Workin’ hard Wednesday

Phew — today was a LONG day!  Let’s start with the eats:

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have breakfast this morning, save for 3 cups of coffee.  I was starving by lunchtime, so I had a HUGE mix of whole wheat penne with tomatoes, spinach, chicken, onions, mushrooms, peas, tomato basil sauce and some cheese:

YUM!  This hit the spot perfectly.  I polished off most of it but didn’t feel overstuffed when I was done, and the combo of protein, carbs and veggies kept me full all day 🙂

 

I did snack on the most ridiculous banana ever.  I included my iPod Touch in the picture for size comparison (coughthat’swhatshesaidcough):

After work — early dismissal at 4:00, yay! — I walked over to the gym and ran a quick 2.69 miles in 30 minutes, an 11:09/pace!  Yes, I know I’m slow, but I’m proud that I’m getting faster!  My marathon goal is to finish in under 5 hours, which means I’m going to have to maintain an 11:26/mile pace for the whole race.  Once I build up my short distance speed a little bit more I’m going to start adding in some longer runs to increase my endurance so I can meet my goal 🙂

I also did 15 minutes on the elliptical (crossramp 8, resistance 3) before walking home.  As part of the Holiday Bootie Buster Challenge, I calculated my total roundtrip walk from work –> gym –> home: 1.8 miles!  I was met at the door by a VERY happy Barkley:

Who can resist that face?  I took my guy for a quick walk, then made myself dinner:

Roasted sweet taters!  I was still pretty satisfied from lunch, so this hit the spot.  After dinner I hopped in the shower, then started my Thanksgiving baking projects!!  While I was doing my prep I snacked on a Fruit2Day and Clif bar, partially to keep myself from snacking on batter, and partially because I was still a little hungry 😉

 

Project #1 was pumpkin bread: round 2:

I used the same recipe as last time, but split the batter in half and added chocolate chips to one loaf.  Our apartment smells AMAZING right now; here’s hoping they taste as good as they look and smell!

Baking project #2 was sugar cookies!  Here’s the before:

 

And the delicious after:

One of these cookies may or may not have found its way into my tummy… 🙂

I use a cookie scoop (sort of like a tiny ice cream scoop) to make sure all my cookies are the same size and bake evenly.  I can’t believe I used to try and roll out dough balls by hand; I would NEVER get them even!

Matt and I each had a few of these guys while my baking projects were in the oven:

Here’s hoping I do a better job at keeping them in the house this time around!

 

Alright, it’s time to hit the sack.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

I’ll be back later tonight with my eats and exercise for the day 🙂

I did it!!

Nine races and a 3-hour volunteer session later, I officially have guaranteed entry into the 2010 New York City Marathon!!! The NYC Marathon is notoriously difficult to get into, despite the fact that there are 40,000 or so spots — if you aren’t an elite athlete, celebrity, charity runner, don’t have a qualifying time, or haven’t completed 15 previous NYC marathons, you have to put your name in a lottery to get a spot.  If you try to get a spot through the lottery system, I believe you have a 20-25% chance of getting in, not the best odds in the world.

As a member of New York Road Runners (the organization that runs the marathon), however, you can gain guaranteed entry into the marathon by running nine road races and volunteering for NYRR in some capacity.  In addition to running my nine races, I also volunteered at the NYRR information booth in Central Park one evening, passing out park maps, letting people know about upcoming races, and giving out general park info.  Most people were curious about where bathrooms were, but one guy asked me where John Lennon was, which was pretty strange!  (He was really looking for Strawberry Fields 🙂 )

Here are the races that got me into next year’s marathon:

– Gridiron Classic (4 miler on Superbowl Sunday): finished in 47:53, an 11:58/mile pace

– NYRR 8000 (4.9 miles, or 8K): finished in 56:39, an 11:23/mile pace

– Colon Cancer 4 Mile Challenge: 44:24 (my 4-mile PR!), an 11:06/mile pace

– Scotland Run 10K (6.1 miles), completed in the POURING rain in March: 1:14:46, a 12:03/mile pace

– Healthy Kidney 10K: 1:17:53, a 12:33/mile pace (boo!)

– Fitness Magazine Mind, Body and Spirit Games (4 miles): 48:51, a 12:12/mile pace

– Norway Run (1.7 miles): 18:17, a 10:45/mile pace (fastest race pace ever, but shortest race ever!)

– NYRR Virtual Marathon

– Today’s Race to Deliver (recap below)

In addition to the 8 road races I completed, I also did the first annual Virtual Marathon, sponsored by NYRR and MapMyRun.com.  The virtual race took place the week of the marathon, and all you had to do was run 3 or more miles (up to 26.2) that week and record your run stats online.  The MapMyRun people would then take your pace and calculate your marathon finishing time.  I wound up walk/jogging 7.24 miles around Central Park in 1:39:25 (13:43/mile pace), which apparently translates to a 6:32:34 marathon!  I’m hoping to run a little bit faster than that next year! 🙂

So, back to today.  My final road race, a 4-miler, was scheduled for this morning at 8:30.  In order to make sure I was well-rested, I crashed around 10:30/11:00 last night and was up bright and early at 7am.  I threw on my running gear and my Garmin, kissed the husband and dog goodbye and was out the door by 7:20 or so.  I tend to run better with some caffeine in my system, so I stopped at Starbucks on my way to Central Park and grabbed a pre-race latte (as well as a post-race water bottle and banana), then continued on my way.

After getting my race number, timing chip and t-shirt, I finished up my latte, dropped off my bag at the bag check, made a quick porta-potty stop and headed for the start line.  I was feeling really good at the start; I had the perfect number of layers on, was wide awake thanks to a good night’s sleep and Starbucks, and had Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” pumping through my headphones.

Now I don’t know about you, but I find the first 5 minutes of a race the hardest.  You want to start strong, but not too strong that you bonk out early, and you have to weave through the crowds of people (running around the walkers without getting creamed by the faster runners trying to pass you) to get to the right spot.  Plus, you’ve probably spent the last 15 minutes or so standing still in the starting corral, so it takes a few minutes just to get loose and feel like a runner again.

Compounding the difficulties of the first 5 minutes of a race in Central Park are the hills.  Just about every 4-mile race in Central Park follows the same route: start on 72nd Street on the east side of the park, run north to the 102nd St. transverse, make a left onto West Drive, and run down to 72nd St. again.  The first mile has a good mix of hills and downhills, the second mile is virtually all downhill and SUPER fast, mile three has three terrible hills and makes you want to die/cry/quit, and mile four is a mix of the first three but still enables you to finish strong.

A few blocks into mile one is one of the infamous hills in Central Park: Cat Hill.  As this site confirms, “it is not the worst hill in the park [that’s Harlem Hill in the north part of the park]…but let’s just say, it’s a hill that every runner knows.”  Once you make it past Cat Hill you’re almost done with hills on the east side, which is nice, but it stinks that it comes up so quickly when you’re doing a 4-miler!  I made my way up the hill (where, ironically enough, a man was sitting with his dog next to the cat statue!), determined to run the whole race, and coasted down the other side.

The rest of mile 1 was pretty uneventful, and mile two was fantastic as usual.  I love running past the statue of Fred Lebow (the guy who started the NYC Marathon) and down the slow decline past the Metropolitan Museum of Art — it is such a great part of the city!  I ran across the transverse and headed to the west side’s dreaded hills.

The first of the hills comes at you as soon as you turn onto West Drive, and I’ve often stopped here during races to take a quick walk break.  Instead, I just focused on pumping my arms to gain momentum and ran the hills as best as I could, making up time by running the downhills a bit faster than the uphills.  After knocking out the first hill I felt pretty confident and kept my pace steady through the next two hills, picking it up a bit when I saw the 3-mile sign in the distance.

As I mentioned before, mile 4 has a few inclines but is generally pretty fast, so I picked up the pace a bit because I was feeling so strong and wanted to finish strong.  I gained a ton of momentum on the downhills and kept the faster pace up on the flat parts of the course.  When I turned onto the 72nd St. transverse and saw the finish line up ahead, I booked it, getting a few cheers from the crowd along the way (I checked my Garmin at the end of the race, and I think I was running a 7:49/mile pace for the last 100 meters or so!).  My final chip time was 45:40, and 11:25/mile pace, just about a minute slower than my previous PR!

I walked home from the park with a big smile on my face; not only did I run well and finish strong, but I also accomplished a huge goal I set for myself this year — earning a spot in next year’s marathon!  I can’t wait to start training seriously for the marathon, but I’ve got a few races to get through first: my next race is the Emerald Nights Midnight Run on New Year’s Eve, and I’m hoping to get another 2-3 half-marathons under my belt in the spring and summer, as well as a few more 4-milers and 10Ks.

What fitness goals have you set for yourself?

Reading Rainbow and hodgepodge.

Good evening!  Hope everyone had a lovely day.  My stomach was acting funny again today, but I sucked it up and actually went to the gym after work, which felt really good.  I ran 3.16 miles in 36 minutes — not bad for Captain Slowpoke! 🙂

Breakfast was a 7-grain bagel with egg whites and a slice of cheese.  I didn’t take a picture of it, but here’s what it looked like when I had it last week:

Mmmmm!  The bagel was perfectly fresh and doughy, and the protein from the egg white and cheese kept me full all morning.  I don’t think I could ever live outside of New York; I’d miss the bagels (and pizza, and delis) too much!

Lunch was another great meal: a small soup and veggie-tastic salad from Hale and Hearty.  Their soup of the month happens to be my favorite, cream of tomato with chicken and orzo:

Look at how thick that soup is!!  And, surprisingly, the nutritionals aren’t too bad for a cream-based soup: 230 calories, 12g fat and 3g fiber for an 8oz. serving.  The soup and salad filled me up really well for the rest of the day.

My salad had all the old favorites: broccoli, tomato, red onion, roasted red pepper, cucumbers, carrots and cheese:

I think the red pepper might be the thing causing my tummy issues; I LOVE peppers, but apparently they don’t love me back so much.  Anyone else have a similar experience?

I snacked on a pineapple cup while I was still at work, and ate half of an iced gingerbread Clif bar (one of the seasonal flavors) on my walk to the gym — man, that was good!  I was inspired by Monica’s midday post and picked one up at the health food store when I got some ingredients for Vegan 4 A Day tomorrow…but more on that later! 🙂

After my aforementioned run, I walked home from the gym and surprisingly, Matt beat me home!  99 percent of the time I’m home HOURS before he walks in the door; oh, the life of a Ph.D. candidate!

We actually had a pretty domestic night at home and cooked dinner together!  We made whole wheat couscous with lamb chops and last night’s green beans and garlic:

Yum!  I had about a cup of couscous, a 3oz. chop and about 1/2 a cup of green beans.  Dinner was a little light on the veggies, but I think my veggie-heavy lunch made up for it!

Also, in the interests of ethical eating (hi, Erin!), I have to mention that the pork chops we ate were from Heritage Acres.  Heritage Acres meat is from small family farms where the animals are raised humanely, eat a natural grain diet and are antibiotic-free.  Yay for avoiding the factory farming system!

I had the other half of my iced gingerbread Clif bar while catching up on blogs.  I’m so happy I ordered a box of those bars!  I also ordered a box of the pumpkin spice seasonal bars; I’ll review those the second they come in the mail 🙂

On my way home from the gym I stopped at Barnes and Noble.  Now, I think I’ve mentioned my love of shopping before, but it goes to a whole ‘nother level when I’m at a bookstore!  My bookshelves are currently bursting at the seams, but I still can’t walk out of a B&N empty handed.  Today was no exception:

Hooray for health magazines!  I can’t wait to dive in to them during my bath tonight 🙂

Here’s a bit of Kara trivia for you: when I was growing up, the main reason I got in trouble was because I stayed up late reading!  I perfected the art of reading laying on my back, with my head under the covers and a flashlight on my shoulder.  When I was awake I couldn’t stop reading either; I’d plow through any book I could get my hands on, and as a result I was reading at a 6th grade level when I was only 6 or 7.  Any babysitter who offered to read me a book before bed would be met with a STACK of books about as tall as I was! 🙂  It makes me happy to know Matt was the same way growing up — we’re nerd soul mates!

Anyway, onto the hodgepodge!

– I saw this article in the Times’ Well Blog today, and thought I’d share: Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious.  As someone who struggles with anxiety on a regular basis (I tend to overthink everything, stress about unnecessary things and have had a few panic attacks over the years), I thought it was a really interesting read.  It was also a great motivator on a day where I really needed to get to the gym!

– Tomorrow is Vegan 4 A Day, and I’m really excited/nervous about it.  I’ve gone vegetarian before, and I’m totally cool with that — I’m actually planning an all-veggie month sometime in the near future — but vegan is a bit of a different story.  As you can tell from my blog entries so far, I love cheese!  And eggs!  I’m going to give it the old college try, though; I even bought some vegan brown rice pasta to make for dinner tomorrow night 🙂

– I think I’m going to finally watch Food, Inc. tomorrow — Netflix sent it to me earlier this week, and I feel like a bad food blogger for not watching and reviewing it yet!

Alright, that’s all from me — have a great night!!

Just Do It.

I am a procrastinator.  Or, if you want to be even blunter about it: I’m lazy.  I love spending my weekends sleeping in, with moving from the bed to the couch (for TV watching or curling up with a great book) being the primary activity of the day.  Want to know the funny thing, though?  I also love to have a full schedule!  When I was in middle school and high school I participated in as many activities as I could (yearbook, softball, tennis, musicals, chorus, etc.).

By the time I got to college I was pretty burned out and focused myself on a handful of my favorite extracurriculars, but by senior year I was back to my old self, bouncing from class to my part-time research job to choir to RAing to Matt’s and back again.

My “sure, I can do it all!” mentality hit an all-time level of crazy while Matt and I were engaged.  Not only was I working full-time (40 hours a week, at least), I was finishing graduate school part-time, wedding planning and trying to lose a large amount of weight.  Then, I had the brilliant idea to train for a marathon on top of it all!

I came to my senses somewhat and decided to run a half-marathon instead, but it was still ridiculous on top of ridiculousness.  I was overworked, stressed all the time, and couldn’t give anything on my plate the attention it deserved.  My procrastination/laziness went into high gear, especially with my half-marathon training.  Long runs were the easiest things to put off: it was winter in New York, miserable weather for outdoor runs (my half-marathon was in Phoenix in January), and who can run 10 miles on a treadmill?  Not me.

So, I got to the start line of my first half-marathon with my wedding three months away (but almost fully planned, thankfully), my graduate degree finished, but only one or two 8-milers under my belt.  I started out strong, was having such a great time, then BONKED harder than anyone in history (at least it felt that way).  From miles 9-13, I was hoping I’d pass out, just so the ambulance could take me to the finish line instead of having to walk the rest of the way there.  It was awful.

*Side note: “bonking” is one of those weird running words, like “fartlek“, that sound much more pleasant than they are.   Actually, scratch that: fartlek doesn’t sound pleasant at all…*

At long last (3 hours and 24 minutes later), I crossed the finish line.  One of the wonderful race volunteers came over to me as I was catching my breath and put my finisher’s medal over my head, and it truly was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life.  Despite my training setbacks and complete exhaustion, I felt like a real athlete that day.

I promised myself that I would train properly for my next long race (and lose a few more pounds) so I could cross the finish line feeling strong and proud, and that’s exactly what I did.

Or not.

My next half-marathon was eight months later in Virginia Beach, and even though the wedding was over, graduate school was over and I was closing in on my goal weight, I couldn’t find the time in my busy schedule of being lazy to get in some necessary long training runs.  This time, though, I had a secret weapon: a husband to cheer me on from mile 9 until the finish! 🙂  It was an amazing feeling to see his proud face in the crowd of spectators, but it unfortunately didn’t make running 13.1 miles in late August that much easier!  I still managed to shave a respectable 12 minutes off my time (that I attribute mostly to losing a few pounds between races) and earned the peanut butter cup Dairy Queen Blizzard that followed the race.

Just three short weeks after my decent showing at VA Beach, I ran my third half-marathon in Philly; I caught the racing bug BAD!  The combination of lovely fall weather, a very friendly downhill course and increased confidence after my last half made this my best race yet, and I broke through the 3 hour barrier.

Unfortunately, I think the barrier fell on me as I crossed the finish line, because I COULD. NOT. MOVE. a few minutes after I was done.  The hotel where I was staying with a few friends was about a mile and a half from the finish line, and it literally took me an hour to get back there.  Did I mention I took a cab most of the way?  Oh my, it was a mess.

Thankfully, a hot shower and a giant Gatorade made me feel a thousand times better, but I was hurting, again thanks to my lack of proper training for the distance.  But did I learn my lesson?

No!  Of course not!

I had one final half-marathon on my schedule for 2008: the Richmond Half in November.  For whatever reason, this race is sponsored by McDonald’s, and it remains the only race t-shirt I’ve ever thrown away.  I was down to my lowest weight ever in late September-early October, and really optimistic that I’d have another PR at Richmond.

Then, my birthday hit in mid-October and I had a meltdown, the first of many that fall/winter/spring.  I was unhappy at my job but didn’t know where I could go, and, on top of it all, had to spend my entire birthday alone.  The one co-worker I was really close with was out of the office that day, and Matt didn’t get home from work until after 9 or so.  I couldn’t stop thinking about all the frustrations in my life, and by the end of the day I was inconsolable.  That day was a turning point for me, but not in a good way at all.

After my miserable birthday I stopped working out for a few weeks, content to go straight home after work to hang out with the dog and eat snacks on the couch.  It didn’t help that it was the most stressful time of the year in my department; stress on top of stress on top of stress = lots of emotional eating.  When I got to the start line in Richmond a few weeks later, I was up 5 lbs. from Philly and not at all prepared for a half-marathon.

I told myself to take it easy and just walk the course, but my competitive side took over and I ran right from the start.  I could barely finish the first mile without stopping — it was pathetic!  The race just got more and more painful from that point on, and by mile 8 I felt worse than I did at the end of Philly (dehydrated and exhausted) and Phoenix (bonked beyond belief) combined.  I had to stop at a gas station, buy a granola bar with a sweat-soaked dollar bill, and ate it while laying on the grass on the side of the course.  Not my proudest moment.

I knew I couldn’t just quit — I’m way too stubborn for that — so I shuffled along as best as I could for the rest of the race, struggling mightily.  FINALLY, I crossed the finish line and was handed my medal.  With the freakin’ McDonald’s logo on it.  Ugh.  As it turns out, I finished this race only a few minutes slower than my first race in Phoenix; considering how horrible I felt the whole 3 hours and 30 minutes, I’d call that a victory!

So, what have I learned after all of this?  Well, for one, race training schedules are not just fancy pieces of paper with random numbers on them — they are incredibly important fancy pieces of paper with random numbers on them, and  you should follow what they have to say!  Your body — especially your legs, lungs and feet — will thank you for it in spades.  I’ve already got my 18-week marathon training schedule printed out, and I plan to follow it to the letter.  Or number, I guess.

There’s no place for procrastination when it comes to training for a long run.  You can’t do nothing for six weeks, then run 10 miles 5 days in a row and be properly prepared for a half-marathon.  The work has to be constant and consistent.

I was reminded of this today when I saw Kath’s post about regrets.  She mentioned that she’s never regretted a workout, and I completely agree.  Not only do you get an immediate benefit from exercising, but every mile you run, every class you take, and every minute of cardio you do builds a base of fitness that you carry with you always.

So what are you waiting for?  Don’t procrastinate or overthink it — get out there and run.  Just do it! 🙂

Weekly goals

Quick lunchtime post and run at lunch – I’ve got a busy day at work!

Inspired by Gina’s really ambitious fitness goals for the week, I decided to write up my goals for the week to keep myself focused.  Here goes:

–          Get to the gym 4x this week

–          Run 10 miles total this week: 6 at the gym, 4 in Sunday’s road race

–          Do yoga at least once this week

–          Get in at least 5 fruit/veggie servings every day this week (so far, I’m 1/1)

–          Track everything I eat on the blog and in my WW points tracker

–          Work on my sleep schedule:

  • Get to bed earlier
  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night
  • Wake up earlier

–          FINALLY clean out my closet/dresser:

  • Bring out winter clothes
  • Put away summer clothes
  • Put away anything that doesn’t fit right now
  • Donate clothing that is too big/anything I don’t really wear

–           Clean our apartment top to bottom

I’ll re-post this list on Sunday night with my progress.  For some reason, I’ve always loved making lists, even when I am too busy to actually cross anything off the list!  🙂

How do you keep track of your weekly fitness, health and life goals?

Belated birthday

Hello!  Quick post tonight because I’m exhausted after a LONG day, but here are today’s eats:

For breakfast, Matt was kind enough to get me a latte and oatmeal from Starbucks, my go-to weekday meal.  In return, I made him pancakes!  There was only one egg left in the carton after making the pancake mix, so I decided to fry it up in some olive oil and make a little sandwich.  Nearly empty egg cartons drive me nuts for some reason!  I had the egg on a sandwich thin with a slice of cheese:

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I used to think sandwich thins were a scary frankenfood with lots of artificial junk and HFCS, but I looked at the ingredients again the other day and realized they are actually pretty good!  I’m trying my best not to eat highly processed food anymore, so I pay close attention to ingredient lists and focus on things I recognize and can pronounce.

After my gigantic 2-part breakfast (I don’t know why I am so hungry on weekend mornings!), I wasn’t really hungry for lunch at all.  We spent part of the afternoon cleaning up around the apartment but had a bit of a kitchen sink incident (leaky pipe) that messed up our plans.  After an unsuccessful attempt to find our super to fix the leak, I hopped in the shower and went to the gym, and ran 2.6 miles in about 30 minutes.

I bolted out of my workout clothes and into some nice duds, hopped on the subway and met Matt at Penn Station to take the train out to Long Island for a belated birthday dinner.  I snacked on a post-workout Clif bar on the train, along with a medium pumpkin spice coffee from Tim Horton’s.  I also chugged a bottle of water so I wouldn’t be dehydrated again like I was on Friday!

Since my dad’s birthday and my birthday are about two weeks apart (late September and mid-October), we tend to have at least one celebration together, but this year our birthday dinner was postponed until November.  My dad and his girlfriend picked us up at the train station, and we met up with my godmother and our family friend at the restaurant.

We’ve been going to the same place for years now — this little Italian place in my hometown — and everyone there has known me since I was a kid.  It is so strange to come in with my husband and order wine; that’s what grownups do!  Am I really a grownup? 😉

I started with a delicious chopped salad:

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…but what I really wanted was pasta.  This place is known for their paglia e fieno (I think that’s how it is spelled) — green and white pasta in a light, creamy sauce with ham and peas.  Thankfully, my wonderful husband ordered it to start, so I had a forkful:

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SO good!!  I decided against having a plate of this myself because the last few times I had this as an appetizer, I was beyond stuffed when dinner came and didn’t enjoy my main meal.  The salad plus a taste of pasta was the perfect amount of food!

*Side note: when I pulled out my camera to take a picture of my salad, my dad decided he needed to take a picture of his food, along with taking a picture of me taking a picture of my salad.  I’ll post those pics tomorrow! 🙂 *

I ordered the fish special for dinner: scallops and shrimp stuffed with crabmeat on a bed of spinach with tomatoes and onions in a lobster sauce.  I could not believe how much food was on the plate:

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…but I made a pretty good dent in it, I think:

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There must’ve been a dozen scallops on that plate — I didn’t have a chance!  I think I ate most of the shrimp and most of the spinach, but the scallops were way too much.  I would’ve brought this home, but I’ve always had bad luck re-heating seafood leftovers.

Since we were celebrating birthdays, there had to be cake!  They brought us two pieces — lemon ricotta cheesecake and caramel flan:

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I was pretty stuffed, so I only tried one small bite of each.  The flan was AWESOME, but I wasn’t such a fan of the cheesecake.  I love lemon, but hate lemon in dessert-y things, for whatever reason.

After coffee and some more chatting, we got a ride back to the train station and headed home.  All in all, a really lovely night with some of my favorite people in the entire world!  And another birthday celebration — who doesn’t like that? 🙂

Time for some much-needed rest!  Have a great night!

Girls

Ladies, this post is (well, mostly) all about girls.  Also, since I have a lot of topics to cover, I decided to add headings to each section — brace yourself! 🙂

Part 1: Zumba girls

So, I had a little bit of a haphazard afternoon after work yesterday.  I had a bunch of stuff to return to Old Navy downtown, then went back uptown to the gym, then back downtown again for dinner with the girls, then back uptown to go home.  I think I hit all the NYC transportation bases: bus, subway, walking and taxi!  Quick side note:

New York City Fun Facts #1 and 2:

1. If a taxi has its top light on (the 4-character taxi number), then it is open and you can hail it.  If the light is off, that means there are people in it, so don’t try to catch it or get upset if it passes you by.  I didn’t know this for YEARS, and wasted many an arm wave trying to hail an occupied cab.

Also, some taxis will still pick up passengers if their off-duty lights are on, but only if you are heading in the same direction they are.

2. In a city of 6+ million people, you will still ALWAYS run into people you know.  On my walk from Old Navy to the gym I ran into an old co-worker and a guy I served on jury duty with.  So random!

Anyway, back to Friday.  So, I get to the gym a little after 6:30, planning on a 2-3 mile run and some elliptical.  After I changed I looked at the class schedule and saw there was a Zumba class at 7, and decided it would be fun to give it a try.  I ran a quick 1.51 miles in 18 minutes (11:30 something pace — yes, I’m slow) and got to the class right on time.

Let me tell you a few things about me.  One, I am very self-conscious, especially when it comes to group workout classes.  I feel like everyone is watching me, and it makes me uncomfortable.  Two, I have absolutely NO rhythm and am incredibly uncoordinated, as many high school musical videos will confirm.  Zumba is a cardio dance class with complicated moves (the website says they are “easy-to-follow dance moves” — HA!) that takes place in a huge mirrored room with windows for spectators to watch through.  Not the best call, Kara.

I am always up for a challenge, so I decided to give Zumba a try.  After a 1+ mile walk to the gym and a quick treadmill run I was ready to go, but after the dance warmup my heart was racing and I was sweating up a storm!  Did I mention it was only 7:05 at this point?

Once we got into the heart of the Zumba workout I started to really struggle.  The extra pounds I’m carrying make me pretty slow on my feet so I had a hard time keeping up; that, combined with my general lack of coordination and self-consciousness (especially because I couldn’t stop noticing the sweat stains on my shirt…ick) made the first 15 minutes of the class really tough.  Plus, the instructor wasn’t wearing a microphone, so I had to stare at her intently to know when we were changing moves.

Right around the halfway mark of the class I stopped focusing so much on myself and started looking around the room.  The class was full of women of all shapes, sizes and ages who all seemed pretty new to Zumba (translation: equally uncoordinated), and many of them were just laughing hysterically while they shimmied around.  That’s when I realized I had a decision to make: I could either stay in my stressed-out state of mind, admonishing myself every time I missed a step, or I could just enjoy myself and have some fun while dancing around with some cool ladies for an hour.  Unsurprisingly, I chose the latter option 🙂

There was one woman in particular that stood out to me in the class.  She was tall, beautiful and incredibly thin, and picked the front row center spot in class, something I would never do.  For the first half of the class I assumed she was a Zumba veteran because of how well she moved, but then I started to realize she was as clueless as I was!  Her confidence, fearlessness and fun spirit were contagious, and by the end of the class we were high-fiving each other after finishing each song.  Who cares if her moves weren’t perfectly coordinated with the instructor?  Not me, and certainly not her.

All in all, I think I’d probably go back to Zumba again — I think even my uncoordinated behind could pick up the moves after a few classes.  Plus, I never shimmy the girls around when I’m on the boring treadmill!

Part 2: Girls night out!

After my workout I hopped on the downtown bus to meet my girlfriends for dinner.  A few college friends (both of whom I’ve known since high school, weirdly enough!) and I started a tradition about three years ago to have a monthly dinner out to chat, catch up on each other’s lives and laugh up a storm 🙂  It is one of the best parts of every month!

So, we met at the aforementioned Belgian restaurant for dinner around 8:30 and stayed until after 11, chatting about boys, relationships, famous Belgians (including Jean-Claude Van Damme, the “muscles from Brussels”), wedding planning, work, the blog, and more!  Last night we were 4 instead of 3 — T’s roommate through all four years of college joined us too — and it definitely was the more, the merrier!  Matt joined us once for dinner when we were at a restaurant in our neighborhood, but it wasn’t as fun; it is very hard to talk about someone when they are sitting right there! 😉

Having girlfriends to talk to/vent to is good for the soul.  As someone who grew up with lots more male friends than female friends (I was SUCH a tomboy growing up), I always felt like I was missing something by not having a group of girlfriends.  Now that we’re all in the crazy minefield of life known as the mid-twenties — jobs!  grad school!  relationships!  weddings!  babies! — it helps to know we’re not alone in the craziness.  Love you girls!

Part 3: “The girls”

When I was thinking about a girls’ night out post, I realized I haven’t talked that much about my job.  I work at a major cancer hospital in the breast cancer research service.  I spend most of my day abstracting (pulling out valuable data points) patient charts and entering data, and I find it really interesting.

I realized I would be a bad healthy lifestyle blogger, bad public health school graduate and bad cancer hospital employee if I didn’t talk a little bit about breast health and cancer prevention!  I’m sure I’ll come back to this topic plenty of times in the future, but I wanted to mention a few important things about breast health in your twenties and thirties:

  • Make sure to get a clinical breast exam (by your OB/GYN or primary care doctor) annually, and be sure to point out any areas of concern or strange symptoms you’ve noticed.
  • Also, make sure to get an annual pap smear; ovarian cancer tends to be asymptomatic (meaning, you don’t know you have it) until it becomes very advanced and much less treatable.  Primary prevention — engaging in healthy behaviors and health screenings to reduce the risk of disease — is key!
  • There’s been lots of talk in the news about the benefits (or lack thereof) of breast self-exams, especially for young women.  The most important thing I can recommend is to examine your breasts multiple times throughout the month, to feel what is normal for you at different points in your cycle.  Young women have really dense breasts that can feel very lumpy sometimes, but knowing what is normal for you (painful, swollen breasts right before menstruation, for example) will help you recognize what isn’t normal and may require medical attention.
  • If you have a history of breast and/or ovarian cancer in your family, make sure your doctors are aware of it, and talk to them about genetic screening and primary prevention.  It is recommended that women with a strong family history start annual screening mammograms and ultrasounds at age 25; in contrast, women without a family history start annual mammograms at 40.
  • Eating right, getting regular exercise and staying at a healthy weight reduces the risk for developing all cancers, especially breast.  The earlier you adopt a healthy lifestyle, the better!

Alright, I think that’s all from me for now!  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below or e-mail me at marathonkara@gmail.com — back later with today’s recap! 🙂