Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The California International Marathon

When I decided to add and attempt to cross a marathon off of my bucket list, I was certain I would only be running one for the sake of saying that I did. But both training for and running a marathon can change a person. And, over the past year of training for 26.2 (twice!), I can't believe the ways I've grown as a runner and person. 

The California International Marathon was my last event for the Fall 2016 race season. Training brought a lot of challenges, from injuries to busy schedules to personal trials. I knew, before even toe-ing the start line, that this would be a race that would require a lot of heart to get through. Drawing from the excitement that filled the Sacramento Convention Center during the Expo & Packet Pick-Up, I was ready for whatever race day was going to bring me. 

The morning of the marathon, I met up with my teammate and dear friend, Lindsay, in our hotel lobby. We chatted awhile before heading across the street in 35-degree chill to the long line of buses waiting to transport runners to the start line. Boarding and travel all went smoothly, and we were allowed to enjoy the warmth of the bus as long as we needed to before go-time. With about 35 minutes before the race start, I checked my bag, grabbed Lindsay off the bus, and met up with the rest of our teammates for a quick photo. 

We hugged, shared well-wishes, and jumped in line for the portable restrooms (There were nearly 300 available for runners... Well-played, CIM!). Despite the large number of restrooms available, Lindsay and I jogged to the start line to find our place in the pack and crossed the start line shortly thereafter.

I made a pace band through Races2Remember with a 4:15 finish time and promised myself I'd try to stick as closely to my mile splits as possible. With inconsistent training for most of the season, 4:15 felt like an ambitious goal, but I was up for challenging myself. I had a three-mile warm-up that I knew would feel painfully slow, but my coach encouraged me to start easy and avoid heading out too fast. I averaged around :15/mile ahead of my goal paces, but I stayed with it as I was feeling comfortable. CIM is notorious for its continuous "rollers," another reason I knew I was going to need to reserve some energy. Over the first half of the race, I'd find myself catching up to (and, sometimes, pulling ahead of) the 4:08 pacer - a warning sign that I was running too fast. I'd pull back at the sight of the pacer, but always managed to end back up with the pace group.

I hit my half-marathon mark just under 2:05, which meant I had five minutes of wiggle room to pull back in the second half if I needed to (and I was pretty sure I'd need to) while still meeting my goal time. I continued to obey my mile splits on my pace band but, around mile 18, caught myself slipping. I began run/walk intervals, which only increased the aching and cramping in my quads. I took advantage of every water station, and even tried Nuun for electrolytes (So good and easy on my tummy! How have I not tried it before!?). With every walk break I took, I could feel my goal time slipping further and further away. I reassessed, did some calculating (my favorite mid-marathon time-passer), and decided that a 4:30 goal time would be more feasible. I continued recalculating my splits and pulled my running pace back in lieu of taking interval walking breaks.

I saw my dear friend and marathon-running-extraordinaire, Stephanie, as I was heading into Midtown and with only a few miles left to go. Her energy and encouragement was such a relief and perfectly timed. She caught me just as my IT band started screaming at me (a recurring injury I see every season and, almost, every race), my pace was dropping way back, and I began doubting my ability to make up any of the time I'd lost. Stephanie was chatty and a welcome distraction from the negative self-talk, and she even stopped on a curb with me so I could stretch out my aching muscles. Just as I'd finished stretching, she saw one of our teammates, Kathi, run by. She told me, "Caitlin, you can catch her. Go catch her and finish strong." As Stephanie headed back out to find Lindsay on the course, I took a deep breath, started moving, and caught up to Kathi. We chatted a bit through the discomfort and, as we geared up for our last straight stretch of the route, Kathi told me, "I'm going to PR. I think I might cry." I was so incredibly proud of my friend and we sprinted through the last turn and across the finish line together. While I was nowhere near meeting my own goal for the day, I was so happy to be able to watch my teammate crush hers.

I crossed the finish line at 4:31:33. I stopped moving for a few minutes to take a finisher's photo and rehydrate. Moving again was incredibly painful, but Kathi and I limped our way through the finisher's village until we found the our teammates who had finished ahead of us. Everyone had a great race, and one of our teammates even raced his way to being a Boston Qualifier! (WooHoo, Oliver!)

During a season of my life where I'm often feeling discouraged and plagued with self-doubt, this race was a perfect pick-me-up and rekindled my newfound love for the marathon. Even in missing my goal, I still get to carry the great pride of finishing another-freaking-marathon! With another training season behind me, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to the off-season and partaking in a little R&R during the holidays. I'm already looking ahead and planning for my 2017 race schedule and what challenges I'll be tackling after the start of the new year.

Monday, November 14, 2016

RECIPE: Oatmeal Protein Cups

Happy Monday, friends! I hope you had a great weekend! As per usual, we were running-running-running! We wrapped up Wyatt's football season on Saturday afternoon which will give us a pretty significant chunk of our free time back, but I don't doubt it won't be long before it's been replaced with another extracurricular activity that'll have us running again. With the end of Daylight Savings Time, my body's internal clock still has me ready to be up and moving around 4:00 AM so I have some of my own downtime before the craziness of each day begins.

Speaking of being up and about before the sun, my days seem to be starting earlier and earlier in an attempt to get everything coordinated, packed, and ready for the rest of the day before we sprint out of the house in the morning. It's times like these that I really rely on quick, energizing meals and snacks that can be eaten on-the-go. These Oatmeal Protein Cups are a perfect post-workout breakfast and can be eaten en route to school drop-off, and also double as a filling hold-me-over snack before football practice, back to school night, or whatever busy evening activities we have ahead of us. What's fun about these cups is the creative freedom to add different variations of fruits or flavors.


Oatmeal Protein Cups

Ingredients (Dry)
2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup coconut sugar
2 scoops protein powder
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Ingredients (Wet)
1 cup mashed banana
1 cup milk of choice
1/2 cup melted natural peanut butter
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375-degrees.

Mix together dry ingredients in large bowl.

Whisk wet ingredients in separate bowl.

Pour wet ingredients into bowl with dry ingredients. Stir until combined.

Pour oatmeal into cupcake liners, about 2.5 tablespoons per liner.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. 

** Important Note: Store these in the fridge or freezer! 
You can heat them up when you're ready to devour.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Keeping Organized with My Erin Condren LifePlanner

I'm not shy about owning the struggle of the work-kid-running-life balance. Every day begins with a 4AM alarm clock and doesn't slow until the last head has hit its pillow. As much as I appreciate my complex iPhone Calendar, I prefer to carry an old-school planner. A few of my co-workers pointed me in the direction of Erin Condren LifePlanners a few years ago, and they have since become a staple in my organization routine. I just received my 2016 - 2017 planner in the mail and dove right in! The packaging itself is so fun, and a true reflection of what's inside - Colorful and inspirational!

Each LifePlanner is completely customizable, from the cover to the daily/weekly/monthly layout. This year, I chose an hourly breakdown for each day so I could easily identify conflicts and map out any needed travel time. I also paid a little extra for a rose gold spiral binding.

Each LifePlanner includes appointment stickers and reminders to highlight the important to-dos, in addition to positive affirmation quotes tucked throughout the planner and between months.

Erin Condren almost always runs a promotional deal for first-timers and has great referral incentives for your friends and family! My LifePlanner has everything I need to keep my head on a little straighter and my chaos a little more organized. :)

* This was not a sponsored post. Just sharing my love of the product!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

RECIPE: Oven-Baked Fajitas

Wait! Before you stop reading, hear me out.

I know what you're thinking... Fajitas belong on a sizzling plate after being prepared on a stovetop. And, sometimes, they do. But, sometimes, a juggling mama needs to be able to stick something in the oven while homework is being finished and another load of laundry is being chucked into the washer. Which is why I present to you these super-yummy, as-good-as-off-the-sizzling-plate fajitas.

I'm not totally sure how I found this recipe, but I'll bet it was a Google search for "Recipes that are yummy and full of flavor that won't break the monetary or time bank on a school night." Consider my wish granted.

Oven-Baked Fajitas
See original recipe here

2 red bell peppers
2 green bell peppers
1 large onion
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lime (optional)

(For seasoning)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon paprika
1/2 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is warming, assemble your fajita seasoning.

Slice red bell pepper, green bell pepper, onion, and chicken breasts into half-inch(ish) strips.

Toss into a 9" x 13" baking dish. Add fajita seasoning and olive oil to the baking dish and toss until your bell peppers, onions, and chicken are evenly coated.

Place baking dish in the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Take dish out and mix ingredients. Place back in the oven, uncovered, for an additional 20 minutes.

Your kitchen should smell delicious and your fajitas bursting with flavor! You can top your fajitas with the juice of half of a lime as soon as they come out of the oven for a fun citrus kick. I also recommend cheese, sour cream, or guacamole for toppings. We eat our fajitas rolled inside of a whole wheat tortilla, over a bed of lettuce, or as a stand-alone entrée.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Race Recap: City to the Sea Half-Marathon

Hi, friends! Today I completed my first race of the fall season, the City to the Sea Half-Marathon in San Luis Obispo, CA. I had a series of easy(er) workouts throughout the week in preparation for race day, but my muscles were still feeling loose, warm, and ready. The coastal morning was chilly, something that was so welcomed while we ride out what I hope will be our final heat wave in Fresno.

Photo Courtesy of Destination Adventure Racing
There was great representation from my running team. My favorite way to kick off a race is with encouraging words and high-fives from friends. I was given instructions from my coach to stay close to my marathon race pace, but not to push too hard as my official race pace test will take place next week. Taking away the pressure to push hard replaced my anxiety with excitement.

Photo Courtesy of Destination Adventure Racing
City to the Sea is a smaller half-marathon with a course that starts in Downtown San Luis Obispo and trails down to Pismo Beach. We kicked off 10 minutes late to allow for crews to complete road closures, but runners were super-understandable and it didn't seem to rock anyone's boat. The first six miles were relatively flat and we had one lane closure to utilize. Because this is a small race, it was plenty of room for runners along the course. One of our teammates stopped along the course to take photos and offer words of encouragement (and, at one point, take my Gu Energy Gel wrapper so I didn't have to carry it). I was always excited to see him, as demonstrated below.

Photo Courtesy of Destination Adventure Racing
Photo Courtesy of Destination Adventure Racing
Photo Courtesy of Destination Adventure Racing
We hit our first hill around mile seven, and I tried to keep my pace steady knowing that there would be more over the next six miles. The hills definitely affected my pace, but seeing my coach at mile eleven was the boost I needed to push hard through my last couple of miles. I shaved nearly a minute off of my pace for the last two miles and finished strong. 

Photo Courtesy of Destination Adventure Racing
I finished the half-marathon in 2:01:07 with nothing but positive things to report about the course, the race organization, and the volunteers. For the last few miles, we lost any road closures and shared the road with vehicles. Residents and visitors were respectful of runners on the road which was refreshing. Post-race, we enjoyed larger-than-life breakfast burritos and the option to enjoy several food/beverage trucks.

Tonight I'm nursing a sore IT band with ice and Naproxen. I'm sure the inflammation is credited to hugging the side of the road, which is known to be paved at a slight angle. I suffered the same injury last training season, but this pales in comparison to my last go-round with an IT band injury so I'm anticipating a super-quick recovery.

Hope your weekend treated you well! It will be a busy week ahead, but I'm ready!

Monday, October 3, 2016

RECIPE: Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes

Happy Monday, everyone! We're a big breakfast  family, and last night I had a may-jah craving for maple syrup, so we busted out the flour-sifter and whipped up some Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes. The recipe is fool-proof, and there's something about a flour-sifter that makes me feel pretty legit in the kitchen. We had all of the ingredients we needed already in the cupboard, and the entire process took no more than 20 minutes, batter to plate. Enjoy!

Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes
See original recipe here

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Butter (for cooking)

Mix all ingredients together - but do not overmix!

Heat pan or griddle over medium heat and grease with butter. Cook approximately 1/4 cup of batter until golden brown, then flip and continue cooking on opposite side.

Once both sides are evenly golden, remove from pan or griddle and enjoy with butter and real maple syrup.

Monday, September 26, 2016

My Favorite Running E-Gear (That's a lot of USB Chargers)

When I was ready to buckle down and become serious about my relationship with running, I was overwhelmed with the amount of gear available to runners. Perusing around one of my favorite local running stores (probably to pick up a pair of "cute" shoes I wouldn't even test on a treadmill before purchasing), I asked a sales associate about ways to track my pace and distance. I was about to start training for a half-marathon with a time-goal and, at the time, I'd been using the Nike+ app which required me to run with my phone strapped around my bicep. Looking for easy, lightweight alternatives, the associate led me over to a case filled with GPS devices, and so began my love of accessorized running.

Here are a few of my favorite running companions that make those long, hard workouts just a little easier!

GoPro Hero Session

My coach is a big fan of pulling the team out of town for weekend long running. We usually head up the highway to one of many nearby lakes or continue further up into the mountains. As rainy months approach, the views are so beautiful and a welcome distraction from the incline training. While we usually have a teammate with a camera chasing us around, I would carry the thought of how fun it would be to capture some of these courses on a GoPro. Some of my favorite running Instagram-ers and teammates rave about theirs, so I made the jump and purchased one of my own. I'm still learning to perfect my angles and lighting, but having so much fun with it already.

Nathan Nebula Fire LED Headlamp

As the end of Daylight Savings Time nears, a couple of my weekly workouts will take place in the dark(er) hours of the evening. To keep me from eating dirt (and to be seen by others - I'm lookin' at you, bikers!), I purchased one of Nathan's LED headlamps.

I wear mine around my body, up by my ribs and just under the band of my sports bra. I can adjust the brightness of my lamp and choose a strobe option in heavy-traffic areas by simply pushing a button - meaning I don't have to stop my run to mess with it. Safety first, runners!

Garmin Forerunner 230

And the gadget that started it all... My first GPS watch purchase was a Garmin 220 that lasted me a few years before biting the dust. After it had reached the end of its shelf life, I upgraded to a 230. I don't use it for much more than tracking my pace, distance, and (occasionally) lap times, but I will say that I've become highly dependent on it. My coach sets his team with goal paces throughout the season, and playing with numbers keeps me occupied during those harder speed workouts. By using Garmin Connect, I can track speed trends and follow my teammates' progress. Totally worth the chunk of change!

I'm off to find a spare outlet and re-charge before tomorrow's early-morning tempo run! ;)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

About that Pee-Wee Football Life

Wyatt is playing Pee-Wee (the 9- and 10-year-old age group in his league) Football this fall, a huge athletic learning curve from what we've experienced in the past with soccer and baseball. I anticipated that, as he got older, the intensity of sports would increase, but jumping to a contact sport has far exceeded that anticipation. It's been fun to watch him learn so much more about the sport and grow closer with his team and coaches. The league prides itself on molding well-rounded athletes, not just great football players. Players are required to submit tri-weekly academic progress reports and are held to a high standard of treating their coaches, one another, and their opponents with the utmost respect. 

As crazy as a full football schedule has made things around here, Wyatt and I have been able to really connect over the hard work it takes to achieve sports-related goals. During my marathon training in the spring season, he struggled with why I spent so much time and energy on "exercising," and I carried quite a bit of mama-guilt over it. Now our commute to and from practices and games are centered around conversations about the importance of eating well (and a lot!), drinking enough water, stretching, pushing through physical discomfort, overcoming mental and emotional walls and barriers, and the pay-off for working hard every day. (There's also a lot of Q&A coming from the backseat that sounds like ... Who was a better quarterback? Joe Montana or Steve Young?)

I'm so proud of my hard-working football player. He's made great strides as an athlete and continues to perform well academically while balancing the physical demands and hours spent out on the field. Hard as it is to watch my firstborn begin to acquire the traits and characteristics of a young man, I find great comfort in the realization that somewhere-somehow-someway I've been doing something right with raising this well-rounded boy. 


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Back in Action

Hi, strangers! It feels good to be back!

The last time we saw each other I was just days away from my first full marathon. I am happy to report that the Mountains2Beach Marathon went well and I finished in 4:19:24 with no injuries and feeling amazing, a sign of a great training season! I felt so great that, just two weeks after the marathon, I completed a 30-mile run for one of my teammates' 30th birthday. (That one had me off my feet and aching for a few days!)

Mountains2Beach Marathon Finish Line

Post-marathon, my mind and body were ready for some extended rest. While I was riding the high of pride and accomplishment, my kids missed their mama, my floors missed the vacuum cleaner, and my eyes missed being gently awakened by the sun and not an alarm clock at 3:45 AM. I was nearing burn out and knew my life needed some normalcy before entering another training cycle.

Which brings us to present day, or entering training week five of sixteen for the California International Marathon (since I'm back to scheduling my life with the reference point of a training season). CIM has been called the Fastest Course in the West and I'd like to test this slogan by setting a finish goal close to 4:00. Balancing training is much more challenging this time around with a few added extra-curricular activities and responsibilities for my little family, but I am happy to be carrying the confidence of an already-completed marathon in my pocket. My training approach is to make my workouts "count" and find time to cross-train wherever possible, even if it's on the field sidelines while Wyatt and his team practice.

Stay tuned for more training updates, we're just getting warmed up!