Thursday, January 22, 2015

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Polar Dash Race Recap

I feel as if my 15-mile Polar Dash race was months ago. It was actually just two weeks ago, but with work and parenthood, the days zoom on by. I signed up for this race back in the fall thinking it would be a great race to push me into getting those miles in as I train for the Miami Marathon. What I didn't realize back then was that I wouldn't really start training for the marathon until the winter and this race would be my long run as I work my way up to 22 miles, instead of it being a "low" mileage run between two longer runs. Oops!

Anyway, come race day it is COLD outside. As in the temperature was in the teens and it felt like it was in the negative. I knew I needed to get the run in because my motivation would be very low to do 15 miles on the treadmill, so I layered up like I have never layered up before. I barely made it to the start line on time because my taxi left me and I ended up having to drive to the race. This was probably a blessing because it meant I was warmed up from having to rush!

The race itself was almost a straight shot along the lake and the miles passed by comfortably. My only complaint was that it was so cold my butt hurt for the first 5 miles of the race. All I could think about was my butt and the numbing feeling that wouldn't go away. It eventually went away and I was able to finish the race without feeling like my butt froze over.

While it was cold, I'm so happy I did the race and was able to push myself out of my comfort zone to get my miles in and stick to my modified training schedule. I felt so awesome and unstoppable after running this race. I also questioned my sanity a bit! It takes a little bit of madness to go out there and run in those cold conditions.

What I liked:
  • The course was right along the lake. 
  • The yeti at mile 7.5 was a fun break to the race. 
  • The medal for this race was gorgeous. 
  • Mile markers at every .5 mile mark, which I found helpful because the miles feel eternal for me when it's cold. 
  • Having my packet ahead of time because I registered early.

What I Didn't Like:
  • Not the race's issue, obviously, but it was cold! I was happy when I finished because I was able to go to my car to heat up. I felt bad for those running the challenges and having to stay outside between challenges. 
 
Running in the cold is a very humbling experience. Having ran in the extreme heat, I would say that running in the extreme cold is just as hard. It takes a lot of mental grit to get through runs in the cold and the heat.

I get to test that grit again this weekend with the Miami Marathon! I can't believe race weekend is finally here.  My goal for this race is to enjoy it with all my friends that I haven't seen since I left Miami in July and finish with a smile. Wish me luck!

For more on my marathon weekend, follow along on Instagram @thecookierunner. I promise there will be fun stuff on there!
Stephanie

Friday, December 26, 2014

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Race Recap: The Ugly Sweater Run

Phew! All caught up on my Race Recaps for the year. I have a long list of blog posts I want to write, but what I lack is the motivation to do so after a full day of work, kids, or both. I ran The Ugly Sweater Run the same day as the Grant Park Turkey Trot because I love to run and race and I do crazy things like that. Mostly, however, I ran this race because my dad was visiting and he said he wanted to run a 5K with me.

Here's a secret: saying you want to run with me or miss running with me are two of the best things I could ever hear and will automatically make me want to hug you.

This race looked like fun and it seemed like a great way to get in the holiday spirit. I didn't have an ugly sweater so I sent my dad on the task of going to thrift stores to find sweaters. There wasn't much by the time he went shopping, but I'm still proud of my surprisingly heavy floral sweater. This race took me a little bit back because we did the race with my girls and the stroller (my girls were with me during my very first 5K). The difference with this race is that my oldest ran/walked most of it! I was so, so proud of that girl. She looked beautiful and strong running the course.

Aside from that, it was really fun seeing all the sweaters on the course. I must have bad taste because I didn't think any of the sweaters were ugly; they were all so much fun to me! But then again, I am the type of person who likes to wear character socks year round.

What I Liked:

  • Running with my family. My dad is awesome and my Oldest makes me heart swell with pride. 
  • Fast packet pickup.
  • Fun beanie. 
  • All the sweaters. 
  • Meeting up with Instagram running friends afterward. 
  • Course on the lakefront. 
  • Stroller- and pet-friendly course. 
  • Free beer!

What I Didn't Like:

  • That part of the course that went through mud and gravel? Not fun with a stroller. 
  • Hot chocolate given out on the course was watery. 
  • No medal (I know, I know, but I love medals).

Debating whether I want to sign up for a New Year's Day race or not. If not, then my next race is January 11th's Polar Dash. I've ran in 30-degree weather so I'm hoping it's not colder than that because I'm signed up for 15 miles! For more on my running, follow me on Instagram @thecookierunner.
Stephanie


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Race Recap: Grant Park Turkey Trot

This post should actually be called "Better Late Than Never" because the Grant Park Turkey Trot was November 29, 2014. I signed up for this race on a last-minute whim because I figured it would be the only time I would actually be able to run a "turkey trot" since the race took place on a Saturday. You see, I refuse to run a race on Thanksgiving because that's my absolute favorite holiday and I love spending the day in the kitchen. My day starts at 7am and the food is ready for a late lunch (and even later dinner!). Running just isn't part of my plan for the day. What can I say? I love to run, but Thanksgiving is the exception.
This is the only picture from race day. Oops!
I wasn't running this race for time. After Chicago, most of my runs have been about feel and just running to run. Training for a marathon is life changing in so many ways and, while I still have dreams of qualifying for Boston, I am more into enjoying the run and the time I get to myself to be myself. So, this run was all about enjoying the run and the crowd and finishing with a smile. I ran 10 miles prior to the race as part of my training for Miami Marathon so I was already in my running groove by the time the race started. Running on the lakefront is my favorite place to run, so I was happy we spent part of the race running there. Overall, it was a fun race and I'm happy I finally participated in a turkey trot!

What I Liked:

  • The fleece is awesome. 
  • I liked everything about the course, except for the last 1/2 mile or so that I felt like I just ran a circle. 
  • Snacks at the end. 
  • Hot cider at the end. 
  • Reasonably priced. 
  • Saturday event. 
  • Chicago skyline on the medal. 
  • The oatmeal sample they gave out in the goodie bag was the bomb. 
What I Didn't Like:
  • Packet pickup was a disaster. I have never waited as long as I did to get my packet. The wait was so long that Road Runner Sports was even raffling off items every 10 minutes. I still don't understand why the wait was so long. 
  • Last 1/2 mile of the course because of the looping feeling. 
  • Packet pickup. It was really awful. 
Next up, race recap for The Ugly Sweater Run! For more on my running, follow me on Instagram @thecookierunner.
Stephanie


Monday, December 8, 2014

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Got My Fitness On: ClassPass Chicago Review

My month-long ClassPass membership has come to an end and it's time to review this membership program. I originally wanted to try ClassPass because I liked the flexibility of membership in terms of the variety of studios included and because ClassPass has the almost-magical ability to centralize everything into one website. With that said, here are the pros and cons of ClassPass:

PRO: CLASS PAGE/RESERVATION SYSTEM
This right here is my absolute favorite part about ClassPass: you log on, click on "classes," and every single class offering at every studio participating in ClassPass is right there before your eyes. To make it even better, you can filter the class search by time, location, and activity and you can reserve your spot in the class up to seven days in advance. Their reservation system is easy to use and I really can't say enough about how much I loved seeing everything on one page. After you register for a class, you are given the option to put the class information into your calendar. As someone who, at times, feels married to her calendar, this was helpful. ClassPass also does a great job of sending confirmation and reminder emails for your registered classes.

CON: CLASS PAGE
The only hiccup I had with the classes page was that if I clicked on a class to read more about the class and then went back, I lost all my filters and the class page would revert back to the closest day to your search. So, for instance, if it was November 20th and I was looking at classes for November 23rd between 5:00pm to 7:00pm and I clicked on a class and tried to go back to my original search, I would lose all the filters and the search would revert back to November 20th or 21st classes.

PRO: CLASS PAGE
Every class had a description and every studio had links to social media. If you clicked on a studio, it would show you the line up of classes at the studio for the week. If you clicked on a specific class, it would show you when the class was being offered again. There were even teacher bios for some of the students.

PRO: RESERVATION SYSTEM
You can plan out your whole week in workouts with ClassPass. Before my first week of trying ClassPass, I spent Sunday night looking up different classes and planning out my workout. I loved that I was able to do this and actually became a little obsessed with checking ClassPass daily to see if there were any classes available during unexpected openings in my schedule.

CON: RESERVATION SYSTEM
The only thing I didn't like about ClassPass and, it has more to do with my lifestyle, than the membership itself was that your classes must be planned ahead of time, at least 2 hours before the class start time. Like I said above, I would have unexpected pockets of time open up and I was never able to take advantage of that free time with a class because I missed the cutoff for signing up for the class. I understand that ClassPass has to release the spots so that others can take advantage of the classes, but still. It was because of this that I wasn't able to take advantage of ClassPass as much as I would have wanted.

PRO: CHECKING IN
Checking in at the studios was easy peasy. I still had to fill out new student forms and sign liability waivers, but other than that, there was no delay in getting myself checked in and working out.

PRO: STUDIO AND CLASS VARIETY
With over 50 studios offering classes in everything from yoga to strength training, ClassPass offers you the best variety possible. I prefer yoga, so most of the classes that I tried were yoga-focused, but even so, there was so much variety of style and environment. I loved being able to preview and try all the different studios in Chicago.

PRO: CLASSES WERE AWESOME!
What a great group of studios on ClassPass. I took classes at The Dailey Method, Moksha, AIR, Body R&D, CorePower Yoga, YogaSix, Zen Yoga Garage, and Core Chicago Pilates and loved all of them. Again, I loved being able to take classes at all the different studios, instead of having to pay the $15-$20 per class I would have had to pay if I would have gone to the studios on my own.

PRO: CLASSPASS PRICE
You can't beat $99 a month price tag. Even if all you take is 5 classes a month, you are still getting your money's worth. 

BOTTOM LINE
Whoever came up with ClassPass deserves a prize for coming up with a membership program that is able to attract a great variety of studios to participate and offer its members hundreds of classes a week. There were minor things that I didn't like, but it's not a deal breaker. ClassPass is made for the person who likes the studio atmosphere, versatility in their workouts, and accessibility to various environments and classes.
For more on ClassPass visit their website. ClassPass is currently offered in the following cities: Boston, Chicago, NYC, LA, San Francisco, DC, Seattle, San Diego, Portland, Austin, and Dallas.

ClassPass gave me a complimentary month-long membership, but all the opinions in this post, my review, and on Instagram, @thecookierunner, are my own. 
Stephanie

Thursday, November 20, 2014

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Race Recap: Disney's Avenger's Half Marathon

What a whirlwind weekend! I flew out to California Saturday morning for Disney's Avenger's Half Marathon and flew back to Chicago Sunday afternoon. I will admit that I had certain expectations of the race because I have done a Disney race before in Disney World. Well, I get to Anaheim and I'm immediately thrown off guard because the parks are located in the city. Of course, it's located in a city and Disney World is also located in a city, buy Disneyland isn't on a massive compound like Disney World. Disney World feels like it's own city and, once you enter Disney World grounds, you forget that anything else exists. Disneyland, on the other hand, doesn't have this feel and, to me, it felt like a regular theme park (it reminded me of Busch Gardens in Tampa, FL) that was put in the middle of a bustling city.

Then, I went to expo and that too threw me off because I was expecting a bigger expo, like the ones I've been to at Disney World. Don't get me wrong, they had everything a person could want out of an expo, but expo is like my playground and I love spending as much time there as possible and I was done with this expo after about half an hour.

One of the things Disneyland has over Disney World is the proximity of everything. That's the perk of being a smaller park! From the expo, which was held at a Disney hotel, I walked through Downtown Disney and straight to the parks. There is one common area that has the entrances to both parks, California Adventure and Disneyland, and this is really convenient for moving between parks, which I did.

Let me tell you, it was nice going through the parks alone and going through the lines fast as a single rider. I went on a few rides, but mostly I just walked around and enjoyed my mini vacation. What really wowed me about the parks was the "It's A Small World" ride. I can't even begin to describe how beautiful it was lit up and decorated. Seriously, mind-blowingly beautiful.

Now, on to the race. I'm glad to report that Disney races universally suck with their start time and my first alarm was set for 3:00am for a 5:30am start time. The race itself was ok and, after mile three, felt like a "regular" race. I say this because the first three miles are on Disney grounds and through the parks. After that, you run through Anaheim and Angels stadium and there are no more characters for photos. I know that not everyone does these races to stop and take pictures, but for me, stopping for pictures is part of the fun and part of what helps me get through the distance. I will say that there were a slew of superhero characters between miles 6 and 7 and military characters (where any of them real?) around mile 9, but they didn't feel like official Disney photo ops.

The wind. If you were at the race or spoke to people who ran the race, you know that the wind was no joke that day. If you haven't heard about it, then let me tell you. The weather was perfect for running in the beginning and was in 60s when the race started for me. About an hour into the race it got really windy. As in, I thought I was going to get blown away by the wind windy. Once the wind started, it seemed like it never ended and the entire time we were running against the wind. The wind was so strong that it even knocked down mile markers along the course. That definitely made for an interesting run! The reunion area was closed off because the wind was knocking things down so everyone was asked to leave as soon as they exited the finisher's area.

Finishing felt great and finishing always feels great. This race marked half marathon #15 for me and my first time traveling to another state for a race. I can see how taking "racecations" can become addictive!
 

What I liked:

  • The race shirt is long sleeve and awesome. 
  • Running through the Disney parks. 
  • Meeting up with old friends and meeting new ones. 
  • Finisher's medal. 
  • Disney!
  • Plenty of water on the course and gels at mile 9. 
What I didn't like:
  • The course: again, it felt like a regular race after mile 3. 
  • Expo: bib pickup and shirt pickup where in two different areas. 
  • Start time: I'm a baby and like the extra hours of sleep. 
  • The wind was crummy. 
Would I do the race again? I think so, but mostly because I would want to go back to California with the family and have them experience Disneyland, too. I could run other races, but the idea of running the inaugural race and continuing to run over the years (Perfect Superhero?!?) is so enticing!

My next race is The Ugly Sweater Run on the 29th. I'm debating whether I want to run a Turkey Trot this year so another 5k might be in the mix, too. For more on my fitness and running, follow my on Instagram @thecookierunner.

Stephanie

Saturday, November 15, 2014

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Race Recap: Hot Chocolate 15K

Considering I'm flying out to California for Disney's Avengers Half Marathon tomorrow, I need to post last weekend's Hot Chocolate 15K review. The Hot Chocolate 15K is a race I had really been looking forward to because, well, chocolate! I have been following this race series for almost two years and, as soon as I found out we were moving to Chicago, I signed up for the race. Running in Chicago plus getting a chocolate-filled finisher's mug was enough for me.

The week of the race I had been closely watching the weather because I knew that the biggest challenge I might face come race day would be the cold. Sure enough, temperatures for race morning were forecasted to be in the 30s. I had never ran in weather that cold so I didn't know how to prepare. I was laughing at myself as I pulled out all my gear the night before because I didn't think it was possible to run in so many layers.

Race morning comes, I get dressed, and head out for my run. It was so cold! I don't think I broke a sweat at any point during my run. Thankfully, I wore just enough layers to get me through the run. What struck me the most during those 15K was that I felt like I was running in the trails again. I didn't look at my watch and ran based on feel, but wow, I felt like I was running so much faster and harder than I actually was running.

Finishing felt amazing and getting my chocolate medal was the best part. Second best was the finisher's mug that was filled with hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, a banana, pretzels, rice krispy treat, and wafer cookies. I say that getting the finisher's mug was second best because it was so cold that the hot chocolate was only hot for about a minute and my fondue was more like those chocolate magic shells that harden on contact with cold ice cream.

What I liked:

  • Smooth packet pickup. 
  • Hot chocolate and chocolate-covered marshmallows at the expo. 
  • Zip-up hoodies for participants. 
  • Gear-for-purchase was awesome and I was all over the "will run for chocolate" shirts. 
  • Prompt start time. 
  • Most of the course was good. 
  • Finisher's medal and mug. 
  • Chocolate and marshmallows along the course. 
What I didn't like:
  • It was cold! 
  • The last .5 mile was dreadful with all the little hills. 
  • The course had some winding that I wasn't crazy about. 
  • No medal for 5K finishers. 
Overall, fun race and, if you like chocolate, this is definitely a race to do. I'm still trying to get into a solid training schedule so I hope this weekend's half marathon will help get me back on course. For more on my running and to see all the fun I'm having this weekend, follow me on Instagram @thecookierunner.

Stephanie

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

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Manitoba Hemp Hearts Review

Two years ago I had no clue what I was getting myself into when I started running. I had no clue that I would fall in love with running and racing. I didn't understand the impact running would have on how I view my body and food. Not a day goes by where I don't feel grateful for being able to run. Today, I honor and am in awe of my body and I approach food with a more mindful attitude. Part of this is having a more open mind about what I try so when Fit Approach offered its Sweat Pink Ambassadors the chance to review Manitoba Harvest Hemp products, I jumped right on board. As part of the campaign, Manitoba Harvest sent me samples of their Hemp Hearts and their three protein powders- HempPro70, HempPro50, and HempPro Fiber.
I decided to use the products as I've used all my other protein powders, in shakes and in my favorite protein bites. I like to drink my protein with almond milk so this is usually my first test of how good a protein powder tastes. I tried the HempPro70 with almond milk and nothing else to see if this protein powder was of the too-sweet or chalky variety.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was not too sweet nor was it chalky. This alone makes me want to continue using Manitoba Harvest because quick and easy protein shakes are a regular part of my diet and I hate those protein powers that are hard to mix and repugnant to drink when not mixed with other things. 
 
The next test was the multiple ingredient protein shake, of which I made my two go-to recipes. The first recipe I tried was had almond milk, bananas, peanut butter, Hemp Hearts, and HempPro50. The best part of this shake and, I think, the reason I love it so much is because it has a lot of my favorite things and the ingredients come together to mask even the worst tasting of protein powders. The only difference I noticed in this shake was the extra nutty flavor from the Hemp Hearts.
 
The next shake I made was my "frosty" shake. This shake is the easiest shake I make and I made it with almond milk, a tablespoon of cocoa powder, HempPro70, Hemp Hearts, and ice. It tasted just like I hoped for and I got to enjoy my healthy frosty shake happily.
 
I used the HempPro Fiber in my protein bites and here is where you could taste the protein. It wasn't a bad taste, but it definitely tasted different than how the bites usually taste when I use a vanilla-flavored protein. Not that I was complaining because you can never go wrong with anything that has peanut butter and chocolate as ingredients!
What I liked the most about these products is that there was no funky aftertaste and that the Hemp Hearts were delicious to snack on just on their own. The biggest perk to this protein powder, however, is the fact that the protein mixes in easily, even in a shaker cup. Again, this is huge for me as on-the-go protein shakes are a normal part of my day.

As an added perk, Manitoba Harvest is offering everyone 20% off their products until November 30, 2014 on their website with the code: HHSweatPink14. If you are into eating healthy and are a protein connoisseur or like to have at least three different types of protein in your home at any given moment like me, I encourage you to try this protein.

I received the Manitoba Harvest samples as part of the Fit Approach campaign. All the opinions in this post are my own. For more on my approach to fitness follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner.

Stephanie

Monday, November 3, 2014

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Race Recap: Monster Dash

I did my best to think of life-after-Chicago by signing up for a half marathon two weeks after the race. Chicago came and went and I did what I was supposed to do: rest, recover, and take it easy on the runs.  I thought that I would be trained and ready for 13.1 miles after running 26.2. Boy, was I wrong. My body and mind must not work like most others (thus 16 miles the Saturday before Chicago) because I had a feeling I wasn't ready to run 13.1 miles. I was excited for the race but, for some reason, I felt unprepared for it. I felt unprepared the night before the race, super unprepared the day of the race, and I broke down by mile 2 of the race. I kept up a decent training pace during those first two miles, but the voice in my head kept saying "You can't do this" and "You aren't prepared" and I let that voice bring me down. At mile 2, my goal changes from "finish with a smile" to "get to mile 10 and then walk the rest of the way." This just goes to show you that even an experienced runner (this would be half #14 for me) can crash and burn.


Thankfully for me, my friend (@runningprado on Instagram) caught up to me before mile 6 after being misdirected and led off-course for 1.5 miles and ran the rest of the race with me. I honestly do not know what I would have done without him. Running beside him for the second half of the race really helped the distance pass by quickly and get me to that finish line. I still finished in decent time (2:04), but it was a hard fight. The last time I struggled that much mentally was the trail run half marathon in June 2014 and, before that, my first half marathon in January 2013. Again, it amazes me how every run can be different, regardless of how well your training went. Great training leading up to the Chicago Marathon resulting in a time I only dreamt about and I still struggled with 13.1 miles two weeks later. Thankfully for me, I've gotten over beating myself up about time so I really was just happy about finishing and adding new hardware to my collection!

What I liked:
  • Great course along the lakefront. 
  • I loved the zippered jacket.
  • Fun medal. 
  • Signing up at the Chicago Marathon expo was great because I was able to get my bib beforehand. 
  • Finish line bag with an apple, chips, and candies. 
  • Free beer!
  • Running with friends. 

What I didn't like:

  • Poorly supported course: My friend was misdirected for 1.5 miles and the first water station was over 2 miles into the race. This was probably the most disappointing part of the race. 

My next race is the Hot Chocolate 15k on November 9th. I am definitely feeling more prepared for this race! For more on my running follow me on Instagram @thecookierunner 
Stephanie
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Because Monday

This girl is lighting up my day today. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Getting My Fitness On: ClassPass Chicago

It has been 13 days since the Chicago Marathon and I have been laying low on my training and exercising until I figure out what I want to do next. I know that I want to keep running and that I definitely want to do another marathon, but other than that, I feel like I have no structure or goal to work toward accomplishing. So basically I've gone from a strict training schedule with lots of structure, to wandering aimlessly and looking up yoga classes online trying to figure out what I can fit into my busy work-family schedule.

The biggest problem I had been coming across is that because my hours can be a little erratic, it would be hard for me to commit to going to classes at one studio consistently. This past week alone I had three random slots open and, if I wanted to take a class during those times, I would have had to go to three different studios and paid three different fees. Not happening as I need all the extra money I can get for running events :)

Then, I remembered coming across a few posts on Instagram about ClassPass, a monthly recurring membership program that includes unlimited access to certain gyms and studios. ClassPass is available in Boston, New York, DC, LA, and San Francisco and recently became available in Chicago. The membership offers unlimited classes a month, but limits the member to three classes per location. At first, you may think this is a drawback, but when you consider that Chicago has close to 70 studios that offer everything from cycling, yoga, Pilates, and strength training, you realize that the drawback is not having enough time to go to all the participating studios. 

I was given the opportunity to review ClassPass so make sure to check back in 30 days for my review and follow me on Instagram @thecookierunner to know more about my ClassPass fitness journey. I can already tell you that I am excited about the studios ClassPass covers as most of them have been on my radar since I moved to Chicago and I am loving the monthly membership price as it is cheaper than most of the monthly memberships at the local studios.  If you are too curious to wait for my review, head on over to the ClassPass website to learn more. Let the fitness exploration begin!

ClassPass gave me a complimentary month-long membership, but all the opinions in this post, my review, and on Instagram are my own. 
Stephanie