Life Is Good: A Snowy Colorado Run

Today is one of those postcard Colorado days.  A skiff of snow last night was just enough to dust all of the bare trees with a sparkle and cap the nearby peaks with stunning white.  These sights, along with the typical Colorado sunshine drew me from my snug, warm couch and steaming cup of coffee into the 9 degrees that awaited me outdoors.  Yeah, you read that right.  Nine degrees.  Not twenty-nine, not nineteen...  Nine degrees. 

Let me tell you, I am a big baby when it comes to cold.  Don't believe me, ask my husband, to whom I said "Eff it, lets go home" on Sunday when I awoke and our vacation cottage was 61 degrees.  "Seriously?" he said.  This was an adult-only getaway I'd been planning for months.  Yeah, I'm a big baby.  With the right gear, though, running outdoors in the winter is far superior to the alternative: the dreaded treadmill.  (More info on how I gear up for winter running in the next post.) 

I'm always amazed how many sights I see on my runs that I totally missed out on in my pre-running days when nine degree weather meant hibernating indoors.  Here are some of the things I would have missed out on this morning, had I stayed home:


A few birds that chose not to fly South for the winter.  Not sure what kind... 
Ya know, with all this running I do, I really should become a better birdwatcher.

Bunny tracks!


Longs Peak


Another shot of Longs Peak with Boedecker Lake in the foreground.

Boedecker Lake


Country road up toward a stunning rock formation we locals call The Devil's Backbone.
I don't nornally run up this road, but it looked so pretty this morning, I couldn't resist.

The Devil's Backbone
Yes, life is good. 



Celebrate 2011!

I think it's time we took a moment to celebrate 2011.  Let's revel in what we accomplished and the ways in which 2011 was the best year ever!  What, 2011 sucked, you say?  Oh, and it's over, anyway, you say?  Everyone else has already made and broken their New Year's resolutions?  Ok, fine, I admit, I thought about posting this a week or two ago, and never got around to writing up the post.  :p (raspberries).  And, yeah, it wasn't absolute tops, as years go, but in looking back, it really had its moments. 
For me, it all started when my beloved employer of the last 6 years decided to can my department and outsource the function to a consulting firm.

You mean they don't simply adore me and everything I do????
Yeah, you could say I freaked out.  Up to that point, I considered myself to be pretty much in control of my life.  I was slightly shaken to discover that my fate was actually in the hands of others all along.  But, fear not.  In the end, I found a new job and revelled in saying "Adios" to the new consulting group.  Yay, me!

All jobs are not made equal, however.  I had a hard time adjusting to the new workload.  It was not quite what I was accustomed to.
I love a challenge.
In the end, I decided to use my new-found free time to try some new things.  Crazy Ass and I had often talked about how life-changing running had been for us, and how we should write a book or blog about our experiences on the trail.  Tortoise Running was born.
Sharing my transformation from couch potato to runner.

 This blog has been a great way for me to share my love of running.  It's also helped hold me accountable, since I'd kinda feel like a jackass writing about running if I wasn't actually doing it!  So, yay, me!  I started a blog!

A normal person would probably consider starting a new job and a new blog all in one year quite an achievement.  Enough new, right?  WRONG.  My new co-workers were quite an inspiration to me.  They helped me try many a new thing in 2011.

Every single person on my new team was a swimmer.  Most of them enjoyed going for a swim during lunch at the local pool.  I remembered the days when I thought I could swim.  I proudly passed "Advanced Beginner" swim level as a kid.  I was so proud, I joined the swim team, only to be told by the coach to "Go practice in the baby pool until you get this swimming thing figured out."  Oh.  I guess I can't swim.  This painful memory did not stop me from enjoying a lunchtime swim with my co-workers.

My fears of swimming were two-fold:
1.  That I would drown. 
2.  That people were seeing me in a swimsuit.

My goal in swimming was simply to get enjoyment from the activity. I have to say, there were at least two times when I said to myself as I moved my arms in rhythm through the pool: "I'm not going to die.  This is kind of fun!"  Yay me!

Ok, so new job, new blog and swimming.  That's enough new for one year, right?  WRONG.  Boredom can inspire all kinds of new adventures.

Neuromuscular Integrative Action.  Huh?  Yeah, I actually like to call it hippie dancing.  They offer it at the local rec center.  A co-worker and I decided to try it one day when it was too cold to run and the Master's swimmers had taken over the swim lanes.

No, this isn't me.  It's actually the hippie-chic NIA instructor.
 NIA was a blast.  Creative movement, set to a rockin' Seal soundtrack.  Hells, yeah, I rocked it out.  I totally would have gone back, except I felt a little picked on by the instructor.  I'm sure I'm being overly sensitive, but she said things like: (as I freely swung my hips from side to side) "Do not swing your hips.  This isn't Zumba." and "If you're new, you should find a spot in the back.  It can be really disruptive to others if you don't know what you're doing" (looks at me.) and "You need to put that water bottle away" (stare-down.)  For the record, I do not approve of creative types who put limits and rules on the creativity of others.  Ahem.  Also, it's a barefoot class and my co-worker couldn't walk for a week because of the bruising she suffered on the bottoms of her feet.  Anyway, lousy instructor and that foot bruising thing not-withstanding, NIA can be a really fun way to exercise.  If I had a class near my house, I would use it to improve my non-existent dance skills, because it is super easy and fun.  Check out this video for an example of what NIA should be:  Doesn't that just look like a blast?  Oh, and did you notice all the hip swinging?  I did.

So that's it, right?  That concludes the new stuff I tried this year, right?  You know that's not it.  I have to include P90X, yoga and kayaking in the list of my attempts to stave off boredom in 2011.  And last but not least...


I think it goes without saying how well this went
A local social artworking establishment inspired a rash of paintings in my household.  Yes, I decided everyone on my Christmas list must get a homemade gift from moi.  I think the artwork included in this post has made it obvious the pure talent I posess when it comes to art.  I just know everyone loved the heartfelt gifts I gave them.  I can hear it now: "Thank you so much for the painting of a horse's butt.  I found the perfect spot for it.  You know that space in the cabinet under the sink, right behind the garbage can?  I never noticed how much it needed a piece of artwork!"  It's funny how, at 38 years old, I still want to hold up my latest work to my mom and say "Look what I did, Mommy!"  and hear "Oh, it's beautiful, honey.  I love it!"  There is a little five year old in all of us.  But only adults can paint AND drink wine at the same time.  Yay, me!

As I look to the year ahead, I hope to hold on to some of the adventures that began in 2011.  I plan to keep on blogging, kayaking and painting.  Even though I am moving on to a new job, I plan to hold tight to the new friendships I built this year, and look forward to many more.  Oh, yeah, and I hope to do a lot more of this:

Not painted by me.  I did it with that artistic effects thingie in Word.  Cool though, huh?

Happy 2012!  Make it a good one!

"In Training": Canyonlands Half Marathon in Moab

I've got the shirt on...  I must be in training, right?  When the motivation fairy delivered my beautiful green training shirt the other day, I was so excited.  This was just the kick in the butt I needed!  Unfortunately, my rather large ass requires a little larger kick than that, because I have yet to get out for a run.  I know better than this.  I've been here before: the blissful food, family, and alcohol-induced hibernation state that accompanies the holidays.  I do so enjoy it...  until it's over.  My first post-holiday run will be a painful affair, followed by promises to myself that I will NEVER take a break from running over the holidays AGAIN.  Oh, the self-delusion...

December in review:
Dec 4 - 3 mi run
Dec 7 - 3 mi run
Dec 8 - 3 mi run
Dec 9 - 2 mi run
Dec 13 - 60 min on elliptical
Dec 17 - day of skiing

And I almost forgot!  I just checked my calendar and I actually did yoga on Dec 5 & 12.

The End.

Wait, does cleaning count?  I have done a little of that.

How about cooking?  Wait, most of that cooking was of food I would be ashamed of: cheesy scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, sugar cookies.  Nevermind.

Does painting count?  Yes, I think painting must be some sort of arm exercise.  My biceps most definitely have benefited from moving a brush around a canvas.  Well, at least my right one.  Yes, that's it.  Painting counts!

Bar Magenta, Milan

Dec 1 - painted "Enchanted Forest"
Dec 2 - painted "Moosicguy"
Dec 7 - painted "Enchanted Forest II"
Dec 12 - painted "Bar Magenta, Milan"
Dec 19 - painted "Tebow"

Hmmm...  Interesting.  Even counting painting, my life has been pretty bereft of physical activity since Dec 19.  Ok.  We'll just label the last 10 days "rest and recovery".   Merry Christmas to me :)!

And in closing, a big happy new year to all of you!  May your first exercise of 2012 be joyous, inspiring and free of pain!

My Race Sucked - The Rock n Roll Story

My.  Race.  Sucked.  There's no denying it.  It was down-right bad.  I can reason it out and make excuses, but the bottom-line is: the race beat me.  I "quit" about half-way through.  Even though I ultimately crossed the finish line, it was after quite a few "poor me" walk breaks and self-acknowledgement that I would not be giving the remainder of the race "my all".

The day before race-day , the whole family came to Denver with me to get checked into our hotel and pick up my packet at the Colorado Convention Center.  I was so excited to stay at the Sheraton, about a quarter mile from the start/finish.  I vowed to get a full night's sleep and casually walk over a few minutes before the race so as to avoid the cold/anxiety - shivers.  Ha-ha-ha-ha!!!  Nice idea, but absolutely no reflection of the reality that was about to reveal itself.

We arrived at the Sheraton parking garage, greeted by a sign that read "Daily Rate: $8.  Hotel Guests: $24."  Excuse me???  I stayed at the hotel for the privilege of paying MORE for parking??? 

Once we were checked in, I was lucky enough to make it to packet pick-up 15 minutes before closing time.  Gee, I guess if I had read my final instructions, I would have seen the place was going to close at 5pm.  I was so relieved to actually get a packet, while displeased that they had run out of not just Smalls, but Medium race shirts as well.  Grrr...  You gave MY race shirt to someone else?  Hmph!

Packet pickup was followed by a not-so carb-loadey dinner at Bubba Gumps.  We broke from tradition, since Magianno's (the most amazingly-yummy Italian place in the word) was booked.  Tortlette 3 had her heart set on the "Bucket of Trash", so she and I shared a pile of fried seafood.  To my surprise, the child was starving and ate almost the whole thing.  I was left to console myself with a Yetti beer, the most heavenly, thick, sweet stout I have ever tasted.  I could have had a few of those, but alas, I had a race the next day.

I was in bed by 9:30 that night.  Only I didn't sleep.  There was absolutely no logical reason for it, but I tossed and turned all night long.  I looked at the clock at least every hour, wondering if I would EVER get to sleep.  The answer was a resounding "NO!"  Looking back now, it's obvious I was hungry - beer and a couple fried clams for dinner - not the best fuel!  But, nerves got the best of me and I just wasn't thinking straight.

By the time I got to the starting line, I had some serious acid stomach.  For some reason I did not give in to the temptation to throw up in the hotel bathroom.  Flash walked me over to my corral and took my shell from me before I squeezed in.  It was actually the first fall or spring race I've done when I haven't frozen my buns off at the starting line, thanks to Flash.  I never did find that 2:10 pace group I signed up for.  We were cooped up like chickens and there was no moving forward or backward until the race started.  Oh, well, the corral was supposed to be for 2:10-2:20 finishers, so I figured it was no biggie.

When my corral took off, we were going at a surprisingly slow 10:30 to 11 minute pace.  I had actually planned to warm up during the first mile, so I stayed with the group, planning to speed up later.  The views throughout the race are absolutley stunning.  You descend into Lodo and have a view of the snow-capped Rockies.  Then you climb up toward the city center and then through several city parks. 

The first several miles of the race actually felt fantastic despite the lack of sleep.  The temperatures were perfect, and the sun was shining.  I had it in my head there would be Gu about mile 6, though.  When that didn't appear, I started to get concerned.  A few empty Gu packets I saw on the ground made me wish I had brought something along myself. 

Sometime during mile 6, it hit - some angry beast began clawing and gnashing at my lower abdomen.  Oh, no.  Bubba Gump's revenge.  I actually stood in line for a porta-potty at mile 7 - something I NEVER do.  Unfortunately, the stop provided no reprieve from my pain.  I pushed through for the next couple of miles, but the pain continued.  My calves started to turn to lead.  Still no Gu in sight.  I knew by mile 8 this wasn't going to be the PR I had trained for.  I gave up.

 The second half of the race consisted of as much walking as running.  The Gu finally made an appearance at mile 10 - Why didn't I read that race map more closely?  But hey, the best part of the Denver Rock n Roll is that the last couple of miles are down-hill.  My saving grace!

As I approached the finish line, Flash snapped my picture:

Hey, look, my first cute race pic!  Ok, maybe this race was great after all.  I will not be sharing my time...

Half Marathon Training Plan for the Not-So-Detail-Oriented

So I FINALLY have a race coming up.  Been kind of a slacker this year...  This spring, my only race was a 10k, the Bolder Boulder.  I didn't realize how much a spring half marathon jump starts the whole year for me.  Late this summer, I started going through withdrawals.  Crazy Ass was injured and so was Flash.  In order to keep motivated, I took the plunge and signed up for the Denver Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon.  Of course, you can't do a half marathon without a training plan; so, off I went to find the latest Runner's World and see if there was a good plan inside.

If you have ever looked at one of these magazine training plans and had your eyes glaze over, then you totally get me.  LSD, Tempo, Speedwork, HMP, cross-train what?!??!!  Let me take a moment to decrypt some of this for you.

There are three basic running workouts you need to try to get in each week if you want to perform well in  a half marathon.  These workouts don't have to be on the same days each week, but I find that there are certain days that typically work out better than others.  I try to be flexible, though.  I have three kids...  I never know, from week to week, what craziness might come up.

LSD - Long Slow Distance run.  This is the cornerstone of half marathon training.  If you do nothing else in your training, be committed to your weekly LSD.  I usually do this on Sunday morning.  I set aside an hour or two to go out on a run that will eventually be twice as long as a run I might do during the week.  I start out by adding a mile to my typical weekday run.  Each week, I add a mile more.  After 10-12 weeks, I have the endurance for a half marathon, allowing for a slacker week or two. 

One mistake I sometimes make on my long run is going too fast.  It is SO important to go nice and slow.  There is absolutely no point in torturing myself for two hours every week; so, I try to focus on slowing down and enjoying the moment.  A few weeks ago, I went out too fast, and by the second half of my run, I started feeling overwhelmed by how much distance I still had to cover.  At that point, all I could do was keep running - one mile at a time.  At mile 7, I told myself, "Just keep running until you get to mile 8."  After a walk break at mile 8, "Just keep running until you get to mile 9."  By the way, I am totally ok with walk breaks, too.  I try to limit them to one minute every mile or two when starting out, and spread them farther apart as my training progresses.

Speedwork - There are a lot of ways to do speedwork.  It's essentially any workout you do with the specific goal of increasing your speed.  It can be a tempo run, interval training, hills, mile repeats, you get the idea. 

A tempo run is one in which, after a warm-up, you run at a consistent pace for 20 minutes, about 30 seconds slower than your 5K pace.  If you run a 5K in 30 minutes, then your tempo pace will be a 10:30 mile.  The important thing is to keep the pace consistent.  Then be sure to allow yourself a cool down after the 20 minutes.

Interval training allows you to run at a faster pace for a short period of time.  You might try going a minute faster than your 5K pace for two minutes and then walking or jogging for 2 minutes and repeating for 20-30 minutes.  Fartlek - yeah, I said "FART-lek" - is a kind of interval that has no prescribed pace, but instead you play around with different paces throughout your run.  Crazy Ass got me hooked on fartleks on the treadmill last year.  Our treadmill workout went like this:

Warm up - Set at a 4 for 5 minutes (15 minute pace)
Increase to a 6 for two minutes (10 minute pace)
Back down to 4 for a minute (15 minute pace)
Increase to 6.5 for two minutes (9:30 minute pace)
Back down to 4 for a minute (15 minute pace)
Increase to a 7 for two minutes (8:45 minute pace)
Back down to 4 for a minute (15 minute pace)
Increase to 7.5 for two minutes (8:00 minute pace)
Back down to 4 for a minute (15 minute pace)
Increase to 7 for two minutes (8:45 minute pace)
Back down to 4 for a minute (15 minute pace)
Increase to a 6.5 for two minutes (9:30 minute pace)
Back down to 4 for a minute (15 minute pace)
Increase to 6 for two minutes (10 minute pace)
Back down to 4 for a 5 minute Cool down (15 minute pace)

This workout lasts around 30 minutes, and it is SO exhilarating and really helps improve speed.  Adjust to fit your pace.

Another great way to improve speed is to do hill repeats.  Running hills works the hamstrings much like faster paces do, plus it helps teach your body how to deal with higher exertion-levels.

Regular Run - The third piece to half marathon training is just getting out doing regular runs of say 4-6 miles.  I try to fit at least one run in per week, in addition to the LSD and speedwork.  I'm sure a lot of people run more than three times per week, but as a running mom, three works great for me.  I don't worry too much about my pace on this run, but it's usually not quite as relaxed a pace as my LSD.  Where an LSD might by 11 minutes miles (remember I'm a tortoise!), my regular run is between a 10 and 10.5 minute pace.

Cross Training - My cross training consists of a little strength training each day.  I focus on core strength exercises, including plank, side plank, back bridge, chair raises.  I do calf raises, squats and lunges as low impact leg strength work.  As I have time, I throw in some swimming and yoga.

This is half marathon training for the not-so-detail-oriented.  Be as consistent as possible, while allowing for slip-ups too.  You can train in as little as 10 weeks, but for the best experience, try to allow 16 weeks, in case there are weekends you just can't get your long run in.  So many factors can get in the way - weather, birthdays, travel - I've found allowing myself to skip a long run gives me the opportunity to enjoy my life, too!

I'd love to hear about your race training.  Give me some tips...  My race is in two weeks, so I still have a little time to fit in some new ideas!

The Great Weight Loss Challenge: Finale!

You may recall a certain challenge from Crazy Ass to lose 20 pounds before Valentine's Day, 2010...  In my mind, a ridiculous challenge turned call to action.  The result: for six weeks, in early 2010, I put myself at the top of my priority list.  Thanks to a ton of support from my family, I was able to spend two hours at the gym several times per week.  I kept the fridge stocked with healthy food.  I paid a fitness trainer to kick my butt...  something I never imagined myself doing.  In the end, YES, I lost the 20 pounds!  Did the calendar say exactly February 14 on the day the scale made my day?  Maybe not.  It might have been March 1.  It may have been March 20.  What I do know is that I had to throw out a wardrobe of size 10 clothes and replace it with size 6s.  My old bras didn't stay put - and let's face it, there was nothing left to hold up anyway!  My 14 year old squeezed my triceps and said "It doesn't feel like pudding anymore."  And I felt great.  Life was good.

So how did Crazy Ass and Little Sis do?  They each lost in the neighborhood of 10 pounds...  Also a stunning achievement.  We spent quality time together like never before.  And I heard way more than I ever wanted to about how many points are in a double-fiber english muffin.

And of course, I learned a little something from all this.  Anything is achievable with the right amount of dedication and time.  If you want something, you can have it.  Just set the goal and make a plan.  Along the way, adjust your expectations to the amount of work that is reasonable to put in.  Be good to yourself with rewards for sticking with it.  And, most importantly, we all need a Crazy Ass in our lives.  If you don't have one, get one.  You're missing out.

It wouldn't be a weight loss story without an embarassing before and an amazing after pic.  So here ya go:

Before: I think this pic does a great job showing the pudding arms!

After: That's me, on the left, without pudding arms.  I'm pictured here with Crazy Ass, right, and Tortlette 3.  We are getting ready to carb load for the 2010 Rock N Roll Denver!

The Great Weight Loss Challenge Part Two

I'm about to say a bad word.  Shield your eyes if you, too, hate depriving yourself.  But you and I both know it would not be a weight loss story without talk about DIET.  Yes, the Great Weight Loss Challenege began without mention of that dreaded word.  The way I see it, as a working mom of three kids, I frickin' deserve those French Fries.  Deprive me of my sesame seed bagel, and you have messed with the wrong woman.  And counting calories - or points for that matter - is about as appealing as cataloging the blades of grass in my front yard.

My first step in finding a diet strategy was to trick myself into thinking healthy food was actually indulgent.  I had to find something I could talk myself into savoring like a decadent dessert.  Bring on the Key Lime Pie yogurt.  I really should have taken out stock in Yoplait, because it was not unusual for me to eat between 4 and 6 of these a day.  I had yogurt for breakfast, yogurt for lunch, yogurt for dessert.  Yogurt for morning and afternoon snack.  Yogurt for “I need something sweet right now!” time.  You get the idea.
Why Yogurt?  I chose yogurt as my go-to food, because it tastes delicious, aids digestion, is an excellent source of calcium and protein, and it is low in calories.  I read once that people who eat tons of yogurt lose weight.  I decided to put that theory to the test.
Next, I added veggies.  Ridiculous amounts of veggies.

Old Plate

New Veggie-filled Plate
(Aren't I a fabulous artist?)
You might have noticed that the old plate really doesn’t look that bad.  Most people would consider a dinner like that to be entirely normal.  You probably drew similar pictures in grade school when you were taught about the USDA standards for good nutrition.  Guess what?  There’s a reason there’s an obesity problem in America!  Turns out we actually don’t know a thing about good nutrition!  Dinners like that had resulted in a twenty pound weight problem for me.  Two years in a row, I wanted to poke the eyeballs out of our biometric screening administrator when she told me I was overweight.  “You can’t tell me I’m overweight!  Who are you with your silly BMI standards.  I EAT HEALTHY!”
Lucky for me, at the outset of the Great Weight Loss Challenge, I ran into a family member who is also a personal trainer.  She passed on a bit of diet wisdom that for me reduced hours of idiotic calorie counting to a simple concept: Divide your plate in half.  Fill half the plate with vegetables and the other half with meat and grains.  The result is what most people would consider to be ridiculous amounts of veggies.  Try going to a buffet line or pot luck and load up half your plate with veggies.  You will get some strange looks.  You will feel like a “pig” taking half the salad you brought to the potluck.  Then you’ll realize no one else planned to eat any of it anyway.
For a lot of people, filling half their plate with veggies is like a death sentence.  (Spinach and broccoli and kale - oh my!)  I won't pretend that I was a veggie-hater before all this.  I actually enjoyed vegetables, the problem is I am a food lover, and there just aren’t too many examples of inspired veggie dishes in the typical American diet.  If you go to a restaurant, most of them have some token salads on their menus, made with wilted iceberg lettuce and topped with a few shreds of dried carrots.  Not my idea of good food.  I needed to start figuring to how to love vegetables.  To that end, I started spending some quality time in the produce department.  I tried to look for beauty in plump red tomatoes, shiny purple cabbage and brilliant green asparagus.  I kept my kitchen stocked with fresh ingredients from the produce department and discovered sautéed summer squash with garlic, steamed fresh broccoli and green beans prepared with sesame oil and almonds.  It wasn’t long before I actually craved vegetables, preferring them to the bland, often fried food I ate before.
I will reluctantly devote a paragraph to foods I avoided during the Great Weight Loss Challenge.  I hate to focus on deprivation, but unfortunately, there are such things as bad foods.  The first is sugar.  I tried to avoid added sugar by staying away from sweets and selecting a sugar-free alternative whenever possible.  The other foods I avoided included white breads, corn chips and potatoes.  These were unnecessary carbs that I knew would derail my weight loss efforts. 
I never felt deprived on this diet.  The introduction of delicious vegetables more than made up for the absence of bad carbs I cut out.  I spent the six weeks during the challenge feeling like a brand-new, vibrant, energetic person.

Sample Daily Diet
6 am - Two egg omelette with cheese, coffee with sugar-free creamer

Morning Snack:
9am - Yogurt

Noon - Large salad with fresh romaine lettuce, olives, feta cheese, vinaigrette.  Small serving of chicken.

Afternoon Snack:
2:30 - A handful of nuts and celery or carrots

6pm - Spaghetti with steamed broccoli instead of half the noodles, using Barrilla Plus Noodles.

8pm - Yogurt

For more information on healthy eating, read up on the South Beach Diet and the following recent article from the New York Times:
Still Counting Calories? Your Weight-Loss Plan May Be Outdated -