My 2016: Medal Monday

Looking back on 2016, I’m still in shock at how far I’ve come. It shouldn’t surprise me, because I worked my butt off, but sometimes, just looking back at my progress, I can’t believe it. I skipped out on a lot of drinking nights. I sacrificed lazy nights in lieu of meal planning. Instead of getting brunch with friends, I made healthy breakfasts at home and met up with them for coffee. I skipped out on some work parties so I could get home at a decent hour because I knew I had to get up early to run. “Sorry I can’t; I’m running in the morning” was a text I think my friends got use to hearing. And you want to know the best thing about all of that?

It was worth it.

Every single decision. Every gathering I CHOSE to miss. Every glass of wine I decided not to pour and drink water instead. Every Sunday I would meal plan or plan out my running schedule instead of doing nothing. Every time I turned down going out to lunch at work and getting major crap for it… “you never come out with us!” Sorry guys. Plus, Chicago is expensive. All of it. Worth it.

I feel great.
I have more energy.
My skin looks more youthful.
I’ve lost weight.
I gained some absolutely amazing friendships.
My self-confidence boosted.
I am more positive.
I fight less.
I forgive more.
I listen more and talk less.

In 2016, I ran 21 races. TWENTY-ONE. Of those 21 races, three of them were half-marathons. I ran my first ever in June 2016 and loved it so much that I did two more. 2015, I could barely run 4 miles…. and I completed THREE half-marathons. I am so proud of that!

2016races

I also participated in the #HolidayMile which was a challenge to run or walk one mile every single day from Thanksgiving to New Years. And that was a challenge, let me tell you. I missed a few days, but I ran more than I would have without this challenge.

Total2016.png

I ended my year with 547.34 miles. My original plan was to do 1,000 solo miles, but due to some poor planning in the beginning of the months and lack of discipline, I did not hit that goal. But my running buddy Ally and I decided to do a team effort and we hit 1,000 miles together. (More on that here.)

With the 21 races and 2 challenges I participated in, I gained 17 new shiny medals to proudly display:

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I have a plan of attack for 2017. I’m going to hit 1,000 solo miles. But I’m giving myself a different kind of challenge than I did in 2016.  I split the months up into sections of three. So, for example, Jan, Feb March is one set, then April, May, June is the next, and so on so so forth.  I picked one month out of the set of three to be my 100 miles in one month (one set I chose two) and I made sure I didn’t have any back to back months of 100 miles. I was strategic with what I decided to pick.

Here’s the breakdown:
JAN-Because it’s the first month of the year and I should start off strong.
APRIL-It’s my birthday month
JUN-I’m training for a half-marathon anyway. Plus, it will get me outside.
AUG-Josh and I usually go on vacation in Sept, so I can’t pick that month, and I needed at least a month in-between the last 100 mile month.
NOV-Because Nov 2016 was my first 100 mile a month ever.

So there’s half of my 1,000 miles in a year right there: five 100-mile months. Which will then leave me with six months to do an average of 84 miles each (which can consist of running, walking and biking). The month directly following my 100 mile month will most likely have a higher biking mileage since I’ll want to give my knee a rest.

But my challenge to myself is a two-parter. In my 100 mile months, I’m only counting actual RUNNING miles as a part of that. Here’s a visual to make more sense:

janfebmar

aprmayjun

My plan for 2017 is to also incorporate some biking, which I will count towards my grand total of 1,000 miles in the year, but during my 100 mile months, I’m keeping a separate note for just running.  So, for example, today I ran 3 miles and did a half mile cool-down. I logged my 3 miles in for running and the half mile down for walking.  So, my grand total for the year (including my New Years Day walk), is 4.75 miles, but only 3 miles of that I’m counting towards my 100 miles for January.

The reason I’m doing this is because I wanted a little more of a challenge. I really learned a lot in 2016 about the importance of planning week by week. When I hit 100 miles in Nov, I counted both my running and walking. I accomplished that, so now I just want a bit more of a challenge for myself. I also found that I would make excuses to not run. “Oh I can just walk 2 miles and run 3 miles for a total of 5 miles for the day,” when really my body is perfectly capable of doing a 4.5 mile run with a half mile cool down. I want to get faster and break my PRs and that will not happen when I’m walking.  Again, I’ll still count my walks towards my 1,000 miles for the year. Walking is still very important. I am by no means putting down walking, but this is the goal I picked for myself.

Some of my other 2017 goals:
Plan my week every Sunday night
Blog more
Run a half-marathon in a different state that is far enough to have to spend the night. (road trip!)
Read 10 books
Cross-train (I literally did none of that last year. Oops)
Explore healthier foods and blog about it
Be more positive

I’d love to hear some goals my readers have made! Comment below with yours!

Best wishes to all.

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Vegan Gluten Free Healthy Brownies

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In my previous post, I talked about my entire journey of becoming a healthier person. One of those things was to really watch what I was eating.  I became more cognizant of what i was putting into my body. No I don’t really count my calories – that is just not something that worked for me. But I watch cholesterol, sugars, and fats. I make sure I’m getting enough protein and vitamins.

(I shouldn’t need to put out a disclaimer, but just in case: no i’m not a nutritionist. I am not a doctor. Everyone is different. Please do not use this to make any life altering decisions.)

Also, another disclaimer. I am not vegan. I do enjoy eating a LOT of vegan meals, though. I will still eat chicken occasionally. I will not eat pork or red meat if I don’t have to. Too much fats and cholesterol for me. I will not make hard boiled eggs or scrambled eggs for myself, but if someone offers me a food, I will more than likely eat it. I eat cheese, but I try and limit my intake of that as well. A lot of people think that because I post about a lot of the meals I eat and label them as vegan, but I’m personally not a vegan, that I’m being a hypocrite. Well, the meal itself is still vegan, so I’m not going to stop that.

Okay back to these brownies.

One of my sisters has a dairy allergy. And I love to bake. So I wanted to try and find a good recipe that I could make for Christmas that tasted good and was also dairy free. I found a brownie recipe that I was dying to try: Black bean avocado brownies. Sounds gross, I know, but it’s actually VERY good!  I already ate a row of brownies. Okay, a small row. It is made in a 8×8 pan. 😀

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 large flax egg
  • 1 – 15oz can low sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 medium to large ripe avocado
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegan chocolate chips, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 8×8 inch baking pan.
  2. Place flax egg, black bean, avocado, vanilla, and brown sugar and process in a food processor until smooth. Add in cocoa powder, coconut oil, baking soda, and baking powder and process again until smooth. Batter will be thick. If batter is way too thick and won’t process, you can add in a tablespoon or two of almond milk. This batter needs to be very thick in order to produce fudgy brownies. Fold in chocolate chip or sprinkle onto batter then transfer to prepared pan and use a spatula to spread evenly to sides. Sprinkle top of batter with 2 tablespoons of remaining chocolate chips.
  3. Bake for 22-30 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out somewhat clean. We don’t want these to dry out, but we also don’t want them completely raw either! The top of the batter should be completely set and no longer jiggle. Cool pan completely on wire rack then cut into 12 bars.
NOTES
You may be able to sub the brown sugar for honey, agave or maple syrup. I would reduce to 1/3 cup though.
The brownies are best went made in a food processor so that beans can blend together better.
The brownies are best when served at room temperature or cold.

Recipe credit here.

Vegan GF Healthy Brownies

I followed the recipe almost exactly. Instead of the flax egg, I used a chia egg instead since I already have a huge bag of chia seeds. (To make a chia seed egg: For each egg, combine 1 tablespoon of ground chia seed (or flax seed) with 3 tablespoons of water. Stir well, and place in the fridge to set for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, the result should be a sticky egg-like substitute) For the powder, I used Viva Naturals Cacao Powder, (which you can actually find on Amazon!) and the Viva Naturals Cacao Nibs for the vegan choc chips (again, hello Amazon!). I was a little weary about trying this at first because it’s black beans and avocado, but if I didn’t know any better, I would have guessed this was packed full of chocolate (not the vegan kind). I do not not taste black beans or avocados AT ALL.

I decided that since this is a relatively healthy recipe, and my sister can eat these, that I am going to bring them to Christmas for all to enjoy!

Happy baking!

P.S. I’m always open to making new things! Anyone have any dairy-free and/or vegan desserts they love? Post below!

My Fitness Journey

In my entire year journey of getting back into shape and training for a half marathon and changing my diet, I’ve never shared any before or after photos of myself. To be honest, I rarely took any before photos because I was embarrassed. I untagged every photo that someone took of me. I offered to be the photographer so I didn’t need to be in a photo. I didn’t feel good about myself. I didn’t like how I looked, so why have a memory of that? I have measurements and my weight from before, but it hasn’t been anything I’ve shared.

Let me take you back to the beginning…

In college, I was 155 lbs. That was my ideal weight. I was playing volleyball – both on the club team at UW-Oshkosh as well as a rec league- and running. I was a casual runner in college… Maybe like 5 miles a week and definitely NOT consistent. Plus,  I walked to and from class. All that adds up. I was health conscious and ate healthier than most of my peers, but not really. Thank you metabolism. I graduated college in 2010 and moved back home. I continued to play volleyball in summer. I would run a handful of times, but nothing more than a few miles sporadically. I had a job at Sam’s Club which very much so kept me on my feet all day.

April 2012, I moved to Chicago. And this is when the slow downhill started. Yes, I had to walk to the nearest public transportation option, but then I sat. All. Day. Long. I had a desk job. And then being in a new city, all I did was eat out and eat too much. Thanks a lot Groupon. There was always a plethora of free food at work, which was never good for you. I gained about 10 lbs my first year working there. I still continued to play volleyball in summer though, so that was at least something. But summer in the Midwest… it doesn’t last long.

August 2013, I quit my job in Chicago and moved back to Wisconsin and in with my bf Josh. I quit because I found a job opportunity that was close to home. (Walking distance!) I thought it would be a good career move, but a few months later, they fired me for no reason. (Oh I have a post about that entire drama filled job…) Unemployment and depression led me down a very not good path. I was unemployed for MONTHS. Dec 19th, 2013 until May 22nd. 2014, I had no job. I had no motivation to work out. I cried myself to sleep often. I would go for days of eating burgers and ice cream and getting drunk and binge watching Gossip Girl.

Hello 185 lbs. 

I finally landed a job at Starbucks May 2014. At least i was on my feet all day, but I didn’t do anything outside of work. I ate crappy foods. I made excuses. “Oh I work weekends now. I can’t do anything.” “I work a morning shift-I’m too tired when I come home.” “I work a late shift, but I don’t feel like working out before work.” You name it, I had an excuse.

I quit Starbucks beginning Aug 2014 because I found a new role back at the company I was originally with in Chicago. I should have never left the company, but that’s another blog post. 

Commuting was hard. I left the house at 6am and didn’t get home until 8pm. The hours were brutal. (Shocker, I wrote about this previously too!) I was able to switch my hours after a few months (Nov 2014). So I was gone 6am to 630pm. Still a very long day. I ran occasionally, but not too much.

Summer 2015 I ran a few 5Ks with some friends and decided that I needed to run again and be active. I was so embarrassed of myself at this point. I hit 189 lbs at my heaviest. I never hit 190 lbs, but it was kind of a wake up call. I had become really good friends with Ally and she quickly became my running buddy. Aug 2015 was when we really started to think about our goals for 2016. We were running a decent amount, but focusing on stairs. We signed up for the Chicago Skyrise Climb. 103 floors up in Sears Tower (yeah yeah Willis Tower. It will always be the Sears Tower). I dropped a few lbs by this point, but I was still around 175-180 lbs.

Nov 8th, 2015. We climbed. 103 floors.  Words cannot describe how I felt that day. I almost cried when I finished. The fundraising money was for RIC, (Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago). As I did my climb, firefighters in their gear passed me.  I passed a few older people who were walking with canes and a PT just in case. It was so incredibly inspirational. And then, the people handing out medals at the top of the stairs were in wheelchairs. People who could no longer walk.

“Why am I wasting my life not being active anymore?”

After that climb, Ally and I talked about our 2016 goals and decided that we should make a goal of running 1,000 miles in 2016. Very very high goal, but hey, we did the math and it was definitely feasible.

Dec 2015 I applied for an internal position which I got hired for (and an currently in this role) in Feb 2016. (My manager wanted me to stay for a month to train the new people. Yippee!)  My new job was way more flexible. I left my house at 6am, but I was able to be home by 540pm. It made all the difference. 

And running just took off from there.

January, I ran 86 miles.

Somewhere around March, Ally and I talked about doing a half in August maybe, so that was something we were aiming to do. We ran a lot. We read a lot about half marathons.

April 2nd, 2016, Ally and I ran a 10K… in 28 degree weather… IN THE SNOW. It was my last run in my 20s so there was no way we were backing out of this one. It was a tough run to get through. I lost feeling in my toes after the second mile. But we finished it! And we knew if we could get through that, we could get through so much more.

In May, we realized how far we had come, and signed up for our first half marathon in June! JUNE!

June 18th, 2016 – we ran our first half-marathon. It was beautiful. It was hot. And I cried when I was done. My family and bf were there to meet me at the finish line. Hello emotions. At this point, I was around 165. I watched my diet, but not too much. I was starting to feel so good about myself! We even signed up for another half marathon in Sept!

junehalf

July 2016 I did a 5K obstacle course in Madison. As I was sliding down the slide, I jammed my knee. This was a little bit of a setback; however, I took more initiative than the Old Megan would have done. I went to see a PT, I got some exercises to do (and actually did them!!). I took a little time off running to heal up. I would do some slow jogs, but stopped when the pain went from an achy dull pain to a sharp pain.

Aug 28th, 2016 – I ran another half marathon with my coworkers. I had signed up for this one months ago, before I hurt my knee, so I unfortunately had to walk the majority of it because my knee hurt so badly.

aughalf

Sept 10th, 2016 – Yes, 13 days apart, Ally and I ran another half-marathon, and I even beat my time from our first one in June!

septhalf

The longer runs because easier. And I just wanted to keep running. Running kept me happy. It kept me sane. I hit a plateau with my weight – I was hovering around 163-166 lbs. I wasn’t even all that concerned about it. I’m not really one to weight myself often, mostly because it led to disappointment. But I wanted to know what more I should be doing. Well, the one thing that didn’t really change was my diet.

Nov 2016: November was a huge month for me. I made a goal of running 100 miles this month. One. hundred. Miles. At the end of Oct, I was at 367.5 miles total for the year. Not where I wanted to be. I knew 1,000 miles would not happen this year. But Ally and I teamed up and added our miles together. This has been a learning year for us, and we didn’t want a number to get us down. So we are doing a team effort of 1,000 miles this year. Well, I still wanted to reach a high goal, so 100 miles it was! Not only did I run more, but I changed my diet. I had gotten a wellness exam at my work, which showed a slightly elevated cholesterol level. 212. 12 points above the max “normal” range. Because my good cholesterol was at 92, they told me “you really don’t have to worry about it because 100milesnovyour good cholesterol is so high, that it balances out your bad cholesterol.” But all I heard was “you have a slightly high cholesterol level.” I cut out red meat, pork and eggs, and I VERY much so limited my dairy. I made a conscious decision to eat more fruits and veggies. I had oatmeal with pb and bananas almost every morning. I just felt SO much better. By the end of Nov, I didn’t want a ton of cookies. I didn’t want to have a steak dripping in butter. I felt great. I was getting plenty of protein and fruits and veggies. I didn’t really track calories as much as I just paid attention to sugar, cholesterol, fats, sodium and ingredients. If I couldn’t pronounce it, I didn’t eat it. If it had WAY too many ingredients, I didn’t eat it. Yes of course I helped myself to some not so good foods, but it was a few times the entire month, instead of a few times a week. Hey, I’m not perfect and I love chocolate. I ended up hitting my 100 miles in Nov. It was amazing.

Well this ENTIRE story leads up to this photo and the reason behind this novel:

scale

I randomly decided to weigh myself on Monday (I always weight myself at night before going to bed. Gotta keep it consistent) and I was 158.7. Wait, what? I was back in the 150s. I weighed myself every night, but I never got above 159.6. It was anywhere from 157.9 to 159.6.

Holy crap. This whole eating healthy thing actually works. 🙂 Ha. Not that I had my doubts, but when you start seeing results, there’s just NO turning back now.

I’m 30 and I feel better now than when I was 25.

(Also, side note. I really love the app I used. Ha. PicsArt)

And here we are Dec 9th, 2016 and I’m already on pace to hit 100 more miles this month.

I got this!!

New Shoes, Sweaty Shirt, No Problem

Getting back into running has been challenging. I was doing well for about a month before I went in to have a sleep study. I was so focused. I was running stairs in my house every night to make sure I hit at least 10k steps every single day. I did a Fitbit challenge group with my friends that I usually won. My running partner kicked my ass, even though most of it was virtually since our schedules didn’t always match up.

And then my sleep study…

I’ve had issues sleeping since I could remember. Back in high school, I could run on 3-4 hours of sleep. The thing is, back then, I would get 3-4 hours consecutively. Now… Not so much. It goes something like this:

Bed at 10pm
Restless until1045pm
Up at midnight. So restless I get up, walk around my house, avoid looking at my phone since the bright light shocks me from half awake to wide awake.
Back to bed at 100.
Wake up at 130.

…..I think you get the point. I wake up at 530am for the day. I cannot tell you the last time I felt rested. I would get a total of maybe 3-4 hours of sleep, but without it being consecutive, I started becoming more tired and hazy than I ever thought was possible.

After my many many restless nights, and many years later, I finally caved and went to do a sleep study. This has been on my bucket list for years, so I finally just caved and booked an appointment.

Diagnosis will take a while to fully find out. But here’s where I’m at: I have Restless Leg Syndrome. And possibly an acute form of insomnia. (Honestly, neither of these I’m shocked by.) Here’s the tricky part we need to figure out: RLS is caused often (not always) by anemia. I’ve been border-line anemic my entire life. I donated plasma in college (because beer money…). My iron count was hit and miss for donating, but I’d say I was fine to donate 75% of the time. Donating blood though? That’s another story. I had never been able to.

In June, I made a diet change which incorporated some OTC iron pills and mostly spinach salads for lunch. I donated blood through work for the first time that month. So my RLS couldn’t be because of that then right? Well it still could be …

For two weeks, my doctor gave me some guidelines to follow and keep a sleep log. No strenuous exercise after 6, no alcohol at all and no caffeine after noon. The alcohol and caffiene rule I can handle, but no running for two weeks?? I don’t get home from work until 630pm and running before work was out of the question because of my long commute.

Ugh. Fine. It was only two weeks. She needed a baseline to see if these three things could be affecting me. And then the two weeks after that (which I’m currently doing now) I could do what I wanted. And we will be comparing the two weeks to see if there is a difference.

In the meantime, I had to get a blood test taken so they could do a full synopsis to see if my iron levels are too low. If my iron levels are too low, she will give me slow-releasing iron tablets. Seems like an easy fix right? Except it can take THREE MONTHS to fully tell if RLS is caused by anemia. If I need iron pills and after three months, I’m still having issues, they will do an overnight study. On the flip side, if my iron levels come back normal, then we will do an overnight study right away. At this point, its too hard to tell of my insomniac symptoms are just secondary to RLS or if I have both.

Needless to say, this will be a long journey to figure this out. But I’m ready to face it.

Back to running:

Since I was not able to run for two weeks, every morning before work, I did 30 squats. The second week I increased to 45. I needed to do soooomething.

Monday I went running in my new running shoes (which I ordered the DAY BEFORE my sleep study so I was torchered for two weeks staring at a box of perfect new shoes I couldn’t use). I was determined to run 3 miles. I got a mile in and the sky drastically changed. I thought I was going to get stuck in a bad storm, so I turned around and went home. I finished 1.75 miles in 18:39. My first mile was in 10:07. My best time ever. I was so so proud of myself!! I can’t help but think squats had something to do with this. And those shoes. Amazingly comfortable. My feet don’t even hurt today.

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Because I neglected to stretch after my run on Monday, my quads were quite sure yesterday. I did an ab workout, along with a bunch of stretches instead last night, and tonight I’m lacing up those shoes!