Thursday, February 25, 2016

Interview with Elite Runner Alexi Pappas

This morning, I registered for my fifth Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k race. The Shamrock Shuffle is my favorite race in Chicago because it represents the official beginning of running outdoors after a long winter. Training for the race is also the perfect reason to run outside regularly during the first few weeks of spring. This year's Shamrock Shuffle race will be held on Sunday, April 3, starting and ending in Grant Park. I posted my training plan last year - 4 Weeks to Shamrock Shuffle. I ran a personal best in 2015, finishing in 46:25 with an average pace of 9:21 per mile. I'm planning to follow the same plan this year, focusing on 3 to 4 runs per week.

Before the 2015 Shamrock Shuffle race, I had the amazing opportunity to interview Olympic hopeful and Nike Oregon Track Club elite runner Alexi Pappas. Pappas held the No. 1 bib in the 2015 Shamrock Shuffle race. Last year,  she took the women's title with a time of 26:32. Earlier this week, it was announced that Pappas will return to run the Shamrock Shuffle this year, defending her winning title.

I talked to Alexi Pappas about her life as a runner, including her daily routine and motivations, both on and off the track. Last year's Shamrock Shuffle race marked Pappas' second visit to Chicago and her 25th birthday. Her first visit was in fall 2014 when she paced elite runners in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Pappas grew up in Alameda, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay area. She attended Dartmouth for her undergraduate years where she ran with the women's cross country team and studied creative writing and English. After graduation, she moved to Eugene, Ore., to run with the University of Oregon running team, the Ducks, and attend graduate school.

Beyond her running career, Pappas is a filmmaker, writer and actress with a background in improv theater. She and her boyfriend are currently in post-production on a coming-of-age film called "Tracktown USA," which stars Pappas and actors Rachel Dratch and Andy Buckley.

How did running become a career for you?

Running post-collegiately was not on my mind until I came to Eugene to run with the Ducks. I lived with two of my teammates. They were friends with runners on the Oregon Track Club Elite Team that I am now on. We would have dinners together and spend time together, and I could see that it was a very real and wonderful possibility to be part of the team after college.

How does the Eugene community motivate you?

The first time I came to Eugene was for the Olympic Trials in June 2012. The community in Eugene is a huge thing for me. It's not only the Ducks and the Nike Oregon Track Club. Many people in Eugene appreciate running and do it themselves. There is a great balance of people who care about what you are doing and also care about what they are doing in the same world. It's a positive feedback loop.

What distance do you race?

I am training to run the 10k on the track with the goal of the 2016 Olympics. I'm more of a 5k and 10k runner. (Last weekend) I ran the Gate River Run in Jacksonville, Fla. -- it's a 15k. Running the 15k helps make the 10k feel shorter!

How does a typical running day start for you?

It starts the night before, by setting my coffee maker to go off right when I wake up. I like to wake up to the smell of coffee. Lately I have been making a lot of French toast in the mornings, which sounds hard, but it's really not. After breakfast, I go to practice with my team. Morning practice is usually around three hours, incorporating a variety of workouts. Workouts may include hills, a progression run, the track or a tempo workout. I also do strength and conditioning twice a week with my running coach Ian Dobson.

What happens after your morning team workout?

I come home and make a big meal! Jeremy Teicher is my boyfriend and co-filmmaker. We eat, shower and stretch. We work on the film together for several hours in the afternoon. I have also gotten in the habit of napping in the afternoon. I was resistant for a while, but I realize now (sleep) is a very important thing. I do a secondary run in the afternoons, between 20 and 45 minutes. My afternoon run is usually at least five miles.

What's your favorite place to run in Eugene?

We try to go somewhere for our long run -- one long run on Sundays is pretty typical. There are a lot of options within 20 minutes of Eugene. The Amazon Trail is a great option. I try to stay soft as much as I can. Running soft is good for your body. There is a Ridgeline Trail System that we travel to. The trails have more hilly loops, and it's really fun.

What are you looking forward to in running the Shamrock Shuffle?

I am really excited because the only way I know the city of Chicago is through running. The first and only time I have been there was to pace the Chicago Marathon. It involved all the runners that are my big sister/big brother athletes. To be given the opportunity to contribute to the Chicago Marathon was so inspiring. I heard about the Shamrock Shuffle during the Chicago Marathon. It’s the 10-year anniversary of Deena Kastor setting the women’s American 8k record. Deena is my biggest inspiration in the sport. It’s special to follow in her footsteps and be the elite runner at the Shamrock Shuffle this year. I will finish, and I will race.

How do track races differ from road races?

I use one piece of advice that Deena gave me -- it’s so important and beneficial to take in the energy around you. Soak in the environment and use it as a positive distraction or a positive boost. On the track, I only need or hear what I want to hear. In a road race, I like to break things up not by miles, but by scenery.

What are three things that have shaped your running career so far?

First, being aware that I can contribute to the sport in a few ways. It’s so important for me to run fast, of course, but I want to bring a unique energy to the sport. I’m motivated by how I can contribute beyond just running a fast time. Second, I try to be proud of my own improvements. It’s really a curiosity thing. I always have a sense of my own goals. Third involves the people around me -- my coach, Ian, and my teammates. Being at the highest level of anything is such a privilege. It’s an amazing opportunity to be around so many people who are also pushing themselves to be their best. Road racing is particularly special because everyone is in the same race, giving the best effort at the same time, on the same course.

Beyond her daily training with an eye toward the June 2016 Olympic Trials, Pappas and Teicher work every night to finish "Tracktown USA," which is expected to be released next year. The film is a fictional story set in Eugene with Pappas playing Plumb, an Olympic hopeful finding her way.

“(Moving to Eugene), I found this place that embraced running like other places embrace football," Pappas said. "I like to tell stories in specific worlds. Eugene felt like this unbelievable place that has been captured on film but not in this way. What would it be like to grow up as a very motivated, sheltered runner that becomes increasingly distracted?”

Follow Alexi Pappas on Twitter for more on her life as a runner. If you run, what is your favorite local race?

{A version of this post was originally published by Chicago Jogger on the NBC Chicago Stride blog in March 2015. Click here to check out more articles from the blog.} 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Superfood Kiwi Green Smoothie

This Superfood Kiwi Green Smoothie is a delicious way to get extra nutrients for breakfast or a healthy snack.

I started drinking green smoothies back in 2013. It's a great way to get a ton of healthy nutrients into your body first thing in the morning. Early in 2015, K and I finished a "no added sugar" and daily green smoothie challenge, and he joined me in my love of green smoothies.

We are also working on a 60 day "No Added Sugar Challenge" right now, that ends in a few weeks. As part of this, we have been looking into adding more nutritious foods into our daily meals. K reviewed Dr. Furhman's Aggregate Nutrient Density Index last week, which gives a score to the most nutrient rich foods. For greens, kale and collard greens are at the top of the list.

This smoothie includes both kale and collard greens, as well as a few more healthy ingredients:


I promise, you can't taste the cilantro! Kiwi is the star of this smoothie, a fruit that is considered one of the most nutrient-dense {source}.

Try one!

Superfood Kiwi Green Smoothie
Yields: 2 smoothies

2 bananas {1 fresh, 1 frozen}
1 cup raw kale
1 cup raw collard greens
2 kiwis
1 cup frozen mango chunks
1 carrot
1/8 cup cilantro
2 cups unsweetened almond milk

How to~
*Peel and chop the carrot into chunks and remove skins from kiwis. Chop frozen banana into slices.
*Blend all ingredients until smooth.

For more healthy smoothie recipes, visit my Recipe Index.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

My First SoulCycle Class

Have you tried spinning before? What about SoulCycle? Target partnered with SoulCycle in 10 cities early this year in January and February to hold "pop-up" style classes. I tried a SoulCycle class on a recent weekend at a beautiful event space on Michigan Avenue, for the SoulCycle + Target weekend event in Chicago.

The verdict?

I loved it. It was a loud, heart pumping, leg crushing workout. I was still sore three days later, especially in my legs. I can't wait to go back.

The SoulCycle event pairing is an extension of Target's popular style collaborations. Target has expanded its fitness apparel line and healthy food options over the past year, and this SoulCycle collaboration reflects it. I love Target's line of workout gear, so I was excited to receive a new Target outfit to wear for the SoulCycle class (a tank and patterned workout tights).

As a first time rider, I'll admit I was nervous before the class but the hosts were very welcoming. My biggest fear {don't laugh} was falling off the bike. I'm clumsy with any workout that involves equipment! Thankfully that didn't happen, and couldn't happen, because your shoes are clipped directly into the bike pedals. Is it obvious yet that I'm a newbie to spinning? :)

The class instructor Brent led us through a fast, 45 minute high intensity workout. One thing that makes SoulCycle unique and popular is the effort to move your body to the beat of the music. The lights are turned down and the music UP to get your heart pumping. I loved this, and it made for a great full body workout. I was surprised that the cycling class also included push-ups and a fast-paced arm workout {with 2 pound weights}, completed while clipped into the bike and moving your legs the entire time.

Sweaty face + green juice after class!

The event also included a Target pop-up shop with fitness apparel. I wish I would have picked up one of the cycle tanks!

After the workout, K met me downtown and we went out for lunch at Latinicity, a Latin-inspired "food hall" that opened last year. It's a really neat space on the third floor of the Block 37 building, with beautiful window views of the streets below. I had a quinoa stir fry bowl and K had tacos. Don't miss a visit to the "I Have a Bean" coffee shop inside. The almond milk latte was one of the best I've tried.

Disclosure: I received a free workout outfit from Target to wear at this SoulCycle event. The SoulCycle + Target class mentioned in this post was free to all registered participants.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Strawberry Peanut Butter Bars

Happy Friday and Valentine weekend! It's going to be a chilly few days ahead in Chicago, with a wind chill advisory late tonight {temps below zero - yikes}. K and I originally planned to go ice skating downtown on Saturday at the figure 8 Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, but with a high of ten degrees tomorrow, that's definitely not happening. We might check out a museum instead for a pre-Valentine date. Either way, I always like to have a fun snack for the weekend so today I'm sharing a recipe for Strawberry Peanut Butter Bars - this batch of no bake, no added sugar, vegan bars are delicious and a cinch to make!

My Strawberry Peanut Butter Bars contain only five ingredients -

*Dry roasted peanuts {unsalted}
*Dried strawberries
*Peanut butter
*Vanilla powder {can substitute vanilla extract}

To prepare for making these bars, I soak the dates in a bowl of unsweetened almond milk for an hour or two before mixing up the ingredients in my food processor. Soaking the dates helps the ingredients bind together into bars.

Earlier this year, I shared my 2016 No Added Sugar Challenge. This is a 60-day effort to remove all foods with added sugars from my diet, including any processed or packaged food with added sugar, and desserts. I love dessert as much as the next person, especially chocolate, but after plowing through the first 6 weeks of this challenge, I realized I feel so much better cutting added sugars out of my diet most of the time. When I need a sweet fix during the challenge, I reach for a date or dried fruit instead. 

These Strawberry Peanut Butter Bars offer a great healthy option for a snack or dessert. I used dried strawberries with no added sugar. If you're looking to reduce the sugar in your diet, make sure to check the label on your dried fruit - a lot of packaged dried fruit contains additional sugar. I found dried strawberries without added sugar at my local Mariano's grocery store.

Strawberry Peanut Butter Bars
Yields: 16 bars

1 1/2 cups dry roasted peanuts
1/2 cup dried strawberries
25 dates*, soaked in 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 Tablespoon peanut butter {unsweetened}
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder**

How to~
*Soak dates in unsweetened almond milk for 1-2 hours. Any milk product will work. Drain the dates before mixing the ingredients.
*Add all ingredients to a food processor - dates, peanuts, dried strawberries, peanut butter, and vanilla powder.
*Process until the ingredients are evenly combined {20-30 seconds}, using the "pulse" function.
*Remove from the food processor and press into an 8x8 pan, lined with parchment paper.
*Bars will last chilled in the refrigerator for one week, and a few months if stored in the freezer.

Recipe notes:
*I used California dates, which are quite a bit smaller than Medjool dates. If you use Medjool instead, use half as many.
**You can substitute vanilla extract.

For more healthy snack ideas, check out my recent post - 10 Clean Eating No Bake Snacks. Have a great weekend!

Affiliate link:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cold Weather Running Advice + Fitbit Alta Giveaway

I shared 3 Tips for Winter Running back in November, right when the cold days were getting started. Winter is still going strong, and this happens to be one of the coldest weeks Chicago has had this season - wind chills will be close to zero or below for most of the day today. I can't think of a better time to share a roundup of Cold Weather Running Advice from healthy fitness and running bloggers. I also have an exciting giveaway to share today for a Fitbit Alta to celebrate American Heart Month. Enter via Rafflecopter at the end of this post. This giveaway is open until February 28.

One of the goals of American Heart Month is to encourage people to add physical activity to their daily routine. I definitely need extra motivation to stay active and keep running until spring! A few weeks ago I shared my Fitbit review from my first month wearing a fitness tracker, and now I have a roundup of winter running advice from a few bloggers to share that will help you finish out the end of the winter season.

Winter Running Tips (Clothing to Falling Technique) from Suzlyfe

4 Tips to Stay Motivated in Your Running This Winter from this Runner's recipes

Speedy Treadmill Workout from this blog

What to Wear for Winter Running from Happy Fit Mama

3 Tips for Winter Running from this blog

Kaila @ Healthy Helper:

Slow your pace down! It's not worth it to run your normal speed and risk hurting yourself trying to trudge through snow or potentially slipping on ice. Lose the ego and run smart!

Lauren @ Breathe Deeply and Smile:

Be sure to stay hydrated. In the cold weather you may feel less thirsty, but that doesn't mean you don't need to drink water! 

Onto the giveaway! I teamed up with a group of my favorite fitness bloggers to offer this amazing giveaway for American Heart Month. Entries are open until February 28. One winner will receive a Fitbit Alta! Enter via the Rafflecopter link below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms & Conditions: This giveaway opens on 2/10/16 and ends on 2/28/16. It is open to the residents of the United States only. There will be 1 winner of the Fitbit Alta. Winners must be 18 years or older to win. Divas In Transition will choose a winner no later than 3/1/16 via Rafflecopter. The entries will be verified and the winner will be contacted via email. The winner has 48 hours to respond and claim prize. If the winner doesn't claim prize within 48 hours their prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be chosen. By entering this giveaway you are abiding by all laws and regulations in your country.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

7 Step Treadmill Run

In an effort to get more steps in during the week on my FitBit, I started adding a workout over my lunch break to my routine once a week. I have a gym in my office building which is super convenient. I'm trying to take advantage of it this season when chilly temps and dark evenings make running outdoors less than desirable on weekdays.

My latest running workout includes seven steps, and it goes by quickly - the entire workout, including cool down, is over in 35 minutes. I always turn HGTV on mute on my treadmill and listen to a fast-paced Pandora station to get things going.

The workout:

In text:

7 Step Treadmill Run

Warm-up: Walk 2 minutes at 3.1 mpr

Run 7 minutes at 5.6
Run 6 minutes at 5.7
Run 5 minutes at 5.8
Run 4 minutes at 5.9
Run 3 minutes at 6.0
Run 2 minutes at 6.1
Run 1 minute at 6.2

Cool down: Walk for 5 minutes starting at 3.1 mpr; increase the incline by 0.5 and speed by 0.1 every 30 seconds.

Working out during the day makes the workday fly by and puts me in the best mood!

Do you workout over your lunch hour?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Last January Weekend + Weekly Workouts

After a crazy few weeks of travel, K and I were home this weekend for a nice mix of relaxing and socializing. We had a dinner date on Friday night at Angelo's Wine Bar. Angelo's has great wine selection and delicious food - we started with cups of pasta e fagioli, and shared a butternut squash salad, grilled octopus salad, and Italian sausage and peppers.

I fell asleep on the couch almost immediately after getting home. #thisis32 ;) On Saturday, the temps reached close to 50 degrees so we went on a long walk and checked out a local furniture store, nadeau. Nadeau has a treasure trove of beautiful wood pieces, at a fraction of the cost you would find at a larger chain {ahem Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn}. We found several pieces that I'm SO excited about, including benches for our kitchen nook and a new desk.

Later that afternoon we went to a fun winter party for our neighborhood block club, and I met up with friends for dinner at Hopleaf in Andersonville. {PSA: The salmon, crispy Brussels sprouts, and fries can't be missed}.

On Sunday morning, it was 46 degrees when I woke up {!!} so K and I ran before I met a friend for brunch at flo's new location in Lakeview.

On Sunday afternoon, we finished shopping for the kitchen nook and ordered a table at west elm! I have been researching what to put in this spot for months and I'm so excited for a finished "eat in" kitchen area after living in our house without one for 1.5 years.

What a packed weekend, but a wonderful few days connecting with friends to end the month of January.

Week of January 25th workouts:

Wednesday 1/27: 40 minute treadmill workout at lunch {walked + ran 3.1 miles}
Thursday 1/28: 45 minute Cardio Barre class + ran 1 mile
Friday 1/29: Ran 3.5 miles outdoors after work
Saturday 1/30: Active rest; walked 5+ miles
Sunday 1/31: Ran 3.5 miles outdoors

How did you end the month of January?