Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reality check: Original plan not working

The idea came from a positive, well-intentioned place. I’ve always been the type of person who acts on impulse, who really hates to have to monitor anything too closely — my checkbook, the calories I’m consuming, whether I’m due for an oil change ... you know, all the important things that require monitoring?
So, after a year last year of writing down everything I ate and analyzing it, I was looking for a simpler way to live that would promote a healthy heart, a healthy weight and support my running habit.
I had been running since the beginning of February, and really just concentrating on that and not worrying about how I ate. I started to think the way I have advised NUMEROUS readers not to: “Well, if I’m exercising this rigorously, then I needn’t worry about having two hamburgers instead of just one.”
I re-learned a couple of months in that is just foolish. I had to remind myself that a half-hour run burns a little more than 400 calories. A second burger? Wipes out the deficit. So as I’m snacking away in addition, even on healthy foods likes nuts and fruits, the weight started to come back on.
That’s when “My Just Do It Summer” was born. I still didn’t want to have to go back to writing down every calorie. I mean, it sucks to live that way! It really does! Right? So I decided to give the all-natural food eating a try.
Pretty much everyone I know who invests in the organic, all-natural lifestyle looks healthy and amazing. So I figured that the food would be better fuel for my running and make me feel better. And when you’re eating whole grains, doesn’t every commercial also let you know that you’ll lose weight?
Didn’t work. And so like almost every good theory that has been tested, adjustments have had to be made.
I’ve laid out some of my results so far, and at the end, I’ve included a few changes that I’ve already incorporated and results I’ve seen from that. Hopefully, the new path — albeit an annoying one — will have better end results.

Many people think of a natural food diet as consisting of whole grains, proteins, fruits and veggies and other healthy stuff. And it does! It also allows for full-fat cheeses, butter, olive oil and fatty meats, among other things, and it doesn’t account at all for portion sizes.
What I was eating always looked so healthy. Before I didn’t usually eat breakfast, but I was frequently having a couple of slices of whole grain toast with strawberry jam and maybe some butter. Right there, that was 360 calories. You have a couple of eggs with that? It’s 480.
An 80/20 burger on a whole grain bun with cheddar cheese and sweet potato fries? 650 calories.
Nuts for a snack in the afternoon? 250 calories.
That’s up to 1,380 calories all before dinner.
Long story short, I wasn’t losing weight. I wasn’t gaining much, but even a little bit is a concern when you’ve worked so hard to lose it.

A number of variables contributed to the fact that running while eating “natural” hasn’t been any easier than when I didn’t worry as much about sugar, white flour and preservatives (etc.).
For one, as I mentioned above, I was putting on weight rather than taking it off. I have mentioned numerous times that running isn’t about fatness, it’s about conditioning. And that’s very much true. Unless you are significantly overweight or have injuries, pretty much anyone can run. You just have to build stamina.
But running is so much easier when you’re slimmer. There’s less impact on the knees and hips and your legs don’t fatigue so easily. So the added energy I may have had from my healthier diet was offset by the weight.
Plus (and I hadn’t considered this variable), the weather has been problematic. I’m heat-sensitive, anyway, so with an early humid summer setting in, I’m finding it increasingly difficult and rare to have “a good run,” meaning one where you feel like you could keep going and going. In fact, I’ve decreased mileage, and I haven’t been going more than three times a week.
It’s also possible that the kinds of calories you consume — whether quality or empty — don’t have an impact on energy when it comes to running. Natural foods may well be making my body happier — meaning organ function, cholesterol, etc. — but it’s possible a person doesn’t consciously feel the affects of that in regard to exercise and everyday activity.
Like I said, this diet was an experiment to see if those side effects would occur. I didn’t say I believed they would or would not. And all I’m saying now is that I haven’t noticed a change.

What I was most surprised by was the array of food choices. I worried there wouldn’t be enough to choose from and that label-reading would be a huge drag.
But natural foods are everywhere. There are plenty of bread choices in every story — even whole grain hot-dog buns! Easy to prepare canned veggies often work. You can find soups, salads, sandwiches, meats, cheeses, pastas, grains — pretty much anything you’re craving, except for many snacky items, can be found in a natural, non-preservative form.
So I have no complaints about variety.

Given the weight increase, I needed to incorporate calorie-restriction back into the program. I had to start monitoring portions and choosing not only natural foods, but lean ones.
So even though an 80-20 burger is allowed, I go for the 93/7. Even though French toast can be on the menu, I use berries instead of syrup and only take one piece.
I’ve signed back onto, and since June 1st I’ve been keeping track of everything once again. I’m still opting for natural foods whenever possible, because I do think that less processed foods are better for the body, even if I can’t feel the effects.
I’ve also cut out beverages that are highly caloric, such as fruit juices. They’re obviously very good for a person, but it’s excess calories I don’t need.
I’ve also brought back diet pop. I know that’s a no-no with a natural diet, but when counting calories, it feels like a “treat” (which is so sad.) My whole family actually loves to go get “fountain pops” from Kwik Trip. That’s our idea of a fun morning errand. Haha.

Weight loss. In 20 days, I’ve already dropped a few pounds. I’ve noticed that it already feels better on the legs when running.
But I also noticed, due to the smaller number of calories being consumed, that I’m really lacking energy some days. It’s hard to run without those energy stores. So I’ve been trying hard to strike a balance, but it seems like one helpful diet element provides a negative in some other way. I’m struggling, to be honest, to decide what’s more important and what adjustments to make.

So I’m continuing with the new plan to make good food choices but also to keep track of the calories. It’s just how it has to be, even though I wish it wasn’t.
I’m reminded of what my personal trainer told me the first couple of weeks we worked together in January 2011. I was shocked when she said that even she will always have to write down what she eats because being thin and healthy doesn’t come easily or naturally to her either.
I need to remember that.
I’m also going to keep opting for good, quality foods whenever possible. And I’m going to keep posting recipes for those foods at
Hopefully I’ll have better results with this new approach. I’ll be sure and tell you all about it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I concede: The backyard pool was a great idea

I was the final holdout. Discussion had been going on for days: my sister wanted a backyard pool. She wanted one bad. And her landlord probably would not let her plop one down in the middle of the yard. So she turned to me.

Five years ago I made the impulsive decision to put up a 10-footer in the backyard. It was glorious! ...for a couple of weeks. Then it got dirty. The cover didn't stay on very well, and bugs and debris found their way in. It felt like I was cleaning it all the time. We also got bored with it. So after probably 10 uses, I sold it on Craigslist for about what I paid for it. Maybe a little less. But it became the example all of my friends and family and pulled out over the years to question my judgment. "Remember the pool, Amanda? Remember how you were so sure that was a good idea? Well, this is just like that pool, Amanda."

I didn't want a repeater of that 10-footer. So I kept saying no. No pool. I put my foot down.

Then there was an ad in Aldi's circular a couple of weeks ago for a $22 rectangular pool that was about 18 inches deep and 8 feet across. Perfect! We each could take an end to lay in, maybe put a little table in the center for our drinks. Perfection.

I proposed this to Tina (my sis) and after many attempts to up the ante to a larger, deeper pool, she agreed on the compromise.

Trouble was, Aldi sold out. Tina used this to open up negotiations again. And she finally convinced me that, if she were to pay for the entire pool, then I was merely allowing her a few feet of space to use in my backyard. No skin off my back, right?

The first pool she bought was too small. I was shocked she even bought it. We couldn't even sit in a pool that size together. So she took it back and got a 10-foot pool that was waist high. But after we measured, we found that it wouldn't fit well in the level spot in the yard. So, as the tail of "The Three Bears" goes, the third pool she bought was JUUUUST right. An 8-foot circular pool, comes to about mid-thigh in depth. The perfect size to fit four people sitting without floaty chairs, but could fit really only one person with a floaty. Tina didn't think this was particularly ideal, but I'm thinking it's just about perfect. Plus, it filled up relatively quickly, so I'm not panicked about my water bill.

Now, granted, I've only gone "swimming" in it twice. But I must say ... Tina was right about this one. We needed a backyard pool this year. Floating around in that thing is heaven on Earth. About the only thing that got me through this morning's miserable, humid run was knowing I could splash around in the pool when I got home. Aside from a nasty sunburn, I have no complaints so far.

Of course, having been up for about four days, it's still a clean pool. Hopefully, we'll keep it that way. Or you might see a listing on Craigslist for an 8-foot pool complete with filter and chlorine cartridge -- and we'll even throw in the floaties!! -- soon enough.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The plight of the heat-sensitive runner

There's a scene in "Interview with the Vampire" when a little female vampire, played by a very young Kirsten Dunst, and another lady vampire are locked in a prison cell with an open roof, embracing each other and screaming as the sun slowly rises and burns them alive. This is pretty much an accurate portrait of my sister and I in summer.

I blame my mom. When she was 20 and six months preggers with me, she went on a road trip to Florida with my dad where she got the worst sunburn of her life. My theory is that I got cooked in her tummy like a little baked potato, rendering me utterly defenseless against a hot and humid summer day.

One side effect of my heat-sensitivity is fainting. Yep, folks, I am a fainter. How cool am I ...
Three of the most embarrassing examples:
1. Fourth grade. No air conditioning in the building. Muggy. Girls bathroom stall, flanked by two peers in adjoining stalls and 10 others waiting in line for their turn. As I locked the stall, I knew it was coming on. The window started to close. (I have two varieties of fainting: the instant total blackout; and "the window," when my vision goes black around the periphery, slowing closing until I pass out.) I hit the floor, my legs sticking under the stall door into my friend Donna's personal space. I wake up to my teacher outside the door. "Amanda? Are you all right?" Thank god my pants were still on.

2. Balcony. Catholic Church. Fifth grade. Uncomfortable dress. No air conditioning. Ceiling fans slowly -- very slowly -- turning far, far above. Stuffy. People singing hymns all around. The window started to close. As I leaned forward into my mom's hymnal, she said, "Amanda!" sort of in disbelief, but also concern. Her tone somehow snapped me out of it. Didn't faint. But people were staring. Got me out of communion, though.

3. Boyfriend's house. Hot as hell in his basement room. Like, 85 degrees. I get up to use the bathroom, which for some reason was about 15 degrees cooler. The temperature difference hit my overheated head like a hammer. No window. Just a blackout. The next thing I remember is my boyfriend knocking at the door asking if I was OK. "That was quite a crash," he said. I came to laying halfway inside the shower stall, a goose egg on my head and a black bruise beginning to form on my knee.

Long story short, folks, I shut down in heat. I feel like I can't breathe. I whine a lot. Even walking from the car to an air-conditioned building feels completely oppressive. Feels like it takes a million years to get to the door.

Which brings us to this morning. 72 degrees at 7:30 a.m. Sun barely rising above the trees. But the humidity was 60 percent. Dewpoint 57 degrees. Beyond my threshold. Just BEYOND it.

But, I thought, if I can't get a run in at 7:30 in the morning, then when can I? When will it be any cooler than this? So I had to go.

I felt like I was wearing a suit of armor. I couldn't breathe good. After 10 minutes I was walking. Then at 15 minutes, I walked again. Then at 20, more walking. It was a horrid 37 minutes.

After a cool shower, I didn't quite get "the window," but there were some black speckles in my vision. And now I have my "heat headache." It's a dull ache in my forehead after I've been "exposed" to the summer elements that are beyond my coping ability.

So, I ask you, what is a heat-sensitive runner to do in summer? It's only June 8! What will happen to me in August? I'm still a toddler runner. I've only been running four months, and that streak has been broken up by a knee injury and an illness, both of which had me benched for a couple of weeks apiece. I'm still learning. Even on cool days, I'm new enough that it's a toss up whether the run will go well or not. So needless to say, the added weather variable is messing with my head.

Any other runners out there who wither in sunlight? What do you folks do in summer? I'm wondering if I will just have to accept a running/walking regiment for the bulk of the season.

1. Renting an air-conditioned space suit.
2. Renting an oxygen tank, like for scuba diving, and dragging it along behind me in a red wagon.
3. Winning the lottery and building a massive indoor track with walls that change scenery.

Other ideas?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Things my dog thinks when she runs

... a sequel to what I think about when I run.

After the last disaster of a run when I brought my dog along with me, I said, "Never again!" But as with most mistakes I've made in my life, I forget the consequences and am ever doomed to repeat them.

After "Sunday Morning" and three cups of coffee, I was ready to go. So was Squishy, it seemed. So we headed off into the humid, sunless morning along my normal route to Tourtellotte.

Here is the progression of my dog's thought pattern there and back. (As far as I can tell, anyway. I don't speak dog.)

Minute 2: Jeez, my owner is really slow. I'd better pull her along so she feels like she's actually accomplishing something. Lazy human.

Minute 5: Squirrel! (Owner yanked onto a lawn, trying to stay on her feet and correct my course.)

Minute 6: Hang on a minute. I want to sniff this tree, for like, 30 seconds. ... Hey, quit pulling my leash! I'll be done when I'm done!

Minute 7: This looks like a good place to do my bidness. ... Oh, well gee, I'm so sorry you had to stop jogging at your very slow pace, owner, so that I can relieve myself. It's the least you can do, considering I've been doing more than half the work this whole time. ... Now pick it up and carry it with you. You don't want these homeowners to think I'm THAT kind of dog, do you?

Minutes 10, 10.5, 11 and 11.5: Woah, these are new trees. I've never sniffed these trees. These would be excellent trees to mark. Whoever this St. Bernard, chow and ... dalmation! Wow, a dalmation! ... Anyway, whoever they are, if they come back, they should know that these are my trees now.

Minute 12: Squirrel! (See the minute 5 parenthetical.)

Minute 14: Squirrel! (Above.)

Minute 17: Well, I mean, I guess she's not that slow. Why does she still want to run? Where is she running to? Walks are so much more pleasant. Stupid human.

Minute 22: Is that rain? Are we pretty far from home and it's raining? This tree would be a good place to hide under and refuse to move from.

Minute 25: Well I never! Reducing my leash lead to, what, two feet? Is she really going to drag me all the way home? In the rain?

Minute 30: I'm tired. I'm tired. I'm tired. It's raining. I'm tired.

Minute 33: Did she really just call me that? Is she really that irritated when I'm the one suffering here?

Minute 35: Oh, home. Thank god. Water. Water. Water. ... At least she's learned her lesson. I'm sure tomorrow morning, when she puts on those pink running shoes, we'll just go for a walk. That must be what she meant when she said, "You are the absolute worst, and I will never, ever take you running again. Ruiner of fitness! Selfish, lazy dog! THE WORST!"
But then, I don't speak human.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A dog injured, an owner hit by the karma train

There is something in me that always wants to do what I'm not supposed to. Someone gives me good advice, backed up with fact and reason, and I listen. I really do. But then ... a little voice comes into my head and says, "Well ... I meeeeaaan ... what harm could it really do if ... ."

My Squishers developed an unknown injury on Thursday or Friday. She whimpered intermittently throughout the day, and that's not like her. She smiles all the time. She plays. She cavorts. So this concerned me. After studying her a while, I noticed it was attached to certain movements. Standing up from a laying-down position and climbing stairs. She made it up two stairs, froze there and cried. I had to lift her 80-pound tush -- somehow gingerly -- and place her gently on the floor.

I got into the vet on Saturday morning. Dr. Adams is a very nice man at Mn Valley Pet Hospital. But I found it to be a terrible sense of deja vu. A little more than a year ago, I had seen Dr. Adams repeatedly for a similar situation with my elderly dog. He had been crying out at random, and after multiple tests and multiple hundreds of dollars, we were no closer to finding the source of his pain. So I had to put him down. The guilt was pretty tough. Some days, it still is. I wonder if I did enough to find out what was wrong.

On Saturday, we arrived at the decision that Squishers had some sort of back or neck injury. Could be anything. A pinched nerve was likely, Dr. Adams said. Still, I insisted on x-rays. If the bubs had a broken back, I wasn't about to let her suffer longer if I could help it. X-rays were clean. And Dr. Adams sent us home with pain pills and orders to keep the Squish quiet, off of stairs, and to keep from walking her for a week.

That was the plan. The trouble is, by Sunday night, The Fat seemed to be back to her old self in certain ways. Perky. Ready to play. And darn ready to walk. She loves walks. By Monday, she was jumping on furniture again. And by Monday night, she was BEGGING to be taken outside. There were squirrels. There were rabbits. There was a whole world out there, and I was the gate keeper.

After a 10-hour day at work trying my very hardest to learn the new Multiple Measurements Rating for student testing assessment, I needed to run. And here was this poor, sad, deprived dog who desperately wanted the same.

So we ran.

I bet you think you know where this story is going -- to a sad, dark place where Squishers' injury is made worse by a mom who can't say no, who defies the doctor's orders and pays the price for it. Not quite. The karma of my refusal to ever listen to good advice came back to me in a different way.

The Squish did pretty well with running. For a solid 15 minutes, she ran at a clip for me. Then she slowed. Then she had to sniff everything in sight. And then, when we were furthest from home, she started getting ... ill.

My terrible, misbehaved dog has a way of waiting until you leave a room and then quietly -- with the finesse and speed of a jungle cat -- she eats whatever you have out in the open. At lunchtime yesterday, that happened to be a $9 tub of feta cheese.

Dead smack on the front lawn of seemingly EVERY HOUSE that separated us from home last night, the Squishers left 50 cents worth of that feta, until it was all spent.

A good dog owner brings one plastic bag with her on a walk or run with her dog. She does not bring 18 of them.

Maybe next time I will listen to good advice. ...maybe.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A major running milestone is within my grasp

I've been running since the end of January. A couple of weeks after I started, I was benched with a knee injury, but I would say, all in all, I'd been running a solid six weeks before I signed up for My Daily Mile.

What I love most about Daily Mile is the little widget that tracks my total miles. I always glance over and say, "What!? I've run 50 miles! That's like running to Fairmont!"

Well, I happened to glance over there yesterday, and I saw that I am within close reach of the 100-mile marker!!! Now, like I said, I've surpassed 100 miles. I'd been running long enough before Daily Mile to probably be at 150 miles by now. But, you see, I didn't have the little widget as a trophy before. So I'm allowing myself to celebrate this little milestone.

So, tomorrow night, when I hit the streets, I'm going for the four miles I need to make it to exactly 100 miles. I'm going to potentially give myself till Saturday, though, because it's so frickin' humid. I don't want to die of heatstroke before I make it to the big one-hundo. Unless, of course, anyone knows where one can run four miles completely downhill in this town. Then I'd make it for sure.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Just Do It Summer welcomes an exciting collaborator

You've almost definitely heard the name Nicole Helget. She's a North Mankato author of a memoir, "The Summer of Ordinary Ways," published by Borealis Books, and her debut novel, "The Turtle Catcher," published by Houghton Mifflin. She and her husband, Nate LeBoutillier, just recently published a young-adult novel, "Horse Camp," via Egmont USA.

Nicole is also a teacher, a mother of six -- yes, count them, SIX -- children. She manages to find time to run marathons and also feed her kids healthy food.

Ages ago, she worked for a little while at The Free Press. And we have been chummy ever since. She was a total peach during my "Fight to be Fit," and she's been so supportive since I began running, too. When she read my first post of "My Just Do It Summer," the real food campaign resonated with her. She, too, has been working hard at providing her family with healthy, "real" food.

So, she thought -- and then, of course, I thought immediately after she thought -- why not make "My Just Do It Summer" a collaborative space where we both post amazing recipes and pictures, along with my running stuff. Why not, indeed.

So that's the plan, folks. This summer, both she and I will provide you with delicious recipes, photos of delicious foods, and commentary on living life more healthfully, or at least making our best attempt at it.

I hope you enjoy, and I hope you will email me with any recipe suggestions you have, too, at In addition, Nicole has a wonderful blog where she posts quite frequently at

Nicole's first post, a delicious recipe for fish tacos, is up on My Just Do It Summer.

A cancer-phobic's indictment of the health care industry

The high cost and limited payoff of health care insurance is nothing new. But I think it helps to share stories of our own struggles in the hopes that somebody with the power to fix it out there is listening. So I'm about to offer my own, personal, embarrassing indictment of the health care system.

The first thing you need to know about me is that I am a cancer-phobic. Step back! you say. Aren't we all? Yes, of course. But I take it to a whole new level. My grandfather died of lung cancer when I was 8, and since then I've only had acquaintances who have battled the terrible disease, so I'm honestly not sure what implanted this debilitating seed in my psyche. But since my early 20s, there has not been a single day when I wasn't sure I had some variety of cancer. It seems to travel in my body, too. Like when I was 25, I was convinced I had a tumor in my left shoulder. I didn't have health insurance, so I went to Open Door, and a lovely doctor indulged my fears and did a chest x-ray. It, of course, came up clean. And I later realized the pain I had been feeling in the front of my left shoulder was from holding my hard, plastic phone receiver between my head and shoulder for hours a day.

This is a good time to pause and say that I'm not proud of this neurosis of mine.

Anyway, about two years ago, I started to get a twinge in my back, between my spine and my right shoulder blade. It began as a little pinch. And I couldn't tie it to any event. Did something tear when my dog lunged for a squirrel on a walk? Not sure. I can't remember injuring it.

Several months later, I went to the doctor. The pain had increased to be a constant dull ache throughout the day. I was told that it was muscular, and I should take Ibuprofin.

About a year later, the pain had become like a bruise. I liken it to feeling like someone had punched me in the back. And at night, especially, it throbs and aches. Clearly, there must be something physically going on in there that isn't healing, I though. So I went to the doctor again.

I was told the problem was muscular by a doctor who didn't even look at my back. And I was offered muscle relaxers. I went home, still dealing with the same problem I had been dealing with for 18 months.

A week later, I decided I wasn't satisfied with this response. I HATE calling a clinic or hospital because you leave messages, and you're asked what you're calling about by nurses and others, and how could I put all of the above onto a post-it note message for my doctor? Then it takes days to get a call back. So I like to write letters.

I wrote to my doctor that after 18 months of pain, I felt I deserved a scan of some sort to get a look at the area, just to make sure it wasn't serious. To my surprise, she ordered the MRI for the very next day.

The trouble came when I called my insurance company. I have a $750 deductible, and then, after that, the insurance would cover 80 percent of the cost. That means, for one scan of my back, I would pay about $1,000 out of pocket.

I do not have $1,000. I don't even have $100 extra per month to make payments to the clinic. So, basically, my peace of mind was about to literally bankrupt me. What if nothing came up on the scan? $1,000 down the drain. What if something did come up? How much more would I have to pay for whatever was wrong?

I decided I couldn't afford it. So for the past few months since that visit, I've continued to live with the upper back pain, which is constant.

The other even more debilitating side to this -- even though I fully know that this is my neurosis talking -- is that every single night, without fail, I wake up in the middle of the night, and I ABSOLUTELY CONVINCE MYSELF that it's cancer. Everyone I know tells me how stupid that sounds. And I know it does. But it's truth in my mind. I can't explain it. During that early morning hour, I'm so convinced that the throbbing in my back is a tumor that I'm near tears. It's some sort of mental illness, like OCD of some sort.

So it's not just that $1,000 is standing in the way of fixing whatever tear or whatever the back pain might actually be. But it's also causing loss of sleep and shear panic every single night.

I'd go see a counselor about this weird cancer-phobic OCD thing of mine, but my insurance doesn't cover those visits.

So I find myself without many choices here. And I often wonder how things would be different if I lived in Canada or Norway or somewhere. I probably would have waited a good, long time to schedule the MRI, but I bet it would have been done, for free, within a couple of months of me complaining of this back pain.

Anyway, this problem pales in comparison to the terrible health issues so many people are dealing with -- issues that have bankrupted their families as they're dealing with them. But if we all share our stories, maybe someone who can help will eventually listen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Just Do It Summer and new blog kickoff

Twice last week I did interviews with people who said mid-conversation, "You know, I followed you through your entire 'Fight to be Fit' campaign last year. I just loved it." It's amazing to me the impact that column had in the Mankato community. At the end of the summer it will be a year since that campaign ended. It just goes to show you that admitting one's flaws, and being able to laugh at them to boot, truly resonates with people. We're all underdogs in one way or another.

I lost a total of 75 pounds last year, and I've been gaining and losing the same 15 pounds ever since January. I've been totally fine with that. It was around that time that I started running and concentrating on that new fitness hobby. I've said it before, but I've never felt that level of pride in anything I've done before. It's something I didn't think I could do. So when you prove yourself wrong in that way, there's no feeling like it.

The food, on the other hand, sort of fell by the wayside while I was focusing on running. Which is why I started the all-natural "real food" experiment a few weeks ago. I've been surprised by one thing since I started eating foods with pronounceable ingredients: It's not a hassle. Not at all, actually. I pictured myself spending ages in the grocery store trying to find foods that didn't contain white flour, sugar and preservatives. But, folks, they're everywhere. Whole grain pastas, whole wheat bread, fruit preserves, vegetables and fruits of every color. I'm cooking a lot more than I ever have and really enjoying it. Rachael Ray has been a godsend. I used to think of her as the fattening pasta and cheese chef, but if you watch enough of her shows and read her magazine, you'll notice that she makes everything from scratch, so there are healthy ingredients in all of her meals. I've cut down on the amount of cheese she manages to put into every meal, but other than that, she's been a great go-to when I want to know what to make.

I've also been surprised that eating this way isn't boring. The above photo is a meal from Sunday. I grated garlic and onion into lean beef and added some worcesershire sauce. I grilled the patties and topped them with sharp cheddar, Swiss, tomato, spinach and a smoky BBQ sauce on a whole wheat bun. The salad is just a mix of what I had left in the fridge. A meal with so many colors is actually really fun to eat. And when you take the time to prepare a meal and then sit down to eat it, it'll do you for the night. I don't get so peckish around 8 p.m. or so.

However, I haven't been running as much. And the whole point of the "real food" experiment was to see what effects it would have on my body and how I feel when I run.

So it's time for a reboot.

We'll call the past few weeks of "real food" eating practice for what I'm calling my Just Do It Summer. I have started a new and temporary blog called, you guessed it, My Just Do It Summer. The premise will be: to run absolutely every day, to eat all-natural foods, and to record the process.

I will post each day what I've eaten, including amazing recipes that I know you will love to make, too. And I will record that day's run and how it went. I will also link to my Daily Mile account for extra details on that day's workout.

For the next several months, I hope this will be a little bit of a return to my Fight to be Fit that so many readers enjoyed, but this time with a focus on healthy living and less on the scale, although hopefully, if I do this right, that will come into play too.

So if you enjoyed my weight-loss entries last year, I hope you will check out My Just Do it Summer at! I posted a little intro already today. And tonight I will post today's workout and meals. Woo! Let's do this!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Love this Nike running music video

I saw this a few weeks ago late at night, and I loved it. But I haven't seen it since. It's a really long Nike commercial/music video.

This penguin ain't tryin' to be a gazelle

I haven't been running as much as I want to or should be lately in order to train for the 10Kato. But when I do, I've been seeking out hills to tackle just to see how it goes. And actually, it's been OK.

I've sort of found that a hill is a mental assassin more than a physical one. It's difficult, of course, to reach the top. But once you're up there, your heart rate starts to decrease and you feel fine again within a minute.

I came to this conclusion during the Girls on the Run 5K. I didn't know when I started the race that there would be hills. Four of them. And my way of dealing with it was to stare at my feet and just keep running until I felt the relief of going downhill again. It really worked, actually. So I figured maybe hills weren't that bad.

The point of this post is two-fold. The first is this: If you're a newbie runner and you haven't run a race yet, I would so encourage you to do it. The feeling of reaching that finish line -- even if you've run that same distance numerous times before -- is really incredible. Because for most of us newbies, the idea of any kind of running finish line was out of the question until quite recently when we started running and surprised the hell out of ourselves for being able to run longer than, say, a block or two. That first race is symbolic. Feels amazing. I'm so glad I did it.

My second point: Leading up to Girls on the Run, the stress really ruined running for me. I had a cold, and I was worried about letting people down. I was worried about letting myself down by not performing well. And ever since Girls on the Run, my morning jogs have been relaxing again. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I run because I like to run. And with the 10Kato looming on the horizon, I'm starting to feel that anxiety creep in again.

I realize no one would be watching me run the 10Kato. I realize nobody in the world cares if I walk even, like, half of it. But, folks, I'm not ready. I've never run six miles. I've tackled small hills, but certainly not hills as challenging as the two-mile trek up Glenwood. I know myself, and if I attempt the 10Kato and do poorly, I'm going to feel bad. And I don't want to be disappointed.

I'm thinking fall will be a better time for my first 10K. I do want to do one. But just one. And not right now. I'm not a race person. So I'm going to bow out of 10Kato and just enjoy a summer of easy morning slogging.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Protest stories still pouring in

The 1972 stories are still coming in (see last post if you don't know what I'm talking about). Friday, just after I'd put the story to bed, my phone rang six more times and continued over the weekend. One caller was retired North Mankato Police Chief Mike Pulis. He told me about working at the Mankato Police Department on May 9, 1972. He was at the station the whole day, with only a dog to protect him in the event the situation broke loose. Another woman called to tell me she sat in traffic for three hours that day, and she said she wanted me to give her the phone numbers of one or more of the protesters from that day because she never got an apology.

When the story came out Sunday, I admit to checking my email and phone messages on and off throughout the day. With an extremely complicated, multi-faceted story that, in part, relies on people to recall the same 40-year-old memories, people's stories or memories often conflict. So I was worried I would have people calling in saying I had it all wrong.

Instead, it was the opposite. I even had a college student write in to tell me how much he appreciated the article and about a conversation he had in the checkout line at Econo Foods about how well the paper was selling there that day. How cool! I'm so beyond excited by the response.

I can't post everyone's stories on my blog. But I thought this one should be because I didn't quote anyone from State Patrol, who were kind of made out to be the heavies on that day. This is from Jerry Weihrauch:

"I was the supervisor at the state highway patrol radio dispatch office during that time. I don't remember a lot, the two videos and the story from the two former Mankato State students brought back memories of that day. I don't remember the regular dispatcher on duty that day, he and I were at the radio console and I sitting by the telephone ready to make any calls for what ever action the patrol Captain Gerald Kittridge relayed to the dispatcher. I remember the patrol and probably some deputies from adjacent counties? Officers gathered at the highway building before hand and leaving with the riot gear and going to the three areas of protests. Our home was on Highway 22 near Main St on S Redwood Dr. When the troopers radioed the protesters were marching up Madison Ave and then on to Highway 22 south, I phoned my wife and told her to stay indoors and lock the doors.

I don't remember who issued the command to disperse tear gas but remember hearing some of the radio chatter between the patrol officers at the scene.

Attaching a photo my mother saved from the Mankato Free Press on one of the first days at the radio dispatch office in 1968. I opened the dispatch office in January 1968, was a new radio dispatch office. Prior to that time the dispatching was either from Rochester or Marshall patrol radio dispatch offices. In the photo I am at the radio console reaching for the phone and the other man is Arnold Bentdahl at the Teletype machine. The Teletype machine was used to obtain vehicle and drivers license records from the St Paul highway offices and to communicate between other highway patrol and highway maintenance offices around the state. ... "

Friday, May 4, 2012

All week I've been back in 1972

The only thing I knew Monday morning was this: Mankato, in 1972, had been a hotbed of anti-war protests.

That, quite frankly, was an understatement. I set out to reconstruct an event that had literally shut down Mankato one afternoon that year. I thought I'd work on it a couple of days, and it would make a nice little lookback and offer some fodder for conversations among friends who had lived through it.

I put a little blurb on Facebook and Twitter, asking folks to call me if they were there on May 9, 1972, when thousands of students had occupied Highway 169 and a couple of bridges in Mankato. Didn't hear much except for an MSU professor and Vietnam veteran who asked we not dredge up a day that he felt highlighted disrespectful behavior. (I attempted to get a hold of him for his viewpoint, but was unable to.)

Then I decided at the last minute on Monday to put a blurb in Tuesday's paper asking the same question. The power of print is alive and well, folks. I was completely unprepared for the response the next day. Every five minutes my phone was ringing from folks as far away as California offering their memories. Ex-police officers were calling, numerous former students, even reporters who had covered the events at the time. It seemed everyone who saw that blurb was moved to talk about it again. There were also some who called to tell me that I should be leaving the past in the past.

It was clear that by simply bringing up May 9, 1972, I had struck a nerve. Forty years ago seemed like yesterday for some of them. And even though the day was eight years before I was even born, I did my best to bring their memories alive on the page.

As a couple of my colleagues in the newsroom have been quick to point out: I'm not reinventing the wheel here. The story's been told. But that doesn't make it unworthy of being revisited, reminding people of an important day in Mankato's history and offering fresh sources and fresh voices whose stories of that day and that time have yet to be told.

I devoted my entire week at work on this story, and I'm proud of how it turned out and of being able to share it with all of you. I was happy, just for personal reasons, to get to hear the stories that I was told this week. They're great stories, and I hope you will think so, too.

Whatever your viewpoints on Vietnam and the protest-era, I hope you'll pick up Sunday's paper and read about Mankato State President James Nickerson, Mankato Police Chief Charles Alexander, officer Steve Davis (in the thick of it all, as he said), Vietnam veterans coming home from war, MSU professors who participated in sit-ins, community members stuck in traffic, just trying to get home and eat pork chops. I talked to all of them and more, and their stories do not disappoint.

Be sure to also check out the multi-media component. Ron Affolter took Super 8 video footage of the protests, and it was so cool to see 1970s-era students, with long hair and bell-bottoms, and to see what Front Street looked like back then. We'll have all 13 minutes of footage on our website. And we'll have a taped interview with Mankato State alums Mark Halverson and Scott Hagebak talking about their memories of the protests, coupled with numerous Free Press file photos and those submitted by Donald Jay Olson that have never been circulated.

I'm excited. I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

My First Race, A Story in Pictures : )

Woo hoooooooooo!!!!!!

That pretty much sums up race day -- my very FIRST race day at Girls on the Run 5K. I finished the 3.12-mile race in 35 minutes, which is, like, almost an 11-minute mile. So fast for me! Crazy. And I will have you know that there were FOUR hills involved in this race. I had no idea about them going in, and as a matter of fact, others told me this was a great first race because it was flat. Not flat!! I'm glad I didn't know that going in, though, because I would have worried about it. So my strategy with each one was to stare at my feet and just power through. It worked!

I was still sniffling and coughing today, so I wasn't sure how it would go. But the cold and rain really helped, I think. And it was so cool to have race staff all along the route cheering us on. It was quite a feeling when I turned the final corner into Sibley. I know I've run three miles before, but this was my first race, and it was sort of symbolic and meaningful for me, so I got a little teary. (I'm so silly.) But I was all smiles when I saw my mom. She yelled out and raised her arms in the air and took pictures. So cute.

So, anyway, pretty thrilled with not walking at all, not even up the hills, and I'm really happy with 35 minutes.

So, without further ado, here is my race day in pictures ...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Two days till race day ... not ready

My nose has finally stopped running. Well, pretty much. And my cough isn't killing my lungs anymore. It's just a random, once-in-a-while cough now. So maybe by Saturday morning's 5K I'll be symptom-free.

The running has only been slightly improved. Wednesday after work I managed to squeak out 2.5 miles in 32 minutes. Then this morning I could only go 2.2 miles in 29 minutes. My body felt tired on both. I'm thinking it's tired from fighting off the virus. You know that feeling? When your muscles are just fatigued? Makes for an awful run.

But the worst part is the lungs. I said in the beginning of my couch-to-5K that getting the lungs on board changes everything. Once you can run for a long distance and not even feel a twinge of pain in your lungs, it feels like you could run a thousand miles. My lungs are no longer on board. They burn, and it feels like learning to run all over again.

I think I'm going to try to get one more run in tomorrow morning. I'm hoping to hit 3.1 miles so that I know I'll be ready for Saturday. But gosh, I don't know. This has been quite a setback. I can't believe less than two weeks ago I ran 5 miles without any problem.

I guess the good news is that it's going to be about 40 degrees and rainy on Saturday morning, which I consider to be the perfect running weather for the lungs. So the plan is just to do the best I can and try to remember to have fun with it. That's always the very first thing I forget! Luckily I will have a lot of fun ladies there to remind me. Let's go Team P.I.E.S.!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The neck rule is bogus

An article in Runner's World said many runners use the "neck rule" when deciding whether to run when sick. Symptoms above the neck -- sinus stuff, runny nose -- go ahead with the run. Symptoms below the neck -- bronchitis, chest cold -- stay in bed.

This morning I could barely get out of bed. Sinus pressure. Stuffy nose, then runny nose, then stuffy. Coughy. Achy. Whiny. But, I drug myself to work, and four stories and 10 hours later, I came home. If I was able to get through a 10-hour shift, I thought, then I should give running a try. It's less than four days until my first 5K, and I've got to get back out there so that I'm ready for it, right?

Perhaps the Runner's World neck theory works for some folks. For this folk, it felt like I had never run a day in my life. My lungs burned. My body ached. My nose was all junky and runny. I walked a little less than half.

I wish I wasn't so hard on myself, but I just feel so badly about this. Angry. Defeated. Worried. Mad as hell at whichever germ-infested fool didn't wash their hands and passed this sickness onto me.

I don't know what to do. I don't know whether I should try again right away tomorrow, or if that will make it worse.

I'm just the saddest little clam in the sea today.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Head cold just days before 5K ... of course

I'm sitting in my bedroom recliner (what, you don't have one?), throat throbbing from coughing, lips chapped, eyes watering and so ridiculously tired of blowing my runny nose that I have tissues stuffed in there.

Home sick today, in case you couldn't tell. Was sick all weekend. And I just wish I knew why this always has to happen at the most inconvenient times. Last time it was right before a vacation. This time it's the week before my first 5K, the Girls on the Run race at Sibley.

Should a 5K be that big of a deal if I've already run the amazing, incredible, superhuman distance of FIVE WHOLE MILES? Maybe not. But it's my first official race (even though I'm the tortoise in this race, not the hare), and I wanted to finish with an OK time. Plus, I'm on Team P.I.E.S., a collection of Baker's Square employees (I am a former employee), and I want to do my part. And my former trainer, the lovely Jackie Vroman, will be running with me, which is so cool, and I don't want to have to walk!!!

So for all of these reasons, I wanted to have absolutely no setbacks come Saturday. I'm nervous about this illness. Haven't run since Friday, and my body is so tired. I had to walk the dog, and that 15-minute walk made me want to lay down.

It's all so depressing. So depressing that I don't have the energy to come up with a cutesy way to end this entry, so I'm just going to go out like this: : (

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Woo hoo! Blue Moon Chicken!

Blue Moon and garlic grilled chicken, grilled pears and asparagus, and spinach and arugula salad with blackberries, slivered almonds and homemade strawberry vinaigrette. I'm so proud!

And so it begins ...

On Saturday I began my “All Natural 30-Day Food Experiment” and went grocery shopping. I tend to spend very little time at the grocery store because many of my meals are eaten out.

I spent more than an hour at hilltop HyVee and actually had a pretty good time with it. Most of my time was spent in produce and at the meat counter. I did spend extra time reading labels in the other aisles making sure the ingredients on everything I was putting in the cart were actual foods. It was fun remembering tips from Rachael Ray about the “trinity” -- celery, onion and carrot -- and to always have a box of chicken stock on hand, and don’t forget the garlic. Got to have garlic.

Saturday and today I began the preparation and, also, the eating, which is fun. I can’t list very many changes to how I feel so far. For one, it’s very early in the process. And two, I’m really sick. On Friday a sinus and tonsil infection set in, and I’m barely sleeping. So I feel like a giant ball of crap regardless of food.

But there have been a couple of surprises so far. I’ve always been one to scoff at words such as “stone-ground whole wheat,” but I wanted to be able to eat a little bread, so I bought a loaf. It’s actually delicious! And because this food experiment is NOT about calorie-counting, but rather about eating natural foods that my body knows what to do with, I had some toast with butter and strawberry jam for Sunday morning breakfast, and it was so good. And unlike a bagel or Wonder Bread (which was my go-to before) or a sugary cereal, the whole wheat kept me fuller longer.

This morning I made up a marinade of Blue Moon beer, fresh garlic, black pepper, lemon zest and lemon juice. I’ve got chicken breasts marinating and will grill them up tonight.

I also made my own salad dressing! Strawberries, EVOO, vinegar, honey, lemon zest and the juice of one lemon (squeezed cut-side up to make sure the seeds don’t go into the blender - thanks, Rach!). I’m going to toss it with arugula and spinach with blackberries and slivered almonds.

Not sure how long all of this will stay fun. Maybe longer than I expect. Rachael Ray seems to have fun with it every day! Here’s hopin’.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A food experiment WAY out of my comfort zone

I joked on Sunday that I had Pagliai's and Diet Coke to thank for my first five-mile run. I mean, I love Pagliai's. Who doesn't? But to anyone over the age of 22, pizza and Diet Coke shouldn't be a food staple in a person's diet. (To my students: live it up while you can. Sustain yourselves on sugars and fats, and ENJOY IT. Your bodies will only be kind to you for so long ... sigh.)

On a related note, I am a cynic to my very core. If there is a popular theory, I will wrinkle up my nose and express with great disdain why I think it's lame or unfounded. Health foods have always fallen flatly in this category.

I have little patience for those conversations when people swear up and down that their bodies have undergone divine transformations since they have elected only to eat organic produce, grass-fed meats and whole grains.

My cynical, impatient mind has always been made up that a calorie is a calorie. I choose to spend 500 on a big bag of gummy worms, and you spend it on a papaya smoothie with a shot of wheat grass (dear god), we both come out the same.

Which brings us to the present, after 20 or so years of living under these beliefs that making food a complicated chore of label-reading and organic-market-hunting -- not to mention the added cost that comes along with eating this way -- would be completely unworthy of my time. Where has it gotten me? How do I feel? Could I feel better? Could I have more energy?

In the midst of my running campaign, I've been wondering these questions, and it doesn't directly have to do with additional weight-loss. What has surprised me most is that I'm thinking about these things because I want to improve as a runner. I want to improve my distance and speed. I want to think of a race like the 10Kato and not state, right off the bat, that I'm going to have to walk up the Glenwood portion. Simply put, I want to fuel my body in the most healthy and efficient way possible to get these results.

So ... I've decided to conduct an experiment. For one month, I will eat only foods that are ACTUAL FOODS, like foods my body knows what to do with. NO processed foods, no foods with ingredients I can't pronounce. Fruits, vegetables, rice, meats, a little cheese. I'm going to try to stay away from breads, and no pastas. White flour is out. So are sugary baked goods.

I just really want to see what it feels like to eat healthy and see what effects it has on my body, my energy and my running.

I've conducted two public campaigns that have been out of my comfort zone so far: I lost weight working with a trainer in front of all of you, and I learned to run in front of all of you. The difference here is that, with both of the previous events, I had an outcome in mind, which tends to be what I need. I need to have a goal, and when I do, I go for it. This time, I honestly don't know what the outcome will be. I might feel worse! I might go through sugar withdrawal or collapse from a lack of energy in the middle of a run. I might also lose patience with the extra effort one has to put into eating this way: making your own salad dressings, cooking instead of picking up fast food, spending more money than I am accustomed to at the grocery store.

Anyhow, I'll keep you posted on my findings. In the meantime, healthy and EASY recipes can be sent to ... : )

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Broken focus is not my bag

Addendum: Since writing this on Saturday, I had my first five-mile run tonight!!! (Sunday.) I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Pagliai's for providing tonight's fuel; the inclement weather for the cool clouds to look, as well as the chilly breeze; and my will power, for forgoing the beer with dinner, even though everyone else was having some, and I reallyreally wanted some, too. Woo hoo!

And now back to your regularly scheduled blog entry ...


Whatever parts of my body are responsible for running endurance, I would just like to say thank you very, very much. You have been neglected, and yet, you came through like a champ this afternoon. You're the best; I'm the worst.


Any journalist will tell you that multi-tasking is essential to your success. You produce about two stories per day, plus briefs, plus plan future stories, plus coordinate photography, plus answer phones, plus answer boatloads of emails, plus blog, plus Facebook. There are numerous pluses I'm missing, but I think you get it.

I can and do multi-task. I churn out the copy like you wouldn't believe. Having said that, I don't deal well with plan changes, something my editors have noticed in the past. I'm sometimes told, "Well, it's the news, you have to be flexible." Some of us are fine with switching focuses mid-story and doing whatever happens to be more urgent. I don't really function well that way. The way I get around that in a newsroom is to be extremely fast. I sometimes wonder if I developed such swift writing skills simply so that I can finish an entire something before being asked to move onto something else.

But there are stories that don't allow for this model I've adopted. This week, I had a story fall into my lap that required a lot of time, multiple days, actually, of interviews and research. One of those stories where you have to get folks to "open the books," as we say, to get precise figures. And as I'm learning more and more on my newish beat (education), many stories require an added layer of language interpretation. Do you know what a "cluster model" is? How about PLCs? A CoGAT? Know what that is? Yeah, me either until this week. And I've got to learn it and break it down in order for my readers to understand the story I'm writing.

Long story short, with a need to stay focused on finishing the piece, I did little else. Every morning, I got to the office as early as possible to continue writing and plan that day's interviews. And it wasn't the kind of week where you squirrel away time to plan or talk with your neighbor or answer email. I spent entire shifts on the phone, writing, making more calls, writing some more.

When I got home, I just wanted a glass of wine and to watch TV and not think about it.

I know I said long story short before, but this time I really mean it ... Long story short, I had not run since Sunday. Five days of no running. At first, like say around Tuesday, it felt weird. Like I was itching to get out there. But then, by Thursday, and this scared me, it felt normal, like one day of not running leading to the next, with as many excuses as you can manage as to why it wasn't a good day. ...Tension headache, night assignment for work, had a beer with dinner, too cold, raining ... Raining! Yep, that was my Friday night excuse. Can you believe that? After last weekend I made such a huge deal about how awesome it is to run in the rain?

Anyway, I spent the gorgeous sunny day doing yard work and cleaning the house, which actually relaxes me, as sad as that is, and then I put on my new little running capris and my trusty Nikes and I hit the pavement. For the most part, it went really great. Just an easy, 32-minute run. It went so well for the first half, I felt like Ridiculously Photogenic Guy. The kind of run when you actually take the time to look around at stuff, smell the lilacs, smile at kids playing outside.

But then my hips started to get a little achy around minute 20. I keep telling myself that if I lost more weight around my hips, running would get so much easier.

Ha ... that brings me to one of the most-asked questions, or statements, rather, that I've been getting since I started running: "Wow, running burns so many calories. It must be great for weight-loss." That's when I have to say, "Actually, I think I'm the first runner in the history of running to PUT ON weight after starting to run."

I'm not kidding. A bit of it is muscle, and it's not all that much weight. But seriously, I am STARVING after a long run, and I tend to gravitate towards the carbs. Snyder's pretzel nuggets are my thing these days. OBSESSED. And I was sort of OK with that at first. I wanted to really focus on learning to run and building endurance and getting that in place first. And then I thought I'd bring the nutrition back into the mix.

So that's sort of the plan now. That and running at LEAST five days next week and the week after because Girls on the Run 5K is on the 28th, and my only goal is to finish in less than 40 minutes without incident -- no walking, no injury. Just an easygoing 35-minute jog around Sibley.

So if that little widget to the right over there goes more than a day without a new run recorded, post a snide comment about my lack of stick-to-it-iveness, wouldya? I've got to stay focused.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Penguin Power!!!

I find myself Googling the various aspects of running quite frequently these days. “How soon before a run should you eat?” “Does running on sore muscles do more damage?” “Symptoms of overtraining.” “10Kato reviews.”

Sometimes I find the results quite helpful. But most of the time, what tends to come up is information from “serious runners.” These are folks hitting 100 miles per week. I didn’t believe it at first, but seriously, there are people out there who run 70 to 100 miles per week. These are the folks who run marathons, who conquer hills akin to Glenwood Avenue daily, and then probably circle around to do it again for good measure.

Whenever I see people like this answering questions and discussing running on forums, it always leads me to wonder what kind of runner I am. Am I even considered a runner at all? If these peeps are running 6- to 7-minute miles over the course of 10 miles EVERY SINGLE DAY, and I am spending almost the same amount of time shuffling along for 4.5 miles, can I even use the word “run”?

This question led me on an intriguing chain of web clicks involving search terms such as “slow runner,” “12-minute mile,” and “slogger,” which is a less than flattering combination of the words “slow” and “jogger.”

Then I found it. In the depths of cyberspace was a lovely little forum titled “Calling All Penguins.” Dozens of other runners just like me, who had been trying to find out if there were other slow runners like them, had converged in this little web space to say, “Hey! I really like to run! It’s fun! And that’s really the only reason I do it ... and at a very slow pace, at that.”

Most of these users claimed mile paces of 15 minutes or more -- just barely chugging along. Some even had a collection of “finisher’s medals,” from the various 5K races they had taken part in for the fun of it. A 5K took some of them almost an hour to complete. But like me, these folks were not looking to break land-speed records. The act of running is what they were in it for, and they were happy to find others who weren’t interested in marathons or even half-marathons.

I will admit, reading the comments of people running 16-minute miles made me feel oh-so much better about my 12-minute mile pace. But mostly I felt happy that there’s a community out there of slow-pokes like me who have given an adorable name to the kind of runners we are: Penguins!

So here’s to us penguins, shuffling through a neighborhood near you, probably feeling as good about our 3-mile run as the careers are feeling about 10.

Penguin Power!!!!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rainy runs are my new favorite

Just a quick little post to advise my fellow newbie runners to get out there while you can today! This morning's run in the rain was amaaaaaaaazing. The chilly, wet air was great for the lungs and cooled down my skin. It was awesome!

Felt so good that I was SURE I'd finally hit five miles today. But, alas, I was 1/2 mile short. Just kills me! Will I never hit five? Never ever? It poses quite a dilemma, because I told myself that if I hit five, I could make the Dairy Freeze in Fairmont my very first stop today while I'm home for Easter weekend. ... I mean, technically, I never said I couldn't round up, right?

Anyway, get out there if you can. Running in the rain is my new favorite. Plus, you kind of look like a badass to people driving by, like you're so committed to your sport that you're willing to get soaked for it. ...Or maybe that's just what I was thinking. : )

P.S. Manholes covers are slippery, so beware. That is all.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

10Kato? What have I done ...

Let me preface this post with a little anecdote ...
The average person probably does not realize this, but there is a slight incline in elevation from my house on North Broad Street all the way to Tourtellotte. The average runner probably doesn't realize this either, because the average runner is in much better shape than I am. To them, a hill is Main Street. A hill is Madison Avenue.

I didn't realize, when I first started running, why it seemed so much more difficult to run north along that stretch than it was coming back the other way on Fourth or Fifth. I'd round that corner, and in a minute or so, I'd feel like I was flying. Of course, never too quick on the uptake of these things, I realized a couple of runs later that, coming back, I was running slightly down hill, which is why it felt so much easier. Reminds of me of something a friend told me once that has made me laugh every time I think of it: "I thought I experienced Runner's High once. Turns out, I was just running down hill." Funny, but straight-up for reals, y'all. A down-hill run is like being picked up by an angel and carried. It's positively marvelous.

If my struggle with the slightest of inclines on Broad didn't drive home this point, allow me to make this clear: I am a flat-terrain runner. When I see a hill, I run the other way. I even avoid running up to Fifth from my house because there's a hill in the way of getting there. And on the rare occasion I do tackle one, I run so very slowly on the way up that, at any given moment, gravity might actually make me teeter backward.

This brings us to yesterday's phone call ...

It was like deja-vu when I listened to my messages. Last year, about this time, I was in the middle of my public "Fight to be Fit" weight-loss battle, about 40 pounds lost. And Karen Christy of VINE Faith in Action called to see if I would run the 10Kato to help raise awareness for the event. Christy remembers exactly what I said, and so do I: "I'm not a runner. I can't run. There's just no way." I did, however, sign up to walk the two-mile portion of the event on what turned out to be an extremely humid Memorial Day morning.

So yesterday, when I spoke with Christy, and she reminded me of that call, I had one of those moments when I thought, "Wow, I'm totally a runner now. A year later. How cool!" And after a Google search helping my math-deficient brain realize that 10Ks = 6.2 miles, I realized that I really am not far from that goal. I'm at about 4 1/2 miles right now, and with two months left to train, I could probably hit 6.2 miles by Memorial Day.

So I said I would definitely sign up for the 10Kato, and I thanked her for thinking of me. ... And then, as I was about to hang up the phone, I had an afterthought. "Hey, Karen, there aren't any major hills involved in the 10Kato, are there?"
"Just Glenwood," she said.

Just Glenwood, she says. Just Glenwood. Just two miles of a windy, steady, steep, uphill climb.

Panic. Terror. Disbelief. Regreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet.

Let me put this into perspective ... my former colleague, Alex Voigt, who is about 150 pounds of pure muscle, ran the 10Kato last year with about a 40-minute finish time. He came in 10th. (How in the world can someone maintain a 7-minute mile pace up a friggin' hill?)
Me, on the other hand, well, I ran 4.3 miles this morning, and you know how long it took me? 55 minutes. Two miles less than Alex, and 15 minutes longer. Add a two-mile hill IN ADDITION to this morning's flat-terrain run, and you would have found me somewhere in the middle of the incline, passed out, cramped up, dehydrated, making gurgling sounds.

So let me just state this right off the bat: I will be walking up Glenwood. That's just plain fact right there. I probably could walk it faster than I could run it, anyway. And then I will run the rest of the race. It's important to know one's limitations, and mine begin at the base of that hill.

So if you're signed up to run in one of the longest-standing and popular races in our area -- the challenging 10Kato -- I look forward to seeing you run right on past me. And mom, I'd appreciate it if you could maybe just follow me along in your car to scoop me up if I actually do start teetering back down Glenwood Avenue.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The sucky flipside of the running coin

Not everyday is an "accidental 5K." I admit, I've had a pretty good streak of sunshiney, happy, successful runs. But some days, like today, are horrible.

First, let me get all the excuses out of the way:
I drank wine last night; that must be why my muscles felt so weak.
I didn't eat breakfast beforehand.
I didn't drink coffee beforehand.
I'm not feeling that well.
It must be the gloomy weather; it's not very motivating.
It's this damn wind. What kind of stupid fly-over country is windy at 7 in the morning? I hate the prairie! Hate it!

It's possible, I suppose, that all of those things had a hand in how bad my run went this morning, but honestly, some days just go badly. I've been warned by my running friends that there will be times when you just have to cash it in and go home. That something with your body just isn't having it, and it won't do any good to torture yourself. Just listen to your body and go home.

I know that. I do. But when you're in the middle of one of those runs, you can't help but say terrible things to yourself. You feel weak, and you tell yourself that you're weak.

This morning, within the first five minutes I knew it was going to be bad, so I decided to stick close to home. My legs felt heavy and fatigued. My lungs were a little raw. Every step was an effort. I kept trying to get myself to the 15-minute mark which is when my muscles warm up and I usually start to relax into the routine of running. Most days, when you hit 15 to 20 minutes, it almost feels easier to keep running than it would be to stop. It's a weird feeling.

Not today. I hit minute 20, and I absolutely had to walk. And when that happens, it's a total mental kick to the crotch and only makes the rest of the run worse because your head/heart feels defeated. You say awful things to yourself and actually believe them. Crazy things. "Maybe you can't do this. Maybe the last few weeks are a fluke. Maybe your body just didn't know what was going on, like it was in shock or something, and now it knows what you're up to and it's not having it. Maybe 4.3 miles is the longest distance you'll ever run. Maybe running is something you just can't do anymore. Maybe you should just give up and go home."

I walked for 90 seconds and then pushed through the rest of the 3-mile run. Honestly, I should have just gone home. When I did get there, and relaxed for a few minutes with a cup of coffee, I of course realized how silly all of those negative statements are. I've proven I can do this.

But it's just nutty to me how volatile running can be. You never know how your body will respond until you're in the thick of it. It's as frustrating when it goes badly as it is exciting when it goes well.

I guess the only thing to do is try again tomorrow.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Things I think about when I run

Sometimes I wonder if all runners think the same crazy things I do. Or maybe it’s just newbie runners who haven’t quite acclimated, mentally or physically, to jogging for miles.
Either way, here’s my thought progression during a recent run, which is actually fairly typical, as sad as that may be ...

Minute one: You forget this every day, so just remember: slow down. This isn’t a race. And don’t forget that the first 12 minutes are the hardest before your muscles get warmed up.

Minute 10: Jeez. This sucks. Why do you forget how bad this sucks after every single run? Runners are masochists. MASOCHISTS.

Minute 15: OK. Not so bad.

Minute 20: Heck, I could do this all day!

Minute 24: Well, maybe not all day ...

Minute 27: You really had to have that third cup of coffee?

Minute 28: Remember hearing about marathon runners who pee their pants in the middle of a race? That used to horrify me. I kind of get it now.

Minute 31: Did you really just blow your nose into your T-shirt? Who have you become?

Minute 35: Come on, Rhianna, get me through this.

Minute 37: Oh nana, what’s my name, oh nana, what’s my naaame ...

Minute 40: Maybe if you look straight down to the pavement right in front of you, you’ll be surprised and excited when you look up and see you're home.

Minute 42: Crap, no clean spots left on your sleeves to blow again.

Minute 45: Oh .... my .... gaawwwwwwwd ... this must end!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Minute 47: Oh, thank goodness. There it is. Oh, oh. Hoooome!!!!

Minute 50: The living room floor ... looks like a great place to lay down. You're never doing that again. That’s just ridiculous. Who does that? Who purposefully drags their butt around downtown for four miles? So stupid. Gawd. Dumb. You’re the dumbest.

Minute 60: Well, where should we run tomorrow ... go for five miles? Personal best? Why not.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Mankato's very own soap opera

All the soaps are disappearing from TV, and you're hard-pressed to find a gal who wasn't, at one time or another, drawn into the twisted and steamy story lines of one of the greats. I will admit to being drawn into "Days of Our Lives" in high school when I was flipping through and saw that a woman had been buried alive. Gasp!

Well, folks, not all soaps are dead. In fact, at least one is just beginning ... and this one is beginning right here in Mankato. A woman who happens to be a pal of mine, who writes under the pen name K. Lawrence, has started a blog called Schuyler Square. It's a serial drama with about a post per day, and the story keeps unfolding as the days progress, just like a soap.

I shan't reveal to you K. Lawrence's true identity. It's all part of the intrigue, isn't it? But I did a Q&A with her about her fascinating new serial. Here's what she has to say about the happenings over there on Schuyler Square.

Q: First, there are probably many Mankatoans who are unaware of your storied past. Fill them in on your history as a best-selling romance novelist.

Hardly best-selling! Back in 2000 I had three romances published by Precious Gem, an imprint of Kensington Publishing Corp. Kensington had a deal with Walmart to sell Precious Gems exclusively. Unfortunately, the books sold well but not well enough for Walmart and Walmart canceled the deal. I have had a lot of romance published in Woman's World magazine. They are (I think) the only woman's magazine that still has regular fiction.

Q: A serial romance is such an interesting concept. How did the idea for your blog come about?

I have always loved soap operas but stopped watching them on TV years ago because they didn't seem drama-driven to me. They seemed to be more about how the actors looked than about story lines. It also irritated me how "old" was anyone over 35! I thought it would be fun to have a blog that was like a soap opera.

Q: Tell us about your leading characters.

The main characters are the Schuyler family -- Ron, Mavis, Brad and Tyler. Ron is a middle-aged millionaire and also pretty much a creep. Mavis is his semi-alcoholic wife, Brad is the conniving oldest son and Tyler is the clueless younger son. There is also Peter Van Husen, a hunky police officer, Veronica Channing, a woman from Ron's past, Veronica's son, Kirk and Rosa, the housekeeper who can't stand the family she works for, and Tiffany, the Schuyler's niece who has serious self-image problems.

Q: You've had about 12 posts so far. Without giving too much away, what's been happing over there at Schuyler Square?

The Schuylers are the wealthiest -- and snobbiest -- family in Schuyler Square. Veronica Channing, an old flame of Ron's, has just arrived and informed Ron that they have a 27-year-old son together. Mavis is about to have a fling with a handsome policeman, Brad and Tyler are trying to figure out why they are in such a screwed up family and cousin Tiffany has just moved in because she killed her mother in a car accident.

Q: On a scale of one cold shower to 10, what are we looking at here in terms of the steamy factor?

I'm not sure yet. I know it won't be ultra steamy but I hope I can make it steamy enough to be interesting! I have to type those scenes with my eyes closed, though. I embarrass easily.

Q: As long as people keep reading, will you just keep on writing about these characters and plot? Or do you foresee an end to this one and beginning anew with another story later on down the road?

I plan to introduce at least two other families and I want to make my posts similar to a soap opera. My goal is to weave the stories together so they are a little different every day.

Q: Why are the posts under the name K. Lawrence?

That's my pen name! Kate Lawrence. I used to watch a drama way back in the 1970s with a mom named Kate Lawrence. She was totally unflappable, had a great sense of humor and loved her family. I decided then that I wanted to be her some day.

In case you missed the above link, follow Schuyler Square at

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I accidentally ran a 5K

A funny thing happened yesterday morning ... I unwittingly ran a 5K. As I age, I tend to do more and more things unwittingly, but at least in this case, the surprise was a welcomed one.

For some reason I had it in my head that a 5K was 3.3 miles. So I had been slowly trying to increase my runs to reach that benchmark in time for the Girls on the Run 5K. I am a part of a team of former Baker's Square co-workers called Team P.I.E.S. (Pep in Every Step! ... a name thought up on the spot by a very creative Gina Weber)

Until a few days ago, I'd been running every morning at Sibley Park. I had started this running campaign at the track at the Y, as you may recall, circling and circling, without much to look at it. I kept going back there because I had this mental block about running. I had never done it before, and as such, it was just so out of my comfort zone, and so in my silly little mind, I had a terrible feeling that I could only run on the track. That if I took it to any other environment, I wouldn't be able to do it. I know, it's weird.

So my next step out of that comfort zone was Sibley Park, because it's essentially just a larger track -- one big circle around the park. And while it's technically outside, which helps get me used to running in wind and rain and on pavement, my car is within close walking distance if an injury were to occur, or just a bad running day where I'd need to quit.

The Sibley runs went well. I mapped the distance with my car, about .8 miles around once. And I'd circle it three times, which took me almost exactly 30 minutes. But after a few times, I was getting bored. And that can make for a bad run. I had to stop and walk a couple of times. So it was time to move on.

A few days ago, I learned about the Daily Mile, which is an AWESOME site where runners can create an account for free, create maps of their runs around Mankato neighborhoods (or wherever you live), and it calculates the distance. You can save those maps, and each day, you log your running distance and time, and it keeps track of those miles over time. So by year's end, you can say, "Wow! I ran 1,000 miles this year!" Super neat.

So I created a running route down to Tourtellotte Park from my house, over to Fourth and Fifth, and then back, and it was my first successful 2.6 mile run that wasn't in a circle. Haha. Yesterday, I altered the route to be about 3.1 miles, which took me a loooong time. 41 minutes, which is a 13-minute mile. Geeeez, so slow. But I did it!

When I got to work, I looked up the route for the Girls on the Run 5K, and I glanced to the left to see the distance of the race: 3.1 miles. And I realized I was already there! It was pretty neat. I was excited.

So now that I know I'm ready for the race about 5 weeks in advance, my goal now is to keep increasing distance, and then I will work on speed. I'm hoping to get up to about 4 miles, which eventually, I hope will take me 40 minutes each day. Maybe someday I'll work toward a 10K or something, just for fun, but honestly, just the act running each day is all I wanted to accomplish when I started this.

The coolest feeling at this point, especially after yesterday, is realizing that running is something that I DO now, not something that I'm trying to do. I like it. I like it a lot.