Thursday, May 31, 2012

I'm Going to Boston!!

But not to run the marathon. I doubt that I will ever qualify to run Boston (maybe someday I will eat these words, which would be nice, but I doubt it).


Image source

No, instead Husband and I are headed to Boston for a long weekend that will include Wagamama, the Boston Symphony playing John Williams movie music conducted by John Williams in Symphony Hall (I can barely contain my excitement over this one, for real!!! I've been dreaming of seeing the BSO in Boston since I was about 10 years old), the Sam Adams Brewery Tour, Fenway Park, hopefully  the Freedom Trail 5k Running Tour (if the weather holds on Saturday), Boston Fine Arts Museum, and of course plenty of delicious food.

I had planned on updating live from Boston, but discovered last night that our stupid hotel does not offer free wifi or Internet access of any kind in its rooms. One thing I will never understand is why "upscale" hotels like Hilton, Marriot, and Westin - which you pay out the nose to stay in - then turn around and charge $15 a day for Internet access in the room. Hey guys, Starbucks gives that away for free! Stingy JERKS. /end rant

Anyhow, I'm sure once we get back I'll be posting a review of the Freedom Trail 5k and other adventures. Like seeing John Williams conduct the Boston Symphony playing John Williams.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

10 Reasons to Love Richmond

Richmond.com recently came out with its "10 Reasons We Love Richmond" List:

1. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
2. The Fan District
3. Micah Initiative
4. Belle Isle
5. Shaka Smart
6. Edgar Allan Poe
7. The Lincoln Movie
8. The Hippodrome
9. Maymont
10. Location, location, location

Check out the full article for more details behind each.

This list inspired me to come up with my own:

1. Performing arts abound. High quality Symphony, Opera, Ballet, Theatre - all right here for a fraction of the cost and headache of Washington, DC and other big-city arts meccas.

2. Its deep, rich history... and all of the awesome buildings and museums that go along with it.  The State Capitol (designed by Jefferson); St. John's Church, site of Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty" speech; Confederate White House and Museum; Historical Society of Virginia; the entirety of Monument Avenue; Valentine Richmond History Center; Hollywood Cemetery; Maymont...

3. Stella's. I don't need to elaborate on this one. There's a whole entry about it already.

4. Livability. Listen, I learned a thing or two about livability when I was in DC. DC = not very livable. Sure there are lots of things to do and see, but getting to them is more often than not a nightmare and you spend 12 hours of your day commuting and working anyhow (if you're lucky, it's only 12 hours). Then you spend ALL your money on the insane rent and other costs of living. If you live in Bethesda, Maryland and your friend lives in Fairfax, they may as well live in California because that's how much of a pain it is to do anything. In the Richmond area, I can have a good sized house with a mortgage that is less than the rent on my tiny 2 bedroom apartment on the edge of the ghetto in Gaithersburg, MD. Downtown Richmond is easy to navigate and once you get to know it, parking opportunities abound. If you end up in a deck, it will cost you $5 for the day (instead of $20 or more in DC). If you have to feed a meter, you'll get a full HOUR for 50 cents. If you get a parking ticket, it will be $20 (not $90).

5. James River Parks and Trail System - Kayak, white water raft, hike, bike, run. You can do all of it. In the heart of the city. With ease.

6. The lack of traffic. Richmond's idea of "traffic" is a 10 minute delay. And that happens just about never. After dealing with DC traffic for 6 years, Richmond's version is a blessing.

7. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Its free, its beautiful, it has been hosting a whole string of awesome exhibitions lately (Picasso, Fabrege, Mummies from the British Museum, Elvis, the current Maharaja: Splendours of India's Great Kings), it has a kick ass restaurant (Amuse), and awesome after hours events (Jazz Cafe, Friday Art and Wine, Burlesque, Silent Movies, etc).

8. Carytown.  Blocks and blocks of local boutiques, fashionable thrift stores, unique shops, and restaurants. The historic Byrd Theater, where you can see your movie in a real movie palace  for a mere $2. FREE PUBLIC PARKING. EVERYWHERE. Need I say more?

9. The billion other delicious local restaurants. La Grotta, Cafe Rustica, Pescados, Acacia, Can Can, Carytown Cupcakes, Strawberry Street Cafe, Cafe Ole, Basilis, Sticky Rice, Cous Cous, Kuba Kuba, Bottom's Up, Julep's, Tobacco Company, City Dogs, LeMaire, Carytown Burgers & Fries, Kitchen 64, Comfort, 821, Lift, Avenue 804, Bistro 27, Tarrant's,  Chez Foushee, Hill Cafe, Alamo BBQ... you get the point. You will never go hungry in Richmond and surprisingly, most of these places are very affordable.

10. I'm going to go with Richmond.com and say "location, location, location." In less than 2 hours I can be in the mountains, at the beach, at Busch Gardens, in Williamsburg, in Virginia Wine Country, or in the Nation's Capital. The Outer Banks are a very do-able 3.5 hours away. I can take the Amtrak to just about anywhere, or even better, hop a plane at the Richmond International Airport (which doesn't really cost that much more than flying out of DC and  the parking is only $7 a day!) and really get out of town.

Truly, we Richmonders are spoiled rotten.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend Run

Last week I wrote on HMR Marcey's Facebook wall. "I miss you. Can we schedule a run? xoxo."

That was Tuesday, and by Wednesday we had our date - meet at the Downtown Y, 8 am Sunday morning. There are very few things in the world that I will wake up that early for on a weekend - apparently one of them being a run date with HMR. The other things include the promise of a delicious breakfast or a flight to somewhere exotic.

I had a slight planny-plannerston fail that morning. You see, it was incredibly humid (100% humidity, in fact), so I thought that I had better hyrdrate. A lot. So on the way to the Y, I sucked down a bottle of water and of course needed to go to the bathroom 25 minutes into the drive. "No problem," I thought. "I'm a little early so I'll go into the Y and use the bathroom."

When I got there I was surprised at the lack of cars and as I passed the Y it was strangely dark. I parked in front and jogged up to the doors when it dawned on me... DUH. It is Sunday. The Y is closed! This was a problem because there is no other place around that neighborhood that would have a public bathroom. The library is down the street, but definitely also closed on Sunday. The restaurants (if they were open) wouldn't let me in. What was I going to do???

And then my genius moment - the Jefferson hotel is a block from the Y. Hotels are always open. But what would they think of some girl dressed up in running clothes waltzing into their 5 star lobby and using the facilities? Would they throw me out? Yell at me? Stop me? But wait! The lower entrance is never guarded by bell hops or door men or concierges. I will go there!

So I did. I walked in and up the grand staircase like I owned the place. Once in the lobby I decided on making a b-line for the restaurant bathrooms because I knew exactly where they were.

Successful infiltration of the Jefferson bathrooms. V. fancy, yes?
Anyway, by the time I got back from my adventure, Marcey had arrived. We compared our sexy running braces:

Also note my new Brooks - LOVE THEM.

And Marcey showed off her new running gear, a shiny pair of what I like to call "douchebag glasses" (sorry if you're offended by that word - you should probably skip the caption below if so).

You might have d-bag glasses if: your friend can take a photo of herself in
the reflection on your lenses.

Then we set off toward the Virginia War Memorial. Neither of us had ever been there, and on Friday when I was devising a route it seemed like it would be appropriate to find a way to visit the Memorial this weekend. It was worth it - the place is beautiful and moving.




After taking a few minutes for reflection, we headed toward our usual spot - Monument Avenue.

I stuck with Marcey for the first two miles and then took off on my own for about a mile to really test out my new shoes - the Brooks PureCadence. I'll write a full review on them sometime soon, but for now I'm just going to say that I LOVE THESE SHOES and they were totally worth the ridiculous $110 I paid for them.

After our run, we spent some time drying off before heading to a new post-run tradition - Lift Coffee Shop.



We sat at "our table" (the one in the picture), leisurely enjoyed our iced coffee beverages of choice (iced caramel latte for me, big old frappucino for her) and split a bagel while we chatted. Marcey observed that as long as we were sitting still, it was actually pretty pleasant outside. We also had a good time people watching, and as it happens, dog-watching.



This awesome guy strolled by with his owner twice, looking as happy as a clam. We "awwwww"ed over him appropriately.

A little after 10 am we finally pried ourselves out of chairs and started walking back to the Y. On the way, we passed by this and Marcey insisted on a photo op:

Only an epic run date includes a two legged dog AND a Crime Scene Unit.

I'm really growing to love my run dates with Marcey. Really, the running part is just an excuse to get to spend some time with her. With two young kids and a super busy job, she doesn't have a lot of extra time laying around and I'm so thankful that she'll spend some of it with me.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Runner Confession: Bananas

Bananas. Every runner's best friend. Jam packed with cramp-fighting potassium, easy to grab, easy to eat. Staple of the post-race recovery food tent. No matter what size the race is, you can bet there will be bananas. And sometimes, there will ONLY be bananas.




Here's my problem.

I hate them.

Bananas and I just do not get along. I can't stand even the slightest hint of banana in any of my food. If there is even the chance  that banana may be in a dessert, I generally won't touch it.



No thanks. I can smell the banana.
Image Source

Gross.
Image Source


Yeah nice try hiding that banana under the ice cream. Still not eating it.
Image Source

Just watching people eat bananas makes me feel gaggy. It's not just that I don't like the taste - for some strange reason, eating bananas results in stabbing pains in my lower back. Perhaps I'm not good at digesting potassium? I don't know. But I can tell you that laying on a couch whimpering in pain is a good enough deterrent to eating bananas.

So what is a runner who hates bananas supposed to do? Based on the 5834582 mentions of bananas as the perfect post-workout food in just about every running or fitness magazine or blog I read, this is akin to a fish hating water.

Never fear - Runner's World to the rescue! According to this great article with a funny title (Mmm, Potassium), there are many excellent alternative sources of potassium including:

Apricots
Avocados
Cantaloupe
Honeydew
Kiwi
Lima beans
Milk
Oranges
Prunes
Spinach
Tomatoes
Meats, poultry, fish

I can get down with avocados (guacamole!), kiwi, milk, spinach, and tomatoes.

BUT being the Scotch-Irish girl that I am, my vote for best alternative source of potassium goes to:

Yes, the lowly potato!

Further digging (punny!) into the Runner's World archive led me to the "One Potato, Two Potatoes" article which raises the potato's status to nutritional powerhouse. And I quote:

"The potato is a nutritional powerhouse," said sports dietitian Jennifer Hutchinson of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. "In addition to being an excellent source of carbohydrate, a potato contains 45 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin C, and more potassium than a banana. If you eat it with the skin on, it's a terrific source of dietary fiber. A fresh potato contains no fat or cholesterol, and has only 100 calories."

Sadly, french fries and potato chips don't count as potatoes. The best route is to eat a baked potato with the skin.

Nice to know that my customary night-before-a-race baked potato has been a smart move all this time.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

And the Verdict Is...

... a weak left posterior tibialis, most likely caused by a strain from competing in the Maymont 8 Miler last September.

Or so says my new best friend, Steve-the-physical-therapist-who-specializes-in-running-injuries.

So what the heck is the posterior tibialis muscle?

Yoinked from Wikipedia

It's that one, that goes from your tibia, wraps around the ankle, and attaches at the top of the inner arch. Steve thinks that I strained it during the Maymont 8 Miler last September and then because I never officially treated it it just gets aggravated once in a while. Also not helping matters is the fact that my feet are too flexible (I never knew there was such as thing as too flexible), so the muscles in my lower leg and ankle have to work harder to keep my feet stable.

Usually I'm pretty skeptical of doctors, especially orthopedists and physical therapists. My feeling (which is probably - ok likely - 100% wrong) is that they just take a guess as to what the problem is and hope that they are right, con you into hours of therapy, and then nothing gets better and you are out a lot of time, sleep, and money. But to me this diagnosis makes perfect sense and explains my ankle pain and arch pain. 

The good news: I'm not truly injured, just a little weak in the left ankle.

The hour and a half of questioning, running up and down halls, weird stretches, and attempts to bring me into alignment (fruitless, since I'm naturally crooked) also led Steve to the following:
  • My foot strikes per minute are a little on the low side and that I am not a terrible heel striker, but do tend to land there more often than not.
  • I did better than most of the runners that he sees on the core strength and flexibility tests (thank you, yoga). In fact, for a few minutes he did additional tests to see if I had hypermobility because I was able to a few of the Beighton Score tasks. I only scored a 3, so I'm not hypermobile. But I could have told you that - the only reason I am reasonably flexible at all is because of 4 years of yoga.
  • My basic running mechanics are fine (yay).
  • The scoliosis doesn't seem to really be causing that much trouble. It is why my left side is a little out of whack but it's nothing that will really mess me up.
Strangely enough, I kind of enjoyed this battery of tests and had a good time quizzing Steve on what each weird thing he was making me do measured. Despite my dislike of doctors and propensity to faint around needles or at the prospect of medical procedures in general, I have always been highly intrigued by anatomy and physiology. I took biology and anatomy courses in high school and college and delight in learning about various disorders and conditions via WebMD and Wikipedia, so I have a pretty good basic knowledge and am always fascinated by doctor visits and how they reach diagnosis. I'm sure I annoy the hell out of my doctors with my attempts at self-diagnosis and overly-informed-learning-toward-hypochondriac-type-questions.

Anyhow, so what does this mean for my running obsession and marathon dreams?

First, I have to go do physical therapy twice a week for four weeks with Steve... which is why he is my new best friend. Not really. No offense to Steve, but I hate physical therapy and am not looking forward to it. I hate paying the copay (I know I know, I should be thankful that I have good health insurance and don't have to pay that much). I hate having to wake up early to go there first thing in the morning so I don't miss work. I hate the boring strength exercise that I'm supposed to do twice a day.

Basically, this is how I feel about having to spend a bunch of time at the sports medicine office:



Actually, Steve is pretty cool and a runner himself, so I enjoyed "talking shop" with him during the sonogram therapy and ice therapy portions of my visit. And I know that taking care of this weakness now will prevent big problems down the road (hopefully), so it will be worth it.

Second, for the next few weeks I am relegated to maintaining my current mileage (15-20 miles per week); and that mileage has to be flat. Read: no more trail runs or hills. Period. So much for my brief love affair with trail runs.

Third, I have to cut out the heel striking and up my foot strikes per minute to somewhere between 170-180. To achieve this, I got permission from Steve to go shoe shopping and finally pull the trigger on the purchase of a pair of Brooks PureCadence. He's a big fan of the more natural running shoes and when I asked "How do you feel about the Brooks Pure line?" he immediately said, "I love them!"

Well, there's nothing I love more than an excuse to buy some running gear, so I immediately ordered up a pair in the snazzy teal color. Steve claims that the very low Heel-Toe Offset of 4.0 mm on these shoes will help encourage me to start moving my strikes from the heel to mid foot.

To increase my foot strikes per minute, Steve encouraged me to check out Jogtunes and download some songs with at least 180 bpm and then make sure I am running in time to the music. Yay - more medically necessary shopping! And my inner band geek also loves the fact that I've been directed to run in step to music.

Fourth, right now this is nbd (no big deal - I learned that one from BFF. Thanks for keeping me current). By taking preventative measures now, marathon training and running a marathon should be totally fine unless some other muscle, joint, or ligament decides to take a crap on me.

So that's what's up. Yay medical science.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Whose Bright Idea Was This?

After Run Like a Girl earlier this month and the trail running issue of Runner's World, I've become a little bit obsessed with trail running.

There is a great system of trails in Richmond, specifically the James River Park System trails. I have been wanting to give these a try for ages, but didn't want to go by myself - mainly because I was afraid I'd get lost but also because of course trail running by yourself isn't always the best idea for safety reasons. With his OMK, I didn't want to ask Prabir to join me and possibly aggrevate the injury more.

Luckily, through the RLaG club and Richmond Road Runners, I have connected with some Prair-replacements additional running buddies. A dude named Greg and I have a similar schedule (the earlier after work the better, 8-9 min mile depending), so we've run a few times since the formal RLaG group switched to 6:15 pm start times. Luckily, Greg also knows about a zillion good running routes in Richmond, including the trail system. So we teamed up last week and did 5.5 miles. I had expected to be completely wiped afterwards, but actually felt pretty good.

Remembering that run, I was feeling confident last night and had asked Greg if he would mind running the entire loop with me (about 7 miles give or take). He agreed, so after meeting at the Children's Farm entrance at Maymont and saying hi to the peacock:




...we ran to the Nature Center, picked up Siri, and hit the North Bank trail.

When we started, a little rain shower had hit our area. Just enough rain to be refreshing. And the first half of the North Bank trail isn't so terrible. At first it's very steep until you get down to the river, and from there it's not so bad. We crossed over the James River at the Nickel Bridge, which is kind of unpleasant because you are running on a small paved footpath alongside a double lane bridge where traffic is moving at 45-50 mph.

The Buttermilk Trail is the section south of the river. It is not as steep as the North Bank side, but there are some pretty "scary" moments where you are running very high up with a sheer drop to one side. I always feel perfectly fine/safe on the trail, but when it's been raining it can be a little bit nerve wracking.

As we came to a small parking area called Reedy Creek, we took a break. We had gone about 3 miles and all of us were completely drenched from a combination of rain and sweat. After a minute of stretching and wiping the sweat from our faces, we were off again.

During the second leg of Buttermilk, I started to feel great and started to reflect on the things that I love about trail running:
  • Roots, rocks, uneven footing, branches, and all manner of obstacles require you to pay attention and engage your brain constantly. You don't have time to think about how bored you are, which forces you to also...
  • Slow down your pace. At some points on this run, particular the "descent" to the river, there are extremely steep inclines and at some points rocky areas of the path that you have to navigate. You naturally slow down, which generally means you can run further and somehow also means...
  • That you don't realize how far you've run. Trail running is certainly more demanding than just a flat course, but somehow it is easier to forget how far you've gone. I think it's a combination of engaging the brain and the slower pace.
  • The views! With this system of trails you get some absolutely fabulous, scenic views of Richmond. I wish I had had my iPhone with me to snap a few photos.
All was good with the world as we crossed back over the Lee Bridge and once again grabbed the North Bank trail. Then, I started to remember why I don't like trail running. The further we ran, the more I realized that this was the same route that the Maymont 8 Miler employs... because it started to bring back some bad memories. This particular portion of the North Bank Trail is tough. It's very steep for what seems like forever and twists and folds back on itself many times. Just when you think you are headed up and out, there is a 90 degree turn and you find yourself running in the wrong direction.

To distract ourselves, Siri, Greg, and I started to talk about food - what delicious treat we were going to reward ourselves with for completing this killer run. We talked about Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Stella's, ice cream with strawberries, Sweet Frog frozen yogurt, milkshakes, salmon, pasta... so many delicious things. Eventually I had to say, "We gotta stop this! I'm starving!!"

As we wound around the seemingly endless trail, Greg said, "Remind whose bright idea this was again?"

"Mine," I admitted. "You can beat me up when we're finished. Just make sure you leave me in a parking lot where I'm easily found. Oh, and please just give me my water bottle."

Finally, we reached the parking lot and end of the trail, just in time for the clouds to break up and the sun to start beating down on us. We all stopped for a minute. My shirt was absolute soaked with sweat, my ankle hurt, but I felt accomplished. Much like this:


I'm the KING OF THE WORLD.

But I refrained from a Leo-like outburst.

Siri and I pushed it back to the gates of Maymont, where we parted, then Greg and I cut through the park and back to our cars.

Here's what our route looked like, and our splits:





See what I mean about a slower pace? A full 1:40 slower than usual, but I swear we were working 50% harder.

As soon as I got home I took a shower, ate dinner, and then moved on quickly to the dessert that I had been craving since mile 6:

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Oreos - get in my belly!

I was so wiped that I went to bed at 9:30 and was out in a matter of minutes.

I was expecting my left ankle and calves to be screaming at me this morning, but amazingly my ankle is only a little bit sore and everything else is fine. I credit my beloved compression socks, which I put on after my shower and wore all night. Compression socks = LOVE.

This morning I had my appointment with the "Running Therapist." I have a lot to share about that (later entry), but one thing is that he has banned me from trail running for the next few months, so no more adventures for a while. That makes me very sad because while last night was challenging and very hard, it was also a lot of fun. Instead I'm relegated to FLAT, BORING roads for a while.

So go run a trail for me.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Richmond Rave: Stella's

Like the Richmond Symphony post, I've been saving up this one for a while.

Stella's is a Richmond Institution - the current iteration, let's just call it Stella's 3.0, opened last June to much fanfare. A Greek restaurant helmed by an authentic Greek grandmother - Stella Dikos - the food at Stella's is simply to die for. For a little bit of background information about Stella Dikos and the history of the restaurant, check out this Richmond.com article.



My first venture to Stella's was with some co-workers for lunch. Having grown up in a small town in Maryland with no Greek food to speak of, I didn't understand what all the fuss was about. Sure, I'd eaten a fast-food style gyro in my time and even tried some grape leaves (which I found to be disgusting), but I wasn't in to Greek food. Goaded on by my co-workers, I joined them last summer for lunch. It was a fateful day which resulted in me falling in love with Stella's... which is both a bad thing (for my wallet and waistline) and a good thing (Tzatziki sauce - where have you been all my life?).

Since then, I've been back quite a few times including a completely decadent outing with BFF and her husband when they visited us for a weekend in November.

My most recent visit was this past Friday with my dear Work Wife. Work Wife and I shared an office at the Richmond Symphony in which our desks faced each other, so we literally looked at each for 8 hours a day. Luckily, this close proximity led to a loving Work Spouse relationship and not a hate-based Work Enemy. WW left the Symphony in February 2010 (I soldiered on for another year), but we remain close.

If you're going to go to Stella's for dinner, my #1 piece of advice is to make reservations - far in advance. This place is hopping every single night, and the wait can be extremely long (an hour +) if you don't have a reservation. Thank goodness grandma Stella is tech savvy - you can make your reservation pain free at http://www.opentable.com/. There are no lunch time reservations (except for parties of 6 or more), so arrive just before Noon if you can to get immediate seating.

I find the restaurant itself to be modern yet cozy and comfortable at the same time. It is not a tiny restaurant, but not overly large either. When there are a lot of people during the dinner hour, you are elbow to elbow with your neighbors and it can get loud, but this somehow adds to the ambiance instead of detracting.




When I arrived at 11:45, I had beaten the lunch rush and things were still quiet. I took advantage of the relative sparsity of the crowd and took took some photos.

The bar is a great option for lunch and during Happy Hour (Meze Ora). The cool marble top juxtaposed with the warm, earthy clay pots is just what I'm talking about when I say the place is modern but cozy. The Greek cross motif is a nice touch too.



I'm in love with the beautiful pressed tin ceiling in the dining room. I have always been a sucker for tin ceilings, and the bright polished one at Stella's is just lovely.


But my most favorite thing about Stella's setting is the family-style table that dominates the restaurant. I was glowing with delight as the host sat me at the far end of that table. There is just something so European and friendly about sitting family-style. 



While I waited I checked out the menu even though I knew exactly what I was getting: a Chicken Souvlaki Pita with fried potatoes. I had been anticipating this meal for a full two weeks.



The lunch menu contains the usual suspects: soups, salads and sandwiches. But at Stella's there is a bonus - the Meze (small plates) and Comfort sections. The Meze selection is particularly extensive, with twelve options to choose from including the delicious Keftedes (4 giant homemade beef meatballs), traditional Hummus & Tabouli served with pita, and the absolutely divine Dolmades (Grape Leaves stuffed with rice and herbs).

Remember how I said I hated grape leaves? For months, every time we talked about Stella's in the office, my boss would say "Have you had the grape leaves? You've GOT to try the grape leaves, I'm telling you!" I resisted, recalling my earlier soggy experience with grape leaves. Finally, when BFF and her husband joined Husband and I at Stella's for our evening of decadence, we got an order of grape leaves. And I absolutely loved them. There is nothing mushy about these. They are savory and firm, stuffed with a delicious concoction of rice and herbs. I absolutely insist that should you go to Stella's, you must  get them whether you think  you like grape leaves or not.

Sadly, WW and I did not get any grape leaves last Friday. WW had the day off, so she ordered (quite appropriately) a glass of Stella Artois.


Sadly, I had to refrain from any libations. Stella's has an excellent wine list (including $10 caraffe specials) and a very cool selection of authentic Greek beers, in addition to the ever-popluar and oh-so-fitting Stella Artois. The waiter told us their Stella is always particularly good because they go through it so fast the kegs are always fresh.

After much waffling on the part of WW, who couldn't decide what she wanted, we placed our orders. Our food arrived within 15 minutes and boy did it look delicious:

Chicken Souvlaki Pita ($9)

WW's lunch: Black Kale Salad ($9)
For $9, you get a very good amount of food. We both struggled to finish our respective meals, but powered through like the soliders we are:

I had a little help with the fried potatoes.
My souvlaki was wonderful, if not a little bit messy (as you can see from the above). Once you pick up the pita, you can't put it down again without everything falling apart. The best part of the pita is the homemade tzatziki sauce. Sometimes tzatziki is too bland for me or has too much cucumber, but Stella's is perfect: zingy and cool at the same time.

By the time we had finished, the restaurant was completely packed and we had gained quite a few friends at our table:


All in all, Stella's is, I think, my favorite restaurant in Richmond. When an out-of-town guest comes, my first suggestion for dinner is Stella's. Birthday dinner? Stella's. Mother's Day? Stella's. A lunch date? Stella's.

Do I sound like a broken record yet?

The lowdown:
  • Parking is plentiful - there is a small lot behind the restaurant, accessible via the alley, and plenty of street spots.
  • Make reservations for dinner (at least two weeks in advance if possible) and arrive a little bit early for lunch if you need to be seated immediately.
  • Can be budget friendly (my lunch on Friday was $9 not including tip) or budget busting (I believe we spent well over $200 for the night of extravagence in November, but that included caraffe(s) of wine, multiple appetizers, dinner entrees, and desserts for 4). But it will be worth every penny, I assure you. 
  • Grape leaves are a must.
  • Try out the family-style table if you are daring enough.
  • Service is excellent but sometimes on the slow side. If you need a quick lunch, you generally won't find it here.
  • Stella's is a perfect example of one of my reasons to run - I wouldn't be able to enjoy this delicious but definitely not diet-friendly food if I didn't earn those extra calories through some running.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reasons to Run: No Shortcuts

This is all over every news outlet this morning, so I'm sure you all have probably heard that Skechers is paying a $40 million settlement over claims made about its Shape-Up, Tone-Up and Resistance Runner shoes. Everyone who bought a pair will be able to get their money back if they want to.

My first reaction to this news is a big "DUH." Come on now, if you were silly enough to believe that a goofy looking shoe could really tone and strengthen your muscles and lead to weight loss and better cardiovascular health, I don't think you deserve to get your money back. You ever heard the old adage, "If it's too good to be true then it probably is"? Take it to heart, folks.

Also, the fact that Kim Kardashian was shilling the things should've made you think twice.

This girl will do anything for a buck - including
selling you shoes that are bogus!

Unfortunately, a lot of people (including people I know) bought them anyway, looking for an easy out. This got me to thinking about how our instant-gratification society has really creeped into everything in our lives including, of course, the healthy living/fitness/weight loss arenas.

I myself am terribly impatient. While I stand upstairs waiting for my lunch to heat up, 2 minutes and 30 seconds feels like an eternity. If someone doesn't email me back within a half hour, I get annoyed. Heck, my mantra for running is "the faster you run the faster you're done." You get the point.

But the thing about it is, when it comes to health, weight loss and fitness, I have learned that there are no shortcuts. Although I was never obese, I did flirt with the 145 pound mark, giving me a 26.6 BMI (overweight for my height of 5'2"), for a few years. I remember sitting in the car crying after a shopping trip with my mom in the 10th grade when I had to buy a pair of size 10 jeans in the Junior's department at JC Penney.



11th grade (yep, that's BFF)

Senior prom

For most of my adult life, I have hovered right at 135 pounds. I never thought I was "fat" but I did want to lose about 10 pounds and made half hearted efforts at working out. And by half hearted I mean I would go do an elliptical trainer for 30 minutes two times a week and call it exercise. My diet didn't help much either - when I was in college and graduate school my staple meal was Velvetta Shells and Cheese and chicken tenders. When I met Jason in 2006 I was the smallest I had been in a while - 132 pounds or thereabout. 


2006

After we got engaged, like any new bride-to-be, I immediately put myself on a "Bridal Workout Plan." I joined the Y in Richmond and went 3 or 4 days a week. I did 45 minutes of elliptical. I did yoga. I stopped drinking soda. But I kept eating Velveeta, McDonald's, and cake.

I did not lose a pound...


I still looked good on our wedding day (2008)

...until I started running (unfortunately for me, AFTER our wedding). And even when I did start, the pounds did not melt off. Over the past 2 years I have lost 12 pounds... and run hundreds of miles. I also have changed my diet substantially, cutting out snacks, the majority of fast food, soda, and eating more vegetables.


April 2012

This photo would have NEVER happened before.
April 2012


Am I some paragon of health and nutrition? Hell no. You all know of my obsession with cake. And french fries. And wine. As I alluded to in one of my very first entries, I run because I like to eat, and I like to be thin. I like the size that I am now and the way that I feel. I don't want to feel guilty about eating cupcakes, so I run. It works for me.

I'm just trying to share what I've experienced and what I've learned for myself. And in my experience, if you want to lose weight and get fit, a pair of magic shoes isn't going to do it. Neither is a pill, or a 500 calorie-every-other-day-diet, or drinking shakes for breakfast, or even gastric bypass (yep, that wears off after a while too).

If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you have to change your lifestyle.

FOREVER.

I have watched countless people that I know lose weight through some fad diet or exercise plan only to regain the weight when they got tired of whatever method they were using. No matter what you say, chances are you will get tired of drinking a shake for breakfast and lunch every day of your life. Or not eating carbs... ever. It just doesn't work.

But when you slowly but surely incorporate healthier foods and exercise into your everyday life, before you know it, you will be there. And you won't really have to think about it anymore. In fact, if you try to eat stuffed crust Pizza Hut pizza, your body will rebel and you will never do it again (trust me on this one... it's not pretty). You will wonder how you ever drank an entire can of Coke on your own (I had a can-a-day habit throughout high school, college, and grad school. Now I can barely finish one!). If you don't go exercise, you will feel like crap.

Does it suck at first? Hell yes. To get off my can-a-day Coke habit, I gave it up for Lent one year. By Easter, I would've given my left arm for a can of Coke. When I first started to run, I could barely run one mile on the treadmill with the speed set to 5.5 MPH without feeling like I was going to fall over from exhaustion. But you will get through it and then it won't be a diet. It will just be life.

There is no instant gratification. But it is worth it. 

And now I'm going to eat a cupcake.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Return to the Mat

I skipped out on yoga for two whole months - from February 28 to May 1. I won't even bother with a list of excuses because there are no good excuses. Well... there is one good excuse which is after I fell on Monument Avenue I had a huge open wound on my hand and it would have been impossible to even do plank or down dog, so therefore it was pointless to go to class.

But anyhow, since May 1 I have gone to Vinyasa yoga at the Y every Tuesday night. As loathe as I am to give up one of my running evenings to yoga, it is becoming more and more apparent to me how important cross training is to my run game. When I am doing yoga I feel better all around. I become more aware of my posture, am less tense, more flexible, and feel stronger and more toned.

Last night, our instructor mixed things up a bit with some poses that we had not done in a long time and with some new flow sequences. A few of my favorites:

Inclined Plane. Super challenging to keep your hips up.
Image Source

Intense Bound Side Angle - which I actually managed to bind!
Image Source

King Dancer. I think I managed to get to this point...
but of course I'm probably wrong.
Image Source

Tree pose. Just an old favorite.
Image Source

By the end of class I was so tired that I pretty much fell asleep in savasana. I did not want to move. That means it was a good class.

And then I undid all of that good work by eating a Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich for dinner. At least I got a baked potato instead of fries as a side. And water instead of Coke! That took a lot of will power.

But then we got some bad news on the homefront, so I ate a piece of cake. A big piece of cake with a lot of icing.

Oh well. Back to run tonight... and there is no more cake, so it will be more difficult to sabotage myself.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Defective

I am not a fan of doctors. I am also a hypochondriac. These two things don't go together very well.

After months of resisting, I finally decided to make an appointment with a Sports Medicine doctor for my arch/ankle/hip issues. These issues are in no way severe at all (thank goodness) but after thinking on it for a while, I figured that getting them checked out now before I start training for a marathon would be a good idea.

You see, I have a crooked back. I was diagnosed with mild scoliosis (curvature of the spine) when I was in middle school. It has never really affected me, but once I started running I did notice that if I did have any kind of pain, it would be on my left side. I have also noticed over the years that when I wear heels with my work pants, one leg of the pants always seems to be shorter than the other. This led to my self-diagnosis of one leg being longer than the other.

Anyhow, this morning I woke up bright and early at 5:25 am so that I could be at Center for Sports Medicine at 7:45 am. That is earlier than I woke up last Friday when I finally managed to get in a short run before work. Which means that in the future, I have no excuse when it comes to running in the morning.

After waiting in the freezing cold exam room in my shorts and running tank for 30 minutes, the doctor finally came in and we talked through my concerns (no real pain or problems yet - this is more preventative than anything). Next up were the requisite awkward tests for scoliosis (they involve a lot of bending over). He confirmed my self diagnosis - my left leg is ever so slightly longer than my right because the scoliosis makes my left hip crest tilt foward. This means that I favor the left leg in everything from standing to walking to running, making that leg more tense.

Then came the fun part - stride analysis. After a few passes down the hallway we headed to the treadmill in the therapy room. About 30 strides into it, Doc said, "Do you hear that?"

Of course he was referring to my insanely loud footfalls. Whenever I run with Prabir I joke that he runs like a ninja and I run like an elephant stampeding.


Prabir's running style
Source


My running style
Source

I have been aware that I am too loud and heavy with my footfalls, but wasn't sure what to do about it. Apparently the technical term for this problem is not "running-like-a-herd-of-elephants-syndrome" but having too much "vertical motion" in your stride. Which of course puts more pressure on your joints, muscles, etc.

Doc also noted that when I swing my arms, my left arms goes beyond the midline of my body and that I run with my knees very close together, which could indicate weak hips. To check for that he made me do some vertical jump tests which were awkward, but confirmed that I do NOT have weak hips. Yay.

So what does all this mean for me? Luckily my defective back doesn't seem to be really affecting my run (yet), but Doc recommended that I have a session with the "running therapist" for a tune up before I begin my marathon training in earnest. The therapist will be able to give me some tips to change my stride and hopefully prevent any real problems before they happen.

Is it weird that I'm kind of excited about this? Apparently the therapist will give me the video of me running so I can then compare it to subsequent recordings to see how I am improving. That sounds cool to me, but I am sure that as soon as I actually see  what I really like when running, I will be horrified and never want anyone to see me running again. Guess we'll find out next Tuesday!

And because this post has mainly been boring self-centered talk about medical maladies, how about a funny picture of me trying on the absolutely hideous Lululemon Happy Hatha Crops:


Sorry Lulu, but no amount of crack or your Lulu Kool-Aid
will ever convince me that these pants are attractive.
However, I am regretting not buying that tank.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pluses & Minuses - Treadmill Edition

Last night we got just a little bit of rain in central Virginia...



Flood advisory = running inside. Usually running inside = the track. Last night, I opted for the treadmill. While I was on there, I kind of went into a trance and starting thinking about the pluses and minuses of using the treadmill... this train of thought continued on my drive home, which took longer than usual thanks to the ceaseless downpour.

+ Treadmill is really brainless. I could completely zone out and be distracted by the trashy People magazine in front of me, boning up on my knowledge of Royal Bumpwatch 2012.

+ Treadmill forces me to take an easy run. My "easy" runs never really work out to be true easy runs... I am terrible at making myself slow down my pace. On the treadmill, I only allowed myself to go between 6.2 up to 7.0 MPH, average page of 9:05. A true  easy run for me.

- I seem to sweat exponentially more when I'm on the treadmill. And if there's one thing I hate about running, it's feeling sweat dripping down my back or chest. Yuck.

+ Unlike the indoor track, I don't have to dodge and swerve around children, old ladies, or teenagers having social hour. I also don't have to keep track of which lap out of 17 I'm on... which takes a lot more brain power than you can imagine.

- Both treadmill and track provide the opportunity for an easy out. When I run outside, I can't just stop at mile 2, walk off the street, and go home. I have to get back to where I started. On the track or treadmill, if I feel tired early on, it is so easy and so tempting to just push the big red "STOP" button, hop off, and go home.

- Stopping to stretch on a treadmill is kind of a pain. I hate stopping the thing, then hurrying up and getting in some stretches before it erases my workout, then slowly ramping back up to speed. Not to mention I know all the people on the ellipticals and weight equipment behind me have a great view of my butt when I bend over, and it makes me self conscious to stretch out my calves if they feel tight.

In the end, being zoned out and forced to run at a slower pace than usual meant I was able to run further than I had intended (despite dripping sweat). I haven't been feeling the best the past few days, and on Tuesday we had a substitute teacher at yoga who had us do some weird and new poses, leading to underused muscles aching. I know, excuses excuses.

Speaking of excuses, I still haven't gotten my lazy butt out of bed and gone running in the morning. I set the alarm at 6:05 am each morning and then proceed to hit sleep. So I've made a deal with myself: I cannot use my free Starbucks drink coupon until I get myself out of bed and run in the morning.

I'm really  going to need that Starbucks tomorrow afternoon, so I'm going to try to make tomorrow morning the day.

Incentive, baby. Incentive.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Race Report: Run Like a Girl 8k

Yesterday Hot Mother Runner (HMR) Marcey, New Runner Old Friend Kate, and I hit the trails in Pocahontas State Park for the Run Like a Girl 8k. Last year I was handed a flyer for this race at the Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10k and decided to give it a try. My thought process went something like this: "8k is less than 10k, so this should be a piece of cake!"

I was wrong. I had never run a trail race before and this one totally kicked my butt last year. Not only was it my first trail run, it was also extremely warm and humid last year on race day, two things that I also was not good at dealing with (and still struggle with).

Luckily this year we were lucky with the weather: 60 degrees, overcast, humid, but with a fine misty rain falling for part of the race. It was like a personal air conditioner. Another improvement over last year: I did it completely by myself last time but this year, I drug along Marcey and Kate:



Without further ado, let's get to the report, which in in a slightly different order than usual but contains all of the same elements.

Race Day Arrival/Parking - A

Marcey, Kate, and I met up early at a nearby shopping center so that we could car pool into the race. There is a $5 cash-only parking fee at Pocahontas State Park, where the race was held, so no point in each of us paying for parking when we could take one car in. The race organizers made sure that everyone was aware of the parking fee and encouraged people to car pool and have their cash ready to expedite the process.

We had no trouble getting in because we arrived fairly early
and had our cash ready to go.

Parking itself was ample and very close to the start/finish area. Again, we had no problems getting a good spot and making our way to the race area.

Marcey double triple QUADRUPLE ensuring that
her key was in her hand before she locked the car
Expo/Packet Pick Up - A

There was the option to pick up your packet the day before the race, but the location wasn't very convenient for me so I opted to just pick up my packet the day of. The race is small, so this is relatively easy - the only slight annoyance being that once you pick up your stuff you have to go back up a big old set of stairs to get back to the parking lot and drop your stuff in the car. No big deal, really.

Names and numbers were posted on a board, eager volunteers there to help you find your number.


We got there early, so the line for actual pick up was pretty much non-existent.


The packet was a small plastic bag with our swag, race number, pins, and a variety of coupons from sponsors - some of which are pretty awesome ($35 hour-long massage, 6 free fitness sessions at Styles Fitness).



Personally, I love the swag - a pair of RLaG running socks:


Nice to have something other than yet another ugly and/or
ill-fitting race shirt.

Anyhow, Marcey, Kate, and I grabbed our packets quickly and headed back to the car to deposit them and pin on race numbers.

Starting Area - B

I'm just gonna say it - one beef with the starting area would be the bugs. I am that person  who always gets bug bites pretty much no matter what. If there is a bug that likes to bite within a mile wide vicinity of me, I swear it will find me and bite me. Of course there is nothing that can be done about bugs at a heavily wooded state park.

This year I came prepared and doused myself with bug spray in the parking lot before we made it to the field that serves as the start/finish area, so I ended up not getting eaten alive (unlike last year).

Otherwise, the start area is plenty big for the size of the crowd. There were port-o-johns as well as the state park facilities.

We opted for State Park facilities
Of course we engaged in a round of pre-race photos:

I call this photo "Planny Plannerson Attends a Race"
So yes, I did plan the outfit to coordinate with the race colors.
Would you expect anything less??

Race Day Outfit (toe to head):


Classic.

Traditional pre-race photo

Marcey was good enough to use her awesome
temporary tattoo skills to slap this on
for me while we were waiting - and to then make
this awesome face.


We were standing kind of far away from the announcer and his speakers, so we didn't hear the call to move toward the start. We saw people starting to move that way so decided we should too (just call us sheep).

The start was done in waves with I'd guess 50 -75 people in our wave (b) and the wave ahead of us (a). There was no timing chip (I was surprised - there was one last year) so it was very important for us to all stay in our assigned waves, as the start was staggered. The actual start corral was a small roped off section into which we were funneled in single-file according to our wave.
Wave A waiting in the start corral.

The person who I assuming was the race director could have used a bullhorn, because we couldn't really hear him when he was talking to us in the start area.


M, K, and I lined up at the front of Wave B and exchanged good luck hugs before we took off 4 minutes after Wave A.

So the lowdown on the start: adequate facilities and space; bring some bug spray; could use some more bull horns or speakers.

Course - A

Last year I did not enjoy this course - mainly because I hadn't really known what to expect. This year I knew what I was getting in to and I had a much better time of it as a result.


The good:
  • For a trail run, this isn't too terrible. The first mile is very hilly with lots of roots and things that you need to watch for, but after that things get easier with the trails being wide and grassy for the most part.

During Mile 1

Around Mile 2.5
  • No overcrowding, at least not where I was running. I started near the front of Wave B and think that I may have been leading it (probably all in my head). Anyhow, I started to pass Wave A folks after Mile 2 and for most of the run I was around 1-2 other people or I had the trail to myself. Kate and Marcey ran into more traffic and had some problems with walkers not getting out of the way, but I didn't have any of this trouble.
  • Scenic, woodsy, and peaceful. I didn't take my iPod with me and was enjoying the quiet time.
  • Water stops provided just at mile 1, just after 2, and just after 4.
  • Although trail, it was pretty easy to figure out where you needed to go. Whenever there were choices or the trail split, yellow tape steered you in the right direction. If you manage to get lost, I would venture to say you deserved it.
  • No mile markers, which I like. I find if I don't know how far I've gone, I tend to do better...

The eh:
  • No port-o-johns along the trail. I know it's only an 8k and there are plenty of trees available, but one or two somewhere along the way would have been nice.
  • This isn't really a criticism but because it is a trail race, you have to be very mindful of where your footfalls are happening, especially during mile 1. Last year I turned my ankle on a root as soon as we cut into the woods and it hurt for the rest of the race (and a week afterwards). Of course this was my stupid fault, but just remember: trail running does NOT EQUAL road running in any way.
  • No mile markers, which some people hate.

Finish - A-

The end of the course is downhill after one last climb that feels 100 times harder than it should. You pop out of the trail and cross a footbridge and then make for the field where everything started. It's flat and fast.

Bridge before the finish - loved this girl's outfit!
Is that....

Marcey! Headed to the home stretch.



The chute narrowed you down to single file so volunteers could record your race number for timing purposes. It was fine when I crossed because there weren't many others at that time, but as more folks finished it got crowded fast.

We were then given this stuff:


It took me a good 5 minutes to figure out how to open the damn thing. And no, I am not exaggerating. When I finally got it open I was sorely disappointed - I thought this stuff was GROSS. Luckily, there was also water available.

There was plenty of post-race food, but the line was a little bit of a long wait:

Line for post-race food

Bananas, cookies, bagels, cream cheese

I stood in line with Marcey and Kate but only took 1/2 a bagel and a little bit of cream cheese. I was saying up for our other post-race food destination:

500 calories burned... 500+ calories consumed.


Overall Grade - A

I really enjoyed this race this year. Knowing what to expect and having buddies with me was part of that. Otherwise, this is a great smallish sized race that is well organized and easy to participate in. The course is a lovely change from buildings and pavement and not nearly as difficult as the other trail race I've done - the Maymont 8 Miler.

Plus, the whole point of the race is to raise money for the HERA foundation. From the event website:
Run Like A Girl brings women together to raise awareness for the HERA Women’s Cancer Foundation. A portion of each entry will be donated to the charity along with funds raised by participants.
Our mission is, and has always been, to increase awareness, education and funds for the HERA Women’s Cancer Foundation and their search to find a way to end ovarian cancer forever.

What can be more awesome than that?

I would encourage anyone to do Run Like a Girl - or to try trail racing in general. But before you do, a few suggestions:
  • Wear older shoes that you don't care about because they will get dirty. I wore my old OLD Ravennas, which I hadn't had on my feet since the Maymont race in September.
  • BUG SPRAY, especially if in a wooded area.
  • Trail running does not equal road running.
  • Keep alert, especially paying attention to your feet.
  • If you have a joint that bothers you (ankle, knee, hip), make sure you wear a brace. The uneven and soft surfaces will affect it a lot more than the road.


Personal Performance - A

Somehow, I managed to PR this 8k. My previous record was last November's HCA 8k (46:09). I haven't seen official results and since we didn't have chips, I'm going to go with my Garmin which showed 44:20.



I'm pretty surprised that I managed this. I did not feel my best during this race. Despite the cool weather, I felt hot, sticky, and tired by mile 2. I actually stood at the water station to drink a full cup of water. I did the same at the stop just after mile 4. I felt much more tired than I did at the Monument Avenue 10k and honestly couldn't wait to be finished. My ankle is still feeling wobbly after last week's beach running episode, and it started to hurt around mile 3 despite wearing my dreaded ankle support.

That I had to go to the bathroom for pretty much the whole race didn't help matters.

But I will say that once I realized that I was passing Corral A folks, I was feeling pretty happy. I tried to concentrate on how far I've come since this race last year and how much I wanted to beat my time from last year (47:45).

Shaving nearly 2 minutes off of my 8k PR, which was a road race, has me feeling pretty great.