Baked Avocado Fries

I love avocados, full of healthy fats, they’re a great addition to any meal. But, my husband? Not so much. The creamy texture weirds him out, but, he likes the taste. So, last night I set out to find a way to combine the healthiness of the avocado with some crisp (no breadcrumbs needed!). End result? Fantastic!

Avocado Fries

Baked Avocado Fries

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole avocados, sliced with skin removed.
  • 2 TB cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup flour (I used gluten free all-purpose flour)
  • 2 TB fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Drizzle sliced avocados with EVOO.
  • Sprinkle garlic and paprika over the slices.
  • Combine flour and cheese.
  • Place avocado pieces in egg whites, then dip them into flour mixture.
  • Put the slices onto a greased baking sheet.
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until crispy and brown.

It’s that easy. And they were so good. We dipped them in a ranch/barbecue sauce mixture, but you could do anything you’d like or nothing with these! Give them a try!

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A Change of Plans

It’s funny. I know that as far as life goes, we have very little say in the way things work out. We decide our own path and choose our own journey, but outcomes are very rarely in our control.

This is why fitness appeals to me so much. We choose our own fitness journeys and in many cases, with a little determination, the outcomes are within our control. It takes focus, commitment and more than a little motivation, but, when you want something badly enough, in most cases, you can go for it. A lesson I relearned last week after the Rock n’Roll half marathon put things into perspective though: while we can choose our own fitness outcomes, sometimes there are limits along the way. Let’s backtrack.

finish

A lot of you have seen this picture. I shared it a lot last week. It’s a proud moment. Right there I had just crossed the finish line with a new PR, 1:45:12 for a long half marathon course (13.31miles). I was stoked and crying, I couldn’t have felt prouder…I felt like I could conquer anything.

However, yet again, 1 hour after the race finish, I ended up in the medical tent. Body temperature dropped to 95.2 degrees (that’s .2 degrees above hypothermia for anyone wondering!), shaking uncontrollably with a pulse oxygen level of 90. Not awesome. Not fun. Potentially very dangerous. My body lost control of itself and it was a frightening place to be.

I learned a lesson that day that I’ve been relearning throughout the week since the race as we have attempted to figure out what exactly went wrong. Not everything is in my control. I can only push myself so far. This is a daunting thing to digest, especially as a distance runner with very specific training goals for the year. I trained well. I nourished well. I followed the rules and I still hit a wall.

The lesson here? We have limits. And sometimes, those limits require a reevaluation of our goals, of what matters and why we’re doing what we’re doing. I run because I love it. I don’t want to lose the release and focus it provides. However, I need to modify my goals if I want running and fitness to remain a part of my journey. I have to change my plans.

I’m explaining all of this to give a little background as to why I will be lowering my mileage in the upcoming months. I will not be completing my marathon, which had become a major life goal of mine, something I was really looking forward to. I will be dropping down to the half marathon – at the least.

This is hard to digest. But, my goal through this blog is to share my journey…the ups and the downs. While this seems like a major down (that I’ve been digesting for the last week, leading to fewer posts than normal!), it’s also an opportunity to evaluate what matters – to course correct and to find a balance. That’s what life’s really about. Changes make us stronger, they allow us to set new goals and to reach for new heights.

What changes have you had to make in your journey? Are you following what’s best for you, not the goals others have set for you? What’s your motivation? These questions should be at the base of every new goal you set. Sometimes a course correction can be a blessing, even when it’s hard.

8 Ways to Improve Your Race Pace

Whether you’re a long time runner, or someone just getting started your race pace likely matters to you. While crossing the finish line or making an attempt is just as important, once you’ve been at it awhile, or once you’re sure you can meet those basic goals, the time that you’ll finish in probably ranks up there fairly high on your list of priorities when a race is approaching.

I get it. Every time I run a race there’s a little part of me that wants to do better than last time. While I understand that this has limits, and that a peak is a peak, I believe that for all of us, finishing faster is a priority at one time or another.

I want to take the time to tell you that, with a little training and forward focus, this is possible. In the past 1.5 years, I’ve shaved 30 minutes off of my half marathon finish time and have cut my 5k finish time almost in half. You can too – take a look at the 8 tips below that matter before and during your race, and consider mixing up your routine. You could be surprised at the results!

checks

Before Race Day

1. Find What Works for You

I’ve read a lot on this topic, and have practiced it myself. For some people, running spurts are the most effective way to get from point A to point B – that is, running for a pre-allotted amount of time or distance before backing off a bit for a specific amount of time, then repeating until you cross the finish. For me, that is not effective…if I slow down to much, I have a hard time picking my pace back up. My method is to go out fast (not too fast), maintain as long as I can and then to back off slowly while maintaining a run, using hills to my advantage – which varies overall pace a bit (check out the splits below from my last race to see what I mean). But, I only know this because I’ve practiced it and have tried different methods. This is not something to figure out on race day; if you’re looking to set a PR, you’ve got to have your method down in advance. Play around and find out what you’re comfortable with. When you find your groove, you’ll know.

splits

2. Practice Speed

You can’t run fast during a race unless speed work is a part of your training regimen. How fast, how far and how frequent depends upon your race distance and the pace you’re trying to achieve. In most cases, speed work should happen once a week during your race training. Check out one of my go-to treadmill speed workouts here, or check out Runner’s World’s “5 Key Speed Workouts.” By practicing your speed, you’re allowing your body to become familiar with going faster, making a better finish time more than possible.

3. Train Slow

This probably sounds counter-intuitive – number two is about practicing speed while number three is saying to train slow. But, it works. Here’s why: by limiting speed workouts, you’re allowing your body to go hard, but giving it time to recover. While doing this, training slow allows you to build up miles, to become familiar with how far you’ll be running or further, depending on your training plan, while allowing for recovery and increasing strength. By incorporating speed workouts into your routine, you’ll be prepared for the pace, make sure you incorporate long, slow training runs to prepare for the distance by increasing endurance.

4. Know Your Fuel

I’ve seen it happen way too many times. Runners train using one fuel – a specific drink, a snack, something else altogether, then rely on what’s available during the race at the refreshment stands. The effect? Nothing good. Side stitches, stomach issues or even worse. In fact, not trying out the fuel in advance can stop a race in its tracks. There are a few options to overcome this. The first is to use what works for you. For me, it’s Cocogo coconut water. For my husband its GU Gels. It all depends on your digestive system and what works. If you have something that works, why change it? Have someone along the course with what you need and use it. The second option is to find out what will be available on race day – most races lay out their hydration stations and a list of what will be available at each one. Train using whatever that may be and see how your body responds. Remember – either option could be a possibility, but you’ve got to prepare in advance. Your finish time could depend on it!

(Side note: along with fuel, you should know exactly what you’ll be wearing on race day and practice in it, a gear slip up can be just as terrible as a fueling error).

During

5. Listen to Your Body – Not Your Headphones

You’ve probably heard that music is the best way to get through a workout. I would agree. However, I would argue that it’s not an effective way for finishing with a PR. I read a great article awhile back on Runner’s World about listening to your body instead of music; the writer took down his pace significantly. I was intrigued; I usually depended on headphones when it came to race day. But, this go round, I decided to give it a try. I was amazed. Instead of focusing on music and drowning out my body’s signals, I was able to listen to what felt right and to go with it. I didn’t experience fatigue at the halfway point, in fact, I felt strong from start to finish. I could hear my own footsteps which pushed my on and I could pay attention to the crowd that provided a ridiculous level of support. Instead of drowning myself out, I used my own signals to push me faster than I’d gone before. Give it a try – listen to your body, not the music. This is also true of GPS tools – watching a clock is a surefire way to burn out, instead, trust your training and go from there.

6. Draw Them In

A race is a big deal. With the excitement and nerves at the starting line, coupled with the idea of how far you have to run, distractions are plentiful and can become problematic. The best strategy for cutting them out? Focus on the feet in front of you. After the initial craze of the starting line, fall into your pace, and look for runners around the same pace as yourself. From there, start to draw them in. Start with the person right in front of you, try to match their stride and pass when possible. Do it again. By taking this approach (slowly), you’ll be building your own pace without focusing on anything that will slow you down. When you get passed yourself, don’t stress; that’s what a race is all about. Just focus on what’s ahead and get there.

7. Set Small Goals

This is especially important during longer races. When running a half marathon, reaching mile 6 and starting to feel tired while realizing you still have 7 to go – that can be almost unbearable. But, it can be just as bad for a shorter race, especially for a new runner. The solution? Stop counting. Stop doing the math. Stop focusing on how far you have to go or how far you’ve come. Instead, set a small goal. Make it to the next mile marker, or the next telephone pole if a mile is too far! Set a small distance goal and conquer it, celebrate for a second when you reach it then do it all over again. A race is generally more mentally challenging than physically challenging, especially if you’ve done the work in advance. Set small goals and conquer every single one of them.

8. Think Big

Once again, this one may sound like it works against the tip before it. But, it doesn’t. Just because you’re setting small goals doesn’t mean you can’t think big on race day. Toward the end of the race, when you’re tired and you’re ready to settle for just finishing…step back. Think about the finish. Think about the pace goal you’ve set and remind yourself that you’re totally capable of it. Remember that you’ve put in some serious training and that you set your goal for a reason. Think about the pride you’ll feel when you hit it. I think about how I’ll feel at the end of the race when I need to dig deep. Will I regret not leaving it all on the course? How will I feel if I know that I could have pushed a little harder? If the answer is “full of regret” I push on. If I feel as though I’m doing all I can and that when I look back I’ll know that I’ve done my best, then I stay at the level I’m at. Once again, the power of thought can do a lot as far as hitting a goal finish time. Use it to your advantage.

Setting and achieving a pace goal or a personal record during a race can be a mountain top experience, but, it doesn’t happen on it’s own. It takes serious preparation and mental toughness to come out on top. That’s what makes running so fantastic; in most cases, your only competition is yourself – it’s one of the only sports where this is true. If you’re ready to take your training to the next level and to achieve your goal during your next race, take the tips above to heart and get started today. You’ve got this!

 

Rock n’Roll USA Half Marathon – Washington, D.C.

First of all, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Secondly, it’s Monday…which means another race weekend is in the books. This time it was the Rock n’Roll USA Half Marathon in Washington, D.C. which took place on Saturday, March 15. What a race!

Let me preface this one with the training plan. I followed CoolRunning.com‘s Intermediate Half Marathon Training Plan. It was a plan that was heavy on the mileage (my long run was 15 miles), but with long recovery periods. I’m impressed with how it worked out, but was very tired by the time I was ready to taper. But, it gave me results – we’ll get there later!

John and I headed down to D.C. on Friday morning, excited to check into our hotel and to check out the race expo, which we had heard so much about. We were pumped! Traffic was smooth and there were no hiccups. Our room was ready at 10am (can’t beat that!). From there, we hopped on the Metro and headed for the D.C. armory for the expo…Wow!

First of all, we could tell the race was organized. Bib pickup was sectioned off by corral (John was registered for 1, I was in 5, but he ended up running with me due to an injury). It was quick, no lines and efficient; you can’t ask for more when there are 25,000 people who all have the same objective as you.

From there, we checked out the vendors. There were lots of free samples, we won 3 t-shirts each, learned about new races to check out and enjoyed networking with other runners who would be joining us at the start the next day. The positive energy was contagious and we were ready to go!

Dinner that night was a hearty (gluten free!) pasta dish from Toscana Cafe downtown. From there we headed back to the hotel and got ready for the next morning.

Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early and left the hotel by 5 a.m. for our 7:30 start. The metro opened 2 hours early to allow runners to make it to the start. This meant the ride was great as we were all heading in the same direction. Even though I’ve been a part of the running community for awhile now, the camaraderie always amazes me!

Here we are on the metro:

metro

 

We hopped off at the Smithsonian, and followed the throngs of people toward the hundreds of porta-potties (no shortage here!) and the clearly marked UPS gear check. The process was seamless. From there, after some striding and stretching, we headed for the start. It was amazing to come up over a hill, to look down and to see thousands of runners. Music was playing, the energy was just right and we found our corral easily.

Starting line shot!

start

 

The corralled start meant no crazy hold ups at the finish and meant I was running with people around my own pace. This was something I was very thankful for. John carried my Cocogo coconut water (lime flavored this time – want a 40% Cocogo discount? Visit the site and type in: TAKETWOBLOG as your coupon code!) and I stayed hydrated throughout the race. No cramping, side stitches or stomach issues! 🙂

The course itself was fantastic; mostly flat with one LARGE down and uphill around mile 6; but, you know what? That was fine, because the crowd support was amazing! From hundreds of signs to spectators along the whole course, energy was great. Bands were playing around every mile marker and St. Pattie’s Day front stoop parties were happening throughout the course, complete with cowbells and enthusiastic spectators. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Mile markers with clocks marked every single mile, and text message updates were sent to families at the start, 5k, 10k, 10-mile and finish for a small $5 fee. To me, that was worthwhile.

I knew my time was pretty good…I felt strong and knew I was heading for something good at the finish. I was right; my official finish time was 1:45:12…a personal record. My only complaint? My GPS and that of others clocked us in at 3.31 miles…a little long.

Here’s my map:

finish 2

 

The finish line festival was excellent…with bands, lots of refreshments – Gatorade, chocolate milk, oranges, Larabars, pretzels, water and more.

I need to be honest here. A lot of you read my concerns, especially after my last half attempt. This time, I felt great at the finish. However, about an hour later I did crash again. This time, my body temperature hit 95.2 degrees (just above hypothermia) and my pulse oxygen level dropped. Because of this experience, I can speak to the professionalism and expertise of the medical staff at the finish. They were great and got things figured out as quickly as possible. (yes, this also changes my plans for things like full marathons but we’ll get into that another day!).

For now, I am proud of my finish. I felt strong and did better than I ever anticipated. I was reminded of what a gift an active lifestyle is, and had tears at my finish because I learn a little more each day that we define our own limits and that the only thing that holds me back is myself. I’m proud of where I’ve come from, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead on this crazy fitness/wellness journey!

Just as importantly, the race itself was fantastic and well-organized and I look forward to doing another Rock n’Roll event in the future!

I’m also pretty darn proud of my bling:

finish 1

 

Interested in a little push? Something to train for? Check out one of their Tour Stops and sign up today! Some half 5k’s, half marathons and full marathons…go for it! I know I will again!

Facing Demons: Running to Overcome

We all have something to overcome, something that scares us, something that pushes us to succeed. Maybe that’s all one thing, maybe they’re all separate – whatever it is, we are created to have a drive…to achieve. It’s part of what makes us human.

For me, that drive often stems from fear. That’s right; I’m a semi-recently converted runner. It’s something I love, it’s something that allows me to push myself past any boundaries that I think exist or that I’ve set for myself. It’s freeing and allows me time to connect with not only myself, but with a community built on running and God’s creation that surrounds me with every step.

The big secret? It’s also something that scares me to death.

That’s right. To a certain extent, running terrifies me.

There’s a background to this that I’ll try to sum up as best as I can. Because I wasn’t raised a runner, and because I was raised with multiple injuries and health situations that should limit my ability to run, I’ve been told and have believed that running just wasn’t for me. In fact, it was never an option when I was growing up that was presented to me. I could do other things…but not running.

That fear was confirmed last May. I ran the Grantville Movie Madness Half Marathon. I set a personal PR and couldn’t have been prouder. Check out this photo, holding my prize made me feel like I’d overcome a lot, and that I’d succeeded. It was great…until it wasn’t.

HALF PRIZE

You see, a lot of people don’t hear the second part of the story. The part where I ended up in the ER that night severely dehydrated, malnourished and pushed past what my body was able to handle. That I collapsed as soon as I walked in the door in what was an actual emergency.

It’s important that I pause here to give a few details. I had recently been diagnosed with Celiac disease along with multiple food intolerances, which had all been cut from my diet. I was also super focused on losing weight, not always in the most healthy way. Even further, based on the diet changes, I panicked that morning, eating only a few scoops of peanut butter and didn’t pack food for the finish, forgetting that I probably wouldn’t be able to eat what was available. It was a storm of terrible circumstances and decisions that could have been catastrophic. 

As time passed, I stopped looking at the combination and started associating my running with that end result. This led to a fear that ran deep. This past fall, I decided I needed to overcome that fear and registered for my first half marathon since then…the Rock n’Roll Half Marathon in Washington, D.C. this Saturday.

It’s almost here and boy are my emotions mixed! I can’t wait to go out there and face my fear with a healthier outlook on life, nutrition and running. But, during quiet times, I start to doubt. That’s what fear does – it creeps in when we least expect it and makes it really hard to see past it to reality. In those times, I do what I think everyone should do when faced with a fear: I rationalize it. I remind myself of the circumstances surrounding what happened last time. I tell myself that I have come a long way and that I HAVE prepared for this event. I put it into perspective and I use it to fuel my determination. I am ready for this. I have prepared myself mentally for this race. I can do it.

But, even with all the focus and positive affirmations in the world, the fear still lingers. This Saturday, I will be facing my own personal demon…and I couldn’t be more ready.

How do you handle the stressors in your life? What do you fear? Regardless of what they may be, it’s time to put them in the past. To replace them with truth and to push forward to become what you’re meant to become. Maybe that means dropping whatever’s been holding you back. Maybe it means setting a big goal and taking baby steps to accomplish it. Maybe it means asking for help. This is your call to action. It’s time to knock down walls and move forward; you’ve got this!

 

What Fuels Your Morning?

Mornings are essential to making it through the day. By eating the right foods at the start, you’re body is primed for action; your metabolism speeds up and your body is ready to consume foods of a similar nutrition level throughout the rest of the day. Start off hungry or on the wrong foot and you can go downhill…fast! This is something I’ve learned and really responded to lately. But, it’s an important lesson for everyone.

That’s why I was so excited when I heard about MyOatmeal.com. Before you start to think that healthy oatmeal is plain old healthy oatmeal and there’s not a lot of room to improve, think again. Solid nutrition doesn’t have to be boring, and this company brings this idea to life in big ways.

By allowing customers to customize their own flavors, MyOatmeal.com takes mornings to a whole new level. Visitors are able to customize:

  • Package size: 1 lb, 2.25 lb or 4lb
  • Oat types: quick rolled instant, 5 grain rolled oats & flax, steel cut whole oats, signature smash blend, gluten free quick oats (a must in my house!) and organic, gluten free rolled oats
  • Flavoring: think of the most detailed coffee shop flavor list and then expand it – creme brulee, cake, smores and so many more
  • Fruits: 18 options!
  • Nuts and seeds: everything from chia and flax seeds to powdered peanut butter and almonds – big nutritional value
  • Sweeteners: brown cane to monk fruit, any taste bud can be satisfied.
  •  Shipping options: ongoing, one time, etc.

Bottom line: there are over 2 million flavor combinations that can be created. Does it get better than this?

I didn’t think so; which is why I had to give it a try.

I created my blends of choice online and couldn’t wait for them to arrive (which they did, quickly!). From there, I couldn’t wait to jump in, which is why our family had oatmeal for dinner that night :).

My first flavor? Caramel Apple Cheesecake (named by me).

Myoatmeal1

I was excited, check out the nutritional information above, which I knew ahead of time, since it was clearly displayed during the online creation process.

The smell upon opening the bag was wonderful and I could see the apple chunks I’d ordered easily.

myoatmeal2

My Blend?

  • Gluten free quick oats
  • Dulce de Leche and Cheesecake flavors
  • Light brown sugar
  • Dried apples

The verdict? Delicious.

myoatmeal3

I mixed 1/4 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup almond milk (this is my go-to for oatmeal, the husband and kids used water per the package directions).  It was a hit. The whole family enjoyed it and no additional flavors or sugars were needed. It was filling and has become our go-to. From a simple, fun creation process to a final product that exceeded expectations, I expect to be a loyal myoatmeal.com customer for a long time.

Want to check it out yourself? Visit MyOatmeal.com and create a custom blend! Even better? Use the code healthy15 for 15% off your order! What are you waiting for?

Follow MyOatmeal.com on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest updates and possibilities! Also, stay tuned here as I have a few more flavors, including a custom peanut butter powder blend to review after finishing this bag!

Note: I was provided samples from MyOatmeal.com free of charge for review. But, you know I don’t give a positive review unless I stand behind the product! If I say I love it, I mean it! 🙂