — I like races where people come out to watch — so signing up for a small race in a small town probably wasn’t the right move for me. Fortunately, my family knows me well and they were camped out at mile 2.5 with blasting music and a “You Run Better Than the Government” billboard. Flying past then was rejuvenating, but it made for a very lonely rest of the course.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad race — the foliage was lovely, the fellow runners were nice, the course wasn’t packed and the BLT was delicious at the end — and I managed to eke out another sub-two hour time despite some tough middle miles there. But I still struggled Sunday, and let that be a reminder to all of us: when it comes to choosing races, you do you.

Me?

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Oh, Farro Farro

Nearly everything these days makes me feel positively ancient:

  • Re-listening to Rent and siding with Benny.
  • The unfair degree of hangover now induced by two glasses of wine.
  • Spotify putting the Dawson’s Creek theme song on a Good Times, Great Oldies playlist.
  • Realizing some of my co-workers are literally 30 years younger than me.
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But how are her benefits?

But while I wish “ancient” weren’t the right adjective to describe my taste in boy bands (BSB4Life) or my understanding of Snapchat (Is it a snap? Is it a chat?), I don’t mind it when it’s paired with my all-time favorite food group: grains.

That’s right, folks. Today, we’re talking about ancient grains.

Ancient grains seem to be the hot new thing for clean eaters everywhere, but there’s nothing new about them. This family of whole grains has been around for centuries, with most varieties largely unchanged for at least the last several hundred years, according to the Whole Grains Council (which sounds like a delicious place to work.)

After doing Whole 30 last year, I’ve tried to remove from my diet most refined grain products, like white flour and processed crackers. But I don’t want to drop whole grains altogether — I don’t seem to have a problem with them and they’re great for carb loading — so I’ve been working to replace old American staples like white rice and pasta with a rainbow of ancient grains, from quinoa to buckwheat.

Now I’ve tried several of them, and my favorite, hands down, is farro. Farro, which sounds like Joseph of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame’s boss, is a whole grain that’s nutty and chewy like an al dente wild rice or barley. It’s high in protein, iron and fiber, and it’s been popular for so long it has honestly been found in Egyptian tombs.

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Also in ziplock bags in my fridge.

If you can’t do gluten, farro’s not for you, since it’s an ancient relative of modern-day wheat and will mess with your Celiac disease. But if you can handle it, stock up on farro in your bulk food aisle or buy the packaged stuff from Bob’s Red Mill, and start throwing it into your soups, casseroles and risottos for an extra boost of nutrition when rice just won’t cut it.

It’s easy to make: add water or broth with farro to a pot at about a 2-to-1 ratio, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until grains are tender (about 30 minutes) before draining off any excess liquid. Then I partition it out in half-cup increments, pop in the freezer and defrost individual bags as needed for easy grain bowls, salad toppers or stuffed-pepper fillings at the blink of an eye.

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Mmm.

Maybe it’s an ancient grain, but eating it in a nutrient-packed lunch today made me feel almost young again.

Young enough to drink two glasses of wine without a hangover? Maybe not, but at least I’m now wise enough to remember sun protection the next morning is an absolute must.

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Keira and Lucille-ish.

Do ancient grains have a place in your kitchen? 

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