Sunday, March 29, 2015

Learning lessons in love

Sometimes you have to see things for what they really are, in this case, a blessing in disguise. My week started off with a bumpy start. Work was stressful and I went home Monday in tears. Things gradually got better and I was really looking forward to an event I was invited to on Thursday. Typically I don't share much about my personal life, not even to friends as I like to keep things private. Considering the lesson learned I decided it would be best to share in case it helps even just one person.

For about the last 2 years I've been dating someone in an off and on kind of situation. When we met there was no expectations because I was fresh out of a breakup and couldn't see myself jumping right back in. We took things slow and a beautiful friendship formed. As it sometimes happens, feelings began to develop but neither of us were really sure about where to take things. There was a possibility of him moving across the country and even I wasn't sure about setting my roots in Chicago. Lately I felt like things were finally getting a little more serious but that wasn't a sentiment he shared. On Thursday he accompanied me to the event and things sort of came to a boil. It became obvious that he and I clearly weren't on the same page and that pretty much ended things.

I would love to hate him, my anger reached a level I previously didn't know was possible. But then something clicked. I began to realize that I had nothing to worry about, he wasn't the right person and it definitely wasn't the right time. At least not for what I thought I wanted. Throughout our time together he pushed me, encouraged me, supported me, but more than anything he gave me the space to just simply be me. I was truly able to flourish knowing that someone loved me just the way I was. The uncertainty of our future forced me out of my comfort zone and made me face some tough realities. As much as hurt to admit to myself, I had to come to terms with the fact that he was meant to be in my life just for a short time to help me realize my potential but he wasn't meant to be along for the long haul.

In the wake of this realization I decided to do something to remind myself who I am and what I want. I sat down and wrote a list of all the things that make me unique and wonderful. Here is my list of affirmations, in no particular order, that by the end of finishing I felt so wonderful it didn't matter that I had lost a friend I thought I couldn't live without.

I am:
I felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders as I typed the last word on that list. I was finally honest with myself about who I am and what I'm truly looking for. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015


Warning: lots of strong feelings and opinions, possible ranting and raving.

I'm an athlete. I train, I fuel, I work hard and I consistently crush my goals. Limits? I don't have any. There are only goals I haven't reached yet. That being said, there is nothing that irks me more than when someone questions my abilities. Yes, it's a bit disheartening every time someone expresses shock that I'm a triathlete and marathoner. That's right, my short thick self can move for miles. Normally I don't let it get to me but lately as I keep pushing farther the doubt from outsiders seems to get stronger. 

A few days ago I was proudly wearing one of my triathlon shirts from a previous race when someone asked me if I was a volunteer at the event. I replied that I earned the shirt by participating in the race. The look of disbelief coupled with their response "well good for you" was so strongly laced with pretentious undertones that it bothered me more than usual. It made me wonder how often non traditional looking athletes have to "prove" themselves as such. I'm not ashamed of my body, I love it, it's strong and it has carried me through each and every test I put it through. I may not be your "ideal" body type, but this is what I'm happy with and this is what an athlete looks like.

This kind of discrimination happens all the time, in various forms. Sometimes its the casual assumption that you're running the shortest distance. "This is the packet pickup for the half marathon, the 5k line is over there" thanks, but I AM here for the half marathon. "Oh, is this your first half marathon?"...nope, it's actually my 10th. This happens to me ALL.THE.TIME. I decided to see what the deal was, so the last time someone asked me if this was my first long distance race my reply was "What makes you think this is my first?". I wish I could have captured an image of their reaction. They were so clearly uncomfortable because they realized that their assumption was completely based on my appearance and nothing else. While bothersome, I can typically move and go about my day as if nothing had happened.

The worst kind of doubt about your abilities or your goals is the kind that comes from those closest to you. I can't tell you how dreadful it is to have someone close to you bring you down.  While I was out for lunch with my parents last weekend I was discussing upcoming races and asked them to block out a weekend in August of 2016 for when I hope to tackle my first Half Iron Man and instead of the usual supportive "of course we'll be there" I got the complete opposite. My mom seemed upset, maybe even angry, that I'm choosing to keep pushing myself. She even went so far to compare my love of running and triathlons to a drug addict always looking for their next fix. A drug addict. I was in disbelief. Even sitting here typing this I'm having a hard time getting the words out. I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes and my hands are beginning to shake with the rage that I feel boiling up. 

She's concerned, I get it. I understand that with longer races the chances for injury increases but I never feel more alive than when I'm crushing a new obstacle. Everything else in my life has benefited from my love of endurance sports. I never truly understood my own potential until I completed my first half marathon. Crossing that finish line I was a completely new person. I knew that there wasn't anything that could stop me. I've never lacked for self esteem but that race gave me more confidence than I had ever felt before. Looking forward to another race and a challenging new distance is what helps to keep me focused and motivated. This is the first time in my life that I've been dedicated to fitness and health so it was soul crushing to hear her express her feelings about my hobbies. She kept telling me I need to take better care of my body and that all of these races are just wrecking my body. I seem to think to the opposite is true, before I found running I was killing my body slowly. I didn't pay attention to how I was eating or that I was getting enough exercise. I was simply existing. Reaching my fitness goals began to impact my personal life. I was no longer willing to settle. I changed jobs to something that was more suited to my long term goals and interests. I finally said goodbye to the negative people and things in my life. 

Could all these things have happened without running? Maybe. But, this is the way it happened for me and I couldn't imagine my life without it. There will be a day when I can no longer run, today is not that day. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Little Rock Marathon

Back in October after finishing my first marathon I told my friend Sam that whenever she decided to do her first marathon (because I knew the day would soon come) I would be there with her every step of the way. She was vehemently opposed to the idea at first but after we went down to Indiana to support #TeamMilton she changed her mind. There's something about watching a person who had transformed from couch to 5k to marathon in less than a year that really struck a chord with her. I was kind of hoping, perhaps just wishful thinking, that she would pick a fall marathon for her first but lo and behold she decided that Little Rock would be her #1 choice. As soon as she told me she had registered I knew what I had to do and got my credit card ready. Shortly thereafter, with a little nudging and encouragement we got Umber to sign up for her first half marathon.

Over the next few months following that decision we made plans and reservations for our trip. There would be food and parties and an all around good time escaping the bitter Chicago cold for a few days. I talked Eric into joining in on our hilly adventure to the south. Everything seemed to be going well until Sam started having pains and injuries that brought her training to a halt. She's my gym partner so we switched gears and focused on mostly strength training with some cardio mixed in. As March 1st approached I began to worry that we would be totally unprepared for this race. I knew we would finish, quitting was never an option, but I was seriously concerned that it would be an ugly battle for us both.

Entrance to Charlie Vergo's. nomnomnom
Sam, Umber and Erica (my roomies for the weekend) all flew down Friday morning. I enjoy road trips so Eric and I mapped out a course there and back leaving in the wee hours of the morn. On our way we made a quick stop for breakfast and as we got closer to Arkansas made a slight detour to Memphis. Good sweet lord baby Jesus was this a grand idea. We had a late lunch/early dinner at Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous and those ribs were everything I could have dreamed they would be. You can legit smell this place at least a block away and the entrance located in a side alley made me feel like we were exclusive guests at a secret dining club. Once our bellies were full we saddled back up in the car for the final few hours to Little Rock. Eric dropped me off and headed to his hotel for some rest while I got caught up with the ladies on what adventures they already had since arriving.

Aboard the expo pirate ship
There was a grip of Chicago runners who had made the trip down to AK for the race and a local they had befriended the year before invited us all over for a welcome dinner. We socialized with runners from surrounding states and exchanged race stories. Per usual, Sam and I tried to convince anyone who would listen that they need to try out a Spartan Race. I believe we may have converted a few folks (fingers crossed). It's funny to see so many familiar faces of people you've never met but recognize through various running groups. I finally had a chance to meet the infamous See Nic Run and catch up on his recent travel adventures.

Sam, Candyce, Umber and myself at the expo
Saturday we took the shuttle over to the expo center - not realizing how close it was - to check out the vendors and grab our packets. The race shirts were a retina burning safety orange and I didn't find anything I was looking for to purchase. We ran into the rest of the Chicago crew we missed the night before and spent a good chunk of time getting a complimentary pre-race massage. All that excitement really worked up an appetite so we moseyed on over to the Flying Saucer for some lunch. Saturday night was a bit of a fiasco for the dinner situation but we made the most of it and spent it chatting with lovely divas of Women Run The World. We had to call it an early night to get ample rest for the big day.
Elevation profile courtesy of Sam's watch
obligatory pre-race selfie

Sunday morning I woke with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning. I had carefully laid out my gear the night before and didn't take long to get ready. We had a few snacks and made our way to the starting line. It was a dreary 30-something with a light drizzle but we didn't let that dampen our mood. The music was playing and we danced our way to good spirits. Sam and I knew we'd be running a slow race so we opted for the early start allowing us more than enough time to finish the race. As soon as the guns went off we were on our way to Sam's initiation into the marathon class of 2015. The first few miles breezed by and we saw Nic as he was heading to start the half marathon. Around mile 3 we stumbled upon a pirate and stopped for our first race check in of the day. So far so good.
This pirate did not have rum. womp womp.

A few miles in we're still holding on strong and riding the downhills as they come. We chat about all sorts of random things and time seems to go by pretty quickly. A guy we met at the race expo mentioned that the worst hill would be right after we pass the school for the deaf and also the school for the blind. He was right. We saw the schools and prepared to conquer the beast. Our teammate Steve always tells us to charge the hills so we did our best to push through but ultimately the elevation won out and we had to walk for a bit. Soon we started winding through the woods on a road that gave way to a seriously steep downhill course. We had also decided that to help count off the miles we would dedicate each mile to different friends back home who couldn't make it to the race. This helped keep us focused but also gave us something to look forward to as we planned them all out.
Well isn't this convenient?
Only in the bible belt...
Got blessed with a little holy water
and took a #SundaySelfie with Father

When we hit mile 17 things got ugly. We came around the bend and saw a wave for mile 22 waving at us like a prank. Ashton is that you? Are we being punked? This began a long trek out to a turnaround point we couldn't see but we waved to our friends already on their way back. At this point Sam is becoming delusional and asking me if people on the other side heading back from the turnaround are friends of ours. They weren't. Like not even a little bit close to what our friends look like. This might not be good. I try to keep conversation going and do our best to keep our minds off the steady stream of drizzle/rain that keeps falling from the sky. After clearing the turnaround point we come to my favorite aid station of the day, warm chicken broth. I never knew I could love a cup of chicken broth so much but I swear to you it was like the elixir of life! It gave me the second wind I needed as we signed the wall and headed back onto the course. I had been carrying a giant pickle for Sam to help with cramps and she finally decided to eat it. This pickle gave her the life she needed to break through and keep going.

We hit mile 23 and we know it's smooth sailing from here, only about a 5k left. By now I can feel the multitude of blisters on my feet scorching in pain and throbbing. There is nothing I can do but to keep moving. I'm convinced that somehow the blisters are reproducing on their own and creating an entire colony of fluid filled pockets all over my feet. The pain is beginning to get unbearable. Not too much farther, I just need to keep going. I try to act as nonchalant as possible so that Sam doesn't realize just how uncomfortable I am. I'm biting my lip and fighting back the tears that plagued my first marathon. She's a few feet ahead of me and still looking strong. Umber finished the half and came over to meet us. She can tell I'm not at my best but we both know that the only thing that matters is getting Sam to that finish line. I suck it up and just keep trucking. When we finally reach the final stretch I breath a heavy sigh of relief and try to turn on the after burners. I cross the finish line shortly after Sam and we make our way to find Umber. We're drenched, cold, tired and starving.

Along the course we had seen Eric as he passed us twice and I knew he had a great race. Judging by his placement between the pace groups I was guessing he had PR'ed. He did. By a lot. A 21 minute PR over his 2014 Chicago Marathon time. I may or may not have bragged quite a bit about his accomplishment. At this point our priority was food then a hot shower. I knew we had to warm up before our muscles got any stiffer. The rest of Sunday is a bit of a blur and we all landed on the struggle bus. Another bummer was the medal situation. The original finisher's medal (a la Flavor Flav) were caught up in customs due to the longshoremen strike and wouldn't make it in time for the race. To the RD's credit, they notified us ahead of time and even secured replacement medals so that we would still walk away with something on race day. Since then we've also received an email update letting us know the medals will be on their way in the mail by the end of the month.

The crew, just like in Detroit. Me, Umber, Sam.

Eric and I post race.
Yes, he's that fast that he showered and changed before I finished.

the official finisher's medal

because Pappy's knows what's up

Monday morning I was up bright and early so that Eric and I could start our trek back to Chicago. This time the plan was to stop in St. Louis at Pappy's Smokehouse. We had our fill of BBQ goodness then got back on the road so I could make it back in time for a work event. Sitting in a car for 10 hours the day after a marathon was not the best life choice I've ever made. Fortunately the pulled rib sandwich and sweet tea helped ease some of that pain. All in all it was a pretty great trip and once these blisters finally heal I might even consider returning to conquer those hills of Arkansas. Maybe.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Surviving winter: start with skin care!

My biggest struggle in the winter (aside from not being able enjoy as many outdoor runs) is keeping my skin healthy. I constantly feel like my skin is dry and multiple showers a day because of gym training sessions don't help the situation. A few weeks ago I reached out to a local YASOU Natural Skin Care about testing some of their products. Their founder and creator Theodora Ntovas was happy to oblige and sent me a few samples to try out.

First of all, I love that there's a local connection. Being able to put a face with a brand really gives it that personal touch and gives you the confidence in what you're purchasing. YASOU (pronounced ya-su) gets its name from a common Greek greeting meaning "to your health". They combine natural ingredients and certified organics to offer multiple health and beauty benefits. This is truly a luxurious skin care line. All of the scents come from natural essential oils and they use the highest quality ingredients. Even the products and packaging are sourced and crafted right here in the U.S.A. The packaging is all environmentally friendly and they don't use any animal testing. 

The YASOU skin care line up
So let's talk about what I used. As soon as I opened the box, I had to try the Hydrating Body Cream. The usage/tips say to apply after bathing but the smell was so pleasant I wanted to try a bit on my hands right away. The cream has a really rich texture without leaving any oily residue. When I got home and showered I used it as suggested and my skin was thankful for it. I felt hydrated and nourished. Typically when I apply lotion at night my skin feels dry by the morning, but with this body cream I still felt moisturized as I was getting ready for work.

Next up I tried the Cell Renewal Night Cream. I applied it just before bed and maybe it was just my imagination but it seemed like I could actually feel it stimulating my skin. When I woke up I felt refreshed. The ingredients include jojoba oil, shea butter, aloe vera and cucumber seed extract. It moisturizes, hydrates, soothes and promotes elasticity and radiance. I followed up the night routine with the Cellular Day Cream in the morning before heading out to get my day started. A little bit really does go a long way, I only applied a a small amount but I could feel my skin hydrated all day. (this is a miracle considering how high they have the radiators turned up at the studio). While I don't typically wear makeup during the week, this cream dries quickly enough that you could still do your regular cosmetic routine shortly after moisturizing. Some of the ingredients listed for this product include extract from sugar cane, lemons, oranges, apples and green tea.
My muscle pain relief oil infusion

I was so impressed by YASOU's products that I reached out to Theodora again to ask about other uses for essential oils. We chatted back and forth about a few different recipes and ultimately I settled on a blend of sweet almond oil, cedarwood oil, ginger, marjoram, chamomile and lavender as my post-marathon relaxation. This blend is supposed to help with muscle pain, which I had plenty of following those vicious hills of Little Rock. I set the ingredients up in my Porthole Infuser before heading to the race and let them infuse for a few days before using. The smell was soothing and while I can't say with 100% certainty that it worked, I definitely felt relaxed and my muscles seemed to loosen up after using it. 

I can't stress how important it is to take care of your WHOLE body, especially your skin. I suppose as a makeup artist I'm more cognizant of this but it's definitely necessary to keep a healthy mind, body and soul. So tell me, what are some of your favorite go-to products?