December 31, 2012

2012 in pictures

2012 wasn't what I expected, but as I've looked back on all my iPhone pics from this year, as all good bloggers do on New Year's Eve, I am filled with gratitude for the happiness that I've found. It started rough, but 2012 might just be my favorite year ever. 

I had to stop running for a {long} while for a slow-healing stress fracture.

I learned to embrace cross-training. And goggle eyes. 

I cheered my face off at the Bentonville Half.

And in a desperate attempt to fill my weekends that had previously been spent running and recovering, I found my inner decorator. {Photos before, during and after}

I traveled far and often.

I fell in love with the Windy City

Primarily, because of the pizza.

I hung out with the Lincolns

Found peace in the mountains,

Witnessed otherworldly wonders

And became mildly obsessed with moose.

I rediscovered my love for running 

And ran a 5K on Thanksgiving Day -- my only race of the year.

I learned how to paint at Painting with a Twist!

And I spent the most fun Christmas of my life skiing through a Bob Ross painting with my best friend. {Full story on that coming soon!}

2012 has been filled with adventure and new experiences, and I can't wait to see what 2013 holds. 

Happy New Year!

December 10, 2012

Music Monday

The vacation countdown has begun. In a few short weeks, I will embark upon my first ever ski trip, and my first trip to Colorado that is not a layover at the Denver airport! I am so excited, and I can think of nothing else but snow, fleece, boots and beanies. Because what's more important than accessorizing?

I'm choosing not to think about the skiing part. Not thinking at all about crashing into trees, tearing my ACL, breaking a {nother} bone or spending the day with snow down my pants. Nope, just not thinking about it. I'm sure skiing is cake. 

So it's just a fun coincidence that my favorite running tune lately is Snow Patrol's "Called Out in the Dark." I've loved this Irish voice for years, but a couple of their songs have put a {somewhat mellow} pep in my step. "Chocolate" is another good one for an easy run. On Saturday, I ran 4 miles -- my longest run post injury. My legs were burning, my ankles were tired, but I could've kept going at the end. This was a huge victory for me, and it feels so good to feel good on a run again!

When I'm not running, I have John Denver's Rocky Mountain High on a pretty much constant loop. I am so excited about this trip and have been obnoxiously focused on planning, but I'm starting to look a little farther down on the calendar for race planning too. A spring half marathon is calling my name, y'all.

December 6, 2012

Get out there

Alternately titled, A Pep Talk to Myself.

Many of you have been whining about running in the dark this winter (and by "many of you," I mean me). But it has to stop. Yes, it's cold and dark. Yes, you would rather go home and curl up with a glass of wine after a long day at work instead of strapping on a headlamp and freezing your nose off.

BUT, spring race season is just around the corner! Tank top season is also just around the corner! So here are the Top Five Reasons to Get Out There and run anyway.

1. Running in December is the best way to see Christmas lights! Who cares if you're a freak show with your headlamp, headband, earbuds, Garmin and phone (for safety) strapped to you.

2. For every mile you run, you're burning off a glass of eggnog (or vino), while your non-runner, non-headlamp-wearing friends are just packing on the holiday calories. They might think you're crazy now, but not so much when it's time to emerge from the parka in the spring.

3. Run with kleenex.

4. Number three isn't a reason, but just trust me on that one.

5. Did I mention Christmas lights?! Get in the habit of running in the dark now while there are sparkly distractions on every corner. Because it's really gonna suck in February.

Happy nighttime running!

November 23, 2012

I'm thankful for you

When my alarm went off yesterday for the Springdale Turkey Trot, my first post-injury 5K, I didn't want to go. Recovering from a stomach bug, busy with family and work, and pretty much dreading what seemed like the worst race course in the world -- out and backs on hills in the middle of cow pastures -- I was ready to hit snooze and forget the whole thing.

But then I thought of Jodi, a far-away cousin who says this little blog inspired her to start Couch to 5k. Like me, she was a self-proclaimed couch potato and running hater, and she's running her first race next weekend. And I thought of Chuck, a local Internet stranger turned friend who has sent me some of the nicest emails I've ever received in my life, telling me how my story gave him the confidence to run a half marathon. And I thought of Craig, my oldest friend, who called me a few weeks ago and said, "I just ran a trail race and it's all your fault. You make running sound all romantic, but this is hard!" And after blame was appropriately assigned, he started talking about his next race and dropping words like "half marathon."

I've said it before, runners are a special kind of people. We wave at each other on the road or give an understanding nod because we know each other's pain -- just like we know each other's joy when we do what we thought was impossible. We compete with each other, but never stop encouraging each other. I can't believe anyone would be inspired by my meager accomplishments and the kind words I've received from fellow runners, especially this year as I've struggled with injury, have inspired me more than you all could know.

So I got up and trotted myself a 5K, dragging along my favorite running buddy, and we crushed it. Trea and I finished in 31:42, only about 1:20 slower than my 5k PR. This is slow to a lot of folks, but I was just glad to finish. It was our longest run all year!

I had dreaded what I thought was an awful course, but the out and backs turned out to be really helpful in pushing through the pain. Even though we were on farm roads with nothing to see but cows, I was continually greeted by runners ahead of me or behind me, making their way to the turnaround. Even though I didn't know anyone, I was inspired to keep going. And at the second turnaround, I saw a tall stranger running toward me yelling, "Go Anna!" accompanied by a big smile and a high five. (My sincerest apologies to the girl who got smacked in the middle of that high five.) It was blog reader Chuck! We had only corresponded via email through the blog, and I knew he would be at the race, but I didn't expect to spot him in the crowd. He finished ahead of me and was at the finish line to cheer us on as we huffed and puffed to the end.

After we were finally formally introduced, he thanked me for writing about my story, and I felt so silly because I should thank HIM. Without accountability and encouraging words from folks like him, I might have given up a long time ago. So thank you, Chuck, Jodi, Craig and all my runner friends who haven't given up on me this year.

I'm humbled to know I've helped spread the running bug, but I can relate. I never thought I could run farther than a 5k until I read That Pink Girl, the Redhead and Chic Runner. Runnerds are an odd bunch, and I'm so thankful to be counted as one of them.

November 19, 2012

He's a crafty one

After you've been married for a while, you can feel like you know everything there is to know about someone. You've heard all their stories, you understand their quirks and you can almost finish their sentences. But occasionally, you learn something completely new and I learned this week that my husband's an artist! When did that happen?

I already knew he was a great cook...

And he's handy when I need a seam repaired...

But I had no idea he could paint!

When we were on vacation in Wyoming, we stopped in for dinner at a little restaurant in West Yellowstone. There was a painting of a blue buffalo behind the bar, and we both loved it. I snapped a picture of it with my phone, and Trea said he wanted to try to paint it sometime. I didn't think he would actually do it, and I had no expectations of how it would turn out. But last weekend, he painted a blue buffalo in one afternoon, and it looks almost exactly like the one from the restaurant!

So since he has discovered this new love of painting (and he's really good at it), I signed us up for date night at Painting with a Twist in Fayetteville. I haven't tried painting since 7th grade art class, and I fully expected our evening to be a total failure for me, but fun for Trea. It was kind of the opposite.

We were each supposed to paint one half of a nighttime city skyline on two canvases that can be displayed together. I did not have high hopes for us to actually pull this off, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I'm not completely terrible at painting! (When given specific, step-by-step instructions.)

This place is more like a painting party and less like a painting class. They try to ply you with wine the whole time so you don't feel like a loser when your painting looks like a 3rd grader did it, but this plan did not work on us. We were serious and focused the entire three hours -- so focused that Trea rinsed his brush in his wine glass. He was stressed out like I've never seen him before. He was exactly this much fun until his last brushstroke:

In his defense, his half of the painting was more challenging than mine, so he felt a lot more rushed to keep up with the class than I did. This was his workstation not even halfway through the evening:

Aaand this was mine:

Though things got a little tense along the way, it worked out in the end. We went home with some pretty darn good looking paintings!

Our bridge didn't quite turn out the same color, but other than that, we were pleased as punch with our little artistic endeavor. Now, who wants a painting for Christmas?

November 13, 2012

Music Monday

Tuesday? Eh, what are you gonna do.

9 days. That's all that's left between me and my first post-injury race. Training has been a little dicey lately, while I was convinced I had re-fractured my hip. Turns out I was just out of shape and going through typical return-to-running misery, so now there's nothing standing in the way of my first Turkey Trot.

As soon as I got clear scans and was released to run to my heart's content, I jumped right back on the running bandwagon. I'm not even complaining about running in the dark and the cold! Yet. Since taking a couple of weeks off while I waited to hear the verdict from the doc, I was worried I wouldn't be able to catch up with my plan enough to run a 5K. But I think I can! So far, my training runs have been great, and I've done a lot more than I thought I was capable of.

On Saturday, I ran a full 2 miles without stopping for a walk break! I haven't done that all year! {So many exclamation points in this post!} Proof that half of running truly is mental. After running for almost 6 hours, 20 minutes doesn't seem hard in my head, so my feet don't mind complying.
Hard not to be motivated to run with this view.
Another exciting thing I did Saturday was meet with a personal trainer. I've been afraid of the weight room at the gym for years, and with my injured leg still not back up to full strength, I decided to call in the big guns and make some changes. I want to get stronger and prevent another injury, but I also want to lose a little weight and gain some muscle definition. I'll be meeting with Gary at least twice a week, and I can't wait to see biceps instead of sausage arms!

As for the music that's getting me moving, my favorite running song these past few weeks is a little gem from the early '80s -- Quiet Riot's Cum on Feel the Noize. I don't care for their spelling, but I dig their sound. I am bursting with enthusiasm now that I am free to get healthy, and this cheesy hair band hard rock anthem is perfect for making me push myself a little harder.

October 25, 2012

Who's got two thumbs and healthy bones? This gal!

I'm just a hypochondriac.

Seriously, that was my ortho doc's official diagnosis. He said my MRI looked fantastic, no sign of a fracture, and the radiologist who compared it to my February MRI said it looks like my bones have calcified more. Yes, Viactiv and vitamin D3 (and 7-8 months of solid rest) are the winning combination! I should be at 100% now.

So why does my hip hurt? Maybe it's a result of stretching and working things that haven't been worked in a while. It definitely feels better since I haven't run in 10 days. But it's still achey and creaky and sore and stiff. The doctor suggested that I find an activity that doesn't hurt. Uh, thanks.

I think I'm going to continue my couch to 5K plan because you pretty much can't get any easier than that when it comes to running. But I'm going to try to make myself be OK with taking unplanned rest days instead of sticking to a training plan religiously. Maybe I need more than a day or two to recover from a run. Maybe I should be doing more swimming and elliptical training to give my joints a break. {No pun intended, of course.}

I've decided that next week, I'm going to get a personal trainer who can show me some strength training exercises and stretches that I can do. I've thought about this for a while and never done it because I'm always too busy, too scared of the gym, or whatever, but it's well past time to get serious about strength training. I have asked my doc about physical therapy, and he doesn't think it's necessary. But my right leg atrophied surprisingly fast while I was on crutches, and it's not back to normal. My calves are different sizes, which is painfully obvious when I wear capri pants. {My pants get hitched up on my healthy runners calf, but slide easily over my puny right calf, so my pant legs always look different lengths!}

So I need to rehab my weak leg, but I also need to build strength all over, just to make me a better runner and to prevent injury from happening again. Maybe by the time it's tank top season again (and hopefully that won't be next week), I'll have biceps!

What do you do to stay strong and prevent injury? 

October 22, 2012

That Old Familiar (Injured) Feeling

My hip hurts. Again.

My couch to 5K plan went great for a few weeks, but lately, I've had pain in my hip, and not the getting-back-in-shape, good-for-you kind of pain. It feels like it did back in the winter before I found out I had a stress fracture.

I'll be the first to admit that I was totally paranoid about every little twinge after I stopped using my crutches, but after several months of taking it {probably a bit too} easy, I was feeling like my old self. The pain was gone, and all that was left was some muscle weakness that I'm still working through. Running was fantastic, and I felt pretty confident that I was OK. So about two weeks ago, I started focusing more on strength training and stretching because my right leg is still so much weaker than my left, and both my legs are insanely tight from sitting around all year. I've done lunges with no problem for the last couple of months, but after spending a few minutes in warrior II pose, my hip started aching all the time and even waking me up at night. I wouldn't think one yoga workout would cause damage, but something definitely changed, and I'm worried I've reinjured myself. I blame Jillian's Yoga Meltdown.

I've backed off my running regimen, which was already super easy, and am just biking and elliptical-ing. I saw my ortho doc last week, and he did new x-rays and ordered an MRI and a new bone density test to see if I'm making any progress with my old lady osteopenia. My x-rays were beautiful and he said my hip looked strong and there was no indication of a fracture. Yay! But it still hurts.

So I spent the afternoon here, napping in an MRI tube.

This one didn't require an arthrogram, thank goodness, so I was able to snooze right through all the clanging around. I go back to my doc on Thursday, and we'll find out the results. Until then, I'm just a big ball of stress and grumpiness. Maybe I'll have to stop running, which makes me feel fat and left out of all that is fun in the world. Maybe I'll end up on crutches again, which might make Trea want to move to a hotel. Regardless, it looks like my Turkey Trot dreams might be shattered since I'm already falling behind on my training plan.

My hope is that the tests will be normal and I can get back into my pretty pink Brooks by the weekend. But my achey hip is doubtful.

And for your Music Monday listening pleasure, I've had Benjamin Gibbard's new album, Former Lives, on repeat since it came out Tuesday. It's not running music, but it matches my mellow mood. And it's Ben Gibbard, who can record no wrong and is simply amazing. "Lily" is my favorite.

October 15, 2012

Music Monday

Fall is finally, truly here! It seems that just overnight, leaves have started turning vivid hues and my favorite running trails have been transformed into beautiful canopies of color. I'm starting week 5 of couch to 5K, and although my breath is labored and my steps are heavy, I love every second of being outside. I know gray, cold days are just around the corner, so I'm trying to soak up as much as I can of this mild, pretty weather.

Autumn path

What else is getting my feet moving? Music, duh. This week my fave is The First Single by The Format. It's not new, but it's new to me. And hand claps! Need I say more? Check it out. (This video isn't exactly a video, but it's the best I could do because copyrights are no fun.)

The Format - The First Single (You Know Me) from sara amato on Vimeo.

October 8, 2012

Music Monday

Some days I love running, and some days it takes all my willpower to lace up my pretty pink shoes. But one thing is constant -- the right song can motivate me when I'm feeling lazy tired and get my feet moving.

This is the first of what I hope becomes a weekly series as I challenge myself to find a new song every week to add to my running playlist. I'll warn you that I usually don't have mainstream music taste, and my playlist picks might seem odd to some. I pride myself on not being able to identify one single song by Ke$ha, and I'm even questioning whether I can even make myself publish this post using a dollar symbol to spell a word. I'm a 90s kid through and through, and I was raised on Southern classic rock. I'm addicted to AltNation, and if I like anything that happens to be on a Top 40 list, it's because I heard it a year ago on NPR way before you ever considered thinking it was cool. 

And at the same time, I'll admit I like some lame-o songs. I may be a snob when it comes to bubble gum pop and the Top 40, but I'm also a sucker for folk. Luckily for you though, folk singers rarely rock a beat I can run to. 

So be prepared; my workout tunes can be a bit different. I give bonus points to songs that include whistling and/or hand claps. Extra bonus points for trumpets. But today's pick is pretty obvious, and it's what's motivating me to get out the door right now. I'm loving Marathon Runner by Yellow Ostrich (though I couldn't be more confused by this video). 

What songs are getting your feet moving this week? 

October 2, 2012

Starting Over

When I started my vacation series of posts, I casually mentioned that I signed up for a 5K. But this is actually a really big deal. Because of this and this. It's been a long year, y'all, but I think I'm finally ready to get serious about a training plan again.

I remember when I first started running in 2010 and how every single run felt difficult. I struggled almost every time I went out, and by the last run/walk interval, I always thought I was going to die. I've been dreading all year that starting-over feeling. But my return to running really is not the same as starting from the beginning at all. My muscles do burn, and my breathing is labored and loud, but my body remembers what it's supposed to do.

I am still a runner.

I love being back in a workout routine. Yes, I could've been in a routine a couple of months ago with biking and swimming, but there's just something about training for a race, having a plan and working toward a goal that has a deadline and a climax. Finding time for exercise is hard for me, but if it's for a race, I'll do it. I even stuck with the plan during work travel and ran by the bay in San Francisco!

Race day is Thanksgiving Day, and I have about 8 weeks to whip myself into shape. So far, things are going really well. Trea is on board and training with me every step of the way, and it's so good to be back out on the road with my best running buddy. I'm following this training plan, and it's proven to be a little bit too easy at times, which is a fantastic feeling.

Click the photo to enlarge
I started at week two, and I only ran week two's workouts twice before moving up to week three, which is where I am now. Week three calls for 1:30 running, 1:30 walk, 3:00 running and 3:00 walk, repeated twice. After Trea and I finished that workout the other day for the first time, it didn't feel like we had done nearly enough, so we tacked on another 3:00 run -- uphill. And it felt great.

I know I'm not going to PR this little 5K, and I'll just be happy to finish. But I am beside myself with anticipation thinking about picking up my race packet, getting up early, pinning on my race bib and lining up beside my fellow runnerds. I can't wait!

September 24, 2012

Wild West Part 3: Yellowstone

The last half of our trip was in Yellowstone Park. The Tetons are beautiful, but Yellowstone is otherworldly. Some of the things we saw were so weird, it truly seemed like we should've been on another planet. I think we pulled over to see a waterfall every five minutes.

You know the scenery has reached a ridiculous level of gorgeous when you have conversations like this:
Trea: Do you want to stop and see what everyone's looking at?
Me: Nah, it's just another waterfall.

We never got tired of the geysers and hot springs though. We walked around the boardwalks in West Thumb and the Old Faithful area geyser basins, and I took about a zillion pictures because everything we saw was so crazy.

We went to see Old Faithful, got a seat right in front and only had to wait about 10 minutes for the show. In the distance, we could see other geysers, much larger than Old Faithful, erupting like crazy. Castle Geyser spewed for probably over an hour. We lucked out with all the action! Catching rainbows in the steamy mist was the best part.

Castle Geyser

We spent one entire day driving the north loop of Yellowstone and got to see Mammoth Hot Springs and Lower Falls. Mammoth Hot Springs were insane, but most of the springs were actually dry while we were there -- not like the pictures you see in travel books. 

Elk have completely taken over Mammoth Village. They were literally strolling all over town, grazing in front yards and peeking in windows. 

Being in Yellowstone was so remote, and it was nice to completely unplug and get away. We hardly ever had cell service, and it was tough to plan meals around the few restaurants in the park because we never knew how long it would take to get somewhere. So we had picnics! (And yes, all I could think about was pic-a-nic baskets in Jellystone Park.) It never occurred to me how rarely we share a meal without the TV on, a cell phone in hand or some other distraction. This was the time we truly stopped each day to enjoy where we were. 

While there were waterfalls around every corner, none was so beautiful as Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We went to Artist Point to see it from the vantage point of Thomas Moran, but I thought our hike to Red Rock Point brought the best views. It was a STEEP, hard climb back up, but it was more than worth it. 

See the little tiny specks on the ledge at the top right of the waterfall? Those are people! This thing is enormous.
Lower Falls from Artist Point
On our last day, we went for a 5 mile hike on Fairy Falls trail. Fairy Falls were also pretty, but the best part of this hike was scrambling to the top of a VERY steep hill to get a bird's eye view of Grand Prismatic Spring. Wow.

There is no better reward at the end of a hike than to be greeted by a waterfall. 

Fairy Falls
We saw just a fraction of Yellowstone, and we can't wait to go back for more. Hopefully, we'll be able to stay at the same bed & breakfast again -- A River Runs By It Lodge in Island Park, Idaho.

It's owned by a sweet couple, Tom and Judy, and they took such good care of us. The views from the lodge are gorgeous, and breakfast each morning was amazing. We loved waking up to the sunrise over the river. 

And after three days in our mountain paradise, we headed back to Salt Lake for home. 

September 18, 2012

Wild West Adventures: Part 2

Our most fun day in Jackson Hole was Trea's birthday. We got up early and headed into Grand Teton National Park for a three-hour scenic float trip down the Snake River. We didn't expect that driving to the river would be half the fun, but on the way, we spotted a black bear up in a tree having a snack (which I didn't get a good photo of) and we saw a mama and baby moose!

They were so pretty, trotting in the early morning sunshine. This is my favorite shot -- a moose silhouette through the aspens.

The weather there was chilly in the morning and warm in the afternoon, so we were bundled up for our river ride.

The views were unbelievable. (Have I mentioned Wyoming is pretty?) Some of my favorite memories from our trip are ones that were so gorgeous that I couldn't pick up my camera to snap a photo because I was too taken aback by the perfection of it all. When we were drifting down the river under a clear blue sky, aiming directly at the highest Teton peak and a bald eagle took flight very close to us and soared down the river in front of the mountains, everyone in the boat sighed quietly, "Wow..." Trea said, "Take a picture!" But I was too busy just taking it all in.

Later, we drove down Teton Park Road -- a winding highway through the park that brings you about as close as you can get by car to the Tetons. I wish I had a dollar for every time we said, "Wow, look at that!"

We had lunch at Jenny Lake Lodge, and this is the ultimate destination for us to stay someday. The lodge is surrounded by little cabins, and you're about a stone's throw away from the Tetons. This place is peaceful and remote, and the views are so lovely that you feel like you should whisper... maybe so you don't break the spell or disturb the perfection. I don't know why, but as we walked the grounds of the lodge while we waited for our reservation time, I noticed we were not using our outside voices, even though I have never felt more outside.

We got a table for two right by the window looking out onto the mountains. It took us forever to order because we couldn't stop staring outside.

I couldn't capture the whole scene because of the lighting and window screen and I'm not a photographer, but it looked pretty much like this.

Borrowed from the kind folks at Jenny Lake Lodge
After a delicious lunch, we of course had to see Jenny Lake. Man, it does not disappoint. I cannot wait to go back so we can hike here! We didn't have time for the famous Jenny Lake waterfall hike on this trip, but we definitely will next time.

We headed back to Teton Village, and just about every time we drove anywhere, we saw bison. Lots of them! They were so fun to watch.

Next, we rode the (free!) Bridger Gondola up Rendezvous Mountain for happy hour on The Deck. It's more than 9,000 feet up, and the ride was as much fun as the destination. At one point, I looked down below us and saw a moose on the side of the mountain!

We were some of the first to arrive when The Deck opened, so we got a table right on the edge of the cliff. So. Gorgeous.

For dinner, we ate at Couloir, a fabulous restaurant above The Deck. We had some fantastic food and got to keep admiring the view until the sun went down.

Next stop -- Yellowstone!


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