Thursday, February 27, 2014

Three Things Thursday

In case you haven't heard yet, I WON the ZOOMA Run-to-Napa contest!  I am beyond thrilled and appreciative... seriously, so many people to thank for this opportunity!  I hope to have the reader Run-to-Napa contest for you up live on the blog next week. I know many of you are excited for a chance to win a trip as well!  My flight to California is booked and I'm officially registered for the ZOOMA half marathon in Napa Valley on June 28. California will become state #24 in my quest to Race All 50.  I added a flight for my hubby to extend it into a couples vacation. You can never have too many of those, right?!  Have you ever visited the San Francisco area? I would love your suggestions on things to do and see while we're there.

Cold weather has returned to Illinois this week (and a snowstorm forecast for the weekend). It is still technically winter, so I will not complain... but come March 20, the first day of spring, these sub-10 degree temperatures had better be gone. Until then, I will keep layering up and running against the cold wind. As long as the roads are clear, you'll find me outside.

In less than two weeks, I head to Virginia (my state #20) for the Shamrock Dolphin Challenge (8K + Half Marathon). I'm training to "finish it", which I admit is a modest goal for me. I'm trying my hardest not to attach any time expectations on it. Once Shamrock is behind me, I will ramp up my spring training in preparation for the Lincoln Half (Nebraska), where I'm hoping to nail that sub-2 once again.

This is the final week of the #WinterMiles ChallengeWeek 8 report-backs are due Monday (March 3) before midnight here. Final prize is from my friends at GU Energy and Hydrapak...

The Run and Eat Cupcakes shirt are back in stock! 
Order yours HERE.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Good, the Great and the Ugly

Last week I got back in the 30's for my weekly mileage. I've been building my miles slowly and then backing off again whenever I feel the slightest twinge in my foot's plantar. Following the plan of "listen to your body", it's taken me nearly two months to get back to where I think is my norm.
Jan. 17-23 - 4 runs and 3 Spinning classes
14 miler done! 

I'm happy to feel the endurance return. A 5 miler is beginning to feel average again, and my mile splits started to dip back into the 9's. I was most proud of Saturday's 14 miler. The distance has been toughest for me to build with 10 being my breaking point the past few weeks. However, this weekend I reached 14 on a solo afternoon run doing loops around my neighborhood. Boring but sufficient (and clear roads).

Where I failed this week... My Spin/Strength classes were cancelled due to a snowstorm on Monday, so I never got my strength training done this week. Then I skipped my swim. I am the worst at scheduling a lane time, and then of course, remembering it. Thankfully, today starts a new week.

Thank you to all my faithful friends who voted continuously in the ZOOMA Run-to-Napa contest. The support was overwhelming and I will never be able to thank you enough. In all honesty, the daily self-promotion was getting uncomfortable. This is why people hire campaign managers in real life elections... it's a lot of work!  Like anything in life, I'm either all in or out. So I bugged the crap out of peeps for the past 5 weeks, begging for your daily votes. Some unliked, unfriended, unfollowed and blocked me, but the majority hung with me for the duration. Seriously, thank you so much for that. It means a lot. The contest ended at midnight last night. I was up by over 1700 votes, so now I wait for the official announcement from ZOOMA on the winner. Every time my email dings, I come running to the computer... Ahhhh!

P.S. As part of my final push, I promised to do one crunch for each vote that I received on Sunday. I have now completed 200 crunches today... with only 201 more to go!

On a personal note, it was a rough few days... Both kids took turns being sick. I've never done so much laundry in one week before!  I've been sucking down the Emergen-C, hoping not to be the next flu victim. Today everyone returned to health, school and work, thank God!

After a couple days of relief, our temperatures have dropped again. The 10-day forecast indicates only one thing... winter is back. It's been a long cold season, but don't give up! The official first day of Spring is only 24 days away. I sure hope someone gives Mother Nature a reminder on that. Geesh!

This is the final week of the #WinterMiles Challenge! Good Luck!
Week 7 report-backs due today before midnight here.

Monday, February 17, 2014

New Shoe Review: Reebok ZQuick

The following post is sponsored by FitFluential LLC on behalf of Reebok.

Earlier this month, a pair of Reebok ZQuick arrived on my door. I'm always delighted to try out a new pair of running shoes... especially with the promise of "These shoes will make you UNNATURALLY QUICK!"  The television commercials for ZQuick had already grabbed my family's attention with great entertainment. Unlike ever before, the ZQuick's arrived in a cool reusable bag instead of a box. Genius!

The ZQuicks are sharp looking, with a genuine race feel to them. In fact, the running shoes were inspired by the high-performance Z-Rated tires they are named after. The Z-Rated outsole provides superior handling and control with every turns. The grooves in the rubber outsole give unbelievable flexibility and ground-gripping performance to power over any terrain. The CRTek High Abrasion Rubber adds a protective boost to high-wear areas for shoes that last. Combined quickness, agility and comfort, you'll cruise through your run like a winning sportscar.

The upper portion of the ZQuick running shoe features a no-sew NanoWeb for ultimate breathability. The mesh fabric wrapped around my foot with incredible comfortable.  The featherlike weight of the shoe is the first thing I noticed on my foot... my size 9 weighed just 8.3 ounces! The support platform under my forefront felt wide and my foot has plenty of space to spread as the upper was extremely flexible. g

Unlike any shoe I've ever had, the inside of the ZQuick features an inner bootie that snuggled my ankle and locked my foot in. There is no pesty tongue that moves around during your run.

After first walking around with them for a couple hours, I took the Reebok ZQuicks for a test run on the treadmill.  I loved how light they felt... this is where Reebok promises the UNNATURAL QUICKNESS. Who doesn't love extra speed that comes easy?

The EVA foam midsole is designed with a radical new geometry for smooth handling. Your foot changes in dimension at the bottom of your stride as you put weight on it.  Your foot spreads out on impact to distribute force over a broader base.  (It’s about 5mm wider than when it’s in the air.) To accommodate for your body's natural handling, the ZQuick has built-in slashes along the bottom so that the shoe spreads with you. These underfoot grooves allow midsoles to flex and expand, increasing ground contact for a smooth quiet ride.

I really liked how the ZQuick felt on my feet. After a few miles of my test run, however, it became evident that my feet needed more arch support and stability. As you know I've been battling plantar fasciitis (currently at-bay, but I'm fearful on a return). The ZQuick's are a comfy lightweight running shoe for quick short distance, but I think I will need to stick with my heavier stability shoes for long distance.

Check out the wide variety of ZQuick color choices here. These QUICK running shoes retail for under $85, so definitely worth checking out at your local Finish Line store.

Winter ROCKS My Run

Winter can be tough.  I'm not necessarily a fan of constant snow (and crappy road conditions), but I am pretty dedicated to winter running. The cold season drags on longer than anyone wants... and this year is proving no exception to that. But as we all know, running is more mental than physical sometimes. I try to stay positive in order to keep my run intact. So instead of complaining about the current "wintery mix", here is my top 10 reasons to run in the snow...

1. It's pretty.
Seriously, you can't deny the raw beauty of a landscape covered in white. The snow adds a silence to the air, giving extra serenity and peace to any run. Make winter runs an enjoyable activity by taking in new sights and sensations.

2. Improve your stride.
Slow down during snow runs. In fact, leave your Garmin at home and reconnect with your run mojo. Focus on your stride, rather than speed.  The snow practically forces you to shorten your stride, thus maintaining a good center of mass. Stay on the balls of your feet, rather than driving in with your heels.

3. Hide the winter bulge.
Let's face it, you gained a few pounds over the holidays. With cold temps in the air, bundle up to cover those extra rolls... and run it off. You can always add layers in winter; but come summer, there's only so many clothes you can shed before you bare your birthday suit.

4. Hydration on the go.
Winter is an easy time to slack on proper hydration, but it's still important.  Forget your water bottle on a long run? Easy solution... Look for fresh snow and throw a handful in your mouth! Steer clear of yellow snow...

5. New shoes please.
Every runner I know loves to buy new shoes. Winter may be the perfect excuse. Trail shoes have more traction on the bottom than typical running shoes. This may be a good time to invest in a pair to make snow running easier. If you're running in deeper snow, just add YakTrax to your current pair of shoes.

6. Less chaffing.
As long as you don't overdress (a common winter mistake), chaffing is much less of an issue in during the cold months of the year. During summer, I have to lube up before every run to prevent the nasty painful act of chaffing... underarms, inner thighs, under the boobs. Winter is a time to give the BodyGlide a break!

7. Strengthen muscles.
Running in snow will cause you to work muscles in different ways. Snow offers more resistance, making your legs work harder, resulting in a better workout in less time. In addition to creating a forward motion, a runner's body is also working to maintain stability (and preferably, the upright position). To do so, our leg muscles get a more intense kind of strength workout. Your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calf muscles are all responsible for propeling your run forward, but the gluteus medius (the muscle on the side of your hip) activates to control your side-to-side balance. As you pile up winter miles, you will feel those hip muscles more than ever before.

8. Cool new accessories!
Who doesn't like shopping for running gear? Winter is a new season - which means there is a whole new basket of gear to shop... traction aids, hand/toe warmers, stocking hats, gloves, warm socks, face masks, jackets, insulated leggings and more! I love knee-high socks, but summer is often too warm to sport the  running accesory. During winter, knee-high socks are multi-purpose - fashionable and functional for warmth!

9. Less impact.
Cold temps don't necessarily mean harder surfaces. With a layer of snow on the ground, the impact is actually minimized. The white stuff offers a softer, more forgiving running surface that your joints will appreciate.

10. Mental strength.
Most often, getting out the door is the hardest part of winter running. But once you get outside, snow running brings about a certain kid-like attitude, a playfulness. Pushing through poor conditions will test your mental strength... How bad do you want it? And when your miles are finished, you have bragging rights the rest of the day as one badass runner.

Running outdoors in winter can be an invigorating experience. As always, your safety comes first. (See my Safety Tips for Winter Running here.)  Respect your comfort zone and trust your gut feelings... but I also encourage you to try new run experiences. I spent my first winter as a runner on the treadmill and doing circles around an indoor track. With each calendar flip, I'm called to the great outdoors more and more. It is where I feel free and happy. And that is ultimately what's important... The happier you are with your run, the more likely you are to stay consistent with your miles.

How often do you run in snow?
Do you enjoy winter... or struggle to make it through?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Winter Run and a GIVEAWAY!

Today was a good day.
I got outside to run.

It is afterall, a heat wave when you reach over 20 degrees in the heart of February (for Illinois at least).  It was overcast all morning, but the moment I stepped out the front door, the sun popped out and stayed with me for 7 miles.

I wore my Garmin for the first time in months... to my displeasure. I need to start paying attention to my pace again, but it somewhat strips the joy away from my run. With each mile, the watch beeps and almost always tells me, "Not fast enough".  I'm trudging right now, like I'm running in snowboots. I miss that floating feeling in my stride. But the only way to get it back is to get serious about my training. (My next 'A' race is May 4 at Lincoln, NE)  I need to get back to intervals and tempo runs, but it's depressing to actually face the Garmin and see the proof.
The time is now.
My slow feet

* * *

A highlight to my week was when I tried out some new sweatbands from Suddora. I received a collection of the their basic sweatbands and wristbands. There are a rainbow of colors to choose from - my favorite of course is purple! Made with ultra high quality material, the Suddora sweatband doesn't irritate your head and soaks up hours of sweat. Fabric is 80% cotton, 12% spandex and 8% nylon. Starting at only $2.99 with big discounts for group orders - ideal for schools!

In addition to the sweatbands, Suddora also has Non-Slip Velvet-Lined Headbands ($7.99 ea.) and the Thin Elastic Headbands (4pk for $9.99) that my kids like so much...

If you like the Non-Slip Velvet-Lined Headbands, get 50% off by using code SUDDORA5 on their Amazon listing here. Code expires 2/28/14.

*** GIVEAWAY ***
The best of news is that I have a couple to giveaway to you!! Enter via the Rafflecopter app below or on Facebook here. FOUR Winners (3 sweatbands and 1 zipper wristband) will be announced next Thursday, 2/20/14. Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, February 8, 2014

New Shoe Review: Brooks Transcend

Over the past year, I've become more selective in my running shoes. Plantar Fasciitis (PF) entered my world early in the fall and completely ruined my mojo. It's been a long emotional road getting back to my miles. I blame the onset of PF on my playing around with minimalist shoes last summer. I logged miles and miles without proper support and have paid the price. Lesson learned.

So now when a new pair of shoes arrive on my doorstep, I wear them around the house for a good hour, sport them on a trip to the grocery store or the kids' school. By then, it's usually quite clear whether I can run pain-free in them... or not. This week, I was tickled PINK when the new Brooks Transcend passed that initial test.

I could say that they were so comfortable that I forgot they were on my feet... but let's be real. I had flashy new pink running shoes. The only thing on my mind was going for a run!

First and foremost (for any lady runner that I know), these are killer looking shoes. The "diva pink" and "festival fuchsia" combination are super bright - especially against the white snow. Add in the reflective accents and it's pretty difficult to miss me coming in the Transcends.  There is also a sky blue color option for women. For men, electric blue or coral orange are the choices.

The Transcend is classified as a stability shoe (replacing the Trance). Because of its revolutionary build, it may work for neutral runners as well. Unlike other stability shoes, there is no posting on the medial side. Instead, Brooks introduces guide rails for support and assistance in counteracting pronation. Rather than forcing control of the foot, it encourages the natural kinetics of the body, allowing your hips, knees and joints to move within their natural motion.

When I first slipped my foot into the Transcend, the most noticeable feature was the ultra-plush cushioning. In this new shoe build, Brooks introduces what they call Super DNA, offering 25% more cushioning than the normal BioMoGo DNA. This new cushioning adapts to your every stride. I like to think of it like the memory foam in my bed, cradling to the shape of my foot. As someone who suffers from PF, I'm always nervous on the fit of the arch. The Transcend offers a well-built arch support. As I tested out the shoe, my foot was extremely comfortable and I didn't experience any discomfort in the plantar area - during or after my run. The final test to that (if you suffer from PF) is how the arch feels the next morning. A-OK with these shoes!

When shoes boast extra-cushion, it typically means a heavier shoe. Not the case with the Transcend, which weighed in at 10.8oz on my ladies size 9's. By comparison, my normal shoes (Asics GT2000) are still lighter at 9.9oz, but I really didn't notice the difference until I weighed them on my scale. I did however, notice the difference in cushioning comfort. I'll be anxious to see how well (and long) the cushion holds up as I accrue miles in the Transcend. I like to get my money's worth out of running shoes, thus I try to push them over 300 miles. Some make it; others don't.

Typically when I test out a new pair of shoes, I go no more than 3 miles. My initial run in the Transcend was 6 miles... and I was not begging for a foot massage that evening either. That should speak margins on how I feel about the new Brooks release. Newly released this week, I highly suggest giving these babies a trial run... especially if you waiver on that line between stability and neutral like I do.

I won't copy/paste all the shoe specs, but if you're interested in all the details, check it out here.

Many happy runs...
and pain-free feet!

This pair of Brooks Transcend was provided to me by 
The opinions expressed however are all Jess. 

P.S. Don't forget to VOTE HERE today!!  I thank you!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: Apera Yoga Tote

Finding the right bag to lug your stuff back and forth from the gym is a seemingly difficult task. Since I joined my current gym back in 2009, I can honestly say I haven't been 100% happy with any one bag. There's always seems to be one thing that drives me crazy. And let me tell you, I use my gym bag way more than any purse... ever.

As a Spinning fanatic, my cycling shoes make home in my gym bag. As an instructor, I also carry around notebooks, clipboards, attendance folder, and other items I may need for a class. Add in my running shoes, change of clothes, toiletries, ipod and phone. In short, my gym bag holds a lot of my vitals.

Last month, Apera sent me their Yoga Tote to try out. Since there was no purple, I naturally went with hot pink. There is also a cool pearl color, black and blue. I've been hauling this sweet bag around with me, and have received so many compliments on it. It is one sharp looking, snazzy gym bag.

What makes a gym bag great is the inside... and how simply an OCD gal like myself can stay organized. My favorite part of this Apera bag is the built-in shoe compartment, keeping my Spin shoes separate from all the other goods.

This bag has pockets everywhere. In fact, it may be the only fault of the bag... too many that I sometimes forget which pocket stuff is in. Both sides of the Yoga Tote feature large pockets big enough to slip an iPad. I'm always tossing my miscellaneous stuff in these outside pockets - extra headbands, lip gloss, pens, safety pins, ipod, gum, etc...

On the inside, there are three more zippered pockets, where I store spare CDs for class and extra clips for my Spin shoes.

It is vitally important to me that the inside of a gym bag NOT be black. The lighting is dim in the Spin room and a dark bag interior makes it difficult to find items. So I was also very pleased with the light gray color on the inside of my Yoga Tote.

Another key feature on any gym bag for me is a water bottle pocket on the outside. This is a must to not get my stuff wet from leakage or condensation. The other side unzipped the bag wide open so I could dig and easily find stuff.

Finally, the Yoga Tote is specially created to store and carry a yoga mat. The shoulder strap's unique design enables you to slip a rolled up mat in a secure handy spot. Bonus - My foam roller was also a perfect fit in this spot!

Apera bags are constructed with wipeable polyester on the inside, so you can clean it as often as needed with a soapy cloth.  The material inside and out of every Apera bag is treated with antimicrobial protection that works continuously to prevent the growth of bacterial odors on the bag. The vented fabric across the top and sides (what looks like gray dots in the pictures) keeps your bag and items dry and odor-free. Also included with every Apera bag is a mini pouch - a water resistant zippered bag to keep your sweaty clothes separate from the others.

Official bag measurements: 21" width x 12.5" height x 7"depth
Retail Price: $119.00
All BLUE bags are currently on-sale for 40% off

Finally LOVIN' my gym bag!
Now it's your turn...

During the month of February, Apera is offering you the chance to WIN a Yoga Tote in the color of your choice. Full details HERE - just sign up for their e-mail updates and you're entered in the monthly prize drawing!! Good Luck!

Weight Loss TV Shows

The Biggest Loser. It's been one of my longest standing TV shows, which says a lot because I don't watch much television. The show started in 2004. I missed the first season, but tuned in forever more afterward. My standing joke back then was "Ice Cream Time!" Then life started for me... I found a relationship. We ate out and partied a lot. I stopped exercising. Marriage, babies, oh my! Just like many of the contestants of the show, I watched my weight balloon feeling somewhat helpless. The Biggest Loser show, however, was a constant source of hope for me. I related to the everyday people who were struggling - not only weight but self-worth issues. The weekly show had a spot on my calendar every Tuesday. Eventually, I started making my own changes... ditched the ice cream and used BL as time to ride my bike, walk the treadmill or do commercial workouts. The show helped to change my life. 

Over the past few years however, I've grown disconnected with the show. I've always viewed the weight-loss methods as extreme (but I've come to expect that from anything out of Hollywood). The producers are always pushing the bar in the never-ending ratings chase - always reaching for the shock factor. Each season, the contestants are bigger with sadder stories. While extremely heart-wrenching, I don't relate with them as much anymore (and sometimes it feels like a soap-opera). The trainers have a weird vibe going on between them. I liked the addition of Dolvett, but it's quite obvious that Bob and Jill are not fans.  I've always hated the voting-off of contestants and the game play that surrounded the show, but ultimately, The Biggest Loser IS a weight loss competition... a game. That's how it was setup from the very beginning. Is losing 10+lbs each week ever considered healthy or successful? On the ranch, yes. In real life, never.

My jaw dropped when Rachel walked out at the finale on Tuesday night, but I wasn't necessarily shocked. She did what was necessary to WIN the title and the money. Does she look frail and uber-thin? Yes, but I have no doubt that she'll pad some pounds back on. (They all do...) I actually felt sad for her. Weight loss is a big emotional journey, and I can't imagine how she's feeling right now. Our world is really judgmental. Everyone has an opinion and not afraid to express it, even if its hurtful. I hope for her sake that Rachel unplugs and focuses on her new direction. I pray she finds a healthy weight that she can maintain an active happy life.

The last few BL finales, I walk away thinking, "I'm not watching next season." It took me awhile to get into this past one, but eventually I got sucked in - especially with the Olympic and triathlon episodes. I don't know the direction of BL in the future, but I'm pretty sure its heydays are gone.

I see ABC's Extreme Weight Loss with Chris Powell gaining popularity - at least in my heart. The transformations are a year-long and trainers Chris and his wife Heidi seem like neat people, not big celebrities. There's less money power and marketing behind it, so the seasons are more spread out and aired during off times (summertime versus winter). Extreme Weight Loss Season 4 is set to air in early summer, and they're currently casting Season 5. My hope is that the increase of ratings and expectations don't ruin the show like it did with Biggest Loser.

People either love or hate these weight loss shows. What's your take? 
Do producers have an ethical responsibility to portray certain health standards?

Me... I like the weight loss shows for what they are - motivation, inspiration. I'm certainly smart enough not to take everything that is said or happens as reality, but I do worry about those that may. I don't mean to sound skeptical, but I've given up on Hollywood having any kind of standards... with any kind of programming. The shows on TV get worse and worse. There is less and less that we can watch as a family with the kids. Even Disney channel disappoints me these days...

Monday, February 3, 2014

My Snowball Shuffle

breakin' tracks in fresh snow!
My sneakers hit the snow last week for the Snowball Shuffle virtual race, along with thousands of others across the country. I had meant to run it earlier in the week, but the days slipped by. Then Friday morning, I looked out the window to see snow trickling down. I knew in a second that this was perfect timing to run my Snowball 8K (4.97 miles).

I quickly rearranged some previous plans, dressed and slipped out the door. My feet led the way, winding along my typical route. I absolutely love my neighborhood for running. The roads have a bit of a maze feel to them (I used to get lost when I first moved here all the time!), and there's the perfect amount of rolling elevation to keep it interesting, yet not overly taxing.

The snow fell gently and then harder at times. It was mid-morning, one of the quietest times in my neighborhood - everyone has left for school or work. The falling snow added to the stillness and I felt a tremendous peace as I graced across the freshly-covered pavement. With every footstep, there was a quiet crunch of the snow beneath me. Just me and the road... this is my happy place.

Every once in awhile, a run comes along that is magical... reminds me of why I run and keep coming back for more. I knew shortly after starting that this run was going to be one of them. I kept my pace slow and comfortable, almost stalling, not wanting the run to end. When I reached my street, I turned the opposite way, and kept on going. My Snowball Shuffle 8K turned into a 10K. The extra effort was worth every ounce of the glory I felt that day.

Did you run the Snowball Shuffle virtual race?
Don't forget to report back your finish time here.
If you wrote on your blog about it, comment below with a link so I can read about it.

Pssssttt... Don't forget to VOTE today. Thanks!!