Friday, June 28, 2013

Foodie Penpal Reveal!

The Lean Green Bean

I decided to branch out and try something new this month, so I signed up for Foodie Penpals. Lindsay over @ The Lean Green Bean started this program way back in September 2011 and I only wish I had stumbled upon it sooner!

Going in I didn't know if I was more excited to send a package or to receive one. I had so much fun picking out some local favorites and shipping them away that I already felt that I had got a lot out of the experience, but when I came home to a box sitting on my doorstep I was giddy with excitement. I started digging in instantly and nearly forgot to take pictures!

My box arrived perfectly packed!

My penpal, Chloe from How She Runs, did an AMAZING job with this box. I was so touched by how thoughtful she was! Through our quick email exchanges we learned that we had a bit in common- vegetarians, runners, both hate olives (a true sign that we were meant to be penpals!)- so I had total faith that this box would rock but it went above and beyond my expectations.

So much variety- a sampling of teas complete with a mug to drink them out of, a box of couscous, a ThinkThin bar, a pack of gum, White Chocolate Wonderful PB and a crazy straw. Chloe included a mug because she collects them and I just love that. Everything was perfect and I literally dug into the peanut butter instantly. I'm way too embarrassed to admit how much is left right now (hint: not very much at all).

I couldn't have asked for a better first Foodie Penpal experience and I will definitely be back for more! You should check it out and join in on the fun as well, trust me, you won't regret it. You have until the 4th of the month to sign up ;-)

Thanks again Chloe!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Food Prep Planning Stages

You guys, this is the weekend that I finally get my stuff together and get our weekly food prep done! The weather gods seem to be in support of my plans to stay in the kitchen as the forecast is currently rain, rain, rain (that should make for a fun 12-miler) so I won't even be tempted to sneak outside and play instead. 

I've got the pins, I've got the plan, I've set aside the budget and I've (almost) finished our grocery list. This is the recipe for success, right?

Here's what I'm hoping to accomplish:

- bake two blocks of tofu (for wraps + salad toppers)
- chickpea-sweet potato burgers
- Veganomicon's black bean burgers
- Lean Green Bean's quinoa breakfast bars
- bake one dozen hard boiled eggs
- prep veggies + fruits,  prepackage some for grab n' go snacks + lunches
- make hummus (plain + red pepper)
- make homemade salsa
- prepare peanut sauce for Spicy Peanut Noodles (Monday's planned dinner)
- cook quinoa + rice (for messy Mexican + stir fry dinners)
- make a quinoa/bean salad 
- one TBD dessert type item

I know that looks like kind of a lot but I figured go big or go home. I've got the time this weekend so I want to knock out whatever I can. The two burgers can be frozen and carried over to next week too. I can only imagine how much it will be appreciated as I make my way through a 60 hour work week. 

My goal is to strictly stick to our food budget. The July challenge is to eat all breakfasts + lunches and most dinners at home (minus while I'm on vacation, but even then we have plans to do lots of cooking!). A big problem will be portion control. We are both very active and as I've increased my training I have notice a HUGE increase in my hunger, obviously. I plan to do a lot of pre-portioning so we don't eat our way through a weeks worth of food in two days, because there is a serious risk of that happening. 

I can't wait to share photos (I promise to actually take them) and stories of my first ever weekend food prep, wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Meal plan? What meal plan?

Yesterday was all out of whack, but kind of in a good way. My work day came to an early end when I had to hightail it home to meet the repair man. We have been without AC for 4 days and they have just so happened to have been the hottest days of summer so far. I was so desperate to actually be able to get a good night's sleep tonight that I would have done anything to get this air conditioner up and running. Luckily for me all I had to do was leave work early :-)

I had drafted up this meal plan for the week and was ready to get us back on track, since our refrigerator is currently a barren wasteland, but with my new found afternoon off I couldn't bring myself to spend it in the grocery store & kitchen. Instead I knocked out an hour long bike ride and felt both energized and really really sweaty. I was definitely right when I predicted that this week would be very high in mileage- I've already clocked so many miles that I'm impressed by myself over here, haha.

So what's a lazy couple to do to celebrate their working air conditioner?

Take and bake pizza!

Tuesdays just happen to be buy one get one free at our local pizza place, Mama Mimi's, and these pies are so delicious. The pictures don't do them justice but they are freshly prepared right in front of you and absolutely layered with veggies. They feel significantly less greasy than a simple delivery pizza and Mama Mimi's makes all the nutritional information available on their site, which I always appreciate. A well balanced dinner and plenty of leftovers for the rest of the week, win-win.

I am looking forward to getting back into the kitchen this weekend. I have some serious food prep planned for Sunday because life has been getting so busy again that we need to have more healthy things that we can grab on the run. While I feel pretty good about the choices I make I know I could be saving a bit more money by stocking the fridge at the start of the week. I've been bookmarking recipes like crazy and can't wait to share my plans (and the outcome!) but for now I'll just leave you in suspense.

Happy hump day!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Marathon Motivation

It's actually happening!

I knew I had until the end of the week before the price jumped another $10 so I just decided to take the plunge. It's real now. Time to put the full training plan up on the fridge and start counting down the days (116). Eek!

Speaking of training plans! Yesterday I woke up a bit sore (apparently your first 30 mile bike ride ever may do that to you) and really tired from a terrible night's sleep thanks to our broken AC so I decided not to run. Fast forward 10 hours and I realized that one does not sign up for a marathon and then skip the day's planned workout. So I fueled up with a banana + white chocolate PB, filled my water bottle with ice and headed out for 5 miles in this:

Remind me to stop hitting snooze. 

Today's post was going to be our weekly meal plan but I wanted to share this oh so exciting news instead. I'm really still just processing the fact that this is actually going to happen. I'm already nervous/excited/anxious/motivated/etc. You name it, I'm feelin' it. 

So loyal readers- any advice for a first timer? Book recommendations? Movie suggestions? Bring it on!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Training Rundown Week 2

This weekend was so fantastic! We had an old friend in from out of town so it was a lot of catching up with folks. We got our old crew together and went to (too many) happy hours and a soccer game. Good times with good friends!

Naturally the weekend disrupted the training plan just a bit, but I still feel good about last week. Let's take a look back, shall we?

Monday: 45 minute run
This run felt really good, given that I had just ran 10 miles two days prior. It was faster than I expected (which is still kind of slow for me) and I was glad to knock it out with no problems.

Tuesday:  45 minute cross-training (NMTZ)
I was oddly looking forward to this workout. After last week's less than stellar performance I wanted to prove that I had more in me I guess. I upped my hand weights to 5 pounders (ha) and felt really strong throughout the DVD. Circuits that had given me trouble in the past felt more manageable and I take that as a good sign.

Wednesday: Speed work, 60 minute run w/ 4-6 "pickups"
I actually tried to do this run twice- I woke up nice and early and headed out but I just wasn't feeling it. I made it about half a mile before I knew it wasn't meant to be. I went home and did some abs + arms and decided to try again after work. I was a bit more successful the second time, I felt strong for the first two miles but I knew my form was suffering during my pickups. After the third I felt myself heel striking more than ever so I cut back on the "speed" part and just went for mileage. My legs were still kind of heavy from the previous week and I felt good with my decisions.

Thursday: 45 minute cross-training: Abs + arms + cycling
On Thursday morning I did a 20 minute ab + arm workout and then a 25 minute ride. I felt pretty slow on the bike but that'll happen I guess.

Friday: 40 minute run
I fit this in before work and followed in up with 8 minute abs. I actually felt fantastic during this run and if I wasn't pressed for time I would have been tempted to extend it a bit. I've really been focusing on sneaking in core work whenever I can, I think I notice the improvement in my running.

Saturday: Rest
This was supposed to be our long ride but it.was.HOT. It was 91 degrees already and we hadn't even made it out the door yet so we decided to postpone. We caught up with our old friends and got to the Crew vs. Fire soccer game (we used to go to all the Columbus Crew games, so it was like old times) which even had fire works. It was a nice a day off.

Sunday: Long Ride 
I was really looking forward to this! We drove about 25 miles away to try out a new trail. We ended up getting in about 30 miles before it was just too hot to carry on (we had each already gone through 2 water bottles!). I was a bit bummed that we couldn't make it even further, but at the same time I realize that 30 miles is a really good distance for me, given that it's my longest difference ever.

Mileage: 15 running (dial back week, plus I subbed out a weekend 6 miler for our long ride)
               45 riding 

I'm a little disappointed that I missed out on my "perfect training week" but we had a lot going on. I feel good about my mileage and the amount of cross-training I got in. Next week is heavy on the running (12-miler!) and we've got a lot of plans that involve bike commuting so I know mileage will be high. I've been upping my calories and trying to get to bed earlier and I'll continue to do that this week.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Hi, My name is Ashley and I'm addicted to popcorn.

Happy Friday! Everyone loves Friday, right?

Yesterday was kind of a blur. I go into work early on Thursdays so my alarm was set for some crazy time that started with a 5 so I could squeeze in a strength work out before heading out for a ride. I did abs + arms because the thought of squatting made my legs cry. As of this morning I'm 5 for 5 with my workouts this week and feeling pretty good about myself, haha.

My ride was slow but my workday went by quickly! The highlight of said day was this salad:

Aptly named the Big Salad, this guy is loaded- mixed greens, arugula, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, sunflower seeds, croutons and penne noodles. Truly fantastic. Also something I could easily make for myself, I need to stop forgetting my lunch at home.

Post work was house cleaning. We've got a friend from out of town stopping by tonight and I always like to pretend as though we keep our house spic and span at all times. And hide the evidence that our cats like to sit on tables.

If you enlarge this picture you can see that she is actually sticking her tongue out at me. They do not take me seriously at all.

Confession time. 

I am a serious addict. 

It's becoming a daily problem.

Stove top popcorn. My favorite snack.

And sometimes regular popcorn isn't good enough so I have to add sugar and cocoa powder and make dessert popcorn. (If you add it in while it's still popping it caramelizes and

I even have a dedicated popcorn pan (i.e a pan that is so damaged from excessive popcorn making that it's no longer acceptable for other uses). 

If being addicted to popcorn is wrong then I don't want to be right.

Lots to look forward to this weekend but most importantly I've got my super long bike ride tomorrow! Fingers crossed that the rain stays away.

Enjoy your weekend :-)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer Fun: Balancing Work + Play

The weather has seriously been outstanding here lately. Even when my beloved tells me it's going to rain it tends to clear up and turn into a nice day. I don't know how many times I have ended my work day with the phrase "I could really go for a drink on a patio right now". Who doesn't want a margarita and bottomless chips + salsa every once in awhile??

I know a lot of runners choose to dial it back a bit in the summer, for a number of reasons: because it's harder to find time to run with the heat, vacations interrupt training plans or maybe even just because lounging at the beach sounds like more fun than sprinting on the track. However I made the genius decision to sign up for a half marathon in August (oh yeah, did I tell you that's official? Emerald City here I come!) and I've got my credit card ready to sign up for the full in October so I'll actually be hitting the peak weeks of my training plan right as summer is hitting its peak. 

So how will I survive the summer heat and stay strong against the temptation of happy hour? Well, to be honest I won't. I'm very focused on my training and I'm proud of the fact that I've been following my training plan so closely (I'm 3 for 3 this week with an extra 8-minute abs thrown in for fun!) but I've also kept my social calendar just as busy. 

Here are my rules for making it all work:

1. Make plans in advance. I'm a planner so this really isn't anything new. I like starting the week knowing what I have going on that weekend, plus it makes the work week easier to get through. With certain people in my life I don't have a problem saying "Hey, I've got a 12 mile run on the schedule the next morning, can we push that back a day?". 

2. Be Flexible. I've switched a lot of my morning runs to after work runs for a few reasons- my aches + pains feel the worst in the morning (see yesterday morning when I tried to run, and failed, but got 5 miles in after work no problem), but also because it means I can stay up later than 9p now. When the sun is barely set by then it's hard to go to sleep. I've also swapped a few running and cross training days when a friend wants to go for a ride. And lastly, I've skipped planned workouts (gasp!). Sometimes a girl just needs a mojito, running can wait.

3. Just be active! It's SUMMER! You know what counts as cross training? Swimming in a friends pool. Playing a game of tennis. Kicking a ball around on the soccer field. Biking to Happy Hour (right?)! It's so easy to spend time outside and get a little extra calorie burn in when it's sunny and 85. 

Life is all about balance. I don't want to lose myself (and my summer!) in my training plan but I also don't want to fall behind so I'm finding ways to make it work. This week I'm determined to hit every planned workout, get a long bike ride in with K. and enjoy a happy hour (or two...) with a friend who's coming into town for the weekend. 

Highlights from yesterday:

My very favorite Greek yogurt pancakes, with strawberry Chobani, after 8 minute abs + core work.

Pre-run snack. AMAZING white chocolate PB. Can't wait to share the story behind it ;-) It fueled me for a speedier-than-I-have-been-lately 5 miles.

Quick and easy dinner- Garden Thyme Luna burger (yes, I'm obsessed) w/ broccoli. It was a busy night so I just needed food, fast. (and don't worry- many unpictured foods were eaten too!)

The rest of my night was spent cleaning the basement. Thrilling right? Well it is but only because the reason we are cleaning is because we are FINALLY getting a new washing machine. Hallelujah!

Your turn:

What's your approach to training in the summer?

Looking forward to anything this weekend?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Snow Pea Stir Fry

On Saturday I got some great things at the farmer's market- fresh local strawberries (which are already long gone), a variety pack of my favorite Luna vegan burgers, a spicy muenster cheese, a huge bunch of rainbow chard and some snow peas. I knew right away that the chard and snow peas were meant for stir fry so tonight I was looking forward to cooking.

After a great session with my favorite drill sergeant (a.k.a. Jillian Michaels) I was famished and so glad I had dinner planned.

I started the way I start every recipe- by caramelizing a nice big onion. While the onion was cooking down, I prepared and washed the chard + snow peas. I added the chard in first, then some frozen broccoli and let it cook for awhile. 

While the veggies continued to cook I began to heat up a Peanut Cilantro Luna burger in another pan. This is probably my favorite variety. It's got Ohio maple syrup, jalapenos, cilantro and Krema nut peanut butter in it. Delicious.

As the burger got close to being done I threw in the snow peas as I wanted them to be warm but still crisp. I drizzled a little bit of soy sauce and agave (honestly maybe a teaspoon of each, the veggies were so flavorful it didn't need much) right before I took it off the heat. Combined it in a bowl and voila!

Not insanely photogenic but yummy (and nutritious!) all the same.

Of course I wouldn't dare go to bed without dessert:

Key lime Chobani flip! This one had graham cracker crumbles and mini white chocolate chips. The yogurt wasn't runny, my main complaint about the flips, and the flavors were spot on. Will definitely eat again (and again, and again, and again).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Cupcakes! Cupcakes! Cupcakes!

Not so long ago I taunted you with the promise of cupcakes. I teased you with pictures of the test batches and swore I'd be back with more. I totally dropped the ball and I did not photograph the cupcake process OR the final products. I'm so sorry!

Just because I'm terrible at documenting things doesn't mean you should suffer more by not being able to enjoy the delicious treats I created. Pardon the recycled photos :-/

As I mentioned in passing these cupcakes were made for a Game of Thrones finale party (yes, I'm a big dork. I'm okay with it!). I made three different kinds, each connecting to a theme in the show. I spent a good amount of time brainstorming, as there were so many different routes I could have gone, but I'm more than pleased with what was created. I knew I wanted three distinctly different cupcake bases (to please everyone) so I just went from there. To make it a bit easier on myself I used one frosting base and separated it into three parts to customize it for each cupcake. Since it was a party I also wanted to make these a little more fun so I added a bit of alcohol to each of the recipes :-) 

Cupcake 1 (in the front)
"Winter is Coming"
White cake base, whipped cream vodka frosting, topped with coconut. (partially inspired by those Hostess Sno Balls, actually).

Recipe (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)
Makes 6

1/2 C. twice sifted all-purpose flour
1/8 C. skim milk
1/8 C. Whipped Cream Vodka (if nixing this just double the milk!)
5 T liquid egg whites
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/8 C. granulated white sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 T room temperature butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Using a standard cupcake tin, place liners in six cups and fill the remaining six halfway with water (this will protect your pan and keep the cupcakes extra moist).

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together, add the dry mixture and the butter into the bowl of your mixer (I actually used my food processor and it worked splendidly). Beat until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs.

In a large measuring cup, mix together the milk, vodka, egg whites and vanilla. Slowly pour into the mixer while it is running. Scrape down the sides and mix just a bit more, careful not to over mix. 

Fill your cupcake liners, bake for 18-20 minutes (I think my oven runs hot, so it may take a tad longer) until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cupcake 2 (middle row)
"Khaleesi's Revenge"
Red velvet cake base, kicked with cinnamon + cayenne to make a Mexican hot chocolate cake.  Cream cheese frosting with a flaming strawberry on top.

Recipe (adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)
Makes 12 

4T room temperature butter
3/4 C. granulated sugar
1 egg
2 1/2 T dutch process cocoa powder
1 T red food coloring 
2 T Whipped Cream Vodka 
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 C. buttermilk
1 C. + 2 T all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cayenne 
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp distilled white vinegar (to enhance the red color)

Preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a standard cupcake tin with liners.

In a mixer (again, I used my food processor), cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in the egg, be sure to scrape down the sides. 

In a small bowl combine the cocoa powder, vanilla, red food coloring and vodka to make a paste. Using a spatula add this pasted into the mixer and combine with the sugar/butter/egg. Slowly add in half the buttermilk and half the flour. Scrape down the sides and then add in the other half, mixing until smooth.

Stop the mixer and add in the salt, baking soda, vinegar, cinnamon and cayenne. Mix until combined.

Fill the liners about 2/3 of the way up and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cupcake 3 (in the back, they baked up better the second time around!)
"Lannisters, Drunken Blondes"
Yellow blonde ale cake base, lemon cream cheese frosting.

Recipe (adapted from Cupcake Project )
Makes 9

2 egg whites
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 T coconut oil
 1/2 C. + 2 T blonde ale (I used Victory Summer Love, a golden ale)
3 T skim milk
1 C. all-purpose flour
zest of one large lemon and half an orange

Preheat over to 350 degrees F, fill a standard cupcake tin with 9 liners and fill the remaining 3 tins with water.

In a medium bowl whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks (very important, do not underwhisk!). Slowly add in the sugar while you continue to whisk. Continue to add in the remaining ingredients, mixing until smooth. 

Fill the liners 3/4 of the way (these do not rise much) and bake for 13-15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the frosting I adapted the basic cream cheese frosting from the red velvet recipe on Brown Eyed Baker, adding in a splash of whipped cream vodka.

6 oz. room temperature butter
6 oz. room temperature 1/3 fat cream cheese
4 C powdered sugar
2 T whipped cream vodka

I separated the frosting into three parts. For the white cake, I left it as it was. For the red velvet I added in cayenne + cinnamon to taste. For the Blonde ale cakes I added a generous amount of fresh lemon juice + zest so that it was very thinned out, more of a glaze.

The piece de resistance was definitely the flaming strawberries! I hollowed them out, filled them with a splash of whipped cream vodka and literally set them on fire.

An actual picture from the party! It was very hard to photograph, haha.

My Mexican hot chocolate-red velvet cake was definitely the crowd favorite, even without the flaming strawberry, but my guests were impressed by all of them (and we all ate more than our fair share).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Training Rundown

Last week was a pretty solid training week for me. Let's take a look back!

Sunday: 8 mile run, aerobic zone ~1hr 30min

Overall this run felt good. It was still really slow for me but the miles felt easy and if I hadn't been on a serious time crunch I probably would have pushed it a bit farther.

Monday: Rest. Lots of stretching.

Tuesday: more stretching + strength training (NMTZ). 

I made it through NMTZ but I definitely wasn't feeling it. Not my best performance but I was glad it was done.

Wednesday: Speed work. 60 minute run with six 1 minute pick ups. Covered ~ 6mi.

My training plan had instructions for this and I created a workout on my Garmin. I would do 9 minutes in the aerobic zone and then 60 seconds in my interval zone. I was very proud of my heart rate spikes and how it came back down relatively quickly. My only real complaint about this run was that I waited until a bit too late in the afternoon to do it and it.was.HOT. And humid!  I felt like I was chewing air. 

Thursday: Cross training.

I spent some time on my bike, but it was more for enjoyment than exercise if I'm being honest. We had a storm on Wednesday night and I hadn't slept well at all so I just didn't have the energy for a "real" workout.

Friday: Easy 3 miles, recovery to aerobic zone. 20 miles on the bike throughout the day.

This was the first one where I started to really see improvement in my speed while staying in the correct zone. My pace was creeping close to where it used to be and more often than not when I looked at my watch my HR was in the lower portion of where I wanted it to be. I felt really encouraged by this measly 3 miles.

Saturday: Long run- 10 miles! Aerobic zone.

What a fantastic run, I felt so good and strong the entire time. I bumped the 10 miler up a week because K. and I have plans for a long bike ride next Saturday (and I was kind of itching for double digits). I noticed a drastic improvement in my time- my average pace was almost an entire minute faster than it had been for Sunday's 8 miler and my average HR was exactly the same! It's amazing to see my new approach to training pay off so quickly. It's also great to think that I've hit double digits and my half is still nearly 8 weeks away, I'm already better off this training cycle than I have been during the past two.

The rest of Saturday was crazy active as well- I hit up the local Farmer's Market, rode the bike a bit too much and played a game of tennis! My legs were spent by the end of the night.

Total Running Miles: 27 I think that's my most ever!

How I feel: Really great. My feet were a bit sore yesterday but I think that's just because Saturday involved so much. I've still been icing my old injuries just in case though. I've also been adding in some recovery drinks and making sure to refuel properly, I think that makes all the difference.

Goals for this week: More consistent cross training. I want to get at least one hard ride in and as I said we have plans for a long (35-50 miles) ride on Saturday, so I'll have plenty of time on the bike. I need to start sneaking more strength in, I have my one dedicated Jillian day per week but I either want to up that to two or squeeze in 8 minute abs or something post-runs. I'd love to make it to yoga on Sunday if my work schedule allows it, so fingers crossed.

And just because a pictureless post is boring, here is the lone image I have found of me from the duathlon: 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Five reasons why today will be fantastic

When I got home from work last night this was waiting for me in the mailbox:

The first (and let's be honest, probably ONLY) time I will ever place in a race! It was so exciting to see. I told K. that I want to hang it in the living room and even though he laughed as though I was joking I took that to be a sign of agreement. Totally made my night.

So onto today. Why is it going to be so fantastic?

1. This morning started out with an easy 3 miles. It was cooler than it has been and perfectly clear. I also noticed that I'm finally picking up a bit more speed while still staying in my aerobic zone. Yay for progress!

2. Breakfast was awesome:

Potato + egg scramble topped with salsa. Yum.

3. The current weather forecast

4. Fun new pants

This room may still look messy but it is actually 100% improved from the last photo I almost posted.

5. Plans to meet a friend for Happy Hour after work for delicious snacks and drinks!

What are you looking forward to today? This weekend?

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Let's talk about heart rate training

I'll be honest- when I originally started wanting a Garmin it was just so I could look down at my wrist real quick to see how far I'd gone, how fast I was currently going and what my overall average pace was. I hadn't really thought much beyond that, I didn't know a thing about heart rate, zone training, etc. I imagined that the chest strap thing you had to wear would be uncomfortable and that the only new data you'd get was a more accurate count of calories burned. Oh Ashley, you were so naive!

I was so excited to use my new toy but I kept putting off setting up the HRM, it seemed like more work and it was definitely more reading so I set it to the side. K. was not too pleased with this, as he had done the research/bought this for me he said the HRM was a huge reason why so I should start using it. I complied and 2 minutes later (seriously, it was not complicated at all) I was strapped in and ready to go. I set out for what I told myself was an "easy 6" and I was interested in seeing where my heart rate fell. 

Average HR: 173bpm, 85%ish of max HR. AKA, quite high for an "easy" run.

My initial reaction was to get really defensive and swear that the run felt easy and that I definitely could have held a conversation (what I aim for on easy or recovery runs) but the fact of the matter was that this fancy device probably wasn't lying to me. Time to start doing some research.

I started reading as many articles and blog posts as I could to learn what exactly these "zones" were and how they were going to help me become a better runner. Runner's World breaks it out nicely here. Basically there are four zones: recovery, aerobic, threshold and VO2 max. The zones are defined by the % of your max HR (which can be calculated many different ways but I went with the super easy 220-age, which might also be quite inaccurate). After I input my resting HR (55) and my quickly determined max (193) I could see what each of these zones would look like for me. 

Here's a quick glance at what training in the each zone does:

Recovery Zone:  Training in this zone improves the ability of your heart to pump blood and improve the muscles’ ability to utilize oxygen.  The body becomes more efficient at feeding the working muscles, and learns to metabolize fat as a source of fuel.

Aerobic Zone (or Target HR zone): Most effective for overall cardiovascular fitness. Increases your cardio-respiratory capacity: that is, the your ability to transport oxygenated blood to the muscle cells and carbon dioxide away from the cells.  Also effective for increasing overall muscle strength. Most of my training will be done here.

Anaerboic Zone: The point at which the body cannot remove lactic acid as quickly as it is produced is called the lactate threshold or anaerobic threshold. It generally occurs at about 80-88% of the Heart Rate Reserve. Training in this zone helps to increase the lactate threshold, which improves performance. Training in this zone is hard: your muscles are tired, your breathing is heavy. Speed work days, yay!

VO2 Max Zone: You should only train in this zone if you re very fit, and only for very short periods of time. Lactic acid develops quickly as you are operating in oxygen debt to the muscles   The value of training in this zone is you can increase your fast twitch muscle fibers which increase speed.

The training plan I'm using (a mix between Jenny Hadfield's Intermediate Half and Beginner Full ) conveniently has the desired HR percentages right underneath the daily workout. I set out to do a 50 minute run while keeping my HR in the 65-75% range. How the run felt: SLOW. Turtle slow. I kept looking down at my watch (which I had set so I could only see my HR, not my pace, because I knew that my ego couldn't handle the blow) and having to slow back down to keep my HR in the right zone. I ended up doing 5 miles in just under 52 minutes, which is only 2 minutes less than it had taken me to run 6 miles a few days earlier. But at the same time, the run felt good. None of my aches and pains were acting up and I felt like I could have ran forever without a problem, which is exactly the point of training in the aerobic zone. 

While I was nursing my still slightly bruised ego I stumbled across this blog entry over at Shut Up and Run that I found to be really helpful. I had always thought that one could only over train by running too often (every day) or too far before they were ready but it's very likely that I've been over training by simply running too hard on I probably haven't had a proper recovery run in well over a year. It explains my constant injuries, my heavy lead like legs and why I was having so much trouble increasing my distances last training cycle. I kept maxing out at 20-25 mpw when I really wanted to be in the 30s. It's a pretty big wake up call, actually.

So where am I at now? I kind of feel like I'm starting over with running. I've been approaching runs in a very different way. It's been a bitter pill to swallow, seeing my times drop so drastically, but I've been feeling really strong. Recovery after my 8 miler was a breeze and I had no pain the next day. Running slower is going to be hard for awhile, but I'll have speed work days to look forward to and I know that by being able to log more miles (because they will be less hard on my body) I'll see an increase in pace over time. 

Whew, that was a lot! And there is so much more to learn still. There are truthfully so many great running resources and blogs out there that you can lose hours looking up something simply. I definitely plan on keeping you updated on my zone training and hope to add in a weekly training round up post. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday Musings

Monday again already? Sigh.

My weekend went by in blur because I spent most of it working but I was still able to get a few decent workouts in. I've been really enjoying my (super quick) bike commutes to work.

K. has requested photos of my locked up bike because he thinks I am going to accidentally end up locking it only to itself and not the bike rack. Because I may have done that in the past once.. or twice. Whoops! I shouldn't be trusted with fancy things. Don't worry, I remembered to take my water bottle in so no one stole it. 

Since I wasn't in a rush after work on Saturday I was able to enjoy a slightly more relaxed ride home. I'm finally feeling so confident and comfortable on the bike and I am loving that. The trail is a nice way to avoid heavy traffic in the morning but riding right down the main street (which I both live and work off) really motivates me to kick it into high gear and hit some impressive speeds. I was flying, for me, at 18-20mph yesterday!

Speaking of yesterday, I was so determined to get a long run in since I'm technically into my training plan for potential half + full marathons (eek!) so I set my alarm for too-early-for-a-Sunday and slowly dragged myself out of bed. I played around with the settings on my Garmin, charged my iPod because I realized it was dead and basically wasted about 30 minutes of my morning before I realized that I was going to be late for work if I didn't get moving INSTANTLY. Due to my new zone training approach (a big, long informative post on that coming at you this week!) my long runs have been taking me way longer. Way, way, WAY longer, and I'm still not quite used to that. After a nice slow 8 miles I had about 10 minutes to stretch & shower before I had to be on the bike to work. Certainly not the most relaxing morning but definitely got my heart rate up!

Today is a rest day for me, which is throwing me off. I need to move my long runs back to Saturdays so I can get back into my groove. Breakfast was boring but yummy.

TJs honey Greek yogurt, raw oats, chia seeds, almonds and coconut. And so much coffee.

Tonight we are hosting a super mini Game of Thrones finale party, which is basically just an excuse to make cupcakes. Lots of cupcakes. Can't wait to share the pictures!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Friday Favorites

Today is off to a slow start and it's only 60 degrees out so I needed to find some ways to make my Friday morning better.

First off:

If you haven't seen Pitch Perfect yet you really need to change that. I've watched this movie so many times and YouTube videos of the finale even more. Still makes me tear up a bit. Ultimate mood improver though!

A classic cat-lover video:

New pants! Which I would show you a picture of but I just realized the picture I took also shows just how messy our spare room is right now so that'll have to wait. They are this bright salmon-y color and they are awesome. 

Starbucks Cool Lime Refresher. If you haven't tried these yet, you really should. They use green coffee extract so it stills has some caffeine in it but it's also totally refreshing.

And it comes in the Trenta size- 31 fl. oz. of deliciousness.

Next weekend's weather forecast:

Although my beloved has been insanely unreliable lately I am LOVING the look of next weekend! This weekend isn't as pretty, plus I'm working all weekend long so it doesn't matter, but I have next Saturday off and I will be finding my way to a pool if this prediction comes true.

And lastly, today is apparently National Donut day! I'm not the biggest donut lover (I know, I know, it's weird) but I am a huge fan of free food so if I can hunt down a free donut I'll be quite happy.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Things I'm Thinking about on Thursday

1. Yesterday I completed my longest (distance wise) physical activity ever- a 22 mile bike ride! It was fantastic and I felt great and can't wait to push myself even further (especially since I would like to RUN 26.2 miles in October...eek)

2. During said bike ride I saw not one, not two, but THREE separate men ...relieving themselves.. to the side of this beautiful trail. Not athletes, just every day dudes. Really?? 

3. I'm trying to use Twitter. I don't get it. I may only be in my mid late twenties but when it comes to technology I might as well be 65. I'm just getting a grasp on Facebook. Someone teach me the ways! And follow me, or whatever you say in twitter-talk, @cardiocatscook, I think. Instagram is next, ooph. #nottechsaavy (something like that?)

4. While I wouldn't quite call what I've got going on a tan just yet, I certainly have some crazy tan lines starting since all my time outside has been during runs and rides. Lots of different sports bra/tank top/sock lines going on. Super sexy.

5. I rode my bike to work today (good golly my butt was sore) and felt like a total bad ass. I don't even know why- my commute is seriously not even 2 miles- but whatever, it was a big deal for me.

6. Dessert last night was a medium twist cone from the very conveniently located Dairy Queen (at the end of my street). I am going to need to show some serious restraint or I may end up there every single night this summer and that can't be good for the waistline.

7. I've been spending some time trying to fancify (that's a word, I swear) my blog and any input would be appreciated! I've added pages for my favorite blogs + fitness gear and plan to do a longer "about me" page as well as a recipe page. It's taking me some time but I'll get the hang of this blogging thing soon.

8. It is almost Friday, yay!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Dirty Duathlon (finally)

Hey guys, remember when I ran that duathlon over two weeks ago? I'm sad to report that no pictures were posted (really really sad) so I'm finally ready to post my recap. Enjoy!

I'll be honest- I had no idea what I was getting myself into with this duathlon. I don't even remember how I stumbled upon it in the first place. But I can truly say I am oh so happy that I did.

Let's start at the beginning.

After a long day on Saturday, I got home from work later than I wanted to and feeling less than swell. The changing weather was making all my injuries act up and my stomach had been bothering me. All the confidence I had built up with my first and only Brick the previous weekend had gone out the window. I found myself hoping for terrible weather so the event could just be cancelled. Certainly not the best pre-race attitude.

Luckily I slept pretty well and woke up easily at the crazy time of 5a on Sunday morning. The weather forecast looked superb (clear and upper 60s) and I knew I had no excuse. My stomach was still grumbling but I stuck with what I knew and ate my typical toast+PB2+banana but skipped the coffee and drank watered down vitamin water instead. K. promised that a B vitamin supplement would give me a little extra oomph so I took one of those too- any little bit would help!

We arrived at the trail head just after 7a and I was quick to notice just how small the race was, 80 people max, which was a huge change of pace from every other race I've done. My friend H. and I checked in and were assigned our transition spots (which were right next to each other) so we went to get settled in. Our transition prep was literally just racking our bikes and setting our helmets on the seat, nice and easy. We hung out and tried to quell our nerves while we waited to start. We decided to walk the start of the trail to get an idea of what we were about to face and this is where the fear set in. About a tenth of a mile in there was a STEEP decline that was basically a mudslide. I instantly dropped any goals I had for the race and made a new one: don't get hurt! This was going to be interesting.

The race director gathered us all together and gave us a run down of how things would go. The 15 or so long course athletes would head in first, one runner at a time, 8 seconds between runners. We were to self seed ourselves based on how we were viewing the race (competitive folks up front, leisurely people in the back, others in the middle). He really emphasized that the course was hard, the hills were slick and safety should be everyone's first priority. He reminded us that saving a few seconds or minutes isn't worth the risk. Go out, have fun and stay safe. I liked his approach but now I was more scared than ever! I settled in about half way through the short course group and nervously awaited my turn...

When the air horn signaled my start I darted into the woods. I tried to settle into a comfortable pace but as soon as I saw that decline again I slowed myself and eased my way down. By a quarter of a mile I was seriously huffing and puffing and it really hit me just how hard trail running is. After a few ups and downs there was a nice straight stretch (on the edge of what felt like a mountain!) so I picked up some speed and started chasing down some folks. I expected my bike time to be slower and even though I wasn't really trail trained I knew I could make up some speed with the run. The long course athletes were on their way back as I was hitting the half way mark. Every single person who passed me offered up words of encouragement- even the athletes who were out there REALLY trying to win. "Keep it up!", "Great job!", "Half way there, good work". It was all so genuine and made me fall in love with the small race atmosphere. For most of the run I was just a few steps behind a guy and when we came to an abrupt slippery incline he stopped and reached out his hand to help me. Amazing! Without all those words of encouragement I would have been done for- I was already fighting thoughts of pulling out of the rest of it because I felt so unprepared.

Despite how hard it was the run went by pretty quickly. I made the decision to race without music and I'm so glad I did. The trail was beautiful and I was happy to cheer on the people I passed by just as others had done for me. There was a volunteer with water at the turn around mark and I was happy to see him. I stopped and downed a cup of water before processing the fact that I had to run back the way I came (and then do it all again after a bike ride...). On the way back I nearly lost a shoe is a mud pit but overall I came out of the woods unscathed and excited to ride.

Run 1: 21:50 (24th overall)

Transition was a breeze. The biggest dilemma I had was what to do with my hair because my on-top-of-my-head ponytail wouldn't work with my helmet. I moved my ponytail down as I was coming out of the trail and was helmet ready. Helmet on head, bike in hands, run to mounting area, ride away! My only failure was not switching my Garmin to cycling mode :-(

T1 0:21 (fastest non-relay transition time, go me!)

I was so happy to be on the bike, which is something I never thought would happen. The breeze felt awesome and the area we were in was so serene. The 12 mile ride was a big rectangle with right turns only which made it nice and easy. While on the bike I focused on my cadence. K. had hooked up a little computer to show me my current pace and cadence. I was aiming for 85 to 90 rotations and it was so helpful to see it and shift my gears accordingly. I felt like I was flying on the bike! My max speed was 24.9mph (on a downhill, obviously) which is CRAZY fast for me. Prior to this my max was 18, just for reference. Thanks to staggered starts I was pretty much alone out there on the ride, I think I only came across maybe a dozen riders the entire time I was out. The second half of the ride was hilly and my speedy first half pace was starting to catch up with me, but just like on the run anyone who passed me by was nothing but supportive. I powered through and was very proud of my bike performance overall.

12 mile ride: 49:20 (31st overall)

Transition 2 was a bit rough on the legs. When I dismounted I nearly collapsed, my spaghetti legs didn't know what to do but I just kept moving. 

T2: 0:21, because I'm consistent like that. (2nd fastest non-relay)

As soon as I got onto the trail I hit a water stop and took a few seconds to shake out my legs and drink some water. At this point I felt pretty destroyed and knew that run #2 would be a lot more walking that running. As soon as I saw the state of the trail I was even more certain about that. What had been just slightly muddy before was now pretty out of control. The smaller pits looked big enough to host mud wrestling matches. They had added more volunteers for the second run who were equipped with water and stationed at the more treacherous parts of the course to give you a bit of warning. Run two was honestly a huge blur. I knew that my tired legs only made the course more dangerous so I was extra cautious, I was so close to being done that I didn't want twist an ankle now. I tried to give it a little extra at the finish line but there was very little to give, haha. It felt so amazing to cross that finish line.

Run 2: 23:55, blah. (29th overall)

Total Time: 1:35:46, 26th place non-relay. 2nd place F 20-29 (out of only 5, but it still counts, right?. I think so :-) )

My super secret goal was a 1:30, but that was before I understood trail running. I was nothing but pleased with my finish time. 

Despite the fact that I wanted to collapse I stayed upright and moving. My calves + achilles were KILLING me so there was lots of stretching. Greenswell did an AMAZING job with the post-race amenities. Bottles of water, tons of bananas, boxes full of Cliff bars, a giant pitcher of Gatorade! One of the sponsors was there with free sunglasses. Anything you could need! I had done a terrible job of fueling (one shot blok and a bottle of water made with Skratch ) and needed food in me instantly and a Cliff bar really hit the spot. The medal was also quite neat- simple but a nice touch with the bike chain. 

This was definitely my favorite race of all time and I am totally hooked on multi-sport events. I feel like I really fell in love with cycling when I was just out there on the open road alone (yes, I realize how corny that sounds). I'm more motivated than ever to start swimming and get myself into triathlons in the near future. I also can't say enough good things about Greenswell. I definitely plan on keeping an eye on their race calendar and joining in on some of their training rides/runs and clinics.