Monday, December 29, 2014

January Challenge ~ Green Smoothies + No Sugar.

Now that the holiday season is wrapping up, it's time to get back to a regular schedule and stop any over-indulgence that happened over the month of December. There's nothing wrong with enjoying this time of year - I'll be the first to admit I love everything about the holiday season, including the desserts and special treats {like my family's vertical glass Christmas tree filled with red and green M&Ms, and Norwegian potato lefse spread with butter, sprinkled with white sugar, and rolled up into a few delicious bites}.

No matter what, I tend to over-indulge every year during the holidays and need a re-set in the beginning weeks of the new year. Last year, my 2014 re-set involved many healthy soups using new kitchen gadgets that K and I received as wedding gifts. I experimented with a variety of vegetable combinations, and settled on Roasted Carrot & Cauliflower Soup as a favorite.

In 2015, my re-set will involve daily green smoothies {with spinach or kale} and a commitment to avoid added sugars for the month of January. To me, "added sugars" means anything with extra sugar added - desserts, granola bars, commercial coffee creamer, you name it. K is joining me on this challenge, and I'll be checking in every Monday with a new smoothie recipe. We are committed to drinking an average of five green smoothies every week. Mostly for breakfast, but snack green smoothies count too. For the no-sugar part of the challenge, we still plan to eat fruit and other naturally sweet foods, like dates and figs.

The challenge starts this Thursday, January 1. Leave a comment if you want to join us on a re-set of your own this January!

Here are a few smoothies to get you started:
Green Peach Smoothie
Mango-Banana Green Smoothie
Green Tropics Smoothie
Green Smoothie Base Recipe
Cherry Chocolate Protein Smoothie
"Green" Banana Cherry Smoothie
Five Runner-Friendly Smoothie Recipes

Have a great Monday!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Half Mile Interval Treadmill Run + Favorite Treadmill Workouts.

I don't know about you, but I need a serious run today after Christmas cheer in the form of decadent meals, desserts and family parties daily over the past week! As a contributor to the NBC Chicago Stride blog, I wrote a post on 3 Tips for Winter Running earlier this month. One of those tips is to learn to love the treadmill. Perhaps the weather is not optimal for running wherever you are this week, or squeezing in a treadmill run in your parents' basement is easier than finding time for a route outdoors. Either way, here is my latest treadmill run - a half mile interval workout that anyone can complete for a long or short run indoors.

To top it off, below are a few more of my favorite treadmill workouts from the past year. I hope runners will be motivated to try something new during this long holiday weekend. Happy running!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Chicago Holiday Favorites.

Merry Christmas Eve! I'm in Iowa visiting family this week, but I'm celebrating the holiday with all of you by sharing the best local activities in the city - Chicago is incredibly festive at this time of year. Below are my recent Chicago Holiday Favorites.

Holiday Tea at the Drake Hotel
I attended a work lunch a few weeks ago at the Palm Court inside the Drake Hotel for holiday tea service. The Palm Court offers a special holiday tea from November 15th to January 4th. Tea service includes an individual pot of tea from a huge selection, with a mix of bite-sized lunch items. The lunch includes mini sandwiches, fancy breads, and desserts. We had chicken salad, cucumber, and lobster salad sandwiches, poppy seed bread and mini scones with jam. Desserts included pumpkin mousse, cream puffs in the shape of swans, and bite-sized apple pies. I had chocolate truffle mint rooibos tea to top off the meal. The tea room is beautiful and the Drake is fully decorated for the holidays. There is a harpist playing, and professional carolers take song requests from each table. I highly recommend stopping by the Drake this time of year, even if you just walk through to check out the beautiful interior.

Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo
My friend S and I did a long run to Zoo Lights on a recent Friday evening after work, and ended the night at Home Slice Pizza in Lincoln Park with our husbands. Lincoln Park Zoo hosts Zoo Lights every year, ending on January 4th. The entire zoo is decked out in an impressive display of lights, and admittance is free. There is hot chocolate and beer available to buy, and you can walk through a few of the animal displays to warm up {my favorite is the Kovler Lion House}. No matter what, the most impressive part of this event are the flashing light displays set to music - any Nutcracker tune wins in my book.

Christkindl Market at Daley Plaza
My absolute favorite holiday activity in Chicago is to walk through Christkindl Market to check out the European-style holiday ornaments and have a taste of mulled wine. Christkindl Market is housed every year at the outdoor Daley Plaza, in the middle of the Loop downtown. Earlier this week, K and I had the chance to visit with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law {Kristen from Make the Best of Everything}! Even though it was a rainy night, we made the best of it by finding a spot in a heated tent to enjoy mulled wine.

Have a great holiday!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pomegranate, Chocolate Chunk & Coconut Cookies.

Pomegranate, Chocolate Chunk & Coconut Cookies are packed with delicious ingredients - try a new way to use pomegranate seeds in dessert.

Happy weekend!

Mine has been full of running and eating, with a few festive events thrown in for good measure. I started Saturday with a 7 mile run with the Nike+ Run Club. A few members of my Nike+ Chiberia Challenge team met for the run, and completed the 5 mile route. My friend S and I kept going afterwards to hit 7 miles for the day. We celebrated with a quick visit to Stan's Donuts & Coffee around the corner. I had a lemon + pistachio old-fashioned donut with an almond milk latte. This was my first visit to Stan's and I highly recommend it! My donut had a crunchy exterior and a delicious pistachio glaze frosting. Stan's opened earlier this year, bringing California-style donuts to the Midwest. The original Stan's in L.A. has been open since 1963! I have a feeling this shop will do great in this city as well.

Sunday morning started with more running {you may notice there's a theme here}, with the festive Rudolph Ramble 8k race at Diversey Harbor in Lincoln Park. This was my first time running a holiday-themed race in the city. We had gorgeous weather for the Midwest in December, in the upper 40's. My Nike+ Chiberia Challenge team is currently in first place, and I ran just over 45 miles this week to finish out the first six days of the challenge!

With all this running, I've snacked on a cookie or two most nights this week without regrets. I love cookies with lots going on inside - this version combines pomegranate seeds, chocolate chunks, and sweetened shredded coconut. Pomegranates are back in season through early winter, and you might as well add an ingredient to your dessert that's packed with antioxidants, right?

I reduced the sugar slightly from the original recipe to make up for the sweetened shredded coconut. This recipe makes a large number of cookies, over three dozen using a medium-sized cookie scoop. These cookies also freeze incredibly well. If serving for a party, take them out of the freezer the night before to thaw and they will taste fresh as can be.

Pomegranate, Chocolate Chunk & Coconut Cookies
Makes 3 and 1/2 dozen cookies.

1 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup unsalted butter {2 sticks}
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda {dissolved in 2 teaspoons hot water}
1 and 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
2/3 cup shredded coconut {sweetened}

How to~
*Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
*Cream together butter and the sugars. Add vanilla and eggs until combined.
*Dissolve the baking soda into 2 teaspoons of hot water and add to the mixed ingredients. Add the salt.
*Add flour in several batches, mixing until combined.
*Add the shredded coconut, pomegranate seeds, and chocolate chunks.
*Bake for ~10-12 minutes.

{Adapted from All Recipes' Best Chocolate Chip Cookies}

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Year of Wellness - Call for Nominations.

The blogs on my "follow" list have been full of thoughtful holiday gift ideas over the past few weeks, ranging from gadgets for foodies to gifts for a fitness-loving lady friend. I love reading gift idea lists, but I have one more to throw out there if you're thinking about an extra special holiday gift for a family member or friend this year: consider submitting a nomination for the Year of Wellness Contest from Fitness Formula Clubs {FFC}!

This is the third year of the Year of Wellness, and the winner will receive an entire year's worth of wellness gifts, including personal training, nutrition consulting, massages, and more from various sponsors {valued at more than $15,000}! FFC started this contest to give back to the community, and offer someone the tools needed to start {or in some cases, continue} a healthy lifestyle journey.

The first Year of Wellness 2013 winner was Quinetta Taylor, pictured at the Gift of Hope Lifesaving Partner Awards ceremony this fall. Gift of Hope is an organ and tissue donation non-profit organization. Quinetta applied for the Year of Wellness to continue her weight loss journey as a woman suffering from chronic kidney disease. At the end of her winning year, she had lost an amazing 120 pounds.

 {Daniela Spaid of FFC and 2013 Year of Wellness winner Quinetta Taylor}

Year of Wellness submissions must include a photo and 300 words or less on why the nominee deserves to win {you can also nominate yourself}. Entries will be posted on the FFC website on December 16th, and voting by the public will continue through midnight on December 31st. A panel of judges will vote on the winner out of the top five nominees with the most votes. One winner will be selected in mid-January, and the winner must live in the greater Chicagoland area.  

Entries are due on Monday, December 15th - click here to submit a nomination.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Nike+ Chiberia Challenge and Chicago Jogger.

Calling all Chicago runners! I have an amazing and fun opportunity for a winter running challenge with Nike starting next week... the Nike+ Chiberia Challenge.

The challenge: Run 70+ miles in 13 days {between December 8th and midnight on December 21st}, logging all miles in the Nike+ app. Miles can be logged either outdoors or inside. Five teams are participating, with fifteen runners on each team. There are fantastic prizes available, including a Nike Flash running jacket for the first runner to reach 70 miles. The winning team is the first where all runners reach 70 miles. Winning team members will receive a pair of Nike Flash running shoes! My team is capped at fifteen runners, and spots are first come, first serve.

Click here to register for my team! 

How to Sign Up:
  1. Register for a free Nike+ account and download the app.
  2. Sign up for my team here.
  3. Add Nike Chicago on the Nike+ running app, by Monday the 8th.
  4.  Accept the Chiberia Challenge on the app {released on Monday}.
  5. Run your heart out!
There is a kick-off event happening on Monday evening, December 8th, at the Nike Running store in Bucktown, at 6:30 pm. All team members will run together to start the challenge on the right foot. If you can't make it, no worries - log miles on your own using the Nike+ app! What better way to run off a few {dozen} cookies this season?

{Disclosure: In exchange for participating as a Team Captain for the Nike+ Chiberia Challenge, I will receive free running gear for outdoor running. Thank you for supporting Chicago Jogger!}

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Butternut Squash & Spinach Lasagna.

I'm on a huge butternut squash kick this season! Tonight I'm excited to share a delicious, healthier recipe combining one of my favorite, indulgent winter dinners {lasagna!} while substituting roasted squash slices for the noodles. I made this recipe two ways while testing it, with and without cheese. K and I decided that going the cheese route is the best for this dish, but you could certainly leave it out and add extra sauce, veggies or meat instead. This makes an excellent dinner for four, or two with leftovers. I swear it's even better the second day.

I also substituted cottage cheese for ricotta in this version of lasagna. Some may think that's odd, but my mom has always used it for her lasagna dishes and it's a perfect, healthier substitute for creamy ricotta. I used low-fat cottage cheese because I like the texture much better than the non-fat/skim version. This recipe is also inspired by my recent Factor 75 experience, a local meal delivery service. My favorite delivered dish from Factor 75 {<-- affiliate link} was the butternut squash lasagna. While Factor 75's version contained meat and no cheese, it was absolutely delicious and an excellent healthy dinner for a busy weeknight.

This particular lasagna makes three layers, using a medium-sized butternut squash in a deep baking dish. The key is roasting the squash in 1/4 inch rounds as your first step, before assembling the lasagna. Otherwise you really can't go wrong using squash in place of noodles!

Butternut Squash & Spinach Lasagna
Serves 4.

1 butternut squash
1/2 yellow onion {chopped}
2 cloves garlic {chopped}
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup small curd cottage cheese {I used low fat}
1 jar marinara sauce {24 ounces; I used Bertolli's classic marinara}
1 package {8 ounces} part skim shredded mozzarella cheese
3+ cups spinach
1 egg
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

How to~
*Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
*Peel butternut squash and cut into 1/4 inch round slices. Drizzle with oil, salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.
*While the squash is roasting, saute chopped onions on medium heat in a few teaspoons of oil, for ~5 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking for ~3 minutes.
*Prepare the cheese mixture. Start by whisking 1 egg in a small bowl. Stir in 3/4 cup cottage cheese. Add 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Stir in 2 cups of shredded cheese.
*Assemble - add a small amount of marinara to the bottom of your dish. Layer squash, cheese mix, spinach/onion mix, and marinara. Repeat the layering twice, and top with a handful of the remaining shredded cheese.
*Bake assembled lasagna in a covered dish for ~15 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 additional minutes.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday Running Challenge - Weeks 1-2.

K and I arrived home from visiting family in Iowa mid-afternoon yesterday, finishing the weekend by procuring + trimming the tree. There is a long list of Christmas tree lots in the city. We get our tree from the same place every year, Chicago Christmas Tree Lots at the Lakeview Jewel. The trees come from a farm in northern Wisconsin, and I love supporting a Midwest business since we don't have the option to hand select a tree from a farm ourselves.

There is more decorating to come; it turns out my small container from our apartment last year isn't enough to make the rooms in our house festive this year. Before I get distracted by sparkly things, let's talk about running. The thing that most inspires me about reading fitness and running blogs are posts with workout recaps. Weekly recaps in particular are intriguing, to see how other people work fitness into their lives. It's not always clear when there are struggles - a cold, an off week, busy collapse on the couch days. I think it's important to share realistic details about fitness along with the triumphs.

This is the third week of the Holiday Running Challenge, and the miles are right on track so far. I intended to post an update every Monday, but this little thing called life + a hectic holiday week got in the way and an update didn't happen. Updates every other week are more realistic.

Here are the first two challenge weeks:

Week 1 - Week of Nov. 16th:
Sunday - Ran 3 outside
Wednesday - Ran 3 treadmill
Friday - Ran 4 outside
= 10 miles

Week 2 - Week of Nov. 24th:
Sunday - Ran 5 outside
Wednesday - Ran 3 outside
Thursday- Ran 3.5 treadmill
Saturday- Ran 3.1 treadmill
= 14.6 miles

This week, I'm focusing on why to run as motivation. I came across a Huffington Post article a few months ago, titled 19 Reasons To Start Running and it's still on my bookmark list. Most of these reasons are reasons to run for me as well, especially #'s 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10. However, my number one answer to the "why run" question is, why not?

{Image from Pinterest, via it's always autumn}

Have a great week - comment if you'd like to join me on this running challenge!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cranberry Recipe Roundup + Healthy Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins.

When I think about Thanksgiving, the main dishes come to mind - turkey, buttery mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, and cranberries. Perhaps as a sauce for your turkey, or in a chilled cranberry salad. My huge family gathering {over 40 people!} usually includes one of those cool whip + fresh cranberry concoctions as a side dish, and cranberry sauce in a dish somewhere. I have to admit I usually don't go for either cranberry offering. The jelly-like canned version of cranberry sauce is too strange, and I would rather save my whipped topping fix for the pies!

However you use them, including cranberries is one way to pack a healthy ingredient into an otherwise decadent holiday meal. Cranberries are full of antioxidants, as well as Vitamin C and fiber. These red beauties are actually a "superfood" that should be enjoyed year-round. In the spirit of Thanksgiving week, I compiled a cranberry recipe round-up from other bloggers. Perhaps your family is still looking for a new recipe to add to the table this year, or you will be inspired to try one of these to get your cranberry fix after the big event on Thursday. I also have a new cranberry recipe to share as part of this round-up, for a healthy breakfast treat or snack - Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins.

Enjoy, and have a wonderful week!

Cranberry Apple Walnut Stuffing from Thrifty Jinxy:

Splash O'Port Cranberry Relish from BonBon Break:

Cranberry Orange Quinoa Salad from Gal on a Mission:

Shredded Brussel Sprouts Salad {with cranberries!} from The Kitchen is My Playground:

Cranberry Vinaigrette from Healthy Seasonal Recipes:

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Bread with Cranberries from Andrea Meyers:

Acorn Squash with Cornbread Sausage Stuffing from The Farm Girl Gabs:

Last but not least, below is a new recipe for healthy muffins packed with dried cranberries - the oil and butter normally in a baked good is substituted with pumpkin puree and applesauce, and lower sugar is made up for by using pure maple syrup.

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 eggs
1 and 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup pure maple syrup {I used Grade A from Wisconsin}
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

How to~
*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon.
*In a separate bowl, mix eggs, pumpkin puree, maple syrup and applesauce until smooth.
*Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly to make a smooth batter.
*Spoon batter into muffin cups or a greased muffin tin. Bake for ~25-30 minutes.

{Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins adapted from Taste of Home's Apple Pumpkin Muffins}

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Q&A with Factor 75.

{I was not compensated to write this post and all opinions are my own. I received four free meals from Factor 75 to facilitate my review. This post contains affiliate links to the Chicago Jogger Landing Page, which means I receive credit if you purchase meals using the CHICAGOJOGGER code. Look for details below - thanks for supporting the companies I believe in!}
As the busy holiday season nears, I'm expecting all of us will have less time to cook. A local Chicago company, Factor 75, contacted me last month to see if I would be interested in tasting and reviewing a few healthy meals from their delivery service. Factor 75 meals are fresh, not frozen, and ready to eat or go into the fridge for another day. This was my first experience with a meal delivery service and it was an easy process! The meals arrived right on time, packed in a box with ice.

I ordered four meals for K and I to try, including Butternut Squash Lasagna, Pumpkin/Apple Hash with Chicken Sausage, Chicken Fajitas, and a Taco Bowl. All of the meals we tried were delicious, but my absolute favorite was the squash lasagna. Butternut squash is a fall staple in our house, and this version was cooked perfectly, paired with marinara, ground turkey, and spinach as a hearty lasagna. Factor 75 meals are intended as individual servings. However, the chicken fajitas ended up extending to two meals for me when K was out of town for work travel, with the addition or corn tortillas and extra avocado. Healthy fats! Check out this week's menu here.

Factor75 currently delivers to the whole state of Illinois, including the Chicagoland area. The company is developing plans to expand regionally in the Midwest in the next few months. Enter your zip code here to see whether the company delivers to your area. If you're interested in checking out Factor 75, you can get one free meal with the purchase of five items. Click here to check out the Chicago Jogger landing page - enter the code CHICAGOJOGGER to get your free meal. Purchasing any combination of five items qualifies you for a free meal {buy five, get one free!} - even breakfast and snacks.
Factor 75 is located in the neighborhood Pilsen, with a new kitchen in Northbrook, IL. I am impressed by Factor 75's tasty offerings and the company's dedication to healthy meals for busy people. The company even has an eBook: FiveSteps to Optimal Nutrition. I asked company founder Nick Wernimont to answer a few questions for readers, to provide additional background and throw my support behind a growing local company.

Q&A with Factor 75's Nick Wernimont

How was Factor 75 founded?
I had a full time job and was an MMA fighter so between 8-10 hour work days and 3-5 hours training a day I didn’t have time to eat healthy or make my own meals.  My body broke down after a short time.  Fortunately a trainer of mine introduced me to a personal chef who worked with athletes and she started making my meals for me.  The difference it made was incredible and almost immediate.  I had no idea how big of an impact what you put into your body was as to what you got out of it.  I found the biggest factor that impacted my performance, both physically and mentally, was food.

I immediately wished I had discovered nutrition earlier. I thought more people should know how it feels to walk around every day with the type of energy, focus and motivation that I did only from a change in how I ate. People are busy, though and most can't afford a personal chef. So I dropped everything and started working on a way to make it happen for them anyway.

Factor 75 isn’t about dieting. It is about Performance Eating. We want to help our customers eat optimally so they can perform at their best and get the absolute most out of their precious time. Whether you’re a marathoner, a tri-athlete, a cage-fighter; or a busy professional looking to perform better at work, a mom or dad looking to get more out of the time you have with your family, eating better means living better.

What is Factor 75's mission and inspiration? 
We believe people should spend their time creating moments that matter.  That life is not valued in number of years, but quality of moments you create. Our mission is to help people eat better so they can live better.

Our inspiration comes from our community.  These are people who lead by example, people who are always striving to improve and want to perform their best no matter the activity they choose.  They are athletes, professionals, mom’s and dad’s, anyone really who is passionate about living life to the fullest.  We respect that and are here to serve them. 

How often do your menu items change, and what inspires the changes?  
We add new dishes to our menu weekly, sometimes bi-weekly.  It depends on if we believe we have a dish that fits ours and our customers expectations.  The inspirations come from our entire team and our customers.  We all sit down and ask ourselves what dishes Mom and Grandma made that we would love to eat more often and can make healthy.  We take the dishes we all love and re-engineer them with healthier ingredients.  The result is comfort food that not only taste great but is incredibly nutritious.

Does Factor 75 use seasonal and/or local ingredients? 
Yes. We use a lot of seasonal ingredients as we rotate the menu through the year.  All of our ingredients are organic and whenever possible we use local farms to source them. 

What types of meals are available?
We have recently revamped our menu so there has been some changes.  All of our dishes are now Gluten-Free, Soy-Free and 100% Organic.  A lot of our menu is also Paleo.  We had vegetarian options but recently removed them for the time being.  Our nutrition philosophy does include animal protein and fat so we have taken them off.

What is the service area in Chicago?  
We currently serve anywhere in the state of Illinois.

How can Factor 75 help a busy lifestyle?
The average American spends 2.5 hours a day sourcing their meals.   Often these meals have very poor nutrition and frankly, taste like crap.  We save you 2.5 hours a day, delivery delicious meals that make you feel awesome.  Simple enough…

For more information about Factor 75, check out their blog and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Holiday Running Challenge.

Last year, I posted a Winter Running Challenge with the goal of running 100 miles in ten weeks, ending on New Years Eve 2013. I squeaked by with just over 100 miles, with my final run on the last day of the year. Ten miles per week may not seem like a lot, but 2013 was the first year I managed to run consistently over the winter months. Many of those miles were run on a treadmill, and there were weeks when I ran considerably less than average due to vacation, sickness, and busy nights.

My struggle every winter is getting the miles in and enjoying it. I love to run outside and it's tough for me to stay motivated in an overheated gym, waiting in line for a treadmill. Heading home after work and drinking hot cider generally sounds much more appealing.

This year I'm pushing the weekly average mileage slightly higher. Since I focused on training for the Hot Chocolate 15k up until last week, I decided to try something different - a shorter time period for the challenge, and more focus on motivation. What motivates you to run, practice yoga, or complete whatever fitness activity is your jam? I'm going to focus on one thing each week that's motivating - and stock up on better outdoor running gear so I can jog outside when feasible {I'm giving the Polar Vortex a side eye right now}.

I'll post an update every Monday on progress from the previous week. Comment if you'd like to join on your own challenge this season!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Five Step Treadmill Workout + Lately List.

I was smacked with a blast of freezing air yesterday morning on my way to work. What a reminder that I need to get back to creative treadmill ideas with unseasonably chilly temperatures in the area this week! Let's look on the bright side though - my brother lives in Minneapolis, and the city received several inches of snow a few days ago. At least all I see this morning is a dusting in the yard.

Regardless, I will not be running outside today. My winter running wardrobe is sorely lacking at the moment. Until I get that back on track, here is a quick treadmill workout that I ran the other night after work. I wanted to get in a short run so I did two cycles through this list, ending up with 35 minutes and 3.3 miles. I might try for three cycles on this evening's run.

I also have a fun "Lately" list to share that I first I read a few weeks ago on A Foodie Stays Fit. Teri is one of my favorite fitness blogs to read, and I wanted to play along. If you copy/paste this list on your own blog, leave a comment with your link! I would love to read what's going on in your world.

Making: A smoothie for breakfast this morning - with a banana, spinach, frozen peach slices, Greek yogurt, and lots of cinnamon.
Cooking: Purple Stokes Sweet Potatoes. I made them mashed and roasted this week, and I can't wait to try a vegetarian shepard's pie.
Drinking: La Croix Orange - daily. Sometimes twice.
Reading: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell- hanging on every word! {<-- not an affiliate link}
Wanting: A piano. I played from age 6 to 18 and we have a perfect spot in our dining room.
Looking: For home decor - curtains and rugs are at the top of my list.
Playing: Words with Friends. K are I are battling in a game or two most of the time. I usually lose. Boo!
Wasting: Time on Pinterest.
Sewing: Nothing. My sewing skills are sorely lacking! I got a B- in a button sewing exercise in middle school. I know.
Wishing: For a healthy and joyful holiday season.
Enjoying: All the squash - especially butternut. I have a few new recipe ideas in mind; coming soon if they turn out!
Waiting: For time to listen to tonight's episode of the Serial podcast. It's soo good! I wish episodes were longer than 30 minutes.
Liking: This pair of brown boots.
Wondering: When the first big snowfall will hit this season. I hope it waits for a day without work travel...
Loving: Everything from West Elm. All the things!
Hoping: For good weather to run outdoors this weekend {a high above 35 degrees, please}.
Marveling: That the holiday season is almost here. I refuse to join any Christmas-like activities until the day after Thanksgiving.
Needing: Nothing! Wanting, that's another story.
Smelling: An Apple Pie Filling candle, found at Home Goods. Can't get enough.
Wearing: Warm clothes - it's 24 degrees today. Yikes.
Following: Virtual running friends on Twitter. Who do I need to add next?
Noticing: The chill in the air.
Knowing: I need to run on the treadmill today.
Thinking: About my Christmas gift list for family. This season is sneaking up on me!
Feeling: Motivated to {finally} finish painting the trim in our upstairs hallway.
Bookmarking: Winter soup recipes. I'm still in denial, but I can't wait to try this recipe for Thai Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato & Carrot Soup!
Opening: My computer far too often. I need to figure out a day to unplug, stat.
Giggling: At photos of a newly rescued kitten on our family farm. So incredibly sweet.

Lastly, I'm happy it's almost the weekend! Have a wonderful Thursday.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k Race Recap.

My longest race this fall finally happened over the weekend, after nine weeks of training. Sunday morning started in the five o'clock hour with coffee and almond butter toast, to wake up for the Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k! I ran with two dear friends J and S, including S's dad who traveled from Iowa to run with us.

{I received a free race registration for the Hot Chocolate 15k race in Chicago as part of the Hot Chocolate Blog Ambassador program}.

We arrived bright and early by the recommended time of 6:40am, to get in line for wave 2 of the race. The Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k/5k series sold out with 40,000 {yes, thousand!} runners this year, and the race line-up was incredibly organized. We did a quick drop at gear check and made it to our designated letter with plenty of time to spare. A new "letter" of runners started every four minutes, leaving space for runners to avoid tripping over each other.

It was chilly at the start, and I learned my lesson to wear warmer socks the next time it's sub-40 degrees for a race. Thankfully we warmed up quickly once the run started. We ran underneath Randolph Street and around the Loop for a bit, before heading south on Michigan Avenue, through the South Loop neighborhood. The race circled back north along an inner Lake Shore Drive street and ended in Grant Park, where it began.

I ran the Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k for the first time in 2010, and improved my overall time this year by more than 10 minutes! I'm definitely calling that a 15k PR. I run much more regularly these days, and sticking to the training plan for this race definitely helped. The first few miles were slower while we found our running groove with the crowd and started passing people. I think we would have finished a few minutes faster had we been in a higher letter (we were in the "N" corral). My goal was to finish with a 10:30/minute pace, but we finished strong and I'm happy with this result!

Overall time: 1:39:18
Pace: 10:40/mile
Overall place: 8,095th out of 14,164
Age group place: 897th out of 1,728

I can't forget the sweet medal - or the chocolate! The "finisher's mug" did not disappoint. Each runner received a steaming cup of hot chocolate with a side of fondue. I don't know how they kept the hot chocolate warm for so many thousands of people, but I enjoyed every sip. For fondue dipping, the mug came with a banana, mini pretzels, and a small wafer cookie. We finished the morning with brunch and a mimosa at The 3rd Coast Cafe in Old Town. I finished the afternoon with a nap!

For more information about the Hot Chocolate 15k/5k RAM Racing Series in other cities, click here. You can also follow Hot Chocolate on Twitter and like on Facebook.

Have you ever run a Hot Chocolate race?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Running Update + Healthy Pumpkin Spice Bites

This quick, no-bake recipe for Healthy Pumpkin Spice Bites is full of delicious pumpkin spice flavors with only 6 ingredients.

If you haven't already, please get out and vote at your local precinct today! For inspiration, check out this Huffington Post article on 27 Badass Images of Women Winning and Exercising the Right to Vote. Powerful images of an important civic duty.

{Image via Huffington Post, from Gabriel Hackett /Getty Images - "Vote baby vote."}

Now let's talk about fall running before I share a new, seasonal healthy snack recipe. I loved gaining an extra hour over the weekend {even though it meant I got out of bed even earlier than usual, around the 6:00 hour. I know.} However, I do not love darkness before 5:00 and the associated time I'll be spending on the treadmill instead of running outdoors. Sniff.

In early October, I posted a running check-in for the first five weeks of training for the Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k. The last few weeks have continued mostly on track, and my monthly miles in October totaled 65.2! This is definitely a PR month for me. Here is an update on the final few weeks of training:

Week 6: Ran 3.5; Ran 7 (long); Ran 10k race = 16.7 miles
Week 7: Ran 5; Ran 10k race = 11.2 miles 
Week 8: Ran 3.1; Ran 8 (long); Ran 4 = 15.1 miles

I started the last week of training {week 9!} with a 9 mile long run on Sunday, and I'm planning to take it easy for the rest of this week with two shorter runs to prepare for the race. After my final long run I was starving for snacks, and decided to try out a new recipe I've been thinking about for awhile - healthy pumpkin spice bites with only a few ingredients. This recipe comes together quickly in a food processor, with no cooking required.

My Pumpkin Spice Bites are inspired by Larabars. I have been thinking about making my own raw date + nut concoction for months but couldn't decide what flavor to try. Word on the street is Larabar sells a seasonal Pumpkin Pie Bar, but I haven't been able to find it in stores yet. Their version includes dates, dried pumpkin, cashews, and traditional pumpkin pie spices. I thought it would be fun to make a copycat recipe, using raw almonds and pumpkin puree instead of dried pumpkin.

These bites are the perfect bite-sized snack with a sweet, pumpkin pie flavor. There are no added sugars, only spices mixed with dates, raw almonds, pumpkin puree and pure vanilla extract. Try one, won't you?

Healthy Pumpkin Spice Bites
Yields: 12 energy bites

15 dates
3/4 cup raw almonds
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

How to~
*Start by processing the almonds in a food processor. {I like to keep a few small chunks in the mix, so I did not process the almonds into a powder.}
*Add half of the dates, and half of the pumpkin puree. Process the mixture a few times. Stop the processor and use a spatula to re-combine the mix if needed.
*Add the rest of the dates, pumpkin puree, spices, and vanilla extract. Keep processing until the ingredients are evenly combined.
*Remove from the food processor and form into balls. I used a medium-sized cookie scoop to ensure even sizing for each bite.
*Freeze for 30 minutes to harden. Keep refrigerated in a covered container - the bites should last cooled for up to one week!

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: N/A; 15 minutes to process and put the bites together.
Total time: 20 minutes

These bites come in at ~85 calories a piece, calculated by SparkRecipes.

Friday, October 31, 2014

October Favorites + Moji Giveaway.

Happy Halloween! We're moving into a chilly day in Chicago, with talk of snow flurries. What!? I hope the trick-or-treaters are ready for me to greet them in a winter sweater later today instead of a scary costume. I don't know about you, but wearing a winter sweater seems like a scary costume to me right now! Anyways. I have a short list of October favorites to share today, ending with a giveaway for a new tool perfect for sore muscles - the Moji 360 Massager. Scroll down for more!

Favorite Run ~ Monster Dash 10k Race. A few months ago, my best friend from high school and her husband moved to Chicago and we have been having a great time running and spending time together. Last weekend, we ran a Halloween-themed 10k race, the Monster Dash. The race started downtown in Grant Park, and looped south along the lakefront path. It was an unbelievably gorgeous and warm day, and the race ended with goodie bags full of candy, with an apple thrown in for good measure.

Favorite Sip ~ Vander Mill Totally Roasted Cider. K and I randomly found out about this limited edition cider from Vander Mill during a recent brunch at the Rocking Horse bar in Logan Square. Intrigued by the description and the fact that the cider was on tap, we decided to split one. Delicious! The cider includes the flavor of cinnamon-roasted pecans, achieved by {you guessed it} steeping cinnamon-roasted pecans IN the cider. I can't image a better fall flavor for a beverage.

 {Image via Vander Mill}

Favorite Funny ~ This Ron Swanson quote. Enough said.

{From Buzzfeed; image via Flickr: nanpalmero

Favorite Running Tool ~ The Moji 360 Massager. Moji sent me their 360 Massager recently to test and review. This is the first product I've tried for pre or post workout soreness, and I think it's the perfect tool to use for tense muscles! I ran an 8-mile training run to prepare for the Hot Chocolate 15k earlier this week, and this massager was great for my sore legs. 

The Moji 360 is a massage stick that's easy to use, with a handle on either side. It includes two sizes of spheres, designed for different muscle groups. Larger outside spheres dig deeper into the IT Band, calves, quads, etc. Smaller spheres on the inside are good for the lower back and neck. Another thing I love about this company is the fact that Moji is a recovery and massage brand based locally in the Chicago area, out of Glenview, IL. Moji is also active in the local running community through CARA.  

In case you need a massager like this for your running or other fitness activities, I am giving away one Moji 360 Massager to a reader! This giveaway is open for U.S. residents only. The winner will be contacted on November 10th, and Moji will mail the massager directly from their office. For more information about the Moji 360 Massager, like the company on Facebook or follow on Twitter.

 {I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are my own. I received a free Moji 360 Massager to review and giveaway to readers.}