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.


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.


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.


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 
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Because Monday

This girl is lighting up my day today.