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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Untold Story

I have the utmost respect for single parents. My husband is in India for work, and during his international travel I am always reminded of how much he does for our kids and how much support he provides for me mentally.

Several years ago when I was very ill, he took on the role of primary caretaker the instant he walked into the door after work. Some stay-at-home moms make it look easy. I was not that person. I may have appeared clean and put together on the outside, but I was a constant suicidal wreck behind closed doors. I was a dance teacher at the time, and my work day - or should I say, my second job - began in the evening when the rest of the professional world was sitting back in their favorite chair with their feet up. After I had spent the entire day caring for our young daughters, I'd drive to downtown Seattle and spend hours in a ballroom in a pair of suede-bottom heels on my sore feet before heading home sometime around midnight.

When I made the decision to focus on being healthy rather than continue to believe the cocktail of drugs and bizarre Freudian-based therapist I was seeing were going to clear the haze away from my view of reality, it became apparent that James was carrying far more than his fair share of the household and child-related responsibilities. He didn't complain, though. He never told me I was a bad parent or wife, and he continued to love me even though I was broken.

During my recovery, we were able to shift our responsibilities to the healthy balance that we have adopted. When he is away, I'm able to handle the duties of work and kids and life on my own without feeling too frazzled, but nothing fills the empty gap of his warm physical presence ready to give me a hug at the end of a long day.

This morning, a photograph popped up on my Facebook feed from five years ago:

We might be cheesy, but I'm just gonna own it.
I love this picture because we look so happy, but the untold story is that this was taken just weeks after I had weaned off all medication, when I was still struggling to get my feet on the ground after three years of traumatic mental health issues, and just after I retired from teaching dance and entered the world of law. This picture was taken before we moved out of our old house, before I met my good friend and neighbor who convinced me to take up yoga and dragged me out running for the first time, and back when I constantly struggled with fatigue, skin issues, and abdominal pain due to serious undiagnosed food allergies.

When I see this picture, I am reminded that we were on our way to a company party and that we saw a rock concert that night. It was the first time that I had been in a large crowd of people since going off medication, and I managed to escape the night without having a panic attack.

This morning as I am reminded of that evening five years ago, I find myself missing James but also feeling empowered that I am easily capable of taking care of myself and our two kids for ten days without having a mental breakdown.

Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to having my partner in crime home again. I will have plenty of company and help from my mom (who is flying in to spend some quality time with me and the girls), but it's going to be a very long extended week without my soulmate by my side.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Capitol Peak Mega Fat Ass 25K Race Recap

Yes, the name of the race really is "Fat Ass." My apologies if that's not safe for work and you clicked on it with your boss standing nearby (sort of - haha!).

Capitol Peak is located near Olympia, WA, and this race was the furthest distance I have run at one time to date. Although 25K is supposed to equal 15.53 miles, the final course, which was modified just before the event due to snow, ended up being a 26K. Not that the extra half mile really matters, but dammit, after running for hours through a mountain full of steep climbs, slippery mud, snow, ice, and a few moments of what the hell was I thinking, that extra 1K sort of does matter.

Just a small taste of the snow and ice further
up the mountain.
I live about an hour and a half north of Olympia, so my day began at 5:30 a.m. with a quick hot shower (yes, you read that correctly - a shower before a race... it's a weird quirk of mine) to wake me up after a sleepless night, breakfast, a good teeth-brushing, and a weather check so I could ensure I was dressed appropriately before heading out for the long drive.

The roads were clear, so the drive was relatively quick and uneventful. My GPS lost signal a couple miles from the trail head, so I sort of had to find it by osmosis or sense of smell or whatever. Or maybe there was a sign with an arrow held by a volunteer... I don't know. It was early and I'm not exactly conscious in the morning (good thing I was driving, right?).

Gorgeous dry trails before the mud reared its ugly head.
Luckily, several of my running friends were at the race, so I wasn't all alone in the big bad woods. I began my run slowly, following the more experienced trail runners and speed-hiking up the steep switchbacks that started the trail. Eventually, I caught up to a small group that included one of my badass ultra-marathoner friends running at a comfortable pace a few miles in. Though most of that group ended up turning around several miles in (I think they were just there to run and not actually participating in the race), my ultra-marathoner friend was kind enough to keep me company and pace me throughout the rest of the ten miles or so left. Thank goodness, too, because with his experience and good conversation I managed to keep a very comfortable pace, avoided any injuries, and actually enjoyed the trail mile after mile.

We lucked out weather-wise; it didn't rain on us despite the clouds and foreboding forecast of possible thundershowers the week before. The temperatures were chilly but not too cold, and the wind was minimal. For a winter mountain trail race, I don't think the weather could have been more perfect. 

 Finally on our way down from the peak. If you
squint really hard you might see mountains
in the distance.
I should have gotten a photo of the mud, but I was too busy swimming through it to bother pulling out my phone, so you're just going to have to believe me when I say it was thick, gooey, and ready to swallow everyone as they waded through it.

I felt relatively strong through the last few hilly miles, but my friend was wise and chose to hike rather than run the short but steep inclines on the last mile. At that point, I'd rolled my right ankle a few times and was feeling rather fatigued. Had I been on my own, I likely would have tried running up those hills with the intention of getting to the end faster, but my form would have been sloppy, I probably would have tripped and eaten mud, and it's probable that I would have finished the race with a few tears rather than the cheesy smile I wore as I crossed the finish line.

In front of the Search and Rescue truck that didn't
have to haul my butt off the mountain mid-race!
At the finish line, I was greeted by my fellow runner friends who are total beasts on the trails congratulating me on crushing my first 25K, and hot chicken noodle soup that was so salty and amazing that I almost licked the paper bowl clean. As always after a good run, a bit of fuzzy-headed euphoria filled my soul with a sense of peace and well-being. My sore ankle even stopped growling at me. 
My ÓN Trail Runners and Salomon Trail Gaiters
survived a near-death-by-mud experience.
As with every race, I have a list of lessons learned to share:
  1. The trail gaiters were a really good idea. I was on the fence, but my shoes would have been filled with rocks and mud had I left them at home.
  2. My ankles are weak as crap. I must spend more time working on stability exercises on my Bosu. And maybe I should ask my good PT friend for some guidance on specific exercises.
  3. There's no shame in squatting behind a tree at mile-when-is-this-going-to-be-over then telling your friend that you managed not to pee on yourself while he laughs his ass off. 
  4. Spending the money on my Nathan Firecatcher Hydration Vest was a better idea than I realized at the time. At no point did I run out of water or Haribo gummy bears.
  5. Always bring gloves and a headband or beanie if the weather is chilly. An increase of  2,200+ feet in elevation typically means it's colder at the top, and a headband and gloves go a long way in keeping you warm enough.
  6. Bringing two energy gels, a Stroopwafel, gummy bears, and whatever else I packed was overkill. I went through a handful of gummy bears and an energy gel that tasted like barf, and that was plenty. 
  7. Filling a water bottle with NUUN was a good idea. Those electrolytes really seemed to help fight the fatigue that kept trying to creep up on me as I neared the end.
  8. I need to bring a handkerchief. Tissues disintegrate too easily, and my nose runs better than my feet do in cold weather.
  9. Gold star for remembering to use anti-chafing cream. Seriously, just... gold star. 
  10. I'm in love with my INKnBURN pullovers. 
And thus begins my 2017 race season. I'm excited to train on more trails in preparation for Ragnar Trail Rainier this year.

Happy runner says, "Cheese!"
Lotus Pullover by INKnBURN

Friday, January 20, 2017


Regardless of your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, size, economic status, political beliefs, nationality, occupation, hobbies, habits, health, abilities, history, dreams for the future, and anything else that could possibly be questioned of you, today and always I wish you peace, love, kindness, and acceptance.

I have always been afraid of the dark, but I've learned to remind myself that without the darkness of night I could not possibly appreciate the beauty of the light of day. Sunrise is inevitable, even on the longest and darkest of nights.

Hoodie and Capris by INKnBURN

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Simple Chia Seed Pudding for the Win

I enjoy cooking and love trying new foods, so I was pretty excited when my mom introduced me to the vegetarian food blog Cake and Beans last month. In addition to their blog, I follow their Instagram page, and one day they posted this beautiful photo of chia pudding that instantly had me craving a food I had never tried.

Sure, I've used chia seeds in smoothies and homemade energy bars, but never pudding. I was intrigued, so I began experimenting... and wouldn't you know it, even though the texture took me a little bit of getting used to, it has become one of my favorites for breakfast and morning snacks.

Hello... I am chia seed pudding. Put me in your belly!
If you've never tried chia seeds but you're game for giving healthy foods a shot, these tiny little seeds pack a good punch of fiber, antioxidants, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and carbohydrates, so they're well worth a trial run.

Though I'm a poor excuse of a food blogger, I'm going to give you the recipe I used to make the pudding pictured above, which I came up with after perusing through a ton of Pinterest recipes and played with until I found the right mix of solids, liquids and flavors. 

Almond Milk Chia Pudding
1/4 cup chia seeds
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
Dash of cinnamon
Heaping tablespoon of dried cranberries* 
Handful of fresh raspberries**

Directions: In a small bowl, stir the chia seeds, almond milk, and cinnamon together. Add dried cranberries. Place in refrigerator for about 1/2 hour or until the seeds have absorbed the moisture. Throw the fresh berries on top and enjoy.  
*Get creative here... I've also used fresh pomegranate seeds and blueberries. 
**Top the pudding with anything that sounds good... I usually end up throwing sliced banana on it.

Do you have any favorite chia seed pudding recipes? 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Taking Breaks to the Great Outdoors

My grandmother once told me when my girls were toddlers that she believes "children should be outside as much as possible." It wasn't unsolicited advice, just part of a conversation we had while sitting on a bench watching the kids play with their cousins in my grandparent's large, rural ranch during a warm Oklahoma summer, but it was one of the more valuable parenting lessons I continue to learn.

My kids go to a great school that places a lot of focus on using technology in and outside of the classroom. While the treehugger in me loves the lack of paper used, I often find my girls zombie-ing out in front of a screen in their downtime if I'm not watching. Inevitably, being in front of the TV or computer when they should be playing or reading a book turns my sweet girls into grumpy turds in no time at all.

Using my grandmother's advice, one of my favorite things to do when my girls turn into grouchy monsters is to get them outside. If it's a weekend, I love to do an impromptu day or overnight trip that involves being outside somewhere far from a screen. In a matter of minutes, any gloomy mood fades away like magic, and it works every time.
So much happier outdoors!
San Juan de Fuca Spit, WA
During the winter months, I find it difficult to convince myself to take them outdoors when it's cold or rainy, but I've learned that the rain or chilly temps aren't a big deal as long as we have the proper clothing. Also, though the Seattle area is notoriously rainy, we have far more dry days than most of the nation probably realizes. For instance, it's the dead of winter right now and we've had blue skies for days. Today we have a prediction for rain, but not until this afternoon, and it's currently 42°F before 10:00 a.m. For winter, that's not bad at all.

Find the one-grumpy but now-happy tree gnomes.
This year, I've decided I want to focus on ensuring we get outside more often regardless of how cold it may be. And let's be honest... it's not just my girls who find themselves happier after spending time outside. We all feel more alive with a little fresh air. 

We're good about being outdoors, but I feel there is always room for improvement in this area, so we have decided that the vacations we take this year will be focused on places boasting outdoor activities. Lake Louise in Canada is at the top of this year's bucket list along with Iceland (hopefully). 

Do you have any favorite family-friendly outdoor trips that you're willing to share? I'd love some vacation recommendations. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Decent Distance in a New Pair of Shoes

It took two weeks into 2017, but I finally felt well enough from my cold to do a double-digit mileage run yesterday. I am supposed to participate in a 17-mile trail run next weekend [insert *deer caught in headlights look*], so it was a relief that I managed 10 miles at a reasonable pace in sub-freezing temperatures without any issues except for a few aches in the achilles area today.

Though I often feel a minor amount of fatigue after a double-digit mile run, I'm fairly certain today's particular aches are likely a result of wearing my new Torins by Altra Shoes for the first time.
Lucy wants a new pair of shoes, too.
I mentioned a couple months ago that I attended a running workshop given by Golden Harper, founder and creator of Altra shoes. Curious to give them a try, I decided to pick up a pair this weekend. Overall, my first impression is definitely positive. I love the wide toe box, the cushion felt great mile after mile, and the shoes are lightweight so my legs never felt sluggish. Best of all, I didn't feel a single hot spot and didn't end up with any blisters.

I'm a firm believer that properly-fitted shoes should never result in blisters if you're wearing them for 13.1 or less miles. After that, your feet are fair game for torture. Remember: you did this to yourself. You were the one who decided to run an insane distance...*evil laughter*. I had a blister burst during my final Hood to Coast leg last year as I approached my 18th mile, and let's just say the tears were real.

As expected, the zero drop of the shoes definitely targeted different muscles, hence the mild stiffness I feel. Though I do agree that with proper running technique these shoes will allow one's feet to perform as they naturally would if we all ran barefoot, I have to say that my flexible-arched and arthritic dancer's feet felt a little strained at the end of my run. Supposedly, if I were to wear them for shorter distances and allow my feet to strengthen, this wouldn't be an issue.

Verdict? I'll definitely continue wearing them and am happy to add them to my normal shoe rotation. Currently, I switch off between Asics and ÓNs, and I have been looking for a good replacement for a pair of Adidas that I tried but am not in love with (comfortable and light, but not a wide enough toe box).

Wish me luck as I spend this week continuing to prepare for my 17-miler. I've been afraid of distances longer than a half marathon not because I'm afraid I won't be able to do it physically, but because I'm worried I'll grow bored and give up. I'm a little on the attention-deficit side, so I'm hoping the mountain scenery will keep me focused without too many I'm tired/scared of bears/bored/everything hurts and I'm dying moments.

One of these days, my goal is to complete a 50K. You heard it here first.

"The hills are alive... with the sound of music!"
Crane Pullover by INKnBURN.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Eleven Days and Counting

I'm not entirely sure I trust the research that states a habit is formed in about 21 days because I feel it's a bit of a one-size-fits-all concept, but being ten days away from that magic number makes me feel somewhat confident that my New Year's resolutions of daily meditation and removing my sweat-soaked workout clothes from the bathtub once they're finished drying are actually sustainable goals.

To keep track of meditations, I have an app on my phone called "Calm" that I highly recommend. Each day, there is a 10-minute meditation that focuses on a positive message in addition to a ton of guided meditations that target whatever you feel you need to focus on at any given moment. One of my favorite features is a section called "Sleep Stories", which is a collection of bedtime stories that lull you to sleep. Yes, you read that correctly. I know it sounds weird, but it actually works really well for me. I've mentioned before that I'm a terrible sleeper, and I have noticed a significant difference in my ability to both fall and stay asleep when I listen to them.

I am so incredibly zen. Look at that, y'all!
My two resolutions were so simple that I inadvertently added a third one without giving it much thought: writing down my daily exercise. I prefer to get some form of exercise seven days a week, and a bare minimum exercise week for me involves five days of some form of deliberate activity - running, walking, yoga, strengthening, and dance - but I have never been very good about keeping track of it. Using my Runner's World Training Log, I decided to jot down notes about my workout every day, which I actually found extremely motivating during last week's illness.
Admit it. You're jealous of my desktop zen
garden featuring miniature Gnomie McZen.
While I was too sick to run my usual distances, I still managed to log over 15 miles between easy runs and walking. Normally, I would feel disappointed in such low mileage, but I'm rather proud of myself for taking it easy and substituting the running with walking and gentle PT exercises that were completely doable. Writing it all down helped me stay reasonable with my activity choices and still helped me feel accomplished.

If you haven't added a resolution or two to help you get the New Year going but you would like to try adding a positive habit to your life, I really do recommend giving the exercise log and/or daily meditation a try. Like I said before, I'm not a huge fan of resolutions, but I am really enjoying these two small changes to my life.

As for the pile of workout clothes... I still hate doing laundry, but at least my bathroom looks neat and tidy.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Sobering Confession of Mental Health

January is a sobering month for me.

Eight years ago, right around today's date, my husband took me to a mental health crisis center after a few-month struggle with postpartum depression that took a turn toward psychosis. I felt nothing but blankness and anger, and my mind was preoccupied with suicidal thoughts and paranoia.

People who have never experienced such a horrible state of mind seldom understand. "Just snap out of it," I heard. "Just get a good night's sleep and you'll feel better in the morning." Nope. Try again. "She's just crazy," others said. The worst one? Oh, that's easy: "Mental illness is bullshit."

Let me set the record straight for anyone who doubts it: mental illness is a very real and devastating diagnosis. What followed my trip to the crisis center were three years of utter hell involving constant supervision under a psychiatrist, prescription medication, therapy, couples counseling, frequent mental breakdowns, a manic period that involved moving to a new state and buying a house I'd never seen (talk about a poor life decision, but don't judge, please, because unless you've been there, you cannot possibly understand the severity of mania), weight gain of almost 20 pounds (thanks, Lithium), and a complete loss of all sense of self.

The interventions got out of hand. I was prescribed medications that caused me to lose control of my hands while driving, that convinced me that taking a solo walk in the middle of the night in one of Seattle's most crime-ridden areas was a good idea, and that literally changed my personality. Looking at photos from that time of my life is painful; I am unrecognizable to myself. The wild look in my eyes, my expressions, the body language - none of it even resembles who I have always been.

The impact on my husband and two very young girls was stressful, to say the least. I went through the day-to-day motions ensuring that diapers were changed, games were played, mouths were fed, and then I'd lie in bed awake most nights wishing that a meteor would strike my house and land on me so that I wouldn't have to repeat the daily nightmare again and again. I often look back and feel a sense of massive relief that my girls were too young to remember the time that their mother was barely able to function.

Five years ago, I reached the ultimate turning point: die or choose to live. Somehow, from deep within the shrouds of severe depression, I found the will and desire to live and found a new therapist. Under my doctor's supervision, I spent six weeks weaning off all medication, and January was my first month sober from the overmedicated haze. The change was immediate. I lost nearly all the weight I'd gained in a month and a half. The depression and fuzziness lifted. I could see that the world was full of endless possibilities, and I was able to recognize just how much I loved being a mom to two beautiful, precious girls.

The last five years of my life has been a journey of health. I started a new career, we moved to a safe neighborhood, I began practicing yoga and running, picked up doing hip hop dance, focused on eating a healthy diet, learned how to make friends who were kind and supportive, and gathered the courage to continually work on becoming the wife and mom my husband and girls deserve.

I was ashamed of my mental health issues for years, but I am no longer afraid of what others might think. Hitting this very rock bottom that took half a decade to dig out of has made me the strongest and healthiest version of myself that I have ever been. I am a much better wife, mom, and friend because of my experiences, and I wouldn't take that life lesson away even if it meant surpassing the horrible pain through which I struggled.

Kudos to this guy who made the difficult decision to get me help eight years ago, held me when I tried pushing him away, and never stopped believing in me. Today I am well, and I could never have done it without his support and huge smile.

The couple that runs trails together wearing
 INKnBURN looks pretty spiffy!
I love this guy so much. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Little Bit Stupid

The last several weeks of traveling seems to have finally caught up with me. I've been battling a sore throat with sinus congestion and a headache, and I haven't felt much like doing anything other than lounging around and drinking hot tea.

Despite this, I have stubbornly decided that a minor illness with no trace of a fever or chest congestion isn't going to stop me from doing some form of daily exercise. Why? Other than the obvious of being just a touch of stupid, I received this free training log from Runner's World and I can't stand the thought of writing "rest day" in place of some kind of workout when I know I'm not that sick.

I know. It sounds a little crazy, but bear with me. I feel best when I can look back on my day and see that I made an effort to push myself physically. That does not mean that I'm planning to go run eight miles with a cold, though. Instead, last night I joined James and did his low-impact back, core, and hip PT exercises, then we went for a 25-minute walk completely bundled up with lined pants and warm jackets in the sub-freezing temps. Today, I have made the executive decision to skip my normal 3-5 mile Thursday run and instead just go to my hip-hop dance class that I normally attend.

It's all about moderation when you're feeling under the weather. I also like thinking of it as, "You know you're a runner when...."

'Nuff said. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Bit of Thug in my Kitchen

James got me this cookbook for Christmas, and I instantly busted up laughing while flipping through the pages amidst the frequent ooohhh I need that in my belly comments.

Though he admitted to buying it because it's hilarious and he hadn't looked at a single recipe, I was stoked to learn that every recipe in it is plant-based. That's right, folks - this cookbook is vegan! 

As I have mentioned before, I am not a vegan but I do try to eat like one most of the time. While I did spend a small chunk of my life trying out the vegan lifestyle, I learned that it's just not healthy for me to obsess over what I eat and wear. Instead, I stick to a primarily plant-based diet but don't sweat it if the pressure cooker calls for a hot Tuscan chicken stew on a cold day. It's all about moderation, peeps.

We decided to give our first thug recipe a try yesterday afternoon, so we whipped out a batch of their BBQ Bean Burritos with Grilled Peach Salsa. Except we cheated and bought a peach and mango salsa because peaches aren't in season and we were too lazy to consider firing up the grill in below-freezing temps for canned peaches. 

Ours looked more like this, but holy cow they were amazing!
It wasn't pretty... but dayummm it was good!
I tried to be clever by using foil to keep these bad boys in one clean piece while shoveling them into my face, but I gave up and just ended up allowing them to be good, messy burritos the way the universe intended them to be. 

If you're curious about the book but don't want to commit just yet, you can find the Thug Kitchen blog here. Even if you have no desire to adopt a plant-based diet, I do recommend giving at least one of their recipes a try - you won't be disappointed. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year's Resolutions

I dislike New Year's resolutions. There. I said it. It's not because I think bettering oneself is bad, though; it's because I find them a little depressing. We tend to often make resolutions only to drop that new life-changing diet or extreme exercise program just weeks after embarking on an optimistic journey intended to positively impact our life in some way that we feel is lacking. The failure to uphold the resolution leaves us disappointed in ourselves, and sometimes we fall victim to allowing the bad habit or poor diet to become an exaggerated form of what it was before we made the choice to change it.

Personally, I feel this issue happens in my own life when I attempt too big of a change without allowing it to build over time. Instead, I generally try to make very small life and habit modifications when the thought occurs to me: Oh hey, you know how you leave your sweaty workout clothes draped over the side of the tub until all surface area is covered in a mound of filthy laundry? Yeah, get your act together and just throw them in the clothes bin as soon as they dry off. Ideally, I recognize that my adult self is telling my bratty teenage self that it's time to not leave my crap everywhere, and I make the choice then and there to change a bad habit.

Though I am often Type A enough to change a minor habit on a whim, there are two habits that I recognize as ongoing issues that require more attention than a simple casual decision to change.

First, I wholly admit that despite constant recognition of my bad habit, I still leave sweat-soaked clothes hanging all over the edge of the tub to dry for days on end. So gross and lazy, right? I'm a tidy person, so this behavior kind of boggles my mind.

And second, my therapist has told me on more than one occasion that I need to adopt a habit of daily meditation to help combat my anxiety disorder. I believe her because I've done it and it works really well, but for some reason I have difficulty getting myself to make it an ongoing habit.

So what am I going to do about this? Insert Operation Step Outside of My Comfort Zone. This year I decided to make not one but two freaking New Year's resolutions:

  1. Daily meditation; and
  2. Daily cleanup of sweaty clothes.
Truth be told, I actually cheated and started doing both of these things before the new year began. I'm hoping that because both are relatively simple-to-achieve resolutions that my inner teenager can get past her rolling eyes and keep the trend going, and I'm also hoping that I will be more conscious of making these two changes by making them official New Year's resolutions.

We'll see. I'll keep you updated. 

INKnBURN Butterfly girl says, "Ooooommmmmm...."