Are you being slimed?

I know. For those of us who grew up with Nickelodeon, this evokes an image of copious amounts of green goop falling from the sky and enveloping anyone under it!

But the type of slime I’m referring to doesn’t look like anything, although it may FEEL like something. So for all of you runners and gym rats who use plastic bottles, I want you to do this for me. Take a look inside your plastic bottles. See anything? Turn on the flashlight on your phone and use it to look again. Hopefully, you won’t see any black mold. Now feel the surface of the inside of your bottle. Does it feel squeaky clean? You know, like your Tupperware fresh out of the dishwasher? Or does it feel, well, SLIMY?

So what IS this slime? It’s biofilm. Sounds fancy, I know. But it’s gross, right? Biofilm loves to grow in moist environments, and it’s basically a living layer of bacteria living on a surface. It can also feed other organisms, like mold. And your running bottles made of plastic, all sealed up with just a bit of leftover water from your last run with a few microbes from you, are the perfect breeding ground for this. It’s especially true if you use sports drinks or forget your bottle and leave it in your car during the summer! Sugar and heat are definitely great accelerators for growth of bacteria.

My current fuel belt and handheld made by Nathan.

Ok. Don’t panic. I recently hauled my fuel belt out of my pile of marathon gear, and I found the same issue, even though I had emptied them prior to storage. Regular washing with hot water and dish soap usually won’t fix this problem. You need friction!

Just like good old hand washing, friction is the secret weapon to getting rid of germs. Bottle brushes are nice, but often they can’t reach those corners very well. So what can you do? Rice to the rescue. Take a tablespoon or so of uncooked rice, pour it into your bottle, add a drop of dish soap, and fill about halfway with hot water, replace the lid, and shake for at least 30 seconds. Make sure you squirt some of that soapy water through the lid. Rinse thoroughly, and your bottles should be good to go. You can pour the rice/water into another bottle if needed. I check my bottles every couple of weeks to see if they need this treatment, and I try to do a quick wash and let my bottles dry upside down as often as I can!

I shared this tip with my marathon training teammates last summer. One of our members shared that she also takes the valves of her bottles apart and washes them. I don’t go this far, mainly because I’m afraid that I will ruin the valves, but if a bottle is especially visibly grimy, it may be worth a try. I’ve also never used a hydration vest (I just get too hot!), so I don’t know how useful this tip would be for the bladders of these.

One of the articles I read about this suggested that you use glass and stainless steel bottles instead of plastic and that you make sure your hands are clean before you fill your bottles. Great suggestions, except that no one in their right minds would add the extra weight of glass or plastic to their running gear, nor would you want anything breakable with you on a run. The author also advises against sharing bottles. I do subscribe to the hand washing prior to filling my bottles, and I use a stainless steel water bottle for the gym.

I hope you found this information helpful! Happy hydrating!

Need to find motivation?

On fitness motivation…

We are officially done with January 2020. Our New Year’s Resolutions are surely being tested at this point. Did you make any?

Chances are you made a resolution to take better care of your body, whether that was to lose weight, exercise more, or just to eat healthier. How are things going?

I can tell you that my local YMCA is already less crowded. Gone is the super packed cardio floor from the beginning of the year. Yes, it was frustrating as a regular patron. But it was also exciting. I love to see people beginning a fitness journey!

Yet here we are. It’s February. This is when the motivation begins to fade. So what can you do?

Mix it up!

Bored of your standard gym routine? Frustrated about how to progress? Try something new!

If you a member of a gym, you probably have a lot of options. Try a group exercise class. My YMCA has everything from HIIT, spin, barre, pilates, elite club, and water aerobics. (It’s also a great way to try new things without investing too heavily in a boutique style gym membership.) Try a yoga class in a real studio (Totally different feel and greater variety than at the YMCA.) Get in the pool and swim (most indoor pools also have kick boards and flotation belts which help if you’re not fully comfortable in the water.) Try CrossFit for a real challenge. (In the Richmond area/West End, I recommend DBG CrossFit. They have a great community and great coaching!)

Changing your exercise stimulus is good for you. It forces your brain to concentrate more on what you are doing. It’s also great for your muscles to change activities periodically. You may find that you are sore in different muscles or more than usual after a workout that your body is not accustomed to! Changing your stimulus is also important for reducing your risk for injury from overuse. Plus, you may find another activity you love to do!

My primary exercise is running. I will always consider myself a runner first. But even I get bored of running the same routes. Don’t get me wrong… I love the streets and trails of Ashland. But I do enjoy new scenery every now and then. So if you find yourself in a rut with running, try a new location. I ran in a park today because I was running errands in a different part of town. I took that as an opportunity to seek out a new venue!

Change your goals.

Most people begin their fitness journey with a goal to lose weight. Sometimes in this quest, we become lost. Weight loss can certainly be a great motivator, but if you’ve met the weight loss goal, or the number on the scale isn’t moving, maybe you need to shift your goals to something more fitness based. For example, completing a 5k race, or holding a plank for a minute, or increasing the amount of weight you can lift. Shifting your goal will change your focus and may improve your motivation for your workouts. Besides, the number on the scale does not reflect changes in body composition or overall fitness.

Keep a fitness journal!

It is immensely satisfying to look back on my little notebooks and see what I’ve been up to and how I’ve progressed. It makes me feel productive and accomplished. For marathon training season, Sports Backers MTT participants are lucky to get a training guide with space for notes about how your runs went and what cross-training you’ve done. I keep my own journal in the off season, documenting my weightlifting and how far/fast/where my runs went. I can look back and see where I am in my rotation of primary lifts and what accessory work I want to complete that day. It keeps me focused on gym days so I don’t meander.

My MTT training guide from last season, and my current fitness journal.

Find a partner in crime!

Nothing is more motivating than accountability. You are more likely to show up for a workout if someone is counting on you to be there. It’s also fun to compare notes on exercises, etc., or to try a new class together. And there’s definitely tremendous value in a good running partner. There are many runs I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for a promise to one of my running sisters that I would show up!

With Patty, one of my sole sisters!

One easy way to stay accountable, especially for running, is to join a training team. I’m partial to Sports Backers programs in the Richmond area. They are responsible for helping me fall in love with running, discover the Richmond running community, and to find my sole sisters! I’ve run with the 8k, 10k, and Marathon training teams. Training teams develop what I call the herd mentality: we’re in it together, in a positive way, with guidance and coaches who care. When training for longer races, the teams are by far the best way to get through those long, double digit mile runs, with planned routes and water stops. There are also many local running groups in the RVA which are great when these teams are not in session. Don’t know where to start with finding a group outside of the RVA? Ask at your local running store. They will know!

Members of the Sports Backers MTT before the Richmond Marathon 2019

The herd mentality is also significant in CrossFit! A good box builds a strong community with a positive, supportive culture, good coaching, safe scaling without shame, and great programming. CrossFit, like running, is for everyone!

But you can also find your herd if you are a part of a group fitness class and attend the same class regularly. I promise you will meet friends!

Sign up for a race!

For runners in a rut who are NOT injured, sometimes giving yourself a race to train for is the key for ramping up your motivation for running. I occasionally suffer from burnout in the winter after training all summer for a fall marathon, so having a spring race to train for helps me maintain a running schedule. Even if you are more of a walker, there is surely a local 5k or 10k coming up this spring to look forward to!

In Richmond, we have several choices. The Monument 10k is March 28. This event is one of the biggest parties in the RVA. It’s also very walk-able. There’s also the Uncorked 5k and Half Marathon in New Kent on May 2 and races in conjunction with the River Rock Festival May 15-17. If you are looking for a 10k PR, the Richmond Road Runners Club Carytown 10k on April 26 is a fantastic race, especially because it’s less crowded than the Monument 10k, and the course is more interesting than an out and back. It’s fairly flat with the exception of the long, gentle uphill on Grove! Speaking of the RRRC, the Sweetheart 8k is coming up in less than 2 weeks! That course is definitely NOT flat!

I will be running the One City Half Marathon on March 1st in my hometown of Newport News. They also have an 8k, a full marathon, and a marathon relay. I’m really looking forward to running this event! One year, I will hopefully run the full!

Go shopping!

Sometimes a new outfit, pair of shoes, or a better fitting sports bra are what it takes to get you back to work. If you’ve followed my blog, I did an overview of what to look for in workout pants last year. I hope it was helpful! But just having something new to wear when you’re working out is refreshing. Take inventory of what you have, what fits, what doesn’t, and consider what types of workouts you plan to do. Personally, what I wear for a long run isn’t at all what I would wear to CrossFit. See what you need, and treat yourself to something new.

Look at your need for shoes. Taking up running? Or already running, but you’ve got over 300 miles on your shoes? It’s worth your time to go to a local running store to be fitted for shoes that suit your gait and the kind of running you will be doing. (My favorite store in Richmond is Lucky Road Run Shop.) Starting with that investment is much cheaper in the long run if it prevents injury and frustration for you. (I’m a Hoka fan myself!) Doing lots of gym workouts? Having a training shoe is better than running shoes for these workouts. They tend to be flatter (lower drop) and are more stable for weightlifting, body weight, and agility exercises. (My current ones are Reebok Nano’s, but I really want to try a pair of NoBull because they are so pretty!)

Wearing my Reebok Nano 5’s during a workout!

And for the ladies, having a good fitting, supportive sports bra can make exercising so much more enjoyable. I personally have a large collection of the Victoria’s Secret Incredible sports bras. I tend to stock up during their clearance sales. I noticed that they changed the bra last year, unfortunately, so I will be looking for a new go-to soon! Whatever you choose, try it on first.  Jump around in the fitting room with it on. Make sure it keeps the girls in place! (And if you have a favorite, please comment, because I need some guidance!)

Be honest about your nutrition.

Are you really consuming the healthiest foods? Keeping a food diary, even for a few days, can be revealing. There are apps for this, most notably My Fitness Pal, which can help you track calories in vs. calories out. But all calories are not created equal. 100 calories of candy is not as nutritionally dense as 100 calories of fruit, for example. Don’t get obsessive with this, though, as it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole tracking calories. I will try to do this for a week if I feel like my fitness is off. The app also tracks macros (protein/fat/carbs), which is super helpful.

Did you decide to go plant based for the New Year? It took me a while to really get the hang of the transition from vegetarian to vegan. The worst part is eating in restaurants. I tend to go to chains like Cava or Chipotle frequently. I also have a few Asian and Mexican restaurants in my area which are vegan friendly. If the restaurant isn’t of your choosing, look at the menu online ahead of time. It can help you make better choices, and if your meal will likely consist of a salad and French fries, you can prepare by eating a snack first! For non-chain restaurants, I often ask the server what they recommend for vegans. Sometimes they even have a separate vegan menu. Sometimes I’ll get really lucky, and the chef will make something special. So it’s definitely worth asking! (The Kill Devil Grill on the Outer Banks of NC will do this if you call ahead. And on our recent trip to Wilmington, NC, the chef at Sweet n Savory Café made me a special meal off menu.)

My vegan meal from Sweet n Savory Cafe in Wilmington.
Marinated mushrooms over rice with veggies.

Invest in recovery!

If you are new to exercising OR if you’ve found new workouts that leave your body sore, give yourself permission to invest in tools and services that help you recover more quickly. Don’t neglect the importance of at least one rest day a week. Also allow for time after your workouts for stretching. I could write a whole blog post about recovery!

Some things you may find helpful in your tool box are Epsom salts for hot baths, a foam roller, a rolling stick, and finding professional services in your area to assist with recovery. If you love massages, finding a good therapist who specializes in sports recovery is great! Cryotherapy is also popular, and there are new centers that specialize in this (CryoRVA.) And there are some talented rehab professionals who have made a career about helping athletes recover and avoid injury (DuraMater Therapy.)  

Learning the best ways to help your body deal with the physical stress of activity will help keep you moving!

If you are lacking a bit of motivation after January, try one of these tricks to hit the refresh button. You can do it! Have you found other ways to stay motivated? I’d love to hear about them!

Trails in the RVA

Trails in the RVA: A Call to Action

Those of us in the Metro Richmond area are so lucky to live in a region with so much access to trails! Richmond and the surrounding areas have much to offer for outdoor adventure, whether you are biking, running, hiking, or dog walking.

The North Bank Trail, part of the James River Park trail system.
Hollywood Cemetery is on the left; Richmond’s skyline is in the distance; the James River is to the right.

Personally, I am in awe of the James River Park trail system. Until I started running, I had no idea the vast network of trails surrounding the James River existed. It’s still tough for me to navigate these trails on my own, as it’s quite a maze, but I really enjoy getting together with friends to run a few miles with amazing views of downtown Richmond and the river. In the spring and summer, Mother Nature shows off her wildflowers. And I have come face to face with a buck near Forest Hill! And on my run this week, we saw a blue heron.

Wildflowers near the T. Pott Bridge in April 2019
A blue heron as seen on the trail.

The North Bank Trail in the James River Park system will link you to the Tyler Potterfield Bridge to Manchester and will also link you to the Capital Trail. The Capital Trail will take you all the way to Jamestown.

The RVA skyline and CSX rail line as seen from the T. Pott bridge.
The James River was moving that day!

I remember when the Capital Trail was in the development stages. I was not yet running or cycling in 2005 when it was first started, so I was indifferent about how it would affect me. But now that I do these things, I’m really glad it’s here! The full trail wasn’t open until 2015; the portion mainly along Route 5 was the final part to be completed. One of my good running friends worked for a company who helped one of the plantations along route 5 develop their restaurant in Charles City. I recall her telling the story of convincing the owners to have outdoor seating to accommodate runners and cyclists, knowing that outdoor enthusiasts would become patrons of their business. She was right!

Ruffner Hall at Longwood University, Farmville, VA.

Outside of the Metro Richmond area, the little college town of Farmville is enjoying the benefits of its new trail, the High Bridge State Park trail. Downtown Farmville is at the trail head. I am a graduate of Longwood College, now University, and back in the 90’s, the railroad track upon which the trail is based still existed. The tracks are now long gone, replaced with flat, pea gravel trails. The highlight is the High Bridge itself, towering over the Appomattox River. The views are outstanding! The trail is host to several running events throughout the year, including the High Bridge Trail Ultra 50k and 30k.

“Joanie on the Stony” inside the Rotunda in Ruffner Hall.
Longwood University.

My daughter and I were in Farmville last weekend, as she has been accepted into the Cormier Honors College at Longwood University. We were visiting during accepted students’ day. She is still trying to make a decision as to which school she will attend in the fall. We had a nice breakfast with a presentation about the honors program, met the dean of the honors college, and had a private tour of the honors dorm. Crossing my fingers that she chooses my school!

One of the murals in Downtown Farmville.

Anyway, we spent the afternoon exploring the quaint downtown Farmville district. It was bustling with shoppers. Other than its two universities, the other being Hampden-Sydney, Farmville is known for Green Front Furniture, which now occupies a dozen buildings downtown. One of the places we visited was Pairet’s, a screen print/t-shirt shop, to buy my daughter a Longwood shirt. I struck up a conversation with the gentleman who was helping us. He just happened to be the owner. I remarked about how much the town has changed for the better since my time there in the 90’s. He agreed, crediting the change to the new trail. He said there was a lot of opposition from the business owners in town initially, but now that the trail is here, all of those business owners are thrilled with the economic benefit it has brought.

The characteristics of Farmville are very similar to my little Town of Ashland just north of Richmond, home to Randolph-Macon College, where my husband earned his degree. We already have a few short trails in town, and now we have the opportunity for a major trail, too! The Ashland to Petersburg Trail is in the development stages, and, obviously, the Town of Ashland is the trail head. The first part of the trail in Ashland is already complete, starting at Carter Park with a multi-use path that essentially leads to nowhere, or so I’ve thought for 2 years of running the paved, multi-use path that leads to an industrial site! But just beyond that lies the old Ashland to Richmond trolley line, part of which is about a half mile of existing trail which is not marked from Carter Park side, but from Gwathmey Church Road. In progress is a boardwalk which will connect the multi-use path to the existing trolley line trail.  

The end of the multi-use path from Carter Park in the Town of Ashland.
This is the stretch of trail from the multi-use path which is under construction.
It may not look impressive from this angle,
but the steel rods will apparently support a boardwalk type path to the existing trolley line trail.
North end of the existing designated Ashland trolley line trail, which is about a half mile long.
This will take you to Gwathmey Church Road.
The south end of the trail at Gwathmey Church Road.
Directly across the street, this path continues, but is not marked as public trail.
This path, however, will hopefully be developed into the ATP.

This trolley line runs from Ashland through the South Anna District of Hanover County, and then into Henrico County roughly parallel to Greenwood Road. Some of this line is adjacent to Lavender Fields Farm, a favorite business of mine in Henrico. They even discuss it on their farm tours! My husband’s grandparents used to talk about taking the trolley into Richmond from Ashland to shop and work. The trail will extend to cross the Capital Trail, but will also eventually take you to Petersburg via Chesterfield County and Colonial Heights. The proposed path will be over 40 miles long! The fact that the ATP will cross the Capital Trail means that you could potentially bike from Ashland or Petersburg to Jamestown with little vehicular traffic.

When I first learned about this project, I was attending an interest meeting for Bike Walk RVA Academy through Sports Backers. If you’ve followed my blog, you know how much I appreciate Sports Backers and all they do for the Richmond Metro area. That’s why I became an ambassador for them and why I’m a Marathon Training Team coach. But between these things was Bike Walk Academy for Hanover. I had to apply, then attend an 8 week long advocacy training program, from which Bike Walk Hanover was born. I’m still actively involved in this organization. We work to promote active and healthy living in our county by advocating for safe roadways and organizing community events. If you live in Hanover, visit our Facebook page, and see how you can get involved!

The Ashland to Petersburg Trail will be a wonderful, important addition to the Metro Richmond trail system. Its development will help promote living an active and healthy lifestyle, help preserve the nostalgia and history of the old trolley line, promote economic sustainability for the localities and businesses along its route, and will give runners and cyclists a safe place for activity other than our increasingly busy streets.

If you are a resident of the Town of Ashland, Hanover County, Henrico County, the City of Richmond, Chesterfield County, Colonial Heights, or Petersburg, and you love the idea of this trail as much as I do, please reach out to your leaders for support! Change can be good, but our leaders are more willing to support change if they know that their constituents want it. All it takes is a quick email. You can even copy the paragraph above, which I’ve bolded for you, and include it in your correspondence!

Town of Ashland Town Council

Hanover County Board of Supervisors

Henrico County Board of Supervisors

Richmond City Council

Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors

Colonial Heights City Council

Petersburg City Council

Don’t live in the Metro Richmond area? Don’t have trails like this where you live, but want them? Contact your area government leaders. Contact your local cycling and running clubs to find allies. Get organized. The more your leaders know about what their constituents wish to see in their community, the greater chance you have of turning your desire for access to safe places to run, walk, or cycle into reality.

Southern Tour Ultra 50 Mile Relay

Race Recap!

The Southern Tour Ultra 50 mile relay.

This was an event that I almost didn’t attend! But I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Wilmington with my running crew. I think it’s been about 2 years since we’ve all been together on a runcation.

With Laura and Sarah. So happy to be at the beach with friends!

The Southern Tour Ultra holds 3 races in one day: an individual 50k, individual 50 miler, and a team 50 mile relay. This year, instead of 5 mile loops for the relay, they made it 5.5 miles. We were to each complete 2 loops.

Almost ready to run!

I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The only other trail races I’ve done are the Sports Backers Trails and Ale’s 5k, which was super fun and held on trails I run on a regular basis, and the Richmond Ragnar trail event at Pocahontas State Park, which was a miserable, hot and humid, one and done event for me! Thankfully, unlike Ragnar, all of the running in this trail event is in the day, which means no run-ins with bats swooping in to eat moths who are attracted to the light from your headlamp.

Base camp at sunrise

All of my friends with me had run the Southern Tour Ultra at least once before, and they gave it rave reviews. No overnight camping. More like tailgaiting, as one of my crew described it. In “camp,” there were lots of pop-up tents for changing between legs of the relay, canopies to protect from the elements, bonfires, good music, and kegs of local craft beer and kombucha. The atmosphere was laid back and relaxed. Plenty of excitement for “serious” runners, but also lots of fun to be had by friends just looking to spend time together doing something we love.

The main bonfire. They had just dropped a Christmas tree on the fire!

We all ran a leg of the relay alone. About 30 minutes before I left to run, a young man with CP started his loop along with 2 helpers, as he could not walk the rough terrain on his own. There was a log crossing almost one mile in, and when I got there, he and his helpers were sitting on the log, inching their way across the giant log bridge that spanned across a waist deep creek. Plenty of runners happily jumped into the water to cross instead of waiting. Not wanting to get that wet so soon into my run, I waited for them to finish crossing. As a team, we were running for fun, not to smash records! Pausing was not a big deal. Besides, I needed time to strip my long sleeve layer and drink some water. And right after that, he was done crossing.

The log bridge 0.8 miles in. There is a rope to the left to help you cross.
The creek below was about waist deep.

The next challenge was running across some mud flats near the water. Beautiful views, but lots of mud! There was no way to avoid getting your feet wet. And this was intentional! As the race directors emphasized, is it actually a trail race if you don’t get wet?

The mud flats.
The view after crossing the mud flats. This is at the turn around. Yes, we crossed the mud twice each loop!

The rest of the course was fire road mixed with single track and a few fields. There were places which were marked extremely well, and others which were not! This confused one of our teammates, as she took a wrong turn, and she ended up running a couple of miles extra on her loop!

At the start of my first loop.

After I’d finished my loop and had been done for a while, the young man with CP approached his finish! He received a hero’s welcome as he made his way to the exchange tent. About halfway through the finish chute, a runner came in hot, shouting “RUNNER RIGHT!” We aren’t entirely sure he fully understood what was going on, because he broke the grip between the young man and his helper to get through the narrow chute, causing the young man to fall. Everyone watching gasped. It was awful!

Broke in my Hoka Speedgoats!

My second loop was run by most of the team together. It was much more fun the second time with company! And we ran part of that loop with one of the runners helping the young man with CP. She was very gracious about the situation earlier with the disruptive runner who caused that young man to fall. She was sure the faster runner didn’t really get what was happening; he was simply focused on getting his best time. That is so NOT the reaction I would have had, and she’s a much better person than me! We finished that second loop as the sun set.

Wrightsville Beach

And with that, the first race of 2020 is done. The rest of the weekend was full of time on the beach, good food, and great conversation. If you can make a long weekend out of this race, it’s definitely a fun time!

About Electrolytes…

Do you need to supplement with electrolytes when you exercise?

Well, that depends.

In general, if you will be exercising heavily, say, doing a long Metcon like Murph, challenging yourself with a group HIIT workout, or running for over an hour, or if you are exercising in hot, humid conditions, you should probably be taking in electrolytes during activity. But for your standard gym workout, or for easy runs in ideal conditions that are less than an hour, you should be fine with just water. But you can also take in extra electrolytes in anticipation of long, sweaty runs or workouts as a preventive measure to avoid hyponatremia.

(If you want to geek out about the science of electrolytes and exercise, check out Good to Go by Christie Aschwanden. I was compelled to buy her book after listening to an interview with her on NPR. She also discusses other aspects of recovery and the latest science behind everything from using anti-inflammatories to ice baths vs. Epsom salt baths after workouts. Good stuff. And check out this article as well.)

Everyone by now has heard the story of the football coach for the University of Florida worked with a doctor to create Gatorade, the first electrolyte replacement. That was in 1965. Once their team started using this new drink, their incidences of heat stroke and hospitalizations greatly decreased. Electrolyte replacements have evolved so much since then!

When you lose electrolytes through sweating, drinking water will help prevent dehydration, but will not do anything to help prevent hyponatremia, leading to confusion, nausea, cramping, and sometimes swelling. Another symptom that you may be drinking too much water is if you have a sloshing sensation in your stomach.

As I trained for my first marathons, I tried various electrolyte replacements. So many I tried had so much sugar that they didn’t settle well on my stomach. I actually got into a bit of trouble during the Chicago marathon in 2015, which was super hot and humid, because the electrolyte replacement on the course did not agree with me. Not to mention that most have artificial colors and flavors. And did you know that athletes have higher incidences of tooth decay as compared to non-exercisers? Sounds so unfair when we do so much to take care of our bodies! But this is largely attributed to all the sugary drinks and snacks we consume while doing all that work!

On the “T-Pott” bridge with the Richmond skyline in the background

When I found Nuun, it was a game changer for me. They have great flavors, no artificial colors, flavors, or sugars, are vegan friendly, and are very portable. There is only 1G of sugar per serving as compared to up to 34 grams of sugar in other commercially available electrolyte replacement drinks. Nuun has also added a few other formulations, like my favorite Immunity to help boost your body’s defenses, Vitamins to provide not just electrolytes but also 11 essential nutrients, and Rest to help you sleep at night. They also have a new Endurance formula for activities lasting more than 90 minutes. There’s a reason why I’ve been an ambassador for Nuun since 2017! If you’re struggling with fatigue, cramping, and generally feeling “off” during your workouts, give Nuun a try.

*Today, January 15, 2020, Amazon is running a Deal of the Day with 40% off of Nuun products!*

Farro. What’s that?

Farro Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Farro has quickly become one of my favorite whole grains. It has a chewy texture and nutty flavor that lends itself well to all kinds of dishes, but I especially love it as a base for salads, making an excellent backdrop for all kinds of veggies.

The variety most often found in stores here in the states is partially cooked, speeding up your prep at home. It’s not that common of an item to find, but I can find it at Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Publix here in Virginia. Look for it near the rice and quinoa. This article from NPR details a bit of the history of this ancient grain.

My current favorite salad made with farro features diced tomatoes, Kalamata olives, diced cucumber, green onion, beans, and homemade mustard vinaigrette. Just look at how beautiful this is before mixing it up!

Farro Salad

Ingredients:

  • One cup dry farro, cooked to package directions and allowed to cool to room temperature (try cooking it in vegetable broth for extra flavor, but water with salt to your liking works just fine!)
  • One cup diced cucumber (I like the small Persian variety; typically takes 3-4)
  • One cup diced tomato (I like grape or Roma tomatoes)
  • One can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup pitted, halved Kalamata olives (or more to your liking)
  • 2-3 green onions, diced (discard white bulb)
Ingredients for vinaigrette

For vinaigrette:

  • 1 part olive oil (about ¼ cup)
  • 2 parts apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg’s)(about ½ cup)
  • 1 T dijon mustard
  • 1 T dried dill weed
  • 1 T dried parsley
  • Salt, pepper, and onion salt to taste

Directions:

Assemble salad ingredients in a large bowl. For the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a jar and shake! If you’re a big olive fan, you can add a bit of the olive brine to the vinaigrette for some extra flavor. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients in the bowl and combine. Can be made ahead of time and refrigerated. I usually serve this with some type of fresh greens, but it’s great as is as well!

Prepping the vinaigrette

There are infinite ways you can modify this recipe. Have leftover roasted veggies? Make them into a farro based salad and sub some of the vinegar in the vinaigrette with balsamic. Don’t have apple cider vinegar? Sub for what you have. Prefer a Mexican twist? Use black beans, tomatoes, peppers, corn, onions for your veggies and sub a bit of lime juice for the vinegar, and swap a bit of cumin for the dill in the vinaigrette. Or roast some peeled, cored, and sliced apples, add toasted walnuts or pecans, leave the dill out of the vinaigrette, mix with the farro, and serve over arugula. So many possibilities!

Let me know if you try these recipe ideas!

Want to go vegan this year?

Are you thinking about changing your diet to plant based for the new year?

Although I call myself vegan, I really prefer “plant based” as a title. I think there are a lot of negative feelings that come with that “vegan” title. Yet every time I go out to eat, I tell our server that I’m vegan to simplify the menu options for me. I’m sure my family is tired of hearing it! And I try not to preach too much, but I am quick to brag about my low cholesterol and even how much it dropped from vegetarian to vegan diet when my friends complain about their battle with high cholesterol. (For the record, my cholesterol is 142, down from 160 as a vegetarian.)

This is the version of my story I will tell you on a long run if you ask me why I’m vegan.

My journey began in college, actually. I’d barely turned 18, and a combination of dating someone who was vegetarian, listening to music from a vegan artist (I’m a Morrissey fan!), and getting tired of late night runs to McDonald’s for cheeseburgers made me curious about going vegetarian. I also read a book called Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe. Originally published in 1971, it was one of the first books about how shifting your diet to plant based can help the environment. So I went pescutarian. That was 1993. It was tougher back then to avoid meat than it is now, especially going to school in small town Farmville, Virginia.

Fast forward to 1996. I graduated from college a semester early, and I was working full time at Hecht’s, waiting to get into graduate school. I worked in the mall, and I had a weakness for Chick-fil-A. If you remember the 90’s, Chick-fil-A was a staple in the food court. So I added poultry back to my diet. It took a while for my body to adjust to eating those proteins again. I was surprised. But within a month, I was OK. This was my diet until several years ago.

In my 30’s, I developed an allergy to shellfish. The first time I had a reaction, I really thought I was hungover. We had gone to my husband’s high school class reunion, and, along with drinking 3 beers, I ate an astonishing number of cocktail shrimp. The next day, I was super dizzy with a severe headache, and I couldn’t get out of bed! I was so embarrassed. But later that year on vacation on the Outer Banks, I ate an entire pound of crab legs by myself. I consumed no alcohol whatsoever that night, but I woke up the next day feeling exactly how I did after the class reunion party. So no more shellfish for me.

By the time I turned 40, I was seriously into running, and my husband was seriously into CrossFit. He was eating paleo, which meant we were eating a TON of chicken. We also had chickens as pets for their eggs. Not only was I tired of eating chicken all the time, but I also felt morally conflicted by eating the same creatures I cared for in our backyard, creatures with names and personalities. We also live pretty close to a chicken processing plant. So I decided to give up chicken again. I’d already given up shellfish, and I don’t really love fish unless it’s deep fried (and then, honestly, what’s the point?) So I went lactose-ovose vegetarian.

My last 2 chickens: Eggo and Ebony.

Eating vegetarian is surprisingly easy in this day and age. And morally, I didn’t really see how eating dairy or eggs was cruel to animals. I’ve since been enlightened, but ignorance was bliss…

I continued to have problems with asthma and depression as an adult. In an effort to manage these issues, I sought the help of a functional medicine chiropractor. His mission was to reduce inflammation in my body. I added to my regimen of supplements and began having regular adjustments. And then one visit, he did this seemingly voodoo test on me, placing various vials of extracts on my abdomen, and then performing a manual muscle test. I was shocked when dairy was like kryptonite. I basically told him he was full of shit. But he convinced me to give up dairy for a few weeks, then add it back in to see what happens. I was so close to being vegan already that I also gave up eggs. This was April of 2017.

My first weekend as a vegan coincided with my first (and only!) Ragnar trail relay event. That was challenging! No hot chocolate by the fire. No creamer in my coffee. No cheese. But I survived.

5 weeks later, my husband and I went to a wedding. There was nothing vegan there, but plenty vegetarian. So I ate all the things… mac and cheese, mashed potatoes with butter, cake… and my body protested. My belly ached and blew up like a balloon. That convinced me that eating vegan was now my life.

Admittedly, I embraced the junk food vegan aspects at first. Oreos. French fries. Lots of prepared vegan foods. But there were plenty of good choices, too. And in addition to lowering my cholesterol, I haven’t had bronchitis since going vegan. I used to get sick at least twice a year! My goal this year is to clean up my diet even further, reducing oils and sugars.

Thinking about going whole foods, plant based? Here are some resources:

Documentaries:

Books:

  • The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Thomas Campbell (you must look past the author’s praise for himself…)
  • Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe (including this one because it’s a classic!)
  • How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Gregor
  • Eat and Run by Scott Jurek (a vegan ultra-runner! He includes some recipes in this inspiring memoir)
  • Finding Ultra by Rich Roll (another inspiring memoir by yet another vegan ultra-runner!)
From overweight and fighting addiction to conquering the toughest ultra races in the world. Rich Roll’s story is truly inspiring.

Cookbooks:

Blogs/Websites:

In a nutshell, I went vegetarian for the animals. I went vegan for my health. The longer I’m vegan, the more I realize how much my choice affects the world around me. As if I didn’t love animals enough, I’m even more empathetic toward them.

I hope you enjoyed my story! And if you are beginning or enhancing your journey into the plant based life, I hope you find these resources helpful! Happy new year!

On Spirituality…

On Spirituality…

When I wrote my first blog post, I quoted the definition of wellness from Miriam-Webster:  the quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal. I also discussed the various facets of wellness. It’s not just about your physical well-being, but also social, spiritual, emotional, and environmental factors. If one of these is off, you feel unsettled.

And it’s this time of year that I feel unsettled about my spirituality. Among my close friends, it’s no secret that I do not attend church. I was born and raised Baptist, and I attended a moderate church in Hampton. When my husband and I married, I joined the church where he grew up.

My parents have expressed their disappointment that I no longer attend church. My mom feels like she did something wrong in my upbringing, I think. But really, that’s not the case. I just don’t know how I feel about religion at this point in my life. Religion and spirituality, however, I think are separate things.

One of my favorite quotes is by Albert Einstein: “All religion, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree.” I’ve actually practiced all of these branches in my life. I was a biology major in college, I have a master’s degree in Physical Therapy, I was raised in the church, and I love to dabble in arts and crafts as a form of expression.

We use all of these “branches” of the tree to help us explain and explore phenomenon around us. As a scientist, I’ve been trained in questioning my environment, creating a hypothesis, and then testing that question. If we prove the hypothesis, it becomes a fact. We’ve learned how to explain many phenomenon of our world through science. But what about the unanswered questions? Some explain through religion, coincidence, luck, karma, etc. How many times have we told ourselves that everything happens for a reason? Or that a loved one who recovers from a severe injury or incurable disease that is suddenly healed is because of a miracle? We don’t have any other tools to explain it.   

I think I still believe that there is some driving force in the universe that unites us and tries to lead us in the right direction morally; something that watches out for us. We have an obligation as human beings to be good to each other and to earth. It’s really the motivation behind my decision to be a healthcare provider. It’s one of the reasons I’m vegan. Is that driving force God? I really don’t know anymore. But I don’t believe that we need to attend church to find morality.

I could list a thousand examples of people who claim to be religious, park themselves in a church pew every Sunday, but whose lives play out in some way other than what I would consider Christian. I’ve lived in that world. I’ve been hurt by that world. It took some counseling and someone with an objective view who gave me permission to validate my feelings to absolve my guilt about not attending church. I miss parts of church. I miss Christmas music, singing in the choir, and singing old hymns. That truly was the best part of my teenage experience of church, studying music in the choir under one of the best teachers ever. But it didn’t make up for the ugly parts.

My favorite quote from my favorite religious Christmas song, O Holy Night:

“Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name, all oppression shall cease.”

Where do I find peace? Where is that driving force in the universe? For me, I find it in nature. I find it in my running community. I find it when I’m out on a long run, my body depleted, and my spirit lifted out of a funk, my mind having processed whatever issues or dark place I may be fighting. My Church of the Sunday Long Run.

One of my friends posted this quote from Twitter, and I find it entirely appropriate for me:

So if you find yourself with questions about your spirituality this Christmas, know that you are not alone. I hope you are finding peace and joy this Holiday season.

History in the RVA

History in the RVA

One of the wonderful things about living in the Richmond area is our rich variety of museums. Not only is it fun to run in the Museum District, it’s great to visit, too!

During a run in the VMFA courtyard in front of the Chihuly glass permanent installation.

If you love art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is free for general admission, and they’ve got some amazing art in their collection. We just had Rumors of War installed there last week, a sculpture by Kehinde Wiley, as a response to the multiple statues on Monument Avenue of Confederate soldiers. It was installed, but covered, the day of our visit to the neighboring Virginia History Museum. He is the same artist who created the portrait of President Obama. He has another piece in the museum as well.

If art isn’t your thing, we’ve got the Poe museum, Civil War museum, Valentine museum, Holocaust museum, Children’s museum, Science museum… the list goes on with lots of opportunities to learn.

But if you are a Hamilton fan, go to the Virginia History Museum. They have an exhibit right now that is all about Alexander Hamilton. As an early Christmas gift, my husband and I got our girls tickets to see Hamilton at Altria Theater. Going to see this exhibit was a great companion to the musical! My younger daughter geeked out over all of the artifacts on display, including letters, period costumes, and lots of information about Hamilton’s story.

Anna trying to break up the duel between Hamilton and Burr!
In the Hamilton exhibit

Also at the history museum right now is a very somber exhibit about equality. They trace the history of African Americans in our country, from the colonies to present day. It’s very moving.

The entrance to the Equality exhibit

Anyone who was born and raised in Virginia will appreciate their general history exhibits, covering from colonial times to the Civil War on through modern day.

In the gift shop, I found a very interesting book called Finding Thalhimers by Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt. If you grew up in Virginia, you might remember this department store. It was my favorite as a kid. The book is written by one of the granddaughters of the Thalhimer family, and she tells the story about how her family was established in America in the 1800’s, how they created the store, how it evolved, and, eventually, how it was bought by May Company, and was turned into Hecht’s. I ended up working for Hecht’s all through college and graduate school. It is, of course, now Macy’s.

What I loved most is learning about how much the Thalhimer family did for Jewish families in the 30’s to help them escape the Holocaust in Europe. William Thalhimer had a farm about an hour outside of Richmond which employed several Jewish men and women. He also employed some of these refugees in his Richmond store.

I was fortunate enough to meet one of these women when I worked for Beth Sholom Home. Her name was Ruth, and she was an amazing, engaging woman. She told me the story about how Mr. Thalmimer brought her over from Germany, and how she eventually became the manager of the bridal department.  

It was really interesting to read the full story, as I already felt connected to the Thalhimers legacy. I never knew, however, that the family is also responsible for Maymont Park!

I really can’t believe that it has taken me over 20 years of living in the Richmond area to visit the Virginia History museum. I’ll definitely go back!

Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup

I’m continuing the series of soup recipes for you, sharing my basic vegetable soup with you today. This one is simple, using mostly canned or frozen items, and is perfect for the chilly days ahead!

This soup is chock full of veggies, and the tomatoes give it a rich base. This is my basic recipe, but feel free to improvise. Don’t have potatoes? Swap for cooked rice or pasta. Use whatever seasonings you like. You don’t have to use umami seasoning, but it lends a depth to flavor that you can’t really get with any other seasoning. Don’t have Italian seasoning? Use a combination of thyme, oregano, parsley, basil. Make it yours!

Vegetable soup.

Basic Vegetable Soup Recipe

Ingredients:

  • One onion, diced
  • One clove garlic, minced (or use a frozen garlic cube)
  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • 3-4 yellow potatoes or 1-2 Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (15 oz.)
  • 1 can tomato sauce (15 oz.)
  • 1 carton vegetable broth (32 oz.)
  • 1 package mixed frozen vegetables (10 oz.) (I use organic if I can find it!)
  • ½ package frozen baby lima beans (6 oz. of a 12 oz. package)
  • 1 T Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 T umami seasoning (Trader Joe’s)
  • ½ T seasoning salt (use your favorite; I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Heat a soup pot over medium heat, adding oil once warm.
  • Cook onions and garlic until onions are translucent.
  • Add potatoes and stir.
  • Add all other ingredients, stir, and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for at least 30 mins, stirring occasionally.
  • Serve!

Makes about 6-8 servings.

If you try this recipe, let me know!