Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Set SMART Goals


We've talked about writing goals before, but with the New Year upon us, let's talk about how to best go about setting these goals.

In order to make your dreams a reality, your goals should be...

S.M.A.R.T.  Goals are...
  • Specific.  Figure out exactly what you want to accomplish and a path for getting there.  Think about who is involved, when you can work towards it, where you might go for support, and why you want to achieve this goal.  
    • Avoid vague ideas like "get in shape," "eat better," "get more sleep," or "save more money."  Instead,  be specific.  If you'd like to get in shape, commit to hitting the gym 3 times a week.  If you'd like to eat more healthfully, vow to eat at least 6 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, and have a journal to record it or check off each serving.  
  • Measurable. Your goal should be measurable so you can track your progress, see how far you have left to go, and be 100% sure when you've achieved it.  Your goal should answer quantitative questions, such as "how much," "how many," or "how often." This way, you'll know when you've done it! 
    • Again, want to get in shape?  Count your hours at the gym.
    • If you're committing to running like I am, you can log your miles, aiming for a certain amount each week or month.  To do this, I joined Dailymile.  A journal or word doc will do, too.
  • Attainable.  Are there steps to take that will lead toward this goal?  Is it something you can change, with the right motivation and tools?  Do you have that motivation and those tools?  If you need support from certain others in your life, are they willing to provide it?  Do you have the proper attitude toward your goal to make it happen?
  • Realistic.  Simply stated, is your goal realistic?  This isn't about setting your sights too high or too low.  Don't use this as an excuse to set some easy resolutions.  Just take the time to reflect on if this is actually something you are physically capable of doing, if you set your mind to it, in the designated time frame.
  • Timed.  How long will you give yourself to reach your goal?  It's important to select a time frame, or else you can always put your goal off until "later" or "someday." Be sure that your time frame is also realistic.  "I will lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks" is not realistic.  Going to the gym on a daily basis might be realistic for some, but unrealistic for others, depending on the individual's schedule. 
    • If you have a fitness-related goal like me--such as running--take the steps to commit yourself to a deadline by signing up for a race, or a long-term challenge, like I did.  This can work for non-fitness resolutions, too. Maybe you want to clean out your home by the year's end, so schedule a garage sale for a certain month, tell family and friends to donate their own items, and commit to having everything ready to go by that date.
For Example...
To keep with the obvious theme of my own goals so far: RUNNING.  I'll use myself as an example here.  General goal: "Become a runner." Specifically: Get comfortable running 3 miles continuously, in under 10 minutes each. Run a few times each week.  Measure it using my Garmin GPS sportswatch , and track total miles on DailyMile, aiming for 600 miles in 2012. Attainable? Yes, that's under 2 miles per day, or a couple 5ks each week. I just bought new shoes to keep me injury-free. I have friends and family supportive of my running goals. Realistic?  Sure. I can already run a mile and a half comfortably, and have run 3 miles in under 30 minutes a few times now, with effort.  I don't run these distances regularly now, but I could make the time and switch up my workout routine to make it happen.  Timely? Yes.  Although running is a long-term goal, to keep up for years to come (I hope!), I want to log those 600 miles by the year's end.  I can also aim to achieve 50 miles each month. Numbers make it easy.

By using the "SMART" framework, I know that my goal is challenging, yet realistic, and easily measurable so I'll know if I'm falling short or succeeding.

        A clever re-working of the above tips is found in 9 Tips for Sabotaging your New Year's Fitness and Weight-Loss Goals.

        Want to commit to a new habit to be performed daily?  Read lessons and ideas for a "streak" resolution: "Working out every day", or whatever else!

        Whatever your resolution or goal may be, here are 14 quick tips to get "insanely" motivated.

        For a well-organized journal for tracking both fitness and eating habits, get a Fitbook.  It helps you record cardio, weight training, hydration, food consumption, nutrient intake, and also provides GREAT pages each week for goal-setting and planning.

SO!  Think about your goals, what you'd like to achieve in the new year.  What do you wish to accomplish in the coming weeks, months, or year?  Are your goals SMART?  What tweaks can you make to make them SMART?  Think about it, write it down, and share.  I dare you. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Go for it: Virtual 10k

Stephanie, Robin, and Ashley organized a Home for the Holidays Virtual 10k.  I absolutely love the idea of people all over the country--or the world--doing the same run in the same weekend for the same reason.  I also love that this is purely for fun, and race times would not determine winners.

So I signed up!  Then, this morning, I did not want to get started.  Just because I ran one little 5k does not mean I can suddenly take on 10 out of nowhere!  I haven't trained for it.  3 miles is still just about my limit. Then again... I've never tried for more.  I'm still convinced that somewhere around 3 miles, I'll get ready to slow to a walk, breathing heavily and heart racing.  However, that will not prevent me from picking up to a jog again after I've regained some energy, right?  I don't need to make each lap under a 10-minute-mile.  I think that in this "Just for Fun" 10k, finishing is optional.  BUT I WILL FINISH!  I will never sell myself short again--I can do it.  At the very least, I know I'm capable of running 3 and walking the next 3.  But we'll see what I'm able to handle.  Still, upon registering for this virtual event, I dared myself to do it: 10k.  And so, you know, I can't turn down such a dare.

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

Christmas Day.  
Woke up at 9, wasted a little time hoping it'd get warmer out, ate my banana, drank my tea, etc... 10:30 am. Alright, if I don't do this now, it'll get too late.  I've got family to see later.  And we all know this 10k will take me over an hour.  SO, I'd better get moving.  

These are from my old soccer/softball days.

It's cold out, so I layered up and headed to a nice flat running track.  

Setting my Garmin... do you see my error?

My plan was to run 3 miles and then walk the remaining 3, or maybe walk 4 and 5, and run 6.  My plans changed. 

Here I go...
  • Mile 1: Ran in 9:24.  Ran the whole thing, struggling to breathe through my stuffed up nose in the cold winter air.  Tried to keep close to a girl ahead of me who was running with an adorable dog, so I could watch and be entertained by the dog.  (Although, I'm pretty sure that the dog, instead, started watching ME.)
  • Mile 2: Ran in 10:38.  I ran the first half pretty quickly but then just had to stop.  Checked my Garmin and saw my heart rate was at 193 bpm. Wow, I've never seen it that high. I'll slow down to a walk for a bit before picking the pace up again to finish the 2 miles in 20 minutes.
  • Mile 3: Walked in 14:10.  This one I mostly walked, letting my heart rate come down a little. Finished half the race--5k--in 35 minutes. 
  • Mile 4: Ran in 9:52.  This time, I didn't let myself stop.  Kept up my pace, trying to keep it under 10 min, and let my heart rate climb to 197 by the end.  
  • Mile 5: Alternated in 11:34.  I was planning to walk this whole mile before trying to run the last, but I quickly got bored and switched to intervals instead.  I'd run when the music inspired me -- running the choruses, walking the verses, that kind of thing.  Did what I could. 
  • Mile 6: Alternated in 11:17.  I continued my walk/run alternations, and thennnn
  • The home stretch -- finished it out running. 

Final time: 6.2 miles, 1h 8m 50s, an 11:06 pace.  (The Garmin is short because I took the photo before realizing that I'd set my Garmin for 6.02 instead of 6.2! Whoops! So quickly finished the last .18.)  I did it.  Finished another (virtual) race, the longest distance I've completed to date. 

I warmed up. Tossed the gloves.
What'd I learn?  I haven't been training like I should.  I should've been able to finish those first 3 miles (and perhaps I would have if I hadn't known I'd have another 3 after it), but I've not been running outside as it's gotten colder.  And... now that I have my NEXT 5k SCHEDULED in only 2 weeks from now, I'd better get moving this week to be ready!!  Once I master the 5k again on my own, I may start using a training program I found online for making the leap from 5k to 10k.  Gotta keep going! 

Hope you're having a happy, healthy holiday, as well, and don't forget to fit activity around your holiday feasts!  Also, don't forget to enter the EverStride giveaway to win athletic holiday gifts just for you!  

Happy Holidays, to all!
And to all, a good night. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

EverStride Skincare: Product Review & Giveaway!

When I do aerobic exercise, sometimes my shirt really irritates my skin.  In a cardio class and while lifting weights, I feel the seams in my underarm.  When I run outside in a long-sleeve shirt, I usually don't feel anything while on the go, but the minute I slow down to a walk, I feel the irritation.   For the most part, I accepted this, figuring maybe I just need to invest in better-quality workout clothing.  Whether or not that's true (I invest in pants, less so in shirts), I finally have a solution to my problem.

EverStride's Anti-Chafing Sport Stick

As a new runner, I didn't know that these existed, but WOW does it make a difference!  Just one use of this Anti-Chafe Stick made a believer out of me.  When I glided it onto my skin, it felt nice and smooth, and oh-so-thin.  Then, as soon as I was out the door, I forgot I had it on!  It's not sticky or smelly or opaque in any way.  Left zero residue.  I did my workout, got nice and sweaty, boxed and kicked and ran, and came home, all with my skin feeling fabulous and chafe-free. Only then when I touched my arms did I realize just how smooth they felt, and how they were NOT red and irritated.  It seems my problem is solved!

Pro Therapy Foot Treatment

EverStride also has a foot cream for preventing blisters and restoring dry, cracked skin.  I've been using this on my feet, and it feels just as nice as any moisturizer I've used in the past.  I've noticed my persistent blister has become somewhat less persistent since I started using the Foot Treatment, so there's another win!  I look forward to continue using this to counter the effects of the abuse I give my feet with my recent running goals.

And now, for you...

EverStride Giveaway!!! 
In the holiday spirit of gift giving, here is your chance to win one of these great skincare products from EverStride.

How?  To enter, leave a comment below sharing how you could benefit from one of these products, and which one you'd like to enter for.  (Yes, you may enter for both! Just say so.)
  • Bonus entry: Follow me on Twitter and Tweet about the giveaway!  (And let me know you did in your comment, with your Twitter handle.)  Write your own or copy this: I just entered an EverStride sports skincare giveaway from @DareYouToBlog. Enter at
  • Bonus entry: Follow my blog via Google Friend Connect.  See the box to join near the top of the right sidebar in this window.  If you already do or just signed up, tell me so in your comment.
  • Bonus entry: "Like" the Dare You To Facebook page!  You can click the button in the sidebar to the right, above, or go to  In your comment, let me know you did this. 
  • (One comment is fine for all the bonuses, or you may leave separate. I'll figure it out!) 
NOTE: Please sign in with a registered email or contact information so that I can contact you if you win!!!  You may leave your email address, Twitter handle, blog address, or any other means.  You may also email me this information privately (dareyoutoblog (at) gmail (dot) com) or direct message it to me via twitter, but be sure to tell me what entry's name to associate it with!  

Sports Stick and Foot Treatment were provided by EverStride.  EverStride did not influence my reviews; the opinions above are my own.  Contest will close on December 31.  Entries after December 31 will not be accepted, and winners will be notified shortly thereafter.  Winners will be asked to provide shipping information.  This sweepstakes is open to US residents only, 18 years or older.  Winners will be selected at random.  Good luck!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Spread the joy!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

One of the perks of living in this wonderful blogosphere:
Blogger Secret Santa! 
Yes. It is exactly what it sounds like.  Organized by Peanut Butter Jenny, we bloggers were each assigned another, to whom we would send a little holiday gift.  FUN!

After shipping off a box to my own gift-ee, I'd almost forgotten about the whole project.... Until...


Inside was an adorable card 

and fun, colorful workout headbands !!  Just like I wanted!

Thank you, (Secret) Santa!  My secret santa was actually Meg, so thank YOU, Meg!  I'm so excited to wear these in my fitness classes.  They'll be perfect for keeping my hair out of my face during Pilates and spin.  Running, too!

AND an added surprise: she threw in Christmas-colored M&Ms--dark chocolate (how'd she know?) !! What a nice treat.

Oops, I indulged before remembering to photograph.  Now you all know the chocolate fiend I truly am.

Loving my new headbands!

Gifts don't have to be big or fancy to make someone smile.  Small tokens of appreciation, photographed memories, or words of kindness can all equally brighten someone's day.  So go ahead and spread the joy this holiday season.  Share little gifts, baked goods, jokes, or kind words with friends, family, and strangers, too.  I dare you.

Happy Holidays!!  
Stay tuned for an athletic gift giveaway for YOU.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Celebrate: Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Sometimes it's your boyfriend's birthday...

... and sometimes this means you have to bake.

dry ingredients

Today is my boyfriend's birthday, and so although I have much grander confectionary plans in mind for the celebration with friends, I could never show up on his birthday empty-handed, could I?  Enter: cupcakes.

wet ingredients

(Don't worry, I got him a real gift. But I hope he likes these, too!)

The star has arrived

He likes pumpkin, and he likes cream cheese, and he isn't a huge "cake" person, so I found a recipe for pumpkin cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting. Perfect! 

Ready, set... combine!

 They're not super sweet but are oh-so-tasty, so I think he'll enjoy the flavors.   


And I think you will, too. 


While those are baking, you have just enough time to make the cream-cheese frosting! 

That's optional.  They're also delicious as muffins (without the frosting), or could go with vanilla or chocolate frosting if cream cheese flavor isn't your thing.

Almost ready?

Don't bite yet--too hot!  Let them cool for a bit. 

Looks like they could've been filled with more batter.   Next time: Go big or go home.

Pin It

Frost and sprinkle, if you please.

Pin It

Perfect density.  

Packed and ready to go!  Will put candles in tonight. =)

Read more for the recipe.  PLUS the Hanukkah surprise ...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fill up on Fiber

Just for giggles Friday:  Did you hear about the hipster who burned his tongue on pizza? He ate it before it was cool.

Hey, remember when I accepted your dare to do a post on fiber?  Well, here it is!

I've received questions about fiber, and it's all over the health news nowadays, too. Fiber is in the spotlight!  Sure, you know by now that you're supposed to get enough fiber in your diet, but how much?  what kind? in what foods? why? SO MANY QUESTIONS! 

Read more for the what, why, and how:

What is fiber? 

Fiber, aka "roughage" or "bulk", is a carbohydrate that comes from the part of plant foods that the human body can't fully digest.  Instead of being broken down and absorbed, it goes straight through and out of the body, intact.  There are two different types of fiber:
(1) Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel.  This gel then prevents other materials, like fats and sugars, from being absorbed.  As a result, it can lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels.
(2) Insoluble fiber doesn't dissolve; instead, it acts like a sponge through the digestive track.  It retains its shape while absorbing things along the way, keeps you "regular" by promoting the movement of material through your digestive system. 

Why is fiber good for us?
Eating a high-fiber diet has been demonstrated to benefit us in the following ways:
  • Good for the heart: Fiber-containing foods have been associated with lower risk of heart disease.  Why?  As mentioned above, soluble fiber can reduce levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol.  Also good for heart-health, it may reduce blood pressure and inflammation.
  • Slow digestion: With less food than other carbohydrates, you'll feel more full, and stay full for longer.  Therefore, you can wait a while until your next meal.  This, in turn, ...
    • Promotes healthy weight: Diets high in fiber are associated with healthier weights and lower rates of obesity. This has been attributed to the "fullness" effect of eating lots of fiber. For the same amount of calories, a high-fiber food will take up more room in your stomach. For example, think about an apple.  It's big and so filling, but not so high in calories.  Also compare enriched white pasta or bread to fiber-packed whole-grain varieties.  You'll need less of the whole-grain stuff to feel full. A bowlful of vegetables will do the trick, too!  Did you ever have a side of broccoli and feel SO stuffed after? Yep, that's fiber at its best. 
  • Regulates bowel movement: Insoluble fiber helps to make bulkier stools, which will then pass more easily and quickly through your system.  In this way, it can prevents and relieve constipation.  Regularly eating fiber means regularly going to the bathroom! 
  • Prevents disease:  Fiber keeps your body clean by helping to "clear out" digestive waste, toxins, cholesterol, and extra hormones.  As a result, research has shown effects of fiber on decreased risk of heart disease, colon cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, and more.

How much fiber do we need? 
Most Americans only consume about 15 grams, but aim for 25-40 grams of dietary fiber per day.  The USDA and the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine recommend the following:
Mayo Clinic
If you haven't been getting much fiber at all up until now, ease in slowly so you don't shock your system.  Otherwise, you might experience some adverse symptoms.  Just try increasing your intake daily until you reach these suggested numbers.

What foods contain fiber? 
This is where we'll see why diets high in fiber are associated with so many health benefits.  If you eat lots of vegetables, you're getting lots of fiber!  

  • Soluble Fiber is found in...
    • Legumes (beans, lentils)
    • Barley
    • Oat bran and oatmeal
    • Chia seeds
    • Fruits (apples, oranges, pears, strawberries, blueberries)
    • Vegetables (cucumbers, celery, carrots)
    • Nuts
    • Flaxseeds

  • Insoluble Fiber is found in...
    • Wheat (whole grains, wheat cereals)
    • Vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, celery, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, onions, dark leafy greens, cucumbers)
    • Fruits (raisins, grapes, tomatoes)
    • Corn
    • Oat bran
    • Nuts
    • Barley
    • Couscous
    • Brown rice
    • Bulgur
    • Flaxseed
    • Skins of fruits and root vegetables (apples, potatoes)
Your body needs both soluble and insoluble fiber, and not all foods have both, so it's important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to meet your daily quota. Basically, to increase your fiber intake without looking specifically at the food and its fiber content, follow these tips provided by WebMD:
  1. Get the recommended amount.  You don't have to track it daily, but try it for a few days just to get a feel for how much you're getting now, and what it'd be like to actually get the recommended intake.
  2. Eat more fruits and vegetables!  You can see above where the fiber comes from. If you increase the produce in your diet, you'll be increasing the fiber, as well.
  3. Eat more whole grains.  That way, you're getting the fiber that's hiding in the brain and germ. 
  4. Eat less refined grains.  In these, the bran and germ are removed, so you'd miss out on fiber.
  5. Consider a supplement.  Try finding fiber in foods, first.  But if all else fails, try out a supplement.  Ask your doctor for a recommendation that'd be best for you.  Benefiber and Metamucil are popular brands that offer both capsules and powders, so you can choose to take it like a pill, or to mix it into water or food.  If you go that route, be sure to not buy flavored varieties or ones with artificial coloring.  (Those are bad for other reasons.)  The most basic form of fiber you can buy in a bottle would probably be straight-up psyllium husks.  Ask your pharmacist! 

Want more information? 

Some fiber-filled snack ideas:
  • Baby carrots and hummus
  • Popcorn
  • Celery sticks and peanut butter
  • Apple slices and peanut butter
  • Trail mix: almonds, walnuts, raisins (or any of those all by itself!)
  • Yogurt with flaxseed
  • Dried fruit (like apricots, prunes) 
  • Banana

Other favorite fiber friends of mine:
  • Eggplant
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash
  • Spinach
  • Whole wheat pasta, tortillas, pita, English muffins
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Peas
  • Melon
  • Artichokes

Try some of these websites, which have great tips on how to fit more fiber into your diet! 

OK, so do you get what all the hype is about now?  Maybe you knew this. Maybe you eat lots of these fruits, vegetables, and grains already.  Are they adding up to 25 or 30 grams each day? Which of your favorites can you eat more of?  What new foods might you want to start eating?   Dare you to start incorporating more of these foods into your diet, TODAY!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

First run with my new sportswatch

I mentioned last week that my Garmin Forerunner finally arrived!  

It arrived just after I showed myself that I can run 3.1 miles continuously, no walking.  Perfect timing, so I can test myself on the road instead of the treadmill.  The only delay?

It came with an overwhelming amount of gadgets!  I unwrapped, sorted, installed, set up... Now, finally, my Garmin ForeRunner is all charged and programmed and ready to go!  To continue working toward my goal of running 5k continuously, I got up early this morning to go for a test run.  Put on the chest-strap (heart-rate monitor), made sure it synched to the watch, and set out.

The sun was just barely rising, and the moon was still out!  And when I say it was cold, I mean it was COLD.  First time this season that I could see my breath while running!  I had my gloves and earwarmers, so it wasn’t so bad.  Here are some tips from Fitsugar for running in cold weather.

Acquiring GPS signal...

The Garmin?  AMAZING.  No need to keep track of my laps up and down the same street, no need to wonder how fast or slow I’m going, no need to base my final ‘time’ off of how many songs played during my run.  My new sports watch does it alllll.  Miles, time, pace, and even my heart rate. 

The heart rate strap was frustrating, because as soon as my body warmed up, it repeatedly slipped down toward my waist; I had to adjust it on the go, over and over.  Any tips on fixing that problem?  I’d love to keep using it; I like knowing when my heart rate is up, and then watching it drop back to normal as I walk back home.  The rest was great.  I found the buttons and "bezel" easy to use, to navigate from screen to screen.

With the GPS tracking my mileage, I broke from my overdone route and wandered down other streets.  This freedom was so nice; I could run wherever I please!  Of course, I soon found that other streets had hills, however slight the incline, that slowed me down a bit.  After a bit of that, I reverted back to the flatter roads, although I’ll definitely keep spending a little longer on those streets so I can work my way up to feeling comfortable there. 

After 2.76 miles in 28m 33s, I had to come to a rest.  I didn’t stop because I was tired or couldn’t go any further, but instead because of the persistent blister on my right foot becoming more and more painful.  I really need new running shoes, but I just got a new foot cream I'll fill you in on later.  Still, I wasn’t too disappointed with my 2.76 – only about a third of a mile away from my goal, which I walked the rest of the way anyhow.  Not too shabby, and definitely a great way to start the morning.  On this busy day, it was nice to squeeze in my workout first thing.

So, first run with the Garmin was a great success!  I know it has way more bells and whistles than I’ll ever actually use, although I’d like to experiment and learn to use some of them.  For example, this morning, the watch must have had a default setting of a “training partner”, where it told me how far behind I was compared to an imaginary running buddy who’s ahead of me by a third of a mile.  This is a neat feature, but I’m going to turn it off.  My goal isn’t to beat anyone else; I run for me.

One feature I know I’ll use is the “Interval Workout,” because I love running intervals when I’m short on time.  If you have one, what are your favorite sports watch features?  Have Garmin tips and tricks for me?

I'm so excited to have a tool to track my progress and make running outdoors easier for me.  As for you? Think about what you can do to make exercising, eating well, being healthy, accomplishing your goals--what can make it easier for you?  Make it happen. It'll inspire you to do more. Go for it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Make a childhood favorite better: Healthier Mac & Cheese

One of my most fond childhood memories?  Kraft Mac & Cheese.  This was always a treat on those nights where my father was in charge of supper.  It was not only the food itself, but the experience; my sister and I got to help cook: toss in the butter, pour in the milk, shake and release the packet of cheese powder… you remember the drill.

It’s been a long time since the days of that family-sized blue box, but you can still have your mac & cheese, and your veggies, too!  Some inspiration for this dish came from my friend Rachel over at Little Chef Big Appetite, Rachael Ray, and Angela at Oh She Glows.

Mmm tempted yet?  Ready to ditch whatever else you had planned for dinner and make this instead?  GREAT!  Let's get started.

Serves many.

Read more for the recipe --

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Say "I WILL reach my goal"... and then DO IT.

Remember when I dared myself to run 3 miles continuously?  Or, more specifically, to run 3.1 miles--the equivalent of a 5k--without stopping, no walking breaks?  When I ran my first 5k, I stopped a couple times in the second half to walk briskly for a few seconds before picking up speed again.  Next time I do the run, I'd love to be able to make it to the end without slowing to a walk.

Well, guess what?  I did it.  I accomplished my goal.

Of course, I had to try and fail first, which I did.  I didn't practice the run as often as I'd like, because things like bad weather and other exciting workouts got in the way.  In the week and a half since that original goal-setting post, I ran maybe 3 times outdoors, doing at least 3 miles each time, but slowing to a walk at least twice.  I ran two miles without stopping.  I learned that once I take my first walking interval, I lose my drive. So, time to just suck it up and do this thing.  I know I can. I will. I will do it!

That's the attitude with which I went to the gym today.  With the horrible rain, I settled for the treadmill, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed to reach my goal.  When I stepped on the machine, I told myself that today was the day; this was going to happen. I can--I will--do it.

Read more for a short mile-by-mile glimpse into my head...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Step into a Group Exercise Class

Ah, Wednesday. This is my favorite workout day of the week, because I get to do not one, but TWO awesome gym classes in a row.  First, in Spinning, I get my heart rate up and my body warm (read: drenched in sweat), and thennn I hop one room over for Pilates, where I challenge my core, practice balance, and stretch my flexibility.  These two make an AMAZING combo.  Ah... so good. I walk away feeling like a new person, every time.

In honor of my great-workout-Wednesday, Today I dare you to try something new: Step into a group exercise class.

A newbie to fitness?  A pro-exerciser but want to spice up your workout routine with something new?  Taking a group exercise class is like having a personal trainer, except it’s slightly less personal (bad), other people are doing the moves all around you (pressure--good!) and it’s included in your gym membership (great!).  I've alluded to my gym class routine before, so now it's your turn to join in the fun.

It can be intimidating walking into a class for the first time, but don’t let fear hold you back.  Almost every class I’ve ever attended, the instructor begins by asking if there are any newcomers.  This isn’t to point and laugh at you, but rather so that the teacher can explain what the class is going to be like, learn if you have any injuries to be mindful of, and give you pointers for succeeding at your first try.  Everyone was the newbie at some point, so don’t be embarrassed.  After a few classes, you’ll become a regular, one of the crowd.

The best thing about it: once you’re in, you’re there.  Even if you can’t sprint when the spin instructor says “sprint” or you can’t balance with your third limb off the floor when the Pilates instructor says to do so, at the very least, you’re moving and toning for those 45-60 minutes. You’re in the room, you’re there. Your feet are pedaling, your legs are jumping, your core is tightening, your arms are punching… whatever it is, you’re doing it. 

Classes to try:
-       Cardio Kickboxing
-       Spinning
-       Total Body Conditioning or some kind of “strength”
-       Zumba
-       Boot Camp
-       Pilates
-       Cross Training
-       Core Conditioning
-       Urban Rebounding
-       CrossFit
-       Yoga

The list really goes on and on; those are just some examples... every gym has their own names and their own styles and their own classes, so check out what your gym offers, ask around, check out the descriptions offered by your gym.  If you don't belong to a gym, there are all kinds of studios that offer just one type of workout: Tae Bo, Pilates or Yoga studios, boxing clubs, Zumba studios... If there's one you're interested in trying, go in or call to ask if they offer demos or trial passes.

How to choose the right class?
Try a class that a friend recommends.  Going with a friend who’s already a regular might make it easier to take that first step inside.  She can also tell you what to expect on your first day.
Choose something that sounds fun to you.  If you’re going to keep going to a class, you’re going to want to LIKE it.  For example, if you love dancing, maybe Zumba or a cardio box class would work well for you.  If you enjoy meditation, yoga might be your kind of thing. 
A great idea from Fitsugar is to watch a fitness class before taking it, so you can see what moves are performed and what the instructor is like.

What to do on day one:
Tell the instructor about any injuries you have.  Ask what to expect or if there are special tricky moves she can walk you through you beforehand so you won’t be surprised and struggle halfway through (although expect to struggle on your first time!)

Where to stand or sit?  This has many answers that all end the same: THE FRONT!
-       If you’re self-conscious, go ahead and stand in the back for your first class or two until you become more comfortable with the moves and confident in your ability.
-       BUT, make sure you can see the instructor!  There’s nothing worse than showing up, a pure beginner, and not being able to see the moves. That’s why it is always a great decision to…
-       STAND UP FRONT!  This way, you can see the instructor clearly and mimick her movements.  Plus, it keeps you engaged. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned attendee, when you stand in front, you’ll want to perform at your best.  Everyone can see you!  In an effort to impress the instructor and other ‘students’ (or at least not embarrass yourself), you’ll likely step up your game, and NOT give in to that voice that says you’re too exhausted or can’t do it. 

Take the risk and step into a class.  I was afraid to try pilates and spinning once upon a time, but now I go weekly; they're two of my favorites!  (The third? Body Combat! Kind of like cardio-kickboxing.)  Have any of you also tried a class you were afraid of and ended up loving?

If you have questions about specific classes, I’d be more than happy to answer based on my own experiences or do the research on your behalf.  More posts on these different types of workouts to come!  For now, I dare you to try one class you’ve been eyeing on the schedule or peeking at through the window.  Just step through the door, find your spot, mimick others’ area setups, and get ready for something new and exciting.  If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back.  But if you love it?  GREAT!  The hardest part is over, and you can continue attending.  Good luck; let me know how it goes!! 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Vegify an Old Classic: Spaghetti Squash & Veggie Balls

It's Meatless Monday, so whether you're a full-time veg-head like me, opt for meatless Mondays, or even if you haven't hopped on the wagon at all, let's take this opportunity to let vegetables take the spotlight in this classic dish.

Spaghetti and meatballs--a weekly dish in my house growing up, and a staple on any Italian menu.  Can we re-do it?  Make it meat-free?  Decrease the calories?  Fake out any non-believers?

Spaghetti Squash and Veggie Balls
Ingredients: One spaghetti squash + one package meatless veggie balls.
(that was easy)

Let me introduce you to my new friend: Spaghetti Squash.

Sure, he may not look like much on the outside, but weren't you ever taught not to judge a book by its cover??

Read more to see what's inside our big yellow buddy.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Make TJ's Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake Mix.

Ohmygosh. You must make this. 

Trader Joe's

Tonight, after a very, VERY filling take-out dinner, we offered the already-baked dessert almost as an afterthought to the groans of "That was delicious," "I'm so full," "such large portions..." etc., etc...

"Would you like some coffee cake for dessert?"
"Oh, I don't know, I'm so full.  Okay, I guess I'll have just a little piece with my tea, please."

... Tiny portions are doled out ...

"This is good... mmm..."
"Another, please."
"Me, too."

As for me? I was practically eating it out of the pan. I've had crumbcake... I grew up with it.  But this is on a whole other level.  Usually with coffee cakes, the crumbs are the best part and the cake itself is just "good."  In this, even though it really did have a favorable crumb-to-cake ratio, the cake part was actually quite tasty, too!  And, unlike store-bought crumb cakes which are usually pre-made and dry, having the homemade version was moist. Fresh. Flavorful. Delish!

Why I was surprised, I don't know.  Any time I taste some amazing homemade baked good and inquire as to the secret magical recipe, the answer is always Trader Joe's.  How do they make a box mix SO good?  I just don't know.  The TJ's banana bread was the first doesn't-taste-like-a-box-mix mix I discovered... Now, add this one to the list!

The photo above is of the half-eaten cake, because why would I photograph a boxed recipe?  By the time it occurred to me to share this fantastic news with you, it was already half gone!

Go to Trader Joe's, right now.  I dare you.  Buy this.  Make it.  Watch your guests gobble it down in awe of your incredible baking skills.

AHH I'm using all my self-control right now to not to go down and finish the rest.

Observe and Learn from your Behavior

This morning, I went on a great run. The weather was PERFECT: started out chilly, but within a half mile, the sun and my heart warmed up my body.  So nice.

I ran a mile and a half .. maybe 3/4 before I had to stop to tighten my laces that were about to come undone.  Ugh. I really didn't want to stop; I want to run 3 miles without breaks, but I saw I had no choice. I knelt down to re-tie quickly and get back up.  Back to the run.  About a quarter mile later, I allowed myself to take a short recovery walk, for somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds.  Would I have done this if I hadn't already broken my running streak?  Probably not.  But knowing that my goal would not be met today gave me a sense of permission to slow down for a moment.  Then I picked up and kept moving, kept running.  When I caught up to my walking-buddy, also doing laps, I slowed to walk with her for another 30- or 60-second break (I swear I have no sense of time when I'm working out).  At last, I picked up and ran the last lap and a half to complete the equivalent of 3.1 miles--a 5k.  Even with the walking breaks, I did it in just under 30 minutes (great) but not at a constant run (less great--not my goal).

The lesson?  The moment my feet stopped moving gave me the "okay" to cave in the next time I felt tired/bored/whatever it is that makes me stop to walk.  I learned, by reflecting on my behavior, that I need to prepare myself beforehand (aka make sure my laces are tightly tied--and doubled!, that my iPod is secure and loaded, that I'm appropriately dressed for the weather), so that NOTHING grants me "permission" to stop.  When I walk, it will be because my body needs to, rather than because my mind suddenly decided that it's alright.

This is fine.  I am now aware of my mind's power, and I'll take measures to work with it, rather than against it.  I'll keep pushing myself to go as long as I can.  In my heart of hearts, I believe I am already physically capable of doing the 5k without a break; I just have to get my head to cooperate.  What I learned about myself today will get me one step closer to that goal. 

Take a moment after each workout to reflect on your behavior: where you went right, where you went wrong.  What motivates these decisions?  The same could apply to your eating choices, the way you spend your free time... any aspect of your life that could use improving.  Take a few moments to reflect, assess, and move forward in a positive way.

And now, a much deserved pumpkin smoothie.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Keep moving

This morning started a little slowly.  Oops.  Consciously decided to miss spin class. Whoops.

Oh well!  Work out from home.  After spending an hour or so on actual work (I chose research over Spinning? Really??), I popped on a workout video downloaded from ExerciseTV for a quick, light strength circuit with my 5-lb hand-weights before hitting the road to jog outside.  You know what?  Better that I go out and run instead of spin today -- it's been 5 days since I set my official, public goal to run 3 miles without stopping and yet I haven't run once this week!  Shameful!  I'm too committed to my gym class schedule; time to put my running goals first.  It's beautiful out for a run, anyhow.

Beautiful fall weather for a run
So, out I go. Today I set my mind to running 2 miles without stopping.  I went out into the brisk December (it's December?!!?) air and started out in my normal running-speed.  After a half mile or mile, I kept reminding myself to take it easy, a 5- or 5.5-mph jog would be fine; my goal is to keep moving.  (Really, it could've been 6mph and I wouldn't know the difference.  Gahh I can't wait til my Garmin arrives so I can actually track my pace! Yep; I ordered one. Time to pretend I'm a real runner.)

Up until now, I've done a mile and a half, but never two, so it's no wonder that at about a mile and a quarter, I start to hear that inner demon saying, "slow down, walk for a second, you've done enough."  NO... I will run these two miles without stopping.  Until a mile and a half, I just kept telling myself to keep going, "because you can."  I can keep running, so I will.  The last half-mile was motivated by telling myself how great it will feel to slow to a walk after 2 miles, compared to how lame I'd feel if I stopped to walk now.  That did the trick.  I kept breathing... in and out... until I hit that two-mile marker.  Then I slowed to walk for the remaining mile home.

Yep, it did feel good. I was quite satisfied.  Not elated, not proud, not much of anything, because this is just one step toward my actual goal of running a full 5k without breaks.  But, I did it. Two nonstop miles is a new record for me. That earns a pat on the back.
The boyfriend supporting me pre-5k

After I stopped running, I felt a pain in my knees as I walked home and around the house.  Ouch.  This is new.  I asked around:  Lauren says this sometimes happens to her when she runs in the cold (yes, I did, and in shorts b/c my crops are still drying from the wash), and my former cross-country-runner boyfriend said that knee pain is a part of running; I have to adapt, try icing it, get better shoes.  Also, we agreed that running on uneven sidewalks likely contributed to the post-run pain.  I can't help it if trees are still lining the roads in my neighborhood!  (We were hit pretty badly by the freak October snowstorm.)

He's right though; I am due for new shoes.  I've been using my current Asics cross-trainers since... January 2010. Almost 2 years. Yep, guess the time has come to trade the old for new.  I know that seems like a ridiculously long time to you runners out there, but I used them mostly in the gym--on the elliptical and in kickboxing--until this fall. Now, they're taking a real beating between my running and gym classes.

Any recommendations on a great multi-tasking sneaker?  Maybe I'll swing by the mall this week or next to have a store 'professional' walk me through the selection process.

SO, even though my workout was not the one I planned, I'm quite happy that I took a step toward accomplishing my current running goal.  Maybe I'll run again this weekend, if the weather's nice, and try to make it two miles and a quarter

PS - Just added the "Daily Mile" widget to my sidebar to inspire me to keep making running a priority, if I want to reach my goal! Wish me luck.