Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016: 5 Running Goals to Meet

For this Friday Five, I'm linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What, and Mar at Mar on the Run.  Being the first Friday of the month, fitness is the theme for this week.

With the new year beginning today, now is always a good time as any to work on setting some running goals for 2016.  While the unwritten goal of last year was just to get on the roads and trails again, this time around I am making some more concrete plans for what I want to accomplish.  So here are the five things that will make 2016 a great year for running.

1.  12 in 12 - The plan has been put into motion to run a race a month throughout the next year.  Some of these events will be for time while others are going to be just for fun.  Either way, taking part in them will be a blast (check out my 2016 race list)!

2.  Strength Training - While I would rather just spend more time running, I've come to accept that I need to spend time building muscle and flexibility in other ways.  I have started the habit of planking each night before bed, but would also like to take some time a few days a week to use exercises like squats and lunges to work my legs and core.  Time to make myself not look so scrawny!

3.  First Marathon - A year from now, I would like to have completed my first marathon.  Due to how my schedule tends to look from teaching, the summer is a perfect time to train and be ready for a fall race.  I am still in the process of deciding which one to do, since there are a number in the area.

4.  Increase Days of Running - For years, I was able to run five or six days a week without overly major injury issues or exhaustion.  However, this has not been the case lately.  I would like to get back to that trend instead of only three or four days.  Even easy runs make me feel productive and accomplished.

5.  Become a Running Group Regular - So far my attendance at group runs has been minimal.  With the new year, I want to participate in my local running club's meet-ups, especially on weekends when I have the time and little excuse to not do so.  The running community has begun to grow in the area, and I really want to be a part of it!

So what are your 2016 running goals?

Happy running and happy New Year!

2015 - The Year of the Great Return

Only a few hours remains in 2015 and, after some perusing through Twitter, realized that I had not taken the time to place into writing my random thoughts on how the year had progressed. In reflecting on the ups and downs of these past 365 days, I would say things have gone really well. In liking the number five and tending to be a more positive person than negative, I figure below I'll give three ways in which the year has been great and two situations that I wish were different, but alas, were what they were.

The Heights
1. The first way in which this year was great is that I returned to running after taking several years off. While the aches and pains to restarting the sport were pretty evident, the days when my runs allowed me to slip into the groove and just go were amazing. My stress went down, my health improved, and I had a hobby that was good for me (and made me more bearable those around me!).

2. The second accomplishment that I am really proud of is completing my first half marathon. When in high school and college, I am not sure I would have ever considered taking on this distance. However, in having survived it, I'm ready to not only tackle 13.1 again, but strive for the full 26.2.

3. Finally, this year, specifically these past few weeks, has allowed me the opportunity to connect with one of my best friends over running. In not having too many friends who find taking on the miles enjoyable, having someone with whom to share stories and even go with on a run has been really great. I'm looking forward to this continuing into the new year!

The Depths
1. When I consider the negatives from this year past, not too much comes to mind. The first challenge that I faced in the three months leading up to my half marathon was a knee injury that I couldn't shake. I wonder at times if I had been able to push myself harder if I could have done even better.

2. My other downside to the year that has set in in the last few weeks is my nemesis returning - shin splints. The pain I thought was long in my past has shown its ugly head. When I was planning on spending the end of the year increasing the number of days I run, I have instead found myself sidelined for the week with my ice pack serving as my faithful companion. Maybe after this time of rest I can get back into things in 2016.

Like I said, overall the year has been great and I'm looking forward to an even better 2016.  Running is a blessing in my life and I am glad to experience it.  I end this year with a special amount of gratitude for that.

Happy running and to a wonderful 2016!

Friday, December 25, 2015

5 Favorite Holiday Gifts

For this Friday Five, I'm linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What, and Mar at Mar on the Run.  In having a "Free Week" as the theme and Christmas being the mass consumption of my time recently, I figured I'd wait until today to share the top five running items I received for the holiday.

As runners, we all know how hard of a hit our bank accounts can take when we go on a gear shopping spree.  This is especially true if you're just starting into or returning to the sport.  As a result, when people asked what I wanted for Christmas, my running wardrobe was the first thing that came to mind.  Below are the top five gifts that I gratefully received today and can't wait to put into use soon!

1.  Running socks - I currently own six pairs of running socks meaning I spent at least one day a week doing laundry so I had something to wear for my runs.  Between the various gifts from relatives, I now have twice as many pairs (including one that color coordinates with my shoes!).

2.  Tech shirts - Tech shirts make such a difference compared to cotton apparel.  However, like socks, I only had a few shirts and found myself always hoping to find one more in the drawer.  I now have a few to choose from and a runner can never have too many shirts!

3.  Amazon gift card - As someone who tends to be indecisive...a lot, I tend to go back and forth when it comes to purchasing specific running accessories.  I've been perusing various hydration systems, but can't seem to pick the one I want (suggestions welcome!).  Thus, the gift card gives me the flexibility to get the item I want when I finally decide.

4.  Swedish fish - I LOVE Swedish fish!  As a result of my in-laws knowing us well, my wife and I got 5 of the large bags of these delectable chewies.  Besides just enjoying them whenever, these come into play for running in serving as energy chews.  While I have not tried it out yet, I plan to on my next long run.

5.  Memory foam pillow - Running after a great night's sleep can make a huge difference between an okay run and a perfect run.  My new pillow (which my wife bought at an amazing discount!) will make for some better night's rest and awesome runs during the day.

What was your favorite running gift you received?

Happy running and Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2015

5 Favorite Winter Activities

For this Friday Five, I'm linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What, and Mar at Mar on the Run.  The theme for this week is five favorite winter activities.

Let me begin by admitting that I am not a fan of winter - not even my January birthday can redeem the season.  However, I like to be a pretty positive person and try to find the good that helps take care of the cold winter months.  So once those cold fronts start moving through, these are the five activities I like to enjoy while the weather outside is frightful.

Phipps Conservatory Light Show - Started a few years ago due to the invitation of a friend, each winter my wife and I pay a visit to Phipps Conservatory for their Winter Flower and Light Show.  The rooms throughout the conservatory are decked out in holiday cheer with seasonal plants and lights galore.  And with the show running for a few months, getting in a few visits is always a great opportunity.

Overly's Country Christmas - Compared to Phipps, Overly's is more of a car light show and holiday village.  With admission going toward various charities, participating in the holiday event gives one the feeling of giving back while enjoying Christmas.  After driving past the light displays, families have the chance to walk through the small village of stores and sights, including a talking Christmas tree.  This event appeals to all ages, including kids from 1 to 92.

Sleeping in on Snow Days - When the weather turns bad or unbelievably cold, the phone call that makes the chilliness endurable is the alert that a snow day has been called.  Usually after getting the message, I turn off my alarm and fall right back to sleep.  In feeling more rested and only having to go outside enough to shovel the drive way, when we get back to school I'm ready jump back into things.

Sipping Hot Chocolate and Reading - As the snow swirls outside, nothing fits the mood better than drinking hot chocolate and curling up with a good book or magazine.  Comfort and coziness make for such a peaceful day that is often needed amidst the craziness of life.

Running - Nothing gives a sense of accomplishment or gets you crazy looks from neighbors than running in the winter weather.  Bundling up and hitting the road challenges you mentally and physically.  However, once finished, the day feels more complete and productive.

What is your favorite winter activity?

Happy running!

Jingle Bell 5K

At some races, everything just clicks and all comes together.  This feeling of harmony was with me during my half-marathon, but has been absent from my last two 5Ks.  At each race I somehow felt out-of-sorts and just couldn't seem to get myself in the right mindset to run well.  The tides seem to have changed with my most recent run in the Jingle Bell 5K.

Leading up to this race, I was anxious for a number of reasons.  First, my shins have not been nice to me (nor I to them) making any run painful and frustrating.  I actually made the decision a few weeks ago to ditch the training plan I had formulated, even though I was very careful when planning it to not do too much, too fast, too soon.  I had also switched to a routine of constantly icing my legs, performing lower-leg exercises and only running in grassy areas.  This healing method worked surprisingly well, but I knew I hadn't run more than 3 miles only at a slow pace in the time leading up to the race and my shins tended to seize up when I pushed too hard.

In addition to this physical challenge, a scheduling conflict also developed.  In October, I had agreed to attend a retreat with my students that was planned for the week before Thanksgiving.  Well, due to some unforeseen (but positive) circumstances, the retreat was moved to the weekend of the race.  While I knew I could leave a little early race morning, the bigger concern came from knowing that I would most likely be lacking a good night's sleep and good nutrition.  Although I didn't want to sacrifice sleep, I also care deeply about my students and knew that sometimes they just needed time to talk and it would require me to stay up late.

I spent some time thinking about the challenges this race would present me to the point of considering not showing up.  However, in having already paid to participate, my checkbook convinced me to do it regardless.  I figured that, if nothing else, I could take the race easy and just enjoy myself.

On the Wednesday before the race, my wife picked up my packet and swag, since she drives past the running store that was hosting the pick-up.  Getting the race goodies improved my hopes for the run, since I not only got a long-sleeved shirt, but also a collapsible water bottle and it was all inside a reusable thermal bag.  It apparently only takes the little things to improve my mood!

I had to pack all my running attire I would need for the race, since I was planning on getting in a short run during the retreat and would be going directly to the race Sunday morning.  I got in my last run before the race Friday morning while everyone was still asleep.  However, during this easy run, I did feel pretty good considering how little shut-eye I had gotten and my legs weren't doing too poorly (though my Garmin was another story - it had my pace and mileage way off).  Maybe the race would have the same prospect!

When the morning of the race rolled around, I was definitely tired, but feeling okay.  I got all attired up, said my good-byes and made my way to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.  As has become my custom, I like to use a portion of the trail to warm up before heading to the race, since I tend to feel awkward doing my stretches and dynamic exercises with other people around (introvert problems!).  I took my warm-up nice and easy with special attention given to remaining on the grass that bordered the trail.  Besides just some tightness, I felt pretty good.  However, the true test would come shortly in that the majority of the course was on pavement and I wasn't sure what would happen when I pushed myself to go faster.

The moment of truth arrived as I lined up in the 8 minute pace area while shaking my arms and legs to keep them loose.  The buzzer sounded and we were off!  Trying my best to practice good form, I got myself into an even rhythm and just kept putting one leg in front of the other.  Something amazing happened during the race - my shins didn't hurt!  I moved along the course at a great pace constantly driving myself to catch up the next person in front of me.  Looking down at my watch at one point, the thought occurred to me: I could actually break 22 minutes.  While my legs were tiring, I kept moving and my revelation came true - final time was 21:45!  I was exhausted, but also exhilarated in finally returning to the times I had gotten in high school and college.

Even with circumstances surrounding the race not the greatest, I was able to PR and be reminded why I enjoy spending hours on the roads and trails.  The results of the Jingle Bell Run have energized me for my next race - the Frigid 5 Miler.  I also have my eyes set on a new goal - sub-21:00 a 5K.

Happy Running!

You can read my full race review at Bibrave.

Friday, December 4, 2015

5 Dream Racecations

For this Friday Five, I'm linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What, and Mar at Mar on the Run.  The theme for this week is five dream vacations, which I am adjusting slightly to be more focused on racecations I would like to take.

Like most runners, I have participated in local runs and had a great experience with them.  However, a small part of us always dreams of going a little further away to some exotic and exciting place and joining in a race that just matches our personality so well.  We develop race bucket lists based on these desires knowing that the reality of actually accomplishing them would be unlikely at best.  Wanting to experience both the new place and run while at it has created this new concept of "racecations."  In considering where I would like to go and what I would like to race, below is my top five dream racecations.

1.  Star Wars Half Marathon - I will be the first to admit it - I LOVE Star Wars!  Ever since I was little, the movies (specifically the original trilogy) have always been my favorite.  When I heard that Disney was hosting a race that combined both my favorite movies and running through the most magical place on earth, I was totally stoked.  Sadly, between the finances to accomplish this run and not really being able to take time off from teacher to go in the middle of April, this racecation will have to remain on my list until I'm closer to like 30 years.

2.  Avengers Half Marathon - In the various travels I have done, the furthest west I have ever ventured has been Arizona.  Yet, a place I would always like to go some day is California and pay a visit to Disney Land.  And if I'm going to be at that park, how could I pass up the opportunity to appease my superhero-loving self and run in the Avengers Half Marathon?  Now if only I had Captain America's build....

3.  Big Sur Half Marathon - Every picture I have seen of the West Coast presents it as absolutely stunning.  And from what I can tell, many races seem to take advantage of this gorgeous landscape.  As an East Coaster, I would love to make it to the other side of the country to admire the Pacific while running the Big Sur Half Marathon.  From what I have heard about the race, it is on a vast number of runners' bucket list and I figure I might as well add it to mine.  Running while hearing the crashing of the sea sounds so soothing and enjoyable.

4.  Boston Half Marathon - I first heard about the Boston Half Marathon when I was speaking to another runner this past summer.  In the other runner being someone who has never done a full marathon, he told me that the experience of at least running on the same course as the famous race was really exciting.  And with Boston not being that far away (my wife has gone there by train), I would like to see this famous and historic city.  Maybe when things align, I'll finally get that chance!

5.  Dublin Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon - I couldn't have a list of dream racecations without including an international experience.  When my wife and I were planning our honeymoon, Ireland had been in the discussion right up until we made plans (decided to go with Rome instead).  Consequently, I still want to visit the birth place of my great-grandparents.  While there, I would like to make it to Dublin and run my first Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon.  The Rock 'n' Roll series always sounds like a great time, so why not do it internationally.

So that is my top five racecations I would love to take,  What is one of your dream racecations?

Happy running!

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Run Just For Fun

Running, especially when speaking about races, can take on a competitive component.  We are always striving for the next PR to prove to ourselves that we have improved in our abilities and all those long hours on the road were worth it.  Yet, one of the dangers this tendency invites is that we forget how much we love running in general.  Buddy the Elf puts it so well (and yes, every time you read it you will hear it said in Will Farrell's voice).

As a result, I was pretty excited when I signed up in the beginning of November for the Ugly Sweater Run.  In reading about the various aspects of the run (offering hot chocolate to me is a definite selling point), I began to look forward to participating in the event where no chips or timers would be in sight.  My runs lately have been really enjoyable to the point that my iPod had no juice left in it from sitting unused for so many weeks.  In approaching this 5K run, I only had one goal in mind - just enjoy myself.

The anticipation for the event was great as I began my hunt from an ugly sweater to wear.  After checking the sweater aisle in a variety of stores throughout Black Friday shopping, I eventually found what I was searching for at the local Goodwill.  With the sweater set out, all I needed to do now was pick up my run packet and all would be ready.  Fleet Feet Pittsburgh hosted the pre-run pick-up, which is the first time I had been to this running store.  In true Pittsburgher fashion, I was a little nervous about crossing over a river in order to get to the store (going outside of one's region where he or she lives is a big deal, especially if it involves using a bridge or tunnel!), but survived the ordeal.  Let the Christmas-themed running shenanigans begin!

With the race having a later start time (sleep in longer? yes!), I was able to take my time getting ready and heading out the door.  While I could have parked near the starting line, I passed up this option (and saved $7) by instead parking along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and running into the city.  Not only is this trail my favorite in the city due to its scenery, but I also had the opportunity to warm up.

As I approached PNC Park where the race was held, the festive inflatable spirit was clearly in the air and ugly sweaters abounded all around.

With all the sights and sounds, the time until the run started flew by.  The one issue was that I could feel my legs cooling down from my jog to the staging area.  I did a little of static stretching and got into position to begin the run.  I did start my Garmin when my grouping was released, but purely for tracking purposes and had my sleeve pulled over it the entire run.  I set into a decent, but not race, pace since I wanted to just enjoy the experience.  However, like any time I push myself, I could feel my shin muscles begin to tighten.  I pulled back a little, but knew the rest of the run would involve lower-leg soreness.  I didn't let this dampen my mood and kept trucking along.  When I reached the finish line, after giving Santa a high-five, I stopped my watch and noticed that I was only a minute slower than my recent 5K PR.  Cool!  After a cup of hot chocolate, a selfie with an inflatable and some stretching, I made my way back to the car.

Overall, I was really happy with the day and believed I accomplished my goal.  This run reminded me how much fun running can be and also helped prep me for my next race in two weeks - the Jingle Bell Run/Walk.  In addition, I have now acquired an ugly sweater and hat that can make an appearance on Ugly Sweater Day at school!

Happy Running!

Check out my run review on Bibrave!

Friday, November 27, 2015

5 Ways to Practice Gratitude

For this Friday Five, I'm linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What, and Mar at Mar on the Run.  The theme for this week, in honor of Thanksgiving, is gratitude.

The time leading up to Thanksgiving and running through Christmas is often filled with an external encouragement to show gratitude.  From themes in TV shows to advertisements, we hear from so many sources how this time of year is when we should be grateful.  However, when December 26 rolls around, we often return to a state of less thankfulness.  As a result, the five suggestions below I am hoping you find to be timeless and can practice these simple means of gratitude year-round.

1.  Write a Thank You Letter - A simple thank you note can mean the world to someone.  As a teacher, I have received these notes over the years and have a drawer that I keep them in.  Any time I need a boost of motivation, I read one of the letters.  The writer of a thank you letter may never know how much his or her words mean to the recipient.

2.  Donate to Charity - While the holidays are great times to give to charities, off-season donations also serve a need.  Places such as food pantries often get an influx of goods during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but begin to run low in the summer and early autumn when schools and other organizations are not collecting and donating.  Reflect your gratefulness for what you have by giving to others throughout the year.

3.  Show Authentic Appreciation - Any time someone does something nice for us, we automatically respond, "thank you."  However, when we say these words, they are more of a reflex than from the heart.  Next time someone performs a generous act, respond in gratitude by thanking them specifically for what he or had done.  "Thank you for...."  This intentional thanking will help you become aware of just how many kind acts other people, even strangers, do for you throughout a day.

4.  Appreciate What We Have - One of the simplest ways to show gratitude is to be content with what we have.  Look around wherever you are reading this post and take in what all is around you.  So many blessings we have in our lives!

5.  Give a Wave of Thanks - As with every Friday Five, I always like to include a running-focused item on the list.  The way in which we can show gratitude while running is giving some non-verbal thanks to drivers who are aware of us on the road and kindly give us space to run.  While some cars may make us a little nervous as we feel the breeze of them buzzing by, other motorists provide us a wide breadth.  By giving a small wave or nod of thanks, we show our appreciation to the drivers for watching out for our safety.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful and blessed holiday season and thank you for reading my blog!

Happy running!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

#RunChatHunt Has Begun!

It's that time of year when a chill breeze is in the air, the scents of apple and pumpkin waft through the house, and the number of decorations a runner sees along his or her route suddenly multiplies.  This last change in the seasons is one of my favorites and it can become just as exciting for you, too!

The great people at #RunChat, who on Sundays provide an awesome twitter chat, want to keep running as interesting as possible and bring a greater awareness of it to a social level.  To accomplish this amazing task, they developed what is referred to as #RunChatHunt.  Think of this activity as a running scavenger hunt.  The goal of the hunt is to find as many items from a list as possible, snap a picture, and share it on social media.  The objects range from seasonal to unique to a little bizarre.  The hope is that each runner will help in capturing his or her running experience and allow others to get a small glimpse into it.  To add to this adventure, for each item you submit, you receive an additional entry for some amazing prizes.  Check out the list of items below:

For more details, list of prizes, and the rules, visit the blog post from #RunChat here.

I will be updating this page with the various pics I take so you can track my progress.  I already have in mind where I want to begin!    Comment below if you want plan to join in the fun!

Happy running!

My #RunChatHunt Finds:

1.  Left-over Halloween Decoration: Looks like one has already served as a snack!
2.  Salvation Army Bell Ringer: He stayed at his post the entire day - that's endurance!
3.  Holiday Running Gear - Wow do they make a lot of Christmas-themed running attire!
4.  Holiday Inflatable - Hello Mr. Christmas Tree!
5.  Something that best represents your city - Pittsburghers are die-hard sports fans!
6.  Race Finish Line - Thank you for your assistance Ugly Sweater Run!
7.  Bridge - Only had 446 to choose from...Yes, we have the most in the world!
8.  View From A Trail - Three Rivers Heritage Trail is my favorite!
9.  High School Track - Finally paid the track a visit and found out it's open to the public!
10.  School Zone Sign - Was leaving the track as it was getting dark and realized I need the sign!
11.  Fake Snowflakes - This heat wave was making it hard to find these gems!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Product Review: C9 Champion 3 in 1 Insulated Jacket

The cold weather has arrived and the warm clothes are making an appearance!  A few weeks ago, Target had a sale on its C9 outerwear, which I had been eyeing up for some time.  When I saw that the 3 in 1 Insulated Jacket was included in the discounts, I couldn't pass it up.  Since getting the product, I have worn it in all three parts - outer shell, inner insulated lining and the jacket as a whole.  Now that I have given all three elements of the jacket a test, I feel confident in reviewing my impressions of it.

Like I have mentioned previously with C9, it is one of my favorite lines for workout clothing that won't break the bank but serve its purpose.  And in getting a 3 in 1 product, I felt like I was getting even better of a deal.  So to break down this review and get it under way, let's start with the outer shell!

The day I purchased my jacket, the temperature was slightly mild for this time of year.  However, the wind was crazy and had a slight chill to it.  One of the claims of the jacket is its wind resistance and I thought, "What better way to see how true that is than running in 20 MPH gusts!"  I unzipped (which is a nice feature compared to snaps or Velcro) and removed the inner insulated lining and put on the outer shell.  I noticed the various number of cords that were throughout the jacket shell and, to be honest, had not the slightest clue what to do with them, since no instructions were included with the jacket.  As is my natural inclination, I decided that I would just figure out what all the bungees were for while on the go.  I then headed out the door and planned on covering a few miles.

I pulled the hood up in order to retain some heat, but due both to the wind and size of the hood, it quickly fell off.  I then remembered seeing a cord at the base of the hood and decided to give it a pull.  To my surprise, I began to feel the cords inside the hood conform to my head - it's ingenious!  The jacket didn't create any greater issues running in windy conditions than if I were just in shorts and a shirt.  I also liked having not only two front pockets, but a chest pocket for holding my phone as well.  Since I often over-dress for runs, I did have to let the jacket air out when I was finished with my workout so it could dry from sweat.  Overall, the first run with it was pretty successful.

My second run with the jacket necessitated a little more warmth than provided by just the outer shell, but not to the point of wearing the jacket as a whole.  I chose to wear the inner insulated liner with the temperature being in the mid-40's.  I was happy with how warm it kept me without feeling bulky or cumbersome.  In addition, the inner layer also has its own zipper pockets, so no need to worry about things falling out or not having pockets if just wearing the insulated liner.  So far the jacket was two for two!

In the last few days, the chilly air of autumn has finally set in giving me the opportunity to see just how well this 3 in 1 jacket can keep my toasty while the temperatures are hovering around freezing.  As someone who gets cold easily, I half-expected to be finishing my run icy and wanting more layers.  Boy was I wrong!  Not once during my 32 degree run did I feel cold but in actuality had to zip the coat down a little to cool off.  This jacket will be seeing many miles this winter and I won't be dreading my cold runs!

Overall, I am very pleased with the jacket.  The one big disadvantage to the product is that it does not have any reflective material on it.  Since some of my winter runs will be after the sun sets, I will need to invest in a vest or lighting system.  Other than this issue, I am happy to have found a quality 3 in 1 insulated jacket for the right price.

Happy running!

Friday, November 20, 2015

5 Favorite Fall Drinks

For this Friday Five, I'm linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What, and Mar at Mar on the Run.  The theme for this week is five favorite fall drinks.

I will admit, I am a pretty boring drinker with almost every meal consisting of primarily just water.  However, a few drinks during this time of year do stand out.  While my list may looks like that of a five-year-old's, it is also characteristically me.

1.  Hot Chocolate: Without a doubt, I could drink hot chocolate non-stop from the moment the temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  As a self-proclaimed chocoholic, with affirmation from my wife who claims I can sniff it out anywhere in the house, anything containing that sweet substance is for me.  I have to admit, in trying a variety of hot chocolate drinks from various establishments, Starbucks wins out.  It is just so dang good!

2.  Hot Apple Cider: In close second, warm apple cider hits the stop when hot chocolate is unavailable.  I am sure that this is due to the sheer amount of sugar content in the drink, but it tastes oh so amazing.  While I have had fresh cider (my in-laws used to own a wooden cider press), I'll take whatever form of the drink I can get.  Of all my drink choices, this one is probably the most seasonal since the shelves become suddenly vacant of it the moment the leaves are no longer on the trees.

3.  Sparkling Grape Juice: When my wife and I first started dating, neither of us were 21.  In order to celebrate the various holidays, we would go to the store and pick up a bottle of sparkling grape juice as our festive drink of choice.  For ten years now, this tradition has continued.  As we move through the fall holidays and into the winter celebrations, our table will have a bottle of grape juice sitting on it, but of course being poured into fancy wine glasses.

4.  Water: Yes, I did include water in my fall drink list not only because it is my drink of choice, but more from a running perspective.  As the months get colder, we sometimes forget that our hydration needs do not necessarily decrease.  Even if we may not be drenched in sweat at the end of a autumn run, we still need to replenish our H2O supply.  Amidst the other festive drinks of the season, continue to keep up with your water intake.

5.  Soup Broth: During the summer months, grilled chicken and fresh veggies are a staple for meals.  However, once the cool air blows in, the soup cans appear.  Once I have eaten all the goodies in my chicken noodle soup, I love drinking the broth.  It's alway tasty, filling, and hits the spot.  I would therefore consider broth as a legitimate fall drink.

What fall drink tops your favorite list?

Happy running!

Friday, November 13, 2015

5 Healthy for the Holidays Tips

I decided this week to join in on Friday Five, since I have always enjoyed reading these blog posts at the end of a long week.  I'm linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What, and Mar at Mar on the Run.  The theme for this week is five ways to stay healthy during the holidays.

Holidays are always a wonderful time of the year, but they can create some challenges when it comes to not overindulging and also attempting to find times to get in those runs.  Here are five ways to stay on track despite the turkey, Christmas cookies, and champagne.

1.  Make use of extra time: Depending on your progression, the holidays may be an occasion you are out of the office more than in it.  In being a teacher, I am one of those blessed souls who has a few extra days in the house.  Because of this change of schedule, I can go running in the morning instead of the evening, when I may be meeting up with family or friends.  I can also squeeze in a race with many charities sponsoring Turkey Trots, Santa Runs, and  New Years Races.

2.  All things in moderation:  Homemade pierogies and paska are hallmarks at my grandmother's dinner table for the holidays.  The sheer amount of butter, while artery-clogging, tastes so good.  With any amazingly delectable but no-so-healthy food, allow yourself to enjoy it, but only take a little at a time.  I know when I sit down at the table and the aromas hit me, my eyes definitely become larger than my stomach.

3.  Park and walk: Between Black Friday and December 26, we will be spending lots of time going in and out of stores first buying our sweetie that pillow she has been begging for (true story) and returning the sweater that would never see the light of day again if it were kept.  When out shopping, consider parking at the end of the lot and getting some extra walking in.  Not only will you build bigger calves and biceps by carrying your purchases to the back of the lot, but you can also have a slightly easier time avoiding the traffic jams that inevitably happen in front of stores.

4.  Invest in your health:  As runners, we spend a plethora of hours online drooling over the newest apparel and gadgets constantly being released.  This holiday season when the sales are going crazy, consider adding some running gear to your letter to Santa.  Particularly if the is something for the warmer months of the year, it will give you someone to look forward to wearing once the weather shifts.  And, you know, if anyone would like to get me the Garmin Forerunner 25, I'd be totally cool with that.

5.  Make a recovery plan:  In the end, while we do try our hardest to keep things to the norm during the holidays, it's entirely realistic to assume we will not necessarily remain on track.  As a result, consider making a game plan for what you will do once the holidays are over.  Plan out your runs, peruse some training plans, and maybe even sign up for an early spring race.  In formulating your plan prior to the holidays, you will be more likely to avoid the danger of delaying the return to normalcy and routine.

To you and your families, have a blessed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year!

Happy running!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Running Nostalgia

I am always amazed at the sheer amount of running resources that exist on the web.  On a regular basis, I am finding blogs, websites, and news stories that capture every aspect of the running experience.  In some ways then, I shouldn't have been surprised when I came across the website Athlinks.

I was reading through a blog involving the author mentioning her total number of runs according to Athlinks.  Not entirely sure what the blogger was referencing, I did a quick Google search for the website and, lo and behold, discovered a resource that claimed to have records from most races dating back to the beginning of online postings.  My curiosity engaged leading me to search for myself in the database.  When the list appeared, I was suddenly facing a glimpse into my running past.  Names and dates of races from fifteen years ago materialized.  I saw the recurrence of some races I had partaken year after year while others were one-time deals.  My times also reflected my tendency even now to not necessarily be a consistent runner.  I even noticed the summer going into my sophomore year of college when I did a race each of the four summer months.  Hard to believe that was almost ten years ago!

In seeing the various race names, I proceeded to do some searches to identify if any of them still occurred.  Since most of the racing I do is usually sponsored by local organizations, the results came back varied.  While some races have come and gone, others continue to go strong.  In seeing these latter races, I am considering participating in them again just to see how things have changed and what has remained the same.

I would say seeing what my running history had been was enjoyable and brought about a little nostalgia regarding times long past.  But, as is always good in life, I look to what more records I can add into Athlinks and continue my joy of a sport that started many years ago.

Happy running!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Five Dogs You Meet In Running

I was out for a nice easy run and was thinking what topics about which I could write some new blog posts.  However, my concentration would occasionally be broken as I would hear the growls and barks of the various dogs along my route.  That's when it hit me - I should write a posts about dogs!  While I do not own a dog myself for a variety of reasons, I do enjoy these lovable friends and encounter a surprising number along my usual runs.  As a result, I have compiled a list of categories into which each canine one meets while running could be classified. So I encourage you, consider the different kings of dogs you encounter when you head on your next run!

The Sentinel
Our first type of four-legged friend is what I like to label the "sentinel."  This dog can often be characterized as older, but still attentive to the world around him.  He'll be the one sitting on the porch or laying in the yard as you run by.  As long as you remain off his territory, he will let you pass by without making a sound.  However, he will be keeping an eye on your lest you dare trespass where you are not welcome.

The Greeter
Our second type of dog I have lovingly named the "greeter," which I chose in favor over other less savory titles.  The moment you near this dog's kingdom, he will do his best to make sure you know you have been noticed and will not let you forget that until you are far out of sight.  He's like the usher who will not relent until you have taken a seat in the pew no matter how much you want to stand in the back.  I would say this dog is the one met most by runners and it's clearly because we are clearly having so much fun running that they are jealous.

The Ninja
The third canine is given the distinct honor of being recognized as the "ninja."  When in stealth mode, this dog has the capability to sneak up to his fence and bark the moment you are least expecting it.  Several runners could consider attempting hurdles due to the amount of jump resulting from being startled.  But like any great ninja, the moment you no longer hear him and give a look over your shoulder to see why he has stopped, you discover he has vanished.

The fourth furry acquaintance is well known by all of us - yes, I am speaking about THAT dog.  No run down your normal routes would be complete without encountering him.  You can identify his bark from a mile away and and time perfectly the moment he will come out to visit with you while you stride past his invisible fence.  This dog serves as a staple that while the seasons change, holidays come and go, and time moves on, some things will always remain the same.

The Companion
The last and my favorite dog encountered while running is the "companion."  This canine shows a level of focus and determination as he trots along-side his owner with a comfortable ease.  The dog may give you an acknowledging glance, but he will continue on the path set ahead of him.  This canine knows that he is out on the roads and trails in order to support his owner who trains hard, but is never alone.

Disclaimer:  While dogs are great friends, we runners must also express a healthy suspicion around them for our own safety and well-being.  The Humane Society has great information on staying safe when encountering dogs.

Happy running!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Clean Air Dash 5K

Sometimes runners do things sign up for a 5K on a whim.  Whelp, yours truly did exactly that during a moment of weakness last weekend.  While only having gotten back into the routine of running after some recovery time from my half-marathon, I thought, "I did 5Ks all the time!  How hard can this be?"  Well, let's just say there was a learning curve.

Leading up the race, I knew the weather was going to be on the chilly side.  I had done a couple runs during the week and became accustomed to using the zipper of my hoodie to control by body temperature.  I had all planned out what clothing to wear and had a vague idea of what time I could realistically accomplish the distance based off of my half-marathon time.  The morning of the race, I got in my car after packing all possibly necessary amenities and was off.  After getting lost for a short period of time due to not knowing the area where the race was hosted, I did finally find a place to park (any race close to the city = street parking).  When I stepped out of my car, the air didn't feel as cool as I expected to which I figured I could get away with just wearing my tech hoodie.

I made my way a few blocks over to the registration table to pick up my race packet, shirt, and (surprise!) a drawstring bag.  I love when I get useful swag from races!  Anyway, I began my warm-up, but oddly couldn't seem to get my muscles engaged.  It didn't matter if I jogged for a bit, performed some dynamic stretches or just stretched statically.  While I was mentally ready for the race, my legs just didn't seem to want to work.

The time finally came to line up for the race and I positioned myself toward the middle since I try to not go out too strong.  The gun when off and the race began!...or it would have if the course had been wide enough to accommodate the number of runners participating.  During parts of the 3.1 miles, I found myself having to slow down or squeeze past in very narrow spaces.  At the same time, my shins began to ache (as they usually do when I push too hard too fast) making my light steps become much heavier.  The entire race, I felt that any endurance I may have claimed to have was abandoning me.  As a result of the build-up of all this physical pain and mental frustration, the finish line was a welcome sight.

The time I had was an improvement from what I had run during my half-marathon a month before, but it was a few minutes off from what I was able to do in high school and college.  Though disappointed, I keep reminding myself that I have to recognize what my capabilities are now and not what they had once been.  In time, I hope to return to the pace I was able to run, but to rush it will only lead to injury.  I have also become a firm believer in the "runner's high, because what I have found is that the longer I run, the faster I go.  Even during my normal runs, I feel my best when I reach mile 3 or 4.  Maybe this is a sign I should consider taking part in longer racers....

I'm now setting my sights on a Turkey Trot at the end of November and a Christmas-themed race in December.  Maybe my body will be more in tune with those events - we shall see!

Happy running!

Find my full review of the race on BibRave.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why We Run

My wife and I were driving home from work and having a conversation about fitness.  I remarked about how I was looking forward to my upcoming Clean Air Dash 5K and was considering doing a race every month or two throughout the year with the possibility of even participating in a marathon.  My wife who, while supporting me unconditionally, is a self-proclaimed non-runner and replied, "I don't get it."  After a short Abbot-and-Costello like routine of my trying to figure out what she meant, I finally understood that she was referring to running in general.  While a lover of yoga and dancing and someone who has attempted to get hooked on running several times, my wife couldn't comprehend why people go and run crazy distances for hours on end.

Our conversation did get me thinking about why I enjoy running so much.  One of the reasons I got into running in the first place wasn't because I was super fast, but more along the lines of being terrible at every ball-centered sport everyone attempts growing up.  Basketball, baseball, soccer - complete and total failure at each one.  When I started cross country, I had discovered a sport in which I wouldn't embarrass myself on a regular basis!

Now, many years later, I find that running also satisfies the introvert in me.  While I spend all day in front of students constantly interacting, I am by my nature very reserved and quiet.  I enjoy my solitude away from the noise and busyness of the world around me.  When I am on a trail or running down rural streets, my mind can wander and I am at my most relaxed state.  I am at peace and can endure  high levels of socialization after I have had my run.

If you ever forget why you run, revisit your beginnings and that desire to lace up and head out will come alive.

Happy running!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Product Review: C9 Champion Tech Fleece

With the changing of the weather, I have begun to keep my eye out for any good deals on warmer running clothing, since my wardrobe currently consists of shorts and shirts.  Sadly, what I had been finding lately was generally high-priced coats and pants that are well beyond my price range.  You can imagine my excitement then when I saw that Target was having a sale on its C9 Champion Tech Fleece Full Zip Hoodie.  I own several tech shirts, socks and compression shorts from C9 so my expectations were pretty high that the hoodie would meet my needs.

Up until this point, if the weather was ever cooler than expected, I would usually layer up with one of my college hoodies.  The issue with them is that they are all 100% cotton and thus don't allow for too much ventilation or temperature control.  In addition, any precipitation soaks in adding weight and decreasing the effectiveness of the clothing.  Like many other runners, I have sworn off cotton as a viable fabric for athletic gear until proven otherwise.  Now, on to the review!

The C9 hoodie is 100% polyester while providing the same fleecey feel on the inside as other winter clothing.  The fabric is not overly thick, so it won't keep you warm in the middle of a blizzard.  But, if you are like me in not minding layering in compression/spandex gear, this piece of clothing can make due until the weather truly drops into the snow/freezing rain weather.

When zipped up, the hoodie definitely hugs one's figure.  While not uncomfortable, the styling of the jacket does not leave too much bagginess.  I rather liked the cut, since it made for less wind resistance and actually moved with one's body.  I also liked having a full zipper that I could pull up or down to adjust if I was feeling too warm or cold.

Like any great hoodie, wouldn't be one without it, this jacket does have a hood.  If there is one piece of the clothing that I am not a huge fan of its that the hood seems over-sized compared to the rest of the hoodie.  When I started my run, I pulled up the hood, but found it really didn't fit my head unless I pulled the drawstrings pretty tight.  In addition, where the hood attaches to the rest of the jacket appears too broad thus letting cool air in around the neck.  While in no way a deal-breaker, it is a little bit of an annoyance.

The last piece of note involving the hoodie is the two front pockets.  These pockets are big enough to put a phone in, but I would not recommend using them for this purpose.  The opening to the pocket is fairly large leading me to be a little nervous while running that my phone would tumble out.  The pocket would probably work fine in regard to holding gloves, energy chews, earmuffs, etc.  The pockets are also lined with fleece, so if nothing else, you can keep your hands warm while strolling through the neighborhood.

After taking it for a go, I am very pleased with this hoodie, especially in being able to purchase it for under $25.  Target puts its C9 apparel on sale pretty regularly, so keep an eye out for another wave of discounts in the near future.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Stepping On "Not Leaves"

I seem to have gotten ahead of myself in thinking of the winter months' impact on running and neglected, as I was reminded today during my run, the reality of how fall creates unique diversity in how we conquer the roads.  Amidst the familiar smell of cross country season (yes, a sport can have a smell) on the cool air and the beautiful coloration of the leaves on the trees, other challenges lurk that can often be forgotten when running.  Like my winter post, here are few reminds when enjoying your fall runs.

Leaves Are Shady Characters
See what I did there?  While leaves are great in the summer for keeping us out of the blinding sun and look impressive in the fall when the hues shift, they can also be deceptive once they begin to lay on the ground.  This stark truth set in several times during my earlier run.  In running on roads with lots of curves and little berm, I often attempt to extricate myself from the pavement by keeping to the point where grass and concrete meet.  The challenge leaves add to this method of safety is that they can cloak what is actually beneath them.  Within the first half mile of my run, my foot landed on what I thought was grass covered by leaves, but instead turned out to be swampy mud.  Thank God for my water-wicking socks!  While I was able to get myself back in rhythm within a few steps, it could have turned out much worse.  And in seeming to not learn my lesson the first time (I'm a slow learner at times), I repeated the misjudgment and found my foot sliding into a divot between a small hillside and the road.  With twisted ankles and face-plants narrowly avoided, I'm going to be much more careful on where my feet hit the ground.

The Ents Are Going To War!
Or at least I swear the tree branches are attempting to take me out.  With less leaves and everything turning a dreary brown, low-hanging twigs and leaning foliage become much harder to see.  The scratches on my legs serve as proof.  Until the weeds die and the branches break off, these things will continue to serve as annoyances that give leave some pretty nasty scrapes and cuts.

Temperature Like the Stock Market
Where winter is pretty predictable in that it usually stays cold, fall has the opportunity to change on a whim.  While the sun may be shining, the breeze can offer a nasty bite that will cut right through thin clothing.  As a result, while it may be hard to accept, summer attire may need to find itself retired and replaced with items that can be adjusted in case the temperature drops or climbs.  This fact especially holds true on long runs, when anything can and, on occasion, will happen.

Enjoy your various pumpkin-scented/flavored/textured everything and happy running!