I mustache you some questions

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  Two days late, I know.  My family spent a lovely couple of days at my in-law’s house eating and playing games and watching football and napping.  Pretty great!


A couple of weeks ago, I saw this fun survey making its way around some of my favorite bloggers, and I thought I’d play along.  Here were the questions:

Four names people call me other than my real name:

  • Mommy
  • Rah Rah (my niece can’t say my name yet)
  • Sarah Beara (childhood nickname)
  • Hon

Four jobs I have had:

  • Ice cream scooper (I had the distinct honor of being name scooper of the month)
  • Receptionist for my college dormitory (It was an awesome job and I was allowed to do homework when I wasn’t busy)
  • College Admissions Counselor
  • Mommy

Four movies I’ve watched more than once:

  • Crazy Stupid Love
  • Juno
  • Titanic
  • Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Four books I’d recommend:

Four places I have lived:

  • Nottingham, England (I was born there)
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan

Four places I have been:

  • Seattle
  • Mexico
  • England
  • Canada (while running the Detroit Marathon!)

Four places I’d rather be right now:

  • Running on a beach
  • Lying in the sand on a beach
  • On an adventure with my husband
  • Shopping at Athleta (my favorite!)

Four things I don’t eat:

  • Brussel sprouts
  • Fig Newtons
  • Black Licorice
  • Beets

Four of my favorite foods:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Almond Butter
  • Raspberries
  • Food Should Taste Good Multigrain Chips

Four TV shows that I watch:

  • Scandal (I *just* started and am obsessed)
  • Parenthood
  • House of Cards
  • The Mindy Project

Four things I am looking forward to this year:

  • Spending a whole week with my mom and sister at Christmas
  • Trying to break the two hour mark in the 25K Riverbank Run
  • Becoming a certified running coach and getting clients
  • Hopefully travelling to a beach

Four things I’m always saying:

  • Please speak nicely to your sister.
  • Can you try to say that again without whining?
  • Te Amo (last thing I say to my older daughter every night)
  • Do we have any chocolate? (to my husband, who tends to hide chocolate from me so he can actually eat some)

Workout Recap + Sweet Potato Chili Recipe

Happy Monday!  How was your weekend?  Mine flew by, as weekends often have a way of doing.  I did, however, manage to pass my RRCA running coach certification exam yesterday!  This means that in a couple of weeks, after I complete my First Aid/CPR/AED training, I will be able to coach runners in an official capacity. Fun!

When I read fitness blogs, one of my favorite types of posts are other people’s workout recaps.  I don’t know why, but I love to see how others managed to fit in their miles, or add in strength training, etc.  So I’ve decided to start sharing my own workouts.  Selfishly, this will be helpful for me too, because unless I am training for a race, I don’t records my workouts.

So, without further ado:

M – 6 miles (3 at tempo pace of 7:30)

T – 20 minutes of strength at home (snow day!) including push ups, lunges, squats, sit ups, and wall sits.

W – 5 mile progression run (8:35, 8:20, 8:00, 7:48, 7:30)

Th – power (strength training class) + kickboxing

F – 4 easy miles

Sa – kickboxing

Su – OFF

Having not one, but two snow days in the middle of November was totally unexpected, and threw off my workouts!  But I am happy with how much I managed to fit in despite the weather.

And now a recipe that I tried this week and really loved.  This sweet potato chili was perfect for a cold evening, and different from the standard chili in our normal rotation.  Hope you enjoy it!

Sweet Potato Chili

2 sweet potatoes (shredded or diced)

2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes

1 (14.5 oz) can tomato sauce

1 small onion (diced)

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 to 1 cup vegetable broth (or water)

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 to 1 pound of lean ground beef

1 (14.5 oz) can black beans

1 can of corn

Combine all ingredients (except for ground beef) in your crockpot and cook on low for 5 to 6 hours.  Cook the beef on a skillet and add to the crockpot, cook for 1 to 2 additional hours.  Serve and enjoy!

Gluten Free Birthday Cake

We recently celebrated a birthday in our house.  My younger daughter turned four this past week, and I have a secret obsession with making homemade cakes.  I know the bakery versions are ridiculously pretty and perfect.  But way before I had kids, making their birthday cakes was just one of the things I knew I always wanted to do.  And so every year, the girls get to pick what kind of cake they want, and I do my best to make it happen.  Over the years I’ve attempted cakes decorated with intricate flowers.  I’ve done my best with owl, panda bear, and elmo cupcakes.  And I’ve reluctantly given in to the more mainstream Dora and Hello Kitty cakes.

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I always have so much fun making them, even if they don’t always turn out quite like the ones I see on Pinterest!  For her birthday this year, Sophie requested a princess cake so I found a mold shaped like a crown, and got to it!  And this year, I decided to make a cake I could actually eat, and set out to create a gluten free recipe that would be just as good as one filled with gluten.  I think I came really close, so enjoy this gluten free birthday cake recipe.  Or, this very special occasion cake recipe.  Or heck, even a “we made it through the week” cake recipe!

Gluten Free Birthday Cake

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup potato starch

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon xanthem gum

1 cup (more if needed) coconut milk (I used the vanilla flavored one)

2 eggs

3 to 4 tablespoons coconut oil (melted)

1 tablespoon vanilla

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl, and wet ingredients in a larger bowl.  Gradually combine the dry into the wet and beat with a mixer.  Spray your cake mold (or 7 x 11 pan) with non-stick coconut oil (or whatever oil you prefer) and pour the batter in.  Bake for approximately 20 to 25 minutes until the top is firm and the inside isn’t sticky.  Let cool first in the mold or pan for about thirty minutes, and then on a wire rack.  Once it’s completely cool, decorate and enjoy!


Running Form: Is there a single correct way to run?

Hello everyone! Boy, are we getting slammed with winter weather this week! Here in west Michigan most areas have over a foot on the ground, and we had school closed Tuesday and yesterday. Not ready for this winter weather yet, that’s for sure.

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, I had the opportunity to attend an RRCA course to become a certified running coach this past weekend. All I have to do now is pass the multiple question exam and become CPR certified and then I get to officially begin coaching people! Or just continue to tell my friends how to train for races, but in a more informed manner. Either way, fingers crossed.

Anyway, I learned a lot over the course of the weekend, but by far the most interesting topic for me was running form. We had a guest lecturer named Owen Anderson come, and he was fantastic! He is the author of the book, Running Science, and plans to publish another book in February of 2016 all about form and research done to support this claims about what is best. He also coaches elite Kenyan athletes, including several olympians and world champions, so obviously he knows a thing or two about running fast.

The first thing he said is that there is most definitely an optimal way to run. If someone tells you that everyone is different and therefore many different running forms and styles can be “best”, that is a myth.

When you talk about improving form, Owen said you are generally trying to accomplish three things:

1) Improve performance

2) Improve your oxygen cost of running (i.e. as you use less oxygen, you don’t have to work as to sustain a particular pace).

3) Lower your risk of injury

With better form, we will reduce impact forces on our lower limbs (or spread them out better) and dramatically decrease the rate of injury, which is quite high for endurance athletes like marathon trainers.

Owen talked about how so many runners have been training for endurance races by training their heart and leg muscles, when actually, he believes that our nervous system is what most often fails us. He pointed out how, often, when running intervals, it’s often our second to last 400 that is our slowest. And our last one is usually one of our fastest. This would not be the case if our fatigue was truly a muscular crises of some form. He also gave a great example of a fancy rolls royce car trying to run on square wheels. It doesn’t matter how great that engine is, with square wheels, it’s not going to get very far and will break down pretty quickly. Therefore, in addition to paying attention to our “machine” (heart + lungs) we should also be mindful of our feet and how they land take off and land, etc.

Owen said that up to 90% of runners are heel strikers (sadly, I fall into this category) but when we land on our heel, we are actually naturally slowing our body down. Again, he gave a great example of how Fred Flinstone used to try and stop his car, or how kids try and slow down their swing. What do they use? Not their midfoot, but their heel, which provides more friction. He estimates we lose 1/100th of a second every time we land with out heel instead of our midfoot. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but for someone trying to take five minutes off a marathon time, that alone could make the difference.

Additionally, our running cadence (how many foot strikes we have per minute) should be at, or very close to, 180. And for the average runner, it’s normally between 155 to 165. With a lower cadence, we are over-striding, and therefore reaching our planted leg out too far. When we do this, we don’t allow our bodies to use our leg to push off or propel us forward as much as we could, and we are increasing our risk of injury.

So how do we fix it? The short answer is practice. We do drills spending 30 seconds (then 60 seconds, etc) running in place with a metronome while we focus on what it feels like to land with our midfoot. And then we incorporate short, mindful bursts into our normal runs until it begins to feel routine and natural. Trying to go out and run ten miles with a midfoot strike when we’ve always been a heel striker will almost certainly get us injured, but making gradual, mindful changes will eventually lead to great success.

I totally agreed with everything Owen said, and plan to try and change my foot strike (my cadence is actually really close to what he recommends). What do you think? Is there one right way to run? Do these things really make a difference?

Happy 4th Birthday, Sophie!

Hello and Happy Monday!  I hope you had a great weekend.  I spent mine sitting in a room with 34 other runners talking about running form, fueling, strides, paces, and pretty much anything else you can think of as it relates to the sport of running.  All of this was part of the RRCA coaching program, which I hope to talk about more next time.  But today is my youngest daughter’s fourth birthday, and it’s become a tradition of mine to write a letter to each of my girls on their birthday, telling them a bit about what they’re up to at this stage in their life.  I hope it’s a fun way for us both to remember these years!

Dear Sophie,

You are about to turn four, and try as I might, I can not wrap my brain around the fact that you are so big!  When you have babies, everyone tells you to cherish them because they grow up so fast.  When you and your sister were smaller, I thought these people were all liars.  Because my days?  Didn’t seem to go by quickly.  Sometimes, as much as I loved you both, I would count down the minutes until your bed time.  Babies are indeed precious and cuddly and a million other good things.  But they are also work.  Lots and lots of hard work.  Still, as I sit here reflecting on this, your fourth birthday, I can see the kernel of truth in their words.  The days may be long, but the years are short.

IMG_2450 copySo, what are you like right now?  You’re equal parts sweet and spunky.  You’ve got TONS of attitude.  You love to laugh and to make other people laugh.  Your giggle is often the best sound I hear all day.  You’re curious, and love to go on new adventures.  You adore being my “helper” when we grocery shop or bake or rake leaves.  You love being read to, and this is often the only part of your day where you are sitting still.  You are unpredictable, often changing your mind about what games you like, foods you prefer, and clothes you will allow me to put on you.  That egg you begged me to make you yesterday?  Just not a food you like anymore today.  It’s a little hard to keep up sometimes, but it’s a part ofwho you are.  Like your daddy, you do not like it when things get boring.  I also never know what is going to come out of your mouth next!  Last month you walked very dramatically down the stairs, and announced “Mom, I am not 100% today, but at least I look good”.

IMG_0478You began going to preschool this year at the same school your sister attends, and you love your teachers, your classmates, and the playground.  You never fail to tell me about the playground.  You are getting much better at drawing and coloring, can write your name, recognize almost all of your letters and the sounds that they make, and count to twenty (albeit often missing one of the teens).  You love to sing, go to gymnastics classes, and swim.  You can now swim independently across the width of a pool, a feat that truly impresses me, as well as jump and catch a bar at gymnastics, cross a whole set of monkey bars, and clamber to the top of most rock climbing walls.  You have very little fear when it comes to attempting new athletic feats; you love a good physical challenge.

IMG_9620You’re also learning how to pray, and I tear up almost every single night when I hear your sweet voice thanking God for “making our world” or “all our many blessings” or – and this is my current favorite – “helping mommy remember not to let the foods on my plate touch each other”.  You’ve got a good heart, Sophie.  You always remember to give me a kiss and a hug before we say goodbye.  You definitely don’t like to see other kids upset, and are often the first to try and make them feel better (even if the reason they are crying is because you beat them to the toy they wanted).

Sophies1stdayschoolThis family would not be complete without you, Sophie.  And we are all so very thankful for the gift that you are to us.  We love you!



Hip Strengthening Exercises

I have been running for 16 years now, going back to my glory days on the high school track and field team.  And I am pretty lucky to have a relatively short list of injuries during this time.  But last fall, a weeks before running the Grand Rapids Marathon, I suddenly developed pretty sharp pain on the outside of my knee and behind my kneecap.  It would always start a mile or two into my run, and if I didn’t stop (which I didn’t because I am a runner, and therefore stubborn by nature) it would continue to get more painful until I was reduced to walking  limping home. It was eventually diagnosed as illiotibial band syndrome, more commonly referred to as IT band pain.

Over the next several months, I scaled back my running which was pretty easy to do because a) I joined a gym and grew to love group exercise classes – who knew?! and b) the average temperature in West Michigan last winter was approximately three degrees (note: this is probably not true, but it sure felt that way!).  While taking it easy, my IT band pain was fine, but if I ramped up my weekly mileage, I would feel some increased soreness or tenderness in the same spots.  Eventually I went back to the same amazing doctor who diagnosed me, and he sent me to an equally amazing physical therapist.  After doing some initial work loosening my piriformis muscles (OUCH!) he prescribed a set of exercises to be done at home with an exercise band.  I did the following exercises every single day while marathon training, and I think they made all the difference!  Please note, I am not a licensed medical provider of any kind, but when runners are injured, sometimes it helps to read about what worked for other runners.  So if you’ve got some IT band pain (which, as I understand it, is almost always caused by the result of weak muscles somewhere else) feel free to give these a try, or as your doctor if they could work for you.  In fact, it might be a good idea to have someone watch you the first time you do them just to make sure you’re performing everything correctly.

First, obtain an exercise band.  Tie a knot at one end, and then stick that end inside a closed doorway.  Make the other end into a loop that you can fit your foot through, and you’re all set.

Next, with one foot through the loop, stand facing the door.  Begin by working on your hip extension with your foot out, then pull it back toward you, not pulling it back any further than your planted foot, hold for two seconds, and perform a controlled release (i.e. slow and steady).  Do 10 to 12 reps.

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Rotate 90 degrees clockwise, and repeat, this time pulling your leg into your body, working your adductors, holding for two seconds, and release.  Again, do 10 to 12 reps.

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Rotate 90 degrees again and repeat, this time thrusting your leg forward, keeping your knee straight (straighter than I am in this shot), working on hip flexion.  Hold two seconds, and repeat 10 to 12 times once more.

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Conclude by rotating another 90 degrees, now working the outside of the hip, or your adductors, with another 10 to 12 reps.

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Repeat on the other leg to keep things even.  I usually did this entire cycle once or twice more on each foot.  Yes, it was boring, and I often had to talk myself into doing these exercises on a consistent manner, but I finally have my IT band back to 100% and I firmly believe these exercises helped me get here.

Very Berry Muffins

I love muffins.  So much so that I make at least one batch each week, and somehow am continuously surprised when they only last a day or two.  Maybe one of these days I’ll wise up and start making double batches!

Anyway, I almost always make the recipe up off the top of my head.  Since I began eating a gluten free diet almost two years ago, I have had to get creative with my flour options.  My pantry almost always looks like it could be an ad for Bob’s Red Mill because I have at least five different flours of this brand at all times!  But I also really appreciate that I am now familiar with their different tastes, textures, and thicknesses.  I usually use a mix of two or three different kinds when I’m baking, and I’ve found this usually yields the best results.

For these muffins, I wanted to use some of the MANY blueberries and raspberries we stockpiled during berry picking season this year.


So here’s the recipe:

Dry ingredients:

– 3/4 cup almond flour

– 1/2 cup brown rice flour

– 1/4 cup flaxseed meal

– 1/2 cup sugar

– 2 t. baking powder

– 1/2 t. salt

Wet ingredients:

– 1/3 cup applesauce

– 1 – 2 T. canola/vegetable oil

– 1 egg

– 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup coconut milk

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Blend the dry and wet ingredients together, and add several handfuls of berries.  Bake at 400 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes.  These turned out pretty good.  They were light, sweet, and pretty darn yummy.  I’d give them a solid B, but I have pretty high standards for my muffins.  Hope you enjoy!