Winter into Spring

It’s been awhile! To get back on the blogging track, I thought I would do an overall catch-up post of the past two months.

Flowers for St. Patrick's Day

Flowers for St. Patrick’s Day

Last time I checked in, I wrote about doing the #21daysofyoga challenge for the month of January. I am really happy to say I completed the challenge. I went to 11 studio classes at Yoga District, a mixture of morning and evening classes, and did 10 at-home yoga sessions of at least 30 minutes, using the Pocket Yoga and Yoga Studio apps. I am really glad I did this; I found that I became stronger, more flexible and more patient; it was a great way to get warm on freezing January days; and I learned a lot from going to a variety of different classes and instructors.

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my cat loves yoga

I didn’t keep up the frequency of yoga into February and March, but I have tried to keep going to a studio class at least once or twice a week, although I pretty much stopped the at-home sessions in favor of running more and trying to do more strength training, mostly using the Nike Training Club app.

But for the most part, February was really about running, as I tried to get ready for the Rock n Roll USA Half-Marathon on March 15. February was also about freezing cold and ice and snow (and this theme continued in March). I did get used to running in the cold and pretty much made peace with having to layer up so much. I had an awesome 12 mile run in the snow and freezing rain one weekend, and another week I did 14 miles in 20 degree temperatures and somehow loved it.

IMG_4935And yet, I wasn’t really counting on a PR at the RnR half-marathon. I got my PR of 1:56 back in September, on a flat course while in the thick of marathon training. For RnR, I didn’t know if my training had been serious enough to beat that; plus, the course is hillier and much more crowded. I came in at 1:58 which I was perfectly happy with.

IMG_4928It was a fun race and I felt good, but I think this RnR is my last big race for awhile. It is so huge and rather expensive. This year I want to scale back on races, and only do ones that are smaller, with friends, and hold out for big ones like marathons. I entered the lottery for the Marine Corps Marathon but didn’t get in. I want to do a fall marathon, but haven’t decided which one yet. Maybe Philly?

Other things that I’ve been up to: work trips to Orlando, Miami and Santa Barbara (loved getting to enjoy some warm weather and run in shorts in each of these places!).

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running in Orlando

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running in Miami

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driving up the Pacific Coast Highway (I pulled over)

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running along the beach in Santa Barbara

On these trips I got to tour a new tunnel being built under the Biscayne Bay, take a boat tour of the Miami port, tour a landfill and meet a falconer. Never thought I would do any of these things and it was all pretty awesome.IMG_4786 IMG_4822  IMG_4989

And we’ve enjoyed some random warmish spring days with brunch and beers outdoors. I hope spring comes soon and stays for good!

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Travels in Wine Country: Sonoma

For the second half of our trip to wine country, we crossed over to the Sonoma side.

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We drove over the mountains and headed north to the Russian River Valley, where we had a tasting at the Acorn winery. While the Napa side is best know for Cabernets, the Napa side is more known for Pinot Noirs (among others). We didn’t really think we were pinot fans, but quickly learned how good good pinots can be.

We visited the charming town of Healdsburg and stopped into Bear Republic for lunch and beer tastings; great beer, mediocre food, enjoyed walking around the small main street of town.

IMG_4672We stayed one night in the town of Sonoma, and walked around the main town square before dinner at the Girl and the Fig, where we enjoyed well-prepared French/modern cuisine in a relaxed, casual setting. The best part was a nut tart with roasted pumpkin ice cream for dessert.

IMG_4682After a short and speedy treadmill run the next morning, we made our way to the Santa Rosa/Sebastopol area for the day. We did a tasting at Benovia, which ended up being one of my favorite wineries of the whole trip. This is where I learned to like pinots. The setting was gorgeous, in a rustic lodge among the vineyards with comfortable couches and a fireplace burning. Perfect.

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IMG_4685Upon the hostess’s recommendation, we then went for a tasting at the Red Car tasting room, a hipster little tasting room with very friendly staff and a cool little shop. Definitely recommended.

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We made our way into the little town of Sebastopol for lunch, where we bought salads and kombucha and had that with cheese and crackers at the community market, in a little warehouse conversion area. I loved all our picnic lunches on this trip of fresh local food, and I like to think it balanced out the big dinners.

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That afternoon, we checked into our last hotel of the trip, in downtown Santa Rosa, and walked over to the Russian River brewery to ring in the new year. We didn’t really intend to stay until midnight, not caring that much about New Year’s Eve, but rather got there for the tail end of happy hour and a few hours of drinks and dinner.

IMG_4692Such excellent beer; we had Pliny the Elder, of course, plus some other great beers, including some sours, that you can’t get anywhere else, along with salads and pizza. It was crowded but fun, and we left before the band started playing, around 9:30ish. Perfect evening.

IMG_4695I started off the new year with another treadmill run, to conclude the running streak, and we made our way back through San Francisco and boarded the plane home. So sad to leave.

This was an amazing trip; it was the perfect blend of getting away, seeing a new place, relaxing, being active, and of course great food and wine. The area was beautiful, and now I know a lot more about wine (haven’t yet decided if that is good or bad?). Wish we were still there!

Running and Yoga

I feel overdue to write a bit about what I’ve been doing workout-wise lately.

IMG_4228I finished up 2013 with the #RWRunStreak. I am so glad that I did this because it forced me to workout every single day, even while traveling quite a bit. I ran every day from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, for a total of 35 days straight, and of those 35 days, I was away from home for 19!

IMG_4206There were definitely days that I only ran 1 or 2 miles so as to allow for some “rest”, but I did a minimum of 1 mile every day, for a total of 110 miles over the streak. My longest run was 10 miles but the vast majority were 2 to 4 mile runs, and on many of the shorter run days I added in weights or stuff like squats and lunges and burpees.

IMG_4486I missed running longer mileage so in some ways I am glad the streak is over, but I really liked that it gave me a reason to work out every day, especially over the indulgent holidays. I ran two races, ran in New York City and Iowa and California and North Carolina, ran on hotel treadmills, ran below NYC skyscrapers, past Midwest industrial buildings, along vineyards, and through suburbia.

NYC201303Now that it is January I am back to running 4 to 5 times a week, but building up to higher mileage. I signed up for the DC Rock N Roll Half-Marathon in March, after much internal debate. It’s expensive, I’ve done the race several times before, Competitor Group is not without controversy. But I signed up because it’s an easy race to get to and easy for Andy to spectate, and it will keep me running through the dark cold winter months. I’m enjoying training for it and I would like to beat my 1:56 PR, but I’m also not putting a ton of pressure on myself over this. If I can get a little faster and get a PR, great, but if not, that’s okay. At a minimum, I just want to maintain running shape through the winter.

Part of the reason that I have a relaxed attitude to this race is that I’ve been spending a lot more time in yoga classes. I’m doing the #21daysofyoga challenge, and so I’ve been going to yoga classes about three times per week and I’ve been trying to fit in home sessions with a yoga app when I can. To be honest the home sessions haven’t happened as much so if I don’t hit 21 days for the month, that’s okay. I am more focused now on keeping up with three studio classes per week, which is the most I’ve ever done.

yogaI have especially been liking going to a 5pm yoga class on Sunday evenings, followed by cooking dinner and watching Downton Abbey; it is a nice way to relax before the work week begins. I also like going to Friday evening classes for a similar reason; it provides a nice transition from the work week to the weekend. I am trying to treat my weekends as more relaxing times this year, and trying to focus more on being present, and yoga has helped a lot with both of those goals.

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Even if I can’t keep up this yoga schedule forever, I hope to continue with more frequent, regular classes after January is over. I like that it has made me stronger, more flexible, and calmer overall.

The March half-marathon is the only thing I have coming up in the spring. I might do another trail race or two, but nothing set. I do want to do another marathon, and most likely I will do the Marine Corps Marathon again since I know the course now, and it is convenient. But if I don’t make it in the lottery, I am eyeing some smaller fall races on the East Coast and in New England as back-ups. I’m also thinking about doing the Walt Disney World marathon next January, but the timing is tricky.

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Finally, in 2013 I set out to run 1,000 miles total and ended up with 1,186! Yay for not getting injured. My 2014 goal is to hit 1,200, which of course means no injuries…

What are your 2014 goals, running or otherwise? How often do you go to yoga?

Travels in Wine Country: Napa Valley

Over the holidays, we visited Napa and Sonoma. It was a trip full of relaxation, wine tasting, biking, hiking, and good food. I learned a ton about wine and loved being in a new place. I loved seeing the mountains everywhere I turned, being able to bike all over and hike around redwoods, and have some excellent meals, both casual and more high-end. First, here are the highlights from Napa.

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Napa has the reputation of being a bit more refined and elite than Sonoma, but we didn’t find it overly stuffy. We didn’t spend any time in the town of Napa, but rather spent the first few days in St. Helena, in the northern part of the valley, before heading down to Yountville for a few more days. Although the two areas are only about a 30-minute drive apart, traffic on the main road can get bad so I feel like it’s best to avoid going back and forth.

We arrived on Christmas night after spending a few days up to Christmas with family. We stayed at the Harvest Inn in St. Helena, and it was gorgeous. It’s a collection of smaller buildings and I loved our room.

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On our first full day, we rented bicycles through a package tour deal with Velo Vino, owned by the same company that makes Clif bars! I was super excited about this.

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We walked to Velo Vino, hopped on our bikes, and biked to our first tasting, at Spring Mountain. This was our first tasting of the trip and ending up being one of our favorites overall, although to be honest, all of our tastings were great. The setting on the mountainside was beautiful, and the wine (big California Cabs, our favorite) was excellent.

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We cycled along because we had appointments scheduled at other wineries that afternoon (many wineries, especially the smaller ones, require appointments), stopping to enjoy a picnic lunch. We had perfect weather on the whole trip: daytime highs in the 60s/70s, nighttime lows in the 30s/40s. (The only thing was that it made for some cold morning runs.)

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That afternoon we did tastings at Tres Sabores (also excellent, and a beautiful setting on a crunchy farm), Louis Martini (a big winery, I know, but it was relaxing there and I’ve always liked Louis Martini wines), and then ended up back at Velo Vino for our final tasting of the day.

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By the way, most tastings include 5-6 very small pours of different wines, and it’s totally fine to taste and dump. So you don’t end up drinking all that much.

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Velo Vino was fun, but we had bad service. We followed up the day after dropping off our bikes with beers and pizza at a casual place nearby. Excellent first day.

The next day we walked around downtown St. Helena  and had English muffins at Model Bakery and coffee at Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company, both highly recommended..

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And then had a tasting at Pride, on top of Spring Mountain, straddling the Napa/Sonoma county lines. The views up there were gorgeous and the wine was great. We also had a really friendly host, touring us through the caves and explaining the winemaking process, which added to the experience. Everywhere we went we had friendly, knowledgeable people (and mostly young people) to guide us through the tastings.

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After Pride we had a quick taco lunch and then made our way to our next hotel, the Cottages of Napa Valley, down in Yountville. This was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever stayed, and neither of us wanted to ever leave.

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The Cottages have bicycles guests can borrow, so we grabbed bikes and biked into Yountville, a high-end little town made famous by Thomas Keller as the home of The French Laundry, Bouchon, Ad Hoc, and more.

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We found ourselves at Ma(i)sonry, a very cool art gallery/wine bar where we lingered over a glass of wine by the fire at sunset.

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Eventually we biked the three miles back to the Cottages (not recommended in the dark) where I made a salad, Andy built a fire, and we had a relaxing evening with wine, bread, cheese, and salad. So nice and relaxing.

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The next day found us up and about. I went running in the morning (I actually ran every day on this trip, to keep up with my run streak through the holidays, which was helpful for balancing out all the excellent food and wine).

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The Cottages provides a daily basket of pastries from Bouchon Bakery with fruit and the newspaper on your doorstep every morning. So cute (and tasty).

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Then we made our way back up the valley to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park for a hike.

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I loved every second of this hike: perfect weather, beautiful huge redwoods, tough terrain but not too tough, quiet solitude, great views at the top. It took us about 2.5 hours total to do the loop, and I definitely recommend it.

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We followed the hike with a trip to nearby Calistoga, a rustic little town where we got sandwiches for lunch and then stopped off at Lava Wines for a tasting. This was a very casual, laid-back, tiny little place.

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We then returned to the Cottages to rest up and get ready for dinner. The Cottages provides a ride service into Yountville each night, which was very handy. We used it that night to get to our dinner reservations at Bouchon.

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This was one of my favorite meals I’ve ever had. It’s a small French bistro with a relaxed, casual feel and excellent food. Our service was very friendly and we got a great table in the corner. We split a salad and I had the mussels for my main course: amazing. Followed by a dessert of Bouchon Bakery brownies with salted caramel and eggnog ice cream. So good.

On our last day in Napa, we grabbed the bikes again for another day of wineries. We stopped at Silenus, which serves wine from a variety of small producers. We learned a lot here and loved the wines. Later, we returned to their picnic grounds to eat our picnic lunch. We also went to O’Brien Estate, another favorite. We had a great tour and tasting out in the vineyards and I loved it. Our third tasting was at Laird. This was beautiful but not my favorite, but that may have just been because we were there at a kind of chaotic time with families and kids there.

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For dinner that night we ate at Redd. This is the best meal I have ever had, hands-down. The service was amazing, and every bite of food was excellent. We each did a 5-course tasting menu, including dessert, and each course was fantastic. My favorite was the scallops, which is what they are known for, but it was hard to choose – also had sashimi hamachi, lobster risotto, and a peanut butter and chocolate-based dessert. All so good.

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We were sad to say goodbye to Napa the next day; I’ll write about Sonoma in my next post.

December and New York

I thought I would do a wrap-up of things that have been going on the past few weeks, including a weekend in New York City and holiday-related things in DC, now that I am officially on holiday break from work.

First, New York City.

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I love, love, love New York. I forgot how much I love it and how long it’s been since I’d been back. I went up for work and then Andy joined me for the weekend. From the second I boarded the Amtrak train and rode up the east coast, I was thrilled. I am so sick of air travel and was so happy to be on the train, passing all these landmarks of my life…Baltimore (marathon)…Philly (grad school, home of my mom and her side of the family)….New Jersey (where I grew up) and finally, the city.

When I was growing up there was one city and that was where I always wanted to be. I grew up with the skyline always in the corner of my eye, going into the city on the train countless times for museums, Broadway shows, concerts. In college and post-college I did several internships in the city and always figured I would end up there at some point. I still hope that day comes. 

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Even the touristy spots like Rockefeller Center and the Christmas tree didn’t bother me. I was just so excited to be there.

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As part of my work trip I got to visit the new World Trade Center site and memorial. It was freezing! But I’m glad I saw it. It’s still weird to not see the towers.

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I also got to tour the Google Glass Basecamp in Chelsea and test out Google Glass. It was cool to test it out, but I don’t think I’m convinced yet.

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One reason I was so excited to be in NYC was the food. OMG the food. No one outside of the NYC metro area knows what a bagel is. I had one every day. 

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On Saturday, it snowed, which made touring around cold and wet but did make for some pretty views. We went to the Bryant Park holiday market, which was awesome, and watched the skaters as the snow was just beginning to fall.

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We visited friends and Brooklyn and tramped through the snow.

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And had dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar. We started with a dish of brussels sprouts with pomegranate and peanut and other things and it was incredible. Followed by ramen and capped off with Cap’n Crunch Cake Truffles. Amazing from start to finish…although we agreed that Toki Underground in DC actually has better ramen.

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Sunday was clear and snow-covered. We walked around Central Park and watched the kids play.

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Enjoyed another quintessential NYC carb.

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And visited the Metropolitan. My favorite museum in the city. I have seen the Baroque Christmas tree so many times and never get tired of it. 

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There’s always so much to see at the Met; it’s overwhelming. 

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I have kept up pretty well with the December photo a day challenge on Instagram. It’s not always easy but for the most part it has been a fun challenge to remind myself to keep my eye out for interesting things. I also like that it is a way to track where I am and what I’m doing every day, although some days I’ve had to post a day or two behind. I’m this far in so I’m going to stick with it.

I’ve also been keeping up with the Runners World Holiday Run Streak. Again, not always easy, especially since I had some foot pain for awhile (which has gotten better but not completely disappeared…) and with the traveling. So I had to do a lot more short treadmill runs than I would have liked, but this week all of my runs were 2-5 miles long, plus an 8-miler today, so I am feeling better now. I’ve really gotten used to it and it just seems totally normal to put on running clothes every single day. The only problem is that yoga and other things have gone by the wayside, but I’ll pick those up again in January. I’m really glad I’m doing this.

In other fun news, a fantastic new brew pub opened up right in our neighborhood.

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And this past week I’ve taken some time to enjoy holiday things and sights.

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We leave tomorrow morning for a visit to family in North Carolina, then a trip of our own to California for the New Year. Can’t wait! So excited to relax and enjoy life for the rest of 2013. 

 

Jingle All the Way 8K

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Today I ran the Jingle All the Way 8K here in DC, and it much exceeded my expectations. Another lesson that you’ll never regret a workout.

DSCF3215After spending the past four days in Iowa for work (side note: freezing there! I did one short run outside and the rest on the hotel treadmill), arriving home on Saturday evening, and facing winter storm warnings for Sunday morning, I had little interest in running this race.

I paid for it and at one point in the past I was legitimately excited to do it. And I knew I would have to run on Sunday anyway to keep up with the #RWRunStreak, but I was really considering skipping this race anyway. I had done the course in previous years and knew it was a little boring (while it does go around the U.S. Capitol and the Mall, those are sites I see every day…), and was all set to talk myself out of it. But I arrived home last night to find my bib waiting for me (Andy had picked it up), plus Andy promised to accompany me…so, okay. I was in.

I woke up this morning with a surprising amount of energy and excitement. We took Car2Go to the race (too wimpy to bike) and it began snowing on the way. But it was easy enough to park and pretty much walk right into the corrals and start the race with little waiting around. Win.

DSCF3213I didn’t take any photos on the course. I knew I wanted a PR (sub-44:00; my last 8K, a St. Patrick’s Day race on the same course in 2012, was 44:14) but also knew that I didn’t want to slip on the slick roads and didn’t want to go out too fast and hate it by the end. I definitely struggle with understanding my thresholds for pain in races, and how long to hold onto pain. But everything went fine. I like to think I raced this smart; I had nice negative splits, gradually sped up, and honestly enjoyed it the whole time. Lots of people were dressed up, which made it entertaining, and the course was crowded but not full of walkers and strollers like the Turkey Trot 5K was. The snow made it festive and everyone seemed to be in good spirits.

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Andy took photos on the finishers coming down Pennsylvania Ave

Around miles 3 and 4 I knew I could get a PR if I pushed it, so I gradually sped up and crossed the finish line with an official time of 43:23. My watch said it was exactly 5 miles.Jingle 2013 splits

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Me and Santa at the finish

I also got a 5K PR (26:23) and one mile PR of 8:09! Great way to end the year. I was so happy at the finish, and so glad I didn’t bail.

We had lunch at Le Diplomate to celebrate, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was so cozy to sit in this French bistro with coffee and croissants, watching the snow drift down.IMG_4332

I spent the afternoon relaxing and baking cookies. I had some pumpkin puree to use up, so made these pumpkin oatmeal cookies.Very tasty.

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Yes, nearly every single ingredient was from Trader Joe’s. And that is an extra can of pumpkin I only used for the photo shoot.

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Blurry…oops.

I’m eleven days into the #RWRunStreak and eight days into the #FMSphotoaday for December.

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Tiny: Alexandria from the sky on my flight out of DC on Wednesday

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Shadows: Chicago from the sky on my way home yesterday

I want to keep running every day and doing yoga and other workouts as much as possible the rest of the month. As for racing, I’m done for the year.

One last thing: Swim Bike Run Photography posted photos from the Backyard Burn 10-mile trail race I did last month, and I got a decent photo from the halfway point, on the fire road. Lots more great photos of the race here.

Nov 2013 trail race 2Are you doing a holiday race this year? Or a run streak?

December: run and photograph, every day

I love the first day of the month. I know it is arbitrary, but I always get excited when one month ends and another begins; somehow it feels like a fresh slate, a new chance to be what you dream you are. And something about the first day of the last month of the year feels really good, like it’s your last chance to make good on all the promises you made yourself back in January.

IMG_4228With marathon training over, it feels like a good opportunity to try new workouts and fit in everything I couldn’t do while the marathon was my focus. So I have been going to yoga classes more and using my Pocket Yoga app at home, as well as using my Nike Training Club app for strength workouts (lots of lunges, squats, arms, ab work). On Friday, I went to my first Bikram yoga class with a friend. I liked the heat (105 degrees and 40 percent humidity) and the instructor was friendly, and the class was challenging but not as terribly scary as I expected (I didn’t get dizzy or pass out). I liked it, but didn’t love it. I like the flow, energy and relative unpredictability of vinyasa classes better than the rigidity of the Bikram style (and I was freaked out to find out about Bikram’s scandals), but I’m still glad I tried it. I think the next time I want to get really sweaty and warmed up in the winter, I’ll go back to spin class instead.

IMG_4225And yet, running is still my true love. I decided on Thanksgiving to give the Runners World Run Streak a try this year. I’ll keep to my regular run schedule of four to five runs per week of three to ten miles at a time, but also run at least one mile per day on the off days. So far, I did the 5K on Thanksgiving, then did one mile before Bikram on Friday, then did my regularly scheduled 10 miles yesterday (with two miles fast at the end – loved this), and then today I just did a little over one mile in my neighborhood, followed by a 15-minute Nike Training Club workout. So far, so good. One mile is nothing, and it’s a fun way to get out and about in the cold and ensure I am getting a little exercise each day; this morning I kept it easy and brought along my phone so I could take some photos of the empty streets, which was fun.

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The only thing I’m worried about is fitting in a run every day even when I am traveling for work trips this week and next week. I’m tracking it all on Daily Mile here.

Another little challenge I am doing to keep on the ball in December is a photo-a-day challenge on Instagram, via Fat Mum Slim.

I’ve done this before and always enjoyed it at least at first; I hope I can keep motivated and find interesting things to take shots of all month long.

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Today’s prompt was “red” and I never noticed how many red things there are in my neighborhood until now.

Onto the new month!