Friday, May 31, 2013

Fitness Friday - Keeping it Going!

Another post comes late again tonight. I need to get on a new schedule of moving my running posts to Thursday and reserve Friday for Fitness Friday. Better time management - there are always ways to improve there. :)

Nonetheless, I got a great response from last week's Fitness Friday post as part of the Talk Less, Say More community that I'm going to keep it going! I like it because it keeps me accountable and I can learn from other bloggers in the Fitness Friday community.


Saturday - My week started off pretty intense as I ran my first 5K in almost 6 months Saturday at the KTC Expo! It was surprisingly 50ish degrees (chilly for May here in TN). It was TOUGH trying to run faster again after the slower, longer half-marathon training. I ran my first mile in under 10 minutes and it almost completely exhausted every ounce of energy I had! Then I had to run two more, the last mile being mostly uphill! I obviously ran slower in the next two miles.
Nonetheless, I felt pushed to my limit at the end. My lungs felt like they were going to explode, and I felt tired and weak. I wanted to throw my watch when I saw my time was 33:08 (not a PR). It was better than the 35 minutes I ran the Expo last year, but not a PR by a longshot! My PR to date is 31:20. While I can run much longer than I used to, these short fast runs are much harder than they used to be.

6/2 Edit: It's important to me that I am candid and honest about how I feel during both the challenges and enjoyment of running and my other pursuits. I do this because I want you to know that we all have ups and downs. You're not alone if you have a rough day, or you don't finish at a time you were hoping. At the end of the Expo, I really did feel disappointed, and that's why I shared how I feel. Upon re-reading what I wrote, I didn't mean to sound self-deprecating, nor didn't imply that 33:08 is a "bad" time (for anyone), or that we should expect ourselves to PR everytime. I don't think there is such thing as a "bad" time, and our goal times are purely individual. If you're out there trying, you're making a positive difference for yourself regardless of how you feel about your time. We should always celebrate that. I believe it is all part of a bigger process and the rough days fuel our inspiration to work harder and get closer to our goals.
The positive out of this experience is that it inspired me towards a new goal, which I call "30by30"(it makes a cool hash tag). I want to run a 30 minute 5K by my 30th birthday (later this year). Another positive was that B acheived a new PR of 24:29. :)
Sunday - Family time, day off. :)
Monday - Memorial Day, which I took off work. I ran one mile in our neighborhood. Since I was only doing one mile, I decided to make it as fast as I could. I ran it in 9:53, and again felt like my lungs were about to explode. Then we ran all kinds of errands, and we set up our tomato garden.

Tuesday - RunKNOX workout. We did the dreaded hills. Run up, run down, repeat. It was 80+ degrees. It was steep and tiring. I'd get to the bottom of the hill, get some water, stare at the hill to psych myself up, and force myself to run uphill again. Remember to stay hydrated in this heat! I thought I had had enough water that day, but I felt lightheaded and exhausted afterwards. I crashed on the couch with a giant bottle of water!
Wednesday - I was supposed to run, but I was dealing with some heel pain. Over the last few weeks (oddly during the down time after my half marathon and before my 5K training), I've been dealing with a lot of pain in my arch and heel in my left foot. It has been so bad that on Saturdays it hurts to put weight on my heel after our runs. I have to wear high heels all day as to not put weight on my heel. Applying ice after running helps a little, but it was getting to the unmanageable level!

I'm not sure what the problem is (possibly a tendon?), but I have reason to believe my shoes are to blame. I've had the same pair since before I trained for my half marathon in December...
Thursday - I got up early and ran two miles near my home. I pushed myself to a slightly faster pace (11:30/mi) than my usual easy pace (12+ minutes). Then we did a circuit core workout with RunKNOX that evening.
Today - Heel hurting again, so I went to an early yoga class. After work, I went to a specialty running shoe store and got new shoes! I got the same pair I'd had before, since they had been great until last month. I think I waited too long to switch. What a difference! They feel like I'm walking on magical clouds! Fingers crossed this will solve my problems!
And that's it! What did you do this week?
-Amy

Running Newbie to a Half Marathon in 1 Year: Part 5 // Beginning Half Marathon Training


 

 Thank you for checking out Part 5 of my first running series! If you haven’t checked it out, you can find Part 4 here.

At the end of 2012, I had spent the prior 9 months training for my first 5K, and continuing to train for faster 5K times. I PR’ed in November with a time of 31:20, and I was feeling a little burned out from the stress of trying to get faster and faster.

In December, I decided to switch gears and start training for my first half-marathon. At first, I was pretty reluctant to train for a half-marathon, which at the time seemed like an impossible distance. I set my sights for the Knoxville Covenant Health Half Marathon in April 2013. The idea of just getting in the groove at an easier pace and just running longer sounded refreshing and nice.

That was a nice thought full of unicorns and rainbows. It lasted until my first half marathon training practice.

The half-marathon training through RunKNOX technically started up in December 2012. However, since it fell during the busy holiday season, we received a schedule to follow on our own, and had the option to meet up with community group runs on Saturdays.

I remember when my husband, Brandon, and I received the December running schedule in our email. As per his usual character, he glanced at it and said something like, “Hmm, that’s cool,” like it was nothing. I, however, took a look at the schedule, which included one long run per week and varying shorter runs throughout the week, and wanted to pass out! Our goal at the end of the month was to reach 8-10 miles.

Speaking of impossible dreams of unicorns and rainbows…

Luckily, I emailed my coach, Darren, and he assured me there was no pressure. There were people of all levels in the program, and the more experienced runners would reach this point. I just decided I would work to the best of my ability, and see where I ended up at the end of the month. We met up with the weekly community runs on Saturdays, and ran on our own (sometimes together, sometimes individually) during the week. What a process that was…

It was cold, and often dark.


I realize this is whiny of me, but one of my biggest hurdles was getting over my fear of running in the cold. I grew up in a much colder part of the country, but I’m pretty sure I lost my tolerance to cold the first year I lived in Tennessee. I’m that girl who has an extra jacket or cardigan and fingerless gloves at the office during the winter. I sleep under an electric blanket and sit by the fireplace at home a lot.

I remember B and I getting in the car to go to one of the few semi-lit greenways during evenings after work. It took everything I had in me (as well as B practically dragging me) to get out of the car and start running.

I invested in running tights, layers of long-sleeved running shirts and pullovers, a warm band to go over my ears, and gloves. I considered getting a running coat or jacket, however...

To my complete surprise, I discovered once I got a few minutes into my run, I wasn't nearly as cold anymore. In fact, sometimes I even got hot. I discovered I hated wearing gloves while running. It turned out that the cold didn't bother me nearly as much as I thought it would.

Oh the mental hangups we have about such minor things.

It was hard, but in a different way than shorter distance running. I was tired a lot.


With the shorter, faster 5K training I’d been doing, I basically felt like this:

During the run: Can't...breathe...must push faster...legs burning...energy fading...try to keep running until I count to 10...I can't hold on...
Immediately after: Recover! Need water! Need oxygen! Now!
30 minutes later: Feelin' back to normal! Let's cook breakfast, play with kitties, go shopping, whatever!

Longer distance running felt completely different. I started out running 4-5 miles on my long runs and gradually working up. I'd go really slooow, like 12+ minute miles. It never got intensely difficult, like my lungs were about to explode like before. That doesn't mean it was easy, though. Far from it. Although not intense like before, my legs would start to feel wear after 4 or so miles. I don't know how to describe it. Just stiff, sore, and tired. Each step started hurting a little towards the end. Instead of bouncing back like after 5K training, I could barely walk the rest of the day.

Any rapper would have been proud of my gangsta lean. 

Mentally, long runs were draining. As before, I'd spend half of the run worrying about the next half of the run.

You know, I like to plan ahead.

Also, running 15+ miles a week was draining on my overall energy throughout the day. It was Christmas time, and I had to drag myself off the couch to go shopping or decorate (some of my favorite activities). I later learned that I could reduce this through nutritional supplements before and after running. I'll get to that.

But then…big things started happening…

Over the first month of training on our own, I didn't make it to 8 or 10 miles, but I got up to running 7.5 miles! I remember that day clearly. I was flustered and late to the community run, annoyed that it was less than 30 degrees that morning, and I just had a bad attitude. Once I got a couple of miles in, however, I got in a groove, felt more positive, and surprised myself. I couldn't believe I got so close to the 8 mile goal that seemed so daunting at first!

In January we began our structured practices. As in the 5K program, we did everything from running hills, working on running certain paces, and yes, increasing distance. Everything was just set at a longer distance. Like I said, it was hard, and I'd go home exhausted sometimes. I was one of the slowest runners in the program, but that's okay. I found another girl close to my pace, and we ran together throughout the program. Luckily, neither one of us were big talkers while running, so we didn't feel pressured to chat.

I mean, running is hard enough. Do I have to think about social conventions, too?

Over time, the results kept slowly coming, and that kept me motivated. We ran our first 10K, the Strawberry Plains 10K, in February. I really enjoyed the 10K distance. It wasn't so long it was miserable, but it wasn't so short that I felt pressured to run too fast. I ran with my new running partner, and finished in 1:12! My first 10K PR! :)

B and I after Strawberry Plains. He finished in a crazy 52 minutes! Go B!

At this point, I’d gotten to running 8 miles. Although training was going well, I still hadn’t registered for the half marathon as I still doubted myself a little. With about two months left until my half marathon, my next steps were to increase my distance to 10 miles, then 12 miles, then taper down to prepare for the race. And despite my doubts, I did all of those!

If you’re ready to train for a half marathon, here are some things I would consider:

  • Make sure you’re ready to train for a half marathon. I trained for 5Ks for months so that I would feel completely comfortable at 3 miles before increasing my distance.
  • Just like in training for a first 5K, I personally recommend finding a training program or group. Increasing distance and all of the challenges and complications that come along with it is daunting. A good program will guide you through not only increasing distance, but also focusing on running better. It will also provide you a support network as you encounter challenges, have questions, or need a pick-me-up.
  • Revisit tips in articles 1, 2, 3 and 4, including making sure you have good running shoes and comfortable clothes, believing in yourself and your training, asking any and every question (especially ASAP if you notice pain or injury!!), staying patient, and accepting that the process will have its good and bad days.
  • Try to get out of your head and not focus on the little things. I struggled (and still do) a lot with this. I’d stress about how cold it was at first, if my hair was falling out of my ponytail, if I was feeling tired, if my clothing wasn’t comfortable for whatever reason, etc. Try to let these things go. I tried to get a good playlist on, settle into a comfortable pace, and zone out. It doesn’t always happen, but feels great when it does. 
  • Do all of the “extra stuff”! I can’t emphasize this enough! This long distance stuff is no joke. You can’t blow off stretching, hydration, good nutrition, rest, etc, and get away with it, trust me. I went to bed early (usually not by choice, but because I couldn’t keep my eyes open) and drank a ton of water. I discovered later on that nutritional supplements could make all of the difference in my energy and recovery, which I’ll cover next time. To reduce the soreness in my legs and hips, I did stretches, specifically in my legs and hips, after running, and started dabbling in a yoga class here and there. There are great options here, here, and here.
Check out the final article in this series, as I share lessons learned from running my first half marathon last month.

What tips helped you as you trained for a half marathon?

-Amy


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*I was not compensated by RunKNOX for this post, nor is RunKNOX affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences as I began running through the program. The views expressed in this article are solely my own. Also, I'm not a health or fitness professional of any kind. See my Terms and Conditions page.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tomatoes - 3rd Time's a Charm?


 
"It's time to plant your tomatoes when you look up at the mountains, and you see leaves on the trees at the very top" - Gardening wisdom from my husband's grandmother

As both of our families are from Appalachia, my husband, Brandon, and I have many family members who grow, can, and preserve food. It's amazing the wisdom you can learn from them. They don't go by charts, calendars, or detailed websites. Their knowledge has been handed down from generations before them who relied on growing and preserving their own food to survive. I've found their advice more valuable than Google!

Although I, too, spent most of my younger life in small town Appalachia, I downplayed my country roots for many years. I was focused on my education and my career, and I set my sights on living in a city where I could pursue these dreams.

In recent years, however, I've surprised myself by taking an interest in going back to basics and trying my hand at gardening. I suppose this was for several reasons. I love the taste of fresh vegetables. I like learning new things and doing things myself. While I'm not super picky on being 100% organic all the time, I like knowing that the foods I eat are local and don't have a ton of preservatives on them.

However, it's time to be honest with myself. My prime motivation is salsa. Yummy, fresh, spicy salsa. I don't need a complicated recipe - tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, and a little lime juice. I suppose I love it so much because it combines my love of fresh veggies with my love of spicy foods. The key is it all has to be fresh.

As you can see, and probably already know if you live in this part of the country, the trees on the mountaintops have had leaves for a few weeks now.  Yep, we're a little behind on planting our tomatoes, but I don't think it's too late! According to this article, you can plant tomatoes as soon as nighttime temperatures stay above 50 degrees. I haven't found a deadline on when it's too late to plant. Since the 8 weeks it takes tomatoes to mature will transpire before it gets chilly in fall, I think it's still okay.

The problem is that we don't exactly have a great track record in the tomato raising department...

Year 1


We tried two options :
  1. In-ground garden next to house with herbs and jalapeno peppers. The soil near our house isn't great (it's kind of a red clay), and it gets a lot of drainage from a slope in the backyard. The herbs and peppers were hearty enough to deal with it, but the tomatoes didn't dig it. The tomatoes were fresh and delicious, but we only got a few, very small tomatoes.
  2. We also tried using a Topsy Turvy. The plants were bigger than the in-ground plants (likely due to the rich soil we put in the bag), and that method looked very promising. However, we had a huge windy thunderstorm that summer. It tossed the Topsy Turvy around, breaking the plant. If you try a Topsy Turvy, I highly recommend bringing it inside during storms!

Year 2


We tried in-ground in the same spot, but the hot dry summer didn't bode well for us. Again, only a few, small tomatoes.


Year 3


This time, we're starting over, and starting small. We have only purchased 6 tomato plants, and we're trying a new method - a raised bed. Since the soil and drainage in our yard is so poor, we decided this method might be the best for us. After a weekend of running, family time, and a little outdoor fun, we took Memorial Day off and start our raised tomato bed.

Here's how we did it:

  • We bought supplies - We headed out in Brandon's truck, and purchased the following:

I love B's truck. Makes me wanna roll my windows down and cruise (I love the song, "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line)! I even sing, "Brandon's Mitsubishi without a lift kit looks a whole lot better with me up in it!" Now you know how much of an odd bird I am.
 
    • A 4'x4' raised bed kit, found at Home Depot.
      • We started small on size, but the kit is expandable if we want to grow the garden next year.
      • There are many plans out there to build your own, and it's probably less expensive that way. However, this was so easy and for the most part didn't require tools.
      • The kit was about $40. I know, you're thinking, "those are going to be expensive tomatoes!" As a business nerd, I prefer to think of it as a capital expenditure that could last more than one year, not a component in the unit price of the tomatoes.
    • 5 bags of organic soil (I prefer to use the organic kind) to fulfill the almost 8 cubic feet of soil required (as provided on the raised bed kit package) 

    • 6 tomato plants
      • We started from plants. I know starting from seeds and later transplanting seedlings is a more natural process that gives you more control. Perhaps we try that in the future, but for now, we're keeping it simple.
      • We purchased tomatoes by Bonnie Plants. I'm new to learning about GMO's, and I'm admittedly not knowledgeable there. However, Bonnie states on their website that their plants are not GMO.
      • We chose two kinds of tomato plants to try:
        • 4 plants - "Rutgers Heirloom", a good canning (i.e. salsa) tomato according to the label
        • 2 plants - "Big Boy", Brandon recommended it as a classic slicing tomato
    • Because the soil in the raised bed isn't compacted, it only required a small hand spade to dig the hole for the tomatoes. We already owned one, as well as gardening gloves to wear.
  • We found a flat, well drained spot, and put together the raised bed.


This was child's play for my handyman, B. I helped too (I promise!) but I was the one taking pics.
    • Because the herb garden next to the house doesn't drain well, we chose a flat area farther away from our house above the slope in our backyard.
    • I wasn't kidding when I said that the raised bed kit we purchased was easy. It basically consists of dovetailed planks that fit right into corner posts. It took less than 10 minutes to set up!
  • We filled the raised bed with all but one bag of soil. Time to get dirty!


 
I'm not afraid to get dirty. With gloves on, of course. :)

  • We planted the tomatoes.

    • We dug holes with the spade, and gently placed the tomato plants in those holes. We placed 2 rows of 3 plants in the 4'x4' space to give them plenty of room.
    • The "Big Boy" plants were in a biodegradable package that could simply be transplanted entirely into the soil.
    • The Rutgers heirlooms had to be gently lifted from a plastic carton and placed into the ground
    • We covered the plants with soil.
  • We opened the last bag of soil, and used it to cover the plants even more.

And now we're off! I can taste the salsa now! Although this is what we did to begin, the work is far from over! Here are our next steps:

  • Set up a cage around them. Tomatoes need to be secured against a stake, cage, or other structural element to stay off the ground. We have a couple of cages from last year, which we plan to use once the plants are a little bigger.
  • Water regularly with watering devices. A friend of mine who is a true Appalachian and avid gardener and homesteader recommended I try using these watering devices. They stake into the ground, and you can place a liter sized plastic bottle into them. They water only the roots and keep the leaves dry (as recommended).
  • Mulch the area. I plan to use grass/straw clippings collected after mowing to hold moisture into the soil.
That's it! Fingers crossed that this year our tomato plants will thrive and I can make fresh salsa from my own garden! Any advice for me as I take on this endeavor again this year? What are your success tips?

-Amy

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*As I referenced, my poor track record makes me a novice gardener at best. I'm simply sharing what I'm trying, and hoping it will work!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Something New...Fitness Friday

Happy Friday! I hope you are ready for a great Memorial Day weekend!

It should come as no surprise that I love reading blogs. I mean, why else would I start my own? I read all kinds of blogs on beauty, fitness, DIY projects, or just stories people share from their lives. I especially like blogs in which the personality of the writer shines through, and I can laugh and relate to their lives. I feel that's what sets blogs apart from magazines or other publications.

One blog I follow is Talk Less, Say More. The blogger behind it, Katie, is a music and health/fitness enthusiast. I love her blogging style of using creative photography to express her life and the things she's doing (i.e. "saying more" while "talking less"). She shares a lot of great workout routines for the treadmill, elliptical, or just strength exercises you can do on your own. I personally struggle with the strength training side of exercise, so any information is helpful to me! If this information could be useful to you, too, I recommend checking it out!

When I was on the Talk Less, Say More blog recently, I happened to notice that Katie hosts a weekly link-up community called "Fitness Friday". It's an opportunity for us to share our fitness endeavors over the past week to motivate, inspire, and learn from each other. I love the idea, so this week, I've decided to share my own Fitness Friday post!



My workouts this week:

Saturday - RunKNOX! I ran 3 mi + some other fun exercises. Planks are hard.

Sunday - Gardening! It's a MAJOR full body workout, I promise! I planted a couple of hostas and a salvia to replace some plants that had died in our backyard. This required digging a hole with a shovel/spade, spreading mulch, and pushing a wheelbarrow up a hill in my backyard. Unfortunately the rain cut it short and I didn't finish.

Monday - Met a friend at the gym. Since I'm clueless about strength workouts (remember?), I take a class called Body Pump which guides me through an entire strength workout. Since I got there early, I hopped on the elliptical for 15 minutes.

Tuesday - More RunKNOX! Another 3 mi + more fun exercises. I can't do squats without feeling like I'm going to fall backwards.

Wednesday - I was supposed to run 3 mi, but I overslept and didn't have time. :(

Thursday - I tried to make up for Wednesday, but overslept again. I only had time for one mile. I decided since I could only do one, I would push myself to run fast. I ran my one mile in 9:53 (fast for me)!

In the evening, I resumed my landscaping project by planting a hosta that was going to die if not planted soon, extending the bed around corner of my house. More digging, swinging a heavy mattock to remove soil and grass, more mulching, and more wheelbarrowing.

Friday - I managed to get up early today and hit up an early morning yoga class. I'm still very new to yoga, and I consider myself a dabbler. Sometimes I'll hit an evening class at my gym, an early morning class at a studio, or a free community class at Lululemon. I find it helps reduce some of the soreness from running, and helps free me from stressing about the little things in life.

That's it! You can check out Katie's Fitness Friday post this week here. What were your fitness endeavors this week?

-Amy

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Running Newbie to a Half Marathon in 1 Year: Part 4 // Where to Go After Your First 5K?


 

Thanks for checking out Part 4 of my first running series! If you haven’t read Part 3 already, you can find it here.

After 12 weeks of making the decision to start running, and surviving the highs and lows of training, I finally ran my first 5K race at the Knoxville Track Club Expo race last May.

During all of those weeks, I was focused on this one day that I would finally reach my goal and run my first 5K. That day gave me every self-indulgent feeling of accomplishment I dreamed it would. However, as far as my running schedule was concerned, the world ended on May 26, 2012.

Kind of like the Mayan calendar, only earlier in 2012. Also, I'm sure they didn't plan to celebrate the end of their calendar with brunch and beverages like I did.

Inevitably, the day after the Expo, I thought, "Okay...now what?" Don't get me wrong - I was ready for a break. I had a wedding to be in, my home and yard were in need of some love, and I wanted to spend time with my poor, neglected husband, Brandon.

Who am I kidding? A pizza, the couch, kitties, and TV all to himself probably made for the best nights of his week.

But while it was nice to have a break, I didn't want to give up my new found love of running. I just didn't know where to go from here. Do I try for a faster 5K? Do I up my distance and aim for a 10K?

If you have run your first 5K (congrats!) and don't know where to go now, here is how I approached it, and some thoughts that I hope are helpful.

Assess where you are now, and where you'd like to be in the future.


Setting my next goal was confusing, so I just tried to assess how I felt about my running. I mean, I had run 3 miles, like twice. I could run 3 miles on a good day. I just needed the right conditions.

You know, not-too-hot and not rainy weather, feeling energetic and positive, a good ponytail day, a cute running outfit, good songs on Pandora when I haven't used all my skips, not too many hills, perhaps social pressure from friends or coaches to finish...

I try to keep it low-maintenance and not ask for much. But if these conditions were not met - all bets were off! Three miles was NOT happening!

From that, I decided that my first goal should be to get more comfortable with running 3 miles. I wanted to feel like I could run 3 miles any day of the week, on a good or bad day. I also decided from there that I should work on getting a faster 5K. That way, if I get this whole 5K thing down, I'll be in a more solid place to train for a longer distance like a 10K or (yikes) a half marathon. My coach, Darren, agreed this was a good plan.

Keep training!


With this goal in mind, I kept running 1-2 miles a few times per week until RunKNOX started in July. This time, I was so excited that Brandon was going to do the program with me!

By the way, I use the phrase "do the program with me" lightly. Meaning, we drove together and rode home together from practice. B, having been a high school athlete, ran way ahead of me and waited on me to finish.

Nonetheless, he enjoyed the program and re-igniting his competitive spirit. I befriended some other girls in the 5K program who were closer to my pace. Working on improving my 5K time was much different than training for my first 5K. I did less walking/running intervals and more straight up running.

That's how I like my running now, straight up.

That was terrible. Anyway, we did all kinds of crazy things in our workouts. Running hills, intervals of faster running, timed miles or laps at the track, you name it. And that whole getting comfortable with 3 miles thing...yeah. I ran 3 miles a lot. Darren was determined that I'd get it down. Good times.

I did this all.summer.long. Oh yeah, there were times I looked rough. It was still hard, but not as scary and miserable as when I first started running.

It never truly gets easy, at least not for me.

Towards the end of the summer, I was finally comfortable with 3 miles, sometimes even 4 miles. I can neither confirm nor deny if I had to walk occasionally. I was running (single) miles at a 10 minute per mile pace, and even broke the 10 minute barrier a few times!

The world just blurred by me. I didn't feel anything, but perhaps others felt the shockwaves.

While I wasn't getting that same rush of accomplishment I'd gotten when reaching new distances training for my first 5K, I was pleased with my progress. B was making huge strides, too. He'd started out the program running about 10 minute miles, and towards the end of the summer, he was running miles in less than 9 minutes. Overacheiver. We enjoyed our new routine of going to practice, then enjoying a meal together.

Whatever your new goal, sign up for a goal race.


Once fall came, it was time to put our skills to the test and start running some 5K's! We looked online to find some local 5K's we could run. We found a small, local Oktoberfest themed 5K with dinner and beverages following the race. Can't go wrong with that. We both achieved PR's that day - B at 25:43 (his current PR to date), and me at 34:30. An improvement, but not where I wanted to be.

Next up was a community 5K at my undergraduate alma mater, a small private college in TN, during the homecoming festivities. Interesting fact: 10 years ago, when I was a sophomore, I volunteered for that race with my sorority (my college was too small to have national sorority affiliations, but had its own sororities. We were non-conformists). Anyway, I remember thinking 10 years ago that it was crazy that people would pay to get up at 7:00 AM or so and run.

My how times have changed.

It was a cold October morning, but I decided to wear the same homecoming T-shirt that I'd worn in 2002 when volunteering at that very race. It was a tiny race - less than 30 participants. Most participants were local high school or college runners, so it was a faster race than I was used to. Sadly, my small hometown hasn't embraced running like the Knoxville community, but I've since seen some positive indicators of change.

I had a new PR (thanks in part to the fact that it was mostly downhill) of 32:35. B was the only thirty-something guy there, so he won his age group! All of my old college friends I ran into that weekend were super-impressed by my new ability!

Here we are, having breakfast with family after the race. Me in my 2002 homecoming shirt, and  B with his age group certificate.

The next 5K we ran was a special one for us - the Komen for the Cure 5K in downtown Knoxville. There are people close to B and I who have been affected by breast cancer, so we were proud to support this cause. What an amazing environment! So much PINK everywhere (love it!) and it was moving to see survivors, friends and family members of people impacted by the disease banding together to support the cause.

My RunKNOX coaches and friends were proud of my progress so far, and encouraged me to run it under 32 minutes. I usually strive to keep a consistent pace through races, but this one was hilly. I went all out on the flat parts, and slooow on the hills. Nonetheless, I achieved my goal and ran the race in 31:20, my PR to date!


It was a little rainy and chilly that day but I loved our pink running shirts!

It's good to strive for a PR, but accept that maybe not every race will be a PR.


By November, we only had one race left - Buddy's Race Against Cancer, a big race also in downtown Knoxville, sponsored by a barbecue franchise in town. Getting a new PR every race so far was fabulous. However, it made me feel pressure to keep getting new PRs.

That whole linear progress, straight A's thing again.

By the time the Buddy's race rolled around, I felt tired from stressing myself out about races. Instead of it being fun, I dreaded it. RunKNOX had ended a week prior to the race, so I didn't feel on top of my game. Luckily, B encouraged me to not worry about it (he hadn't had a new PR in a month). We ran into our coaches before the race, who said the same thing. I finally let it go, ran a good race even though I didn't get a PR (32 something), and had a fun dinner with friends afterwards.

If you feel burned out on the type of training you're doing, try switching gears.


By this point, I was feeling burned out on 5Ks and the pressure to keep getting faster. B was ready to train for a half marathon, and he and the coaches suggested I do the same.

I'm sorry, a what??? You mean add a "1" in front of the 3.1 miles I just did???

At first, I thought they were crazy. However, the more I thought about it, the more it sounded refreshing to switch gears, run slower, and focus on distance. I would no longer feel that pressure to go faster and faster. Reluctantly, I said yes, and signed up for the half marathon training in December.

You can read about my half marathon journey here, as my running series continues.

What were your next goals after your first 5K? How did you continue training?

-Amy

*I was not compensated by RunKNOX for this post, nor is RunKNOX affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences as I began running through the program. The views expressed in this article are solely my own.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Brilliant Design + Knoxville Running Tradition = Support for Boston




The tragedy at the 2013 Boston Marathon.


While my heart goes out to those affected by the tragedy, I don't know that there is anything insightful or inspiring I can say that hasn't already been said.

Ironically, this was the first year I'd planned to follow the Boston Marathon. Being new to running and understanding how challenging and how rewarding it is, I have a whole new respect for these athletes. I had planned to follow the times and stories of the top finishers, who have taken on a distance and speed I can't even imagine accomplishing.

...But then I heard about the attacks. It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to hurt people, especially during such a happy, exciting event that celebrates the honest values of hard work, athleticism, and emotional and physical victories. 

However, I also heard the outpouring of stories of people helping and supporting each other during the tragedy. All sorts of people - observers, staffers, even finishers - rushing to help those who had been injured.

I think back to how I felt after running my first half marathon. I was overwhelmed emotionally as I tried to grasp what I'd just accomplished, yet I was so physically exhausted all I could do was collapse on the ground and try to take it all in.

I can't imagine running twice that distance at a pace I can't even sustain for a mile (Boston qualifying times are no joke), then staying focused to help people who had been injured.

These people are real life superheroes.

It also speaks to how supportive runners are of one another. The Knoxville running community is no exception. As soon as we heard about the tragedy, Knoxville runners came together to look for ways to help. Donating, planting a tree, and running miles in honor of those affected by the tragedy are just some of the ways Knoxville runners showed their support for Boston.

The Design


My friend and designer of the CSRS blog, José Salas, immediately looked for a way he could use his abilities to help. A two time Boston qualifier after years of training, José is quite the accomplished runner! However, he's one of the most friendly, approachable people you'll meet. His passion for the sport, positive attitude, and encouragement and kindness towards others is inspiring. I've known him for a few years, and he was one of the first people who encouraged me when I shared I wanted to begin running.

Also a very talented designer, José applied his talent to create a special graphic design for Boston. In his own words, "I created the design as a tribute in hopes of helping the running community heal and a way to show their Boston support."

I was impressed with the design (so cool!) and his immediate desire to do something positive. He ordered a test run of shirts using this design, and my husband, Brandon, and I were excited to obtain a couple of these shirts. Check it out!

I wore mine to running practice a couple of weeks ago, and got a lot of attention!

Where did you get that? Who designed it? Where can I get one?

 

How to Get It


While the shirt I have was part of the test run and not for sale, there is a way you can get a shirt featuring this design.

The Knoxville Track Club is incorporating this design in the shirts for the 36th annual Expo 5K/10K race this Memorial Day weekend on Saturday, May 25. This year, the KTC is partnering with The One Fund Boston to donate $2.50 from every entry to help those affected by the tragedy in Boston.

If you're in the area this weekend, this is a fabulous race to attend. It was the first 5K race I fully ran last year (which you can read about here). It's a longstanding tradition in Knoxville, and a fun, family-friendly event attended by runners of all ages and levels. I had a wonderful time participating and socializing with fellow runners, and highly recommend it!

If you're interested, you can learn more about the event here.

Also here are direct links to the registration sites:
Even if you're not able to make the race, you can donate to The One Fund Boston through the race registration site.

Thank you, José, for contributing your talent and inspiring runners, and thank you, KTC and Knoxville running community, for letting me help spread the word and supporting runners here and everywhere!

-Amy

*I was not compensated by the KTC for this post, nor is the KTC affiliated with this blog in any way. I am sincerely impressed by this effort and helping to get the word out. The views expressed in this article are solely my own.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Running Newbie to a Half Marathon in 1 Year: Part 3 // The First 5K



Thanks for checking out Part 3 of my first running series! If you haven’t read Part 2 already, you can find it here.

I remember the rest of my 5K training with RunKNOX as a blur of highs and lows. The lengths of time I was prescribed to run was increasing more and more with each practice. It was hard, physically and mentally.

Over time I was able to run longer and longer. However, I had several "off days" when I would struggle to keep up with the plan. Sometimes I'd even “cheat” the plan and walk when I wasn't supposed to (sorry coaches).

I expected my progress to be linear – that every practice I’d run longer or better than the last one. I wanted to make “straight A’s”!

It just didn't always work that way.

I called these “Adele Moments” – “Should I give up, or should I just keep chasing pavements?”

Yes, I’m a little corny and overdramatic; hence why I enjoy writing a blog.

On these days, I’d get so mad at myself. I'd even worry about letting my coaches, husband, family, and other supporters down. After running, I didn't have the energy to maintain my usual emotional filter. I came home a few times feeling defeated and even considering quitting.

My husband, Brandon, being the calm, matter-of-fact person he is, reminded me that I shouldn't let a few minor difficult moments take away from the progress I was making over time.

The coaches were also very encouraging. I remember several times during practices when I’d want to just walk SOOO bad, and one of the them would just pop up out of nowhere and encourage me to keep going.

Honestly, at those moments, I couldn't decide if I appreciated or hated them for showing up. I’d think, “Oh great, now they won't let me walk!” I do appreciate it now, though. :)

However, there were many good days, too. Over time, I had really exciting days where I reached new distances - 1 mile, 1.5 miles, 20 minutes, 2 miles…

I remember the first day I ran 2 miles several weeks into the program. Per my coaches’ advice, I slowed down to running a 12 minute/mile pace and at one point I caught myself daydreaming (probably about Adam Levine). As in, I wasn’t focused on every single second of how hard running was! While breathing was still somewhat difficult, I wasn’t gasping for air.

I’d found it! The mythical “easy” pace at the end of the rainbow where you can actually talk and (somewhat) breathe! It does exist!

I’d leave those practices feeling shocked and amazed, with a new-found sense of accomplishment I never had before. Those days kept me going through the program, and far outweighed the rough days.

Finally, the end of the program was near. It was time to run my first 3 miles in preparation for the 5K race I was going to run the following week. My coach, Darren, warned me ahead of time that it was coming. He was kind enough to run it with me to help pace and support me.

And the first thing that came to my mind when he told me this? This means I can’t cheat and walk!!! Sad, I know.

So, I came to practice that Saturday morning (almost exactly a year ago), and we set out to run 3 miles – 1.5 out, and 1.5 back. The first mile and a half was actually not too bad. We chatted most of the way and it was fine. Then it was time to turn around and run the other half.

Now, I don’t know why, but I have a hard time mentally staying in the present. I’m always worrying about what is to come instead of focusing on what I’m doing now. At that halfway point, I started having major worries and doubts about the rest of the run.

Was I really so sure I could do this? What if I pass out from exhaustion? What if I have a panic attack? What if I can’t do this and I let everyone I know down?

Dramatic, yep, I know.

These doubts continued as I completed another mile, but I kept it together. Then, during the last mile there was this annoying gradual hill that went on forever! I started feeling reeeaaalllly tired and my doubts escalated into panic.

With only a half mile left, I almost had a meltdown. I told Darren, “I can’t do this!!!” and he gave me this “Are you kidding me?” look and politely reminded me that wasn't an option.

Yes, sir!

Towards the end of the run, his wife Sarah, also one of our coaches, joined us with their poodle (who runs way faster than me, might I add) for extra moral support. We hit a slight downhill and I could almost see where we would finish.

Okay, I’m good. Please disregard that minor disruption. We now resume our regularly scheduled programming.

Before I knew it, I was back where I started and I had just run 3 miles! It was the best feeling in the world! I mean, not quite as exciting as getting married or graduating, but I felt pretty accomplished.

With this down, I felt ready for the first 5K that I would actually run – the Expo 5K. This is a big local race every Memorial Day weekend sponsored by the Knoxville Track Club. I was a total classic newbie when it came to the details. I had to learn how to register, how to pin my race bib to my shirt, how they use microchips on you to measure your time, where to line up before the race, etc. Luckily my running friends filled me in so I didn't do anything stupid.

Brandon had said he would come support me, but he wanted in on the action and decided to run the race too. One of the really cool things about the Expo race is that it’s a huge family event with the option to register as family teams – husband/wife, father/child, mother/child, siblings, etc. We registered as a husband/wife team. It was so amazing to see so many people there with their friends and families socializing and bonding over running.

I felt great running the race, knowing that I could already run 3 miles. I ran it in 35:02, not bad for a first timer. Brandon, being the former high school athlete he was, ran it in 30:43 without even having trained for it. Seriously? I was excited for him, though. He had a great time and was inspired to start training with me! We met up with my running friends and celebrated everyone’s accomplishments.

Me - almost to the end of the race, rocking my running skirt. Yes, I have come a long way in my fitness since then.  :)
And here's B, who was just bitten by the running bug and having a great time!
As I completed my 5K training and ran my first 5K race, here are some thoughts that helped me through the process:
  1. Stay as consistent with your program as possible. Whether you’re in a training program or following an online program, stay the course as much as you can. Try to consistently run on the prescribed days of the plan as much as possible (barring sickness or big life events). You’ve come this far; keep going so that you can see big results from your hard work!
  2. Stay focused on the big picture – not the small obstacles. Accept that you might have a rough day here and there and won’t be able to do exactly what you’d hoped to do. I still struggle with this. Look at the big picture over time. Think about what you were doing two weeks or a month ago, and what you can do now.
  3. Celebrate the wins along the way. Being able to run a quarter mile, half mile, a mile, two miles, three miles, and beyond are all huge accomplishments. You may find other accomplishments along the way that aren’t quantitative - running all the way up a hill that has always been the bane of your existence, being able to stay positive during a run, or finding you’re starting to relax and breathe easier while running. Celebrate all of these moments – you’ve earned them!
  4. Sign up for a 5K race, and have fun! Having a goal race is great because it gives you a solid date and event on your calendar to prepare for. It gives you a reason to keep going with your training. It’s an opportunity to put your training to the test and see how you do. It gives you a baseline from which you can continue to grow and improve. Most importantly, it’s fun! At the local 5K races I’ve attended, I’ve seen people of all ages and training levels coming together, celebrating, and bonding over their running accomplishments. It’s a great social experience!
What was your first 5K race like? Any tips for those running their first 5K race?

My running journey continues in Part 4, as I struggled to decide what to do after my first 5K. Also, check out this special effort to support those affected by the Boston tragedy as a part of this year’s KTC Expo race, featuring a graphic design created by the very designer of the CSRS blog!

-Amy

*I was not compensated by RunKNOX for this post, nor is RunKNOX affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences as I began running through the program. The views expressed in my article are solely my own.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Coconut Oil to Condition Hair...without the Oiliness



Anyone who reads blogs on beauty, health, or natural living, or simply peruses Pinterest has likely seen that coconut oil is the "it" natural beauty product these days.

I have to admit, I'm a little jealous of it's popularity.

There are articles on how it can give you softer skin, better hair, remove makeup, and likely 50 other things you can do with it.I decided that being the natural DIY cool girl I wanna be, I should try hopping on this bandwagon.

So when I was at Trader Joe's (yep, workin' on that natural cool girl status) I picked up a jar. If there isn't a TJ's near you, you usually can find coconut oil in any natural foods store, or the natural section of your usual supermarket.

I was surprised to see that it's not a liquid oil at room temperature. It's semi-solid, almost like Vaseline (but natural instead of made with petroleum and chemicals). I LOVE coconut, so the creamy coconut smell was divine to me. No fear for those who don't like the smell of coconut - it's actually pretty light, and doesn't linger.

I started by making a scrub with the coconut oil and raw sugar. I had to fight the temptation to eat it! It felt great. I loved that it was moisturizing but not as greasy as baby oil or other oils. I also found it does a great job to gently remove eye makeup.

Then I read it makes a great conditioning treatment for hair. At first I wasn't interested, as my hair is annoyingly oily instead of dry. I have to wash every.single.day. You don't want to see it if I don't!

Then the Great Curling Iron Incident of 2012 happened last fall. My curling iron malfunctioned and quit managing temperature. It got really hot. Sadly, being the oblivious person I am, I didn't realize this for days until one morning my husband Brandon said, "What did you do? You smell like burned hair."

Just what every girl wants to hear.

I had already burned the ends of my hair. They were broken and frazzled. My stylist confirmed several inches of my hair were damaged, but I wasn't willing to amputate all of it. She trimmed what she could and blended the layers around it so it wasn't as visible, but I still had to deal with the frazzled ends for several months. About 4 haircuts later, it's finally almost gone.

Enter coconut oil. I read several articles online about using it as a hair conditioner. Since the rest of my hair is oily, I tried using it on the ends. I started by applying it to the ends of already wet hair, then shampooing and conditioning as usual.

Unfortunately, that didn't work as planned. Defying the laws of physics, the coconut oil had somehow worked its way up my hair almost to the root, and hadn't completely washed out. After I dried my hair, my hair still felt wet and flat to my head. It was like I hadn't washed my hair in a week! I had dinner plans that night, and had to wash my hair another couple of times to get back to normal. 

The ends of my hair looked great, though! While not completely repaired, they weren't quite as frizzy. Thus, I set out to develop a technique that could condition the ends of my hair without causing an oil spill! I experimented and figured out my own technique that works for me.

With that said, here's the solution that works for me:
  1. Start with dry hair in a ponytail. This helps me keep the coconut oil contained to the ends of my hair.
  2. Apply the oil to the part of the hair sticking out of the ponytail. I used a small spoonful - probably 1/2 to 1 tablespoon. I work it in with my hands.You can wash your hands afterward or leave it on to moisturize them, too.
Okay, it's a little oily during this step.
You also caught me on a good day when my nails were done.
  1. Leave it on anywhere from 5-30 minutes. Obviously the longer you leave it on, the more conditioning you're going to get from it. I usually leave it on about 15 minutes.
  2. Time to wash it out! Leave hair in the ponytail. Start by shampooing only the part of the hair sticking out of the ponytail. Your usual shampoo is fine. Rinse out the shampoo.
  3. Take the ponytail out and shampoo and condition your hair as usual.
  4. Dry and style your hair as usual. Done!
I usually do this Saturday morning after running. This past Saturday, I decided to curl my hair (with my new fancy ceramic curling iron on a lower temperature ;)) after the treatment.

All ready to grab a latte and run errands!
I felt a little silly taking this picture, but was trying to show how it helped the ends of my hair

Then I took a shot outside with my phone, which gave a totally different lighting effect.

If your hair needs a little love but you don't want a ton of weight and oil, I've found this to be a great solution. If you have dry hair, other techniques like using it all over your hair, as a mask, or scalp treatment might work better for you.

Do you use coconut oil as a natural moisturizer or beauty product? Have you used any other natural beauty products? How do you deep condition your hair?

-Amy

*I'm not a licensed cosmetologist or beauty expert of any kind. I'm just a normal girl who experiments with new products and techniques, and I'm writing from my own personal experiences. Your results may be different than mine.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Running Newbie to a Half Marathon in 1 Year: Part 2 // The Early Days of 5K Training




Thanks for checking out Part 2 of my first running series! If you haven’t read Part 1 already, you can find it here.

So I’d finally decided to start running, purchased my first running shoes, and signed up for a local training program called RunKNOX. After feeling completely overwhelmed by the first meeting, I came back to continue the program. I had no idea what I was in for.

What are the coaches going to tell me to do? Are they going to go all Jillian Michaels on me? Will I pass out? I wonder if I’ll do or say anything stupid? Will I cry?

My experiences to answer those were –“Lots of things”, “No”, “No”, “Probably”, and “Yes, at some point”, but I’ll get to them.

So I started going to regular practices twice a week. I’d walk into every practice feeling like a deer in headlights. I had never felt so out of my element. I wasn’t used to doing something in which I wasn’t at least somewhat knowledgeable.

Luckily, I had people to rely on. The coaches laid out a plan for us each week. Like with most beginning training programs, I started by alternating different lengths of minutes walking and running, and transitioning into more minutes running over time.

On paper, running a few minutes here and there doesn’t sound that bad. Until you’re the one doing it. Then they are the longest minutes of your life.

I felt ridiculous that I was at that level, especially since the rest of the group was so much more advanced than me. Luckily, that didn’t stop me from getting to know some of the other people in the program. I wasn’t sure if they’d accept me. This is what I expected they thought about me:

What is this girl doing here? We’re droppin’ miles, son, not minutes!

Here’s the response I actually got:

You’re beginning to run! That’s so awesome! Let me tell you every running tip I’ve ever learned! You’re doing so great!

Okay, I’m exaggerating. Not everyone was that enthusiastic, but I did feel a warm welcome. Someone who was that enthusiastic, however, was this girl Lauren. Lauren was already well into her running journey and already training for a half marathon at the time. She’d roll up to practice with her stylish running clothes, making sarcastic jokes, cheering everyone on, and playing everything from Miley Cyrus to hip-hop on her iPhone and speakers instead of headphones (so we all could partake). I immediately knew I would like this girl.

Lauren and many others in the group cheered for me (among others) every single practice. It was this encouragement that kept me going during those first few weeks that I struggled so much. I swore that if I ever made it through this thing (obviously I did), I wanted to pay it forward to future new runners.

The coaches were also extremely helpful. At first, I was intimidated by the fact that they were serious runners. However, they were extremely nice and took the time to explain the workouts to me. My personal policy in life is that it’s better to ask stupid questions than it is to not ask, make an assumption and say something REALLY stupid. So I’d usually catch Darren or one of the other coaches and ask a LOT of questions:

What does it mean to run at 5K pace? How do I even know what pace I’m running? Am I jogging or running? What if I have to walk longer than the prescribed plan? Why does my heel hurt today? What does PR mean?

My questions were probably so elementary in the running world. I kept waiting for them to finally say, “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!” but they never did. They kindly and respectfully answered my questions.

One thing the coaches pointed out early on was that I should slow down during the minutes that I ran. I thought I was already running slowly, but I took the advice and it helped. They kept talking about this mythical “easy pace” at which we should be able to carry on a conversation. Are you kidding me? I was barely running and still gasping for air - forget about carrying on a conversation!

I struggled through those first weeks running a few minutes at a time. It was hard. I would do anything to make it through a few minutes of running.

Count to 10. Listen to this chorus of Nicki Minaj. Look at that cute dog over there. Think about Adam Levine. Make a to-do list for home. Anything!

Then I had a win early on in the program. We went to the track at UT, and the coaches timed us doing 1 mile (four laps). They advised me to at least try to run half of it, and then walk/run it as necessary. I ran the half mile as planned, and actually felt like I could keep going. So I did and ran one more lap. At that point, it was gasping for air, and running out of energy. I was going to walk, but then I thought:

I’ve already ran three. It seems silly to walk now. I might as well just run the last one.

I didn’t even recognize myself in my new way of thinking. I forced myself to run that last lap despite my desire to crash.

Afterwards, I couldn’t believe I’d run my first mile! Who was this person I was becoming? At that point, I started thinking, “Maybe I can do this 5k thing.” And later on, I did.

If you have recently started running and training for your first 5K, congratulations! This journey may not be easy, but it can be extremely rewarding as you accomplish new challenges along the way.

Here are some ideas that helped me as I began running:
  • Stay positive – Running even a few minutes may be difficult at first. Trust me, it was for me! Hang in there when it gets tough, and remind yourself that you are stronger than you believe yourself to be.
  • Stay the course and be patient – Obviously, you can only succeed if you stay working at it. I had to do anything and everything (such as my distraction techniques) to get through those early weeks. You’re not going to change completely overnight. However, trust that you’ll see progress over time.
  • Take it easy – Run as sloooow as you need to. I was surprised that I could run much longer (by that, I mean minutes but it felt like a lot to me). Even if you don’t think you need to, try running slower and see how you feel. 
  • Ask any and every question – I’m not qualified to talk about specific training techniques, overexertion, or injuries. However, those are all valid concerns and there are people qualified to answer them. It’s important to ask and address any issues with your coach, doctor, etc. They may be able to recommend adjustments to your training schedule, stretches, or other treatments to help you with whatever you encounter. 
Your questions may not be that serious, though. They may be something like, “How do I keep my hair from falling out of my ponytail”, “Where do I keep my car key while I run”, “Is it easier to carry a handheld water bottle or a belt?” etc. This is why it’s great to have running friends you can go to with questions.
  • Make sure you’re staying healthy outside of running - No brainer here. I don’t know all of the specifics of how much water and rest every individual is supposed to get (I suspect it varies by person and there are resources to learn more), but I notice a huge difference in how I feel while running if I haven’t gotten enough rest and water. Also, I personally don’t run when I’m sick – even a cold.
  • Don’t worry about the other runners – Even though I’m a year into my running journey, I know runners varying from completely new all the way to Boston Marathon qualifiers. Here’s the deal: they know how hard it is to begin running and what you’re going through. I personally haven’t encountered a judgmental fellow runner (not saying they aren’t out there). Most people are usually focused on their own personal running goals, and enjoy seeing the success of themselves and others.
Have you recently began a running training program for the first time? What helped you through the early days of your training?

-Amy

Continue the journey with Part 3 here.

*I was not compensated by RunKNOX for this post, nor is RunKNOX affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences as I began running through the program. The views expressed in my article are solely my own.

Photo by Tracey Southerland Photography

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

4 Steps to Easy Smoothies + Peach Almond Butter Smoothie Recipe

For years, I had mixed feelings on smoothies. They seemed like a healthy, yummy breakfast or snack option, but for some reason, I just couldn't get into them. I was "smoothie-challenged".

If I made them at home, I never got the hang of what to add to make them tasty or filling. Then I'd make questionable choices.

Me at 10:30 AM: Hello, Fig Newton and second cup of coffee!

I tried them at smoothie "places". They were yummy, but maybe I was ordering the wrong thing. I'd look up the nutritional facts and feel appalled.

You mean I've already consumed that much sugar and it wasn't on pancakes and syrupy goodness? I now question my daily decision making.

Then, I started seeing all of these smoothie recipes on Pinterest and I heard my friends say they love them. I finally decided to try them earlier this year. I was full-swing into my half-marathon training and hungry all of the time. I was trying to eat healthier but just couldn't get it together, especially on the weekends. I did better during the week, but my mornings were too rushed to prepare and eat breakfast. Usually, I would grab something random like a bagel, granola bar, or banana to take with me. I finally decided that smoothies could help solve my morning dilemma in 4 ways:
  • Smoothies can be easily consumed while driving – I use those tumblers with straws that you see everywhere now. It’s much easier than eating other items while driving.
  • They can be prepared quickly - Drop in a blender, turn it on, and pour concoction into said tumbler before heading out.
  • They are relatively inexpensive - I was already buying many of the ingredients already. I purchased a few varieties of frozen fruit I didn't have on hand, and I was ready to go. Make sure you have a semi-powerful blender (mine has a smoothie setting).
  • If made with the right stuff, they can be a filling, yummy breakfast with at least 1-2 servings of fruit. Also, if you're like me and don’t drink milk, many smoothie recipes can help you get more calcium.

As with most endeavors, I started with Google. However, the information I found was vastly beyond my knowledge of health foods. Recipes with protein powders and exotic berries from the rainforest were a little beyond my skill level (I'm not knocking these, by the way. I'm sure they have great benefits. I'm just not knowledgeable on them). I wanted to find simple recipes that used natural ingredients that I already know.

I found this basic strawberry banana yogurt smoothie as part of a collection of smoothie recipes on WholeLiving.com. Super simple! I used 0% plain Chobani Greek Yogurt and I was pleased with the result. I started using this as a base for other fruits - peaches, pineapple, berries, mango, etc. I started doing these fruit/yogurt smoothies a couple of times per week and they helped me get my mornings back on track.
 
To mix things up, I looked up some other ideas beyond fruit and yogurt. I found this smoothie recipe from 100DaysofRealFood (a blog I love to read about more natural, real foods) that used peanut butter. It was very filling, and was a nice mixture of salty and sweet flavors. After trying that, I came up with my own peach and almond butter smoothie (below), which had a nice, light taste.
 
Now I was feeling bold and decided to try "unconventional" ingredients. I threw a few spinach leaves into the mix and was surprised that I couldn't taste them over the fruit. You just have to get past the green color. I tried kale and personally didn't care for it. I thought it added a bitter taste. I tried light coconut milk, which I loved (I'm obsessed with coconut). I even tried avocado, which sounds scary, but made the most deliciously creamy smoothie ever (for real).
 
With all of these options, it was difficult for me to figure out how to combine them all together into a smoothie. Based on the recipes was I reading, I identified common themes and put together a simple template so to speak, to help myself and other “smoothie challenged” friends:
 
 

The options above are not all encompassing. Experiment with any ingredients you like. The template just gives me a framework to understand how they can all fit into smoothie. Keep in mind that I drink smoothies as my entire breakfast. For a lighter smoothie, many people do a fruit and liquid only smoothie - just "drop the base."

Lame, I know. I couldn't help myself.

Also as promised, here is the recipe for the peach almond butter smoothie I mentioned above, which includes all of the components above. I enjoy it for breakfast.
 
Peach Almond Butter Smoothie


1/2 cup milk, any kind (I use skim dairy milk since I don't get enough calcium)
  • 2/3 cup juice (peach or white grape peach juice is fabulous, but any light flavor juice like apple works)
  • 1 tbsp. almond butter (I like Trader Joe's almond butter with sea salt, but unsalted is obviously healthier)
  • 1 cup frozen peaches (fresh can be used, but you may want to add ice)
  • 1/2 banana (fresh or frozen)
  • Handful of fresh spinach leaves (optional - pictured without spinach)
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
Serves 1. Pour all ingredients in a blender gradually. It helps to pour liquid first, then some of the frozen ingredients. Blend, stir, and add more frozen ingredients. Repeat until fully blended. Add more liquid if it is too thick, or add more ice if you like it "frostier".
 
If you're “smoothie challenged" like me, I hope you enjoy and find this helpful. Look for future smoothie recipes to come - perhaps even those scary avocado smoothies! Do you enjoy smoothies for breakfast or a snack? What are your favorite smoothie recipes and ingredients? Any tips on how I can make them better (perhaps those protein powders or exotic berries from the rainforest)?
 
 -Amy
 
*I am not a certified nutritionist or health professional. Shocker! I'm simply sharing recipes and tips that I enjoy personally.