April 21, 2017

5 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day {Friday Favorites}

Disclosure: Boodywear sent me complimentary product in honor of Earth Day. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

This Saturday, April 22, 2017 is Earth Day. I believe in taking care of our planet, sharing it with the other creatures that live on it, and trying to live a more eco-conscious existence. Yup, I'm a little flower child as my dad would say. My lifestyle isn't 100% eco-friendly(why do I ALWAYS forget to take my reusable bags back out to the car to use again after using them?!?!), but I try to add in some little things because sustainability is important. 

Cue the Captain Planet theme song. 

For my Friday Favorites this week, here are 5 easy ways you can celebrate Earth Day in Baltimore and beyond. 

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1. Recycle.

Simple concept that we hear all the time, but recycling is awesome. Don't let your trash sit in a landfill if it can be recycled! I recycle a ton and will literally carry around empty containers in my purse if I can't find a recycle bin because throwing things away that can be recycled (and have the little recycle symbol on them) hurts my heart. 

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E-waste or electronic waste is actually becoming a trash issue in the states so find out where you can recycle your e-waste on the EPA's website. When I moved recently, we donated some old computer parts and cell-phones so donating is also an option-just google for local shops or organizations that accept those products. I definitely have a bag of dead batteries I need to get around to recycling this weekend.  

2. Use a reusable water bottle. 

Disposable plastic water bottles are terrible, and I rarely use them after learning more about recycling in an environmental biology class my senior year of college. Most of the country's plastic water bottles are sitting in landfills instead of being recycled, and 2.5 million plastic water bottles are thrown away every hour by Americans-SAY WHAT?! (source). 

I'm pretty much always carrying a reusable water bottle with me. I have many reusable water bottles, but my go-to is the Nathan BigShot 32 oz water bottle which is BPA-free, has a nice spot, and only needs to be filled up a few times a day 


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3. Shop for eco-conscious & sustainable brands. 

I love seeing more Eco-friendly and conscious brands selling all sorts of products including beauty, cleaning, and clothing. You know how much I love Prana gear which has a commitment to sustainability and has cool products like this cute bathing suit top made with recycled materials. 
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I mentioned around the holidays how much I loved Boodywear too, an eco-friendly Australian clothing company who makes awesome basics and baby onesies. In honor of earth day they were nice enough to send me a few more of their pieces including this ADORABLE panda shirt I had to have. I also got sent one of their bodysuits so I can try wearing it with my jeans like the celebs do (I'm looking at you Khloe Kardashian). Also Emma Watson was spotted on the Beauty and the Beast press tour sporting their tee which is cool.

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Anyways they produce pretty much the softest clothing ever made from yarn spun from bamboo in zero-waste factories. Their products are all organic, moisture-wicking, antibacterial and anti-fungal, hypo-allergenic, and thermo-regulating. Their shirts and leggings are super soft, stretchy, and SO comfortable. I have been living in their t-shirt and a pair of leggings. Check Boodywear out on their website or Amazon.

3. Volunteer with an organization on an earth-friendly project or attend an Earth Day celebration. 

Volunteering is always a great way to give back-sometimes literally. I know here in Baltimore TreeBaltimore offers free trees that can be planted to help make the city a more green place to live. Blue Water Baltimore also offers regional stream cleanups, and their website also has a calendar which offers local trash cleanups in the area too.  

Another option is to attend an educational event or Earth Day celebration. Here in Baltimore the National Aquarium is having a celebration on Saturday starting at 9 AM with interactive activities to learn about preservation and sustainability.  Check out local websites and newspapers for more events near you. 

5. Get Outside

Getting outside and enjoying the beauty of nature is always a great way to celebrate the Earth. Find a beautiful place to picnic, take a hike, or go for a trail run. 

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outdoors in Nevada during Ragnar Vegas 2015
Also this weekend is still part of National Parks Week so take advantage of FREE admission to any of the National Parks (apparently many are free but 117 normally charge an entrance free). Happy exploring!  

This post was linked up with my fave Friday Linkup ladies with NicoleAmanda .

Are you getting outside this weekend? What's your favorite eco-friendly product or brand?

April 14, 2017

Inaugural Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Race Recap


My recap of this last April's inaugural Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon in Walt Disney World 2016 is here, just a week before this year's race. 

 As I mentioned in my post on my favorite Disney eats, my sister works at the parks so it was an excuse to visit her. My friend was also running this race as his first half marathon and had a place for me to crash which makes it more enticing because the price tag on this race was $185 which is A LOT for a half marathon, or a race in general. 

There is a 5K and 10K, and half marathon during the race weekend as well as the Dark Side Challenge (10K Saturday, half marathon Sunday).  

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Pre-Race

I stayed at the All-Star Disney Resort with my sister the night I got to Florida so getting to the expo was easy-I just caught a bus over to the ESPN Wide World of Sports.  First there was a huge room where you go and get just your bib. I love when your name is printed on your bibg for races like this one. All of the cast members/employees I encountered were very nice and helpful. 


Next you head over to another giant stadium room where the actual race expo is. They had lots of fun vendors, but it wasn't too crowded when I got there early on Saturday morning. They had some cute things, but I don't really buy anything at most race expos anymore. I did end up getting Sparkly Soul headbands (Star Wars themed)- one for me and one for my sister.


I loved this graphic of the course map hanging up.  Everything in the expo was pretty well-organized. 


I did think it was really cool that there were stormtroopers patrolling the race expo. 


Here's a photo of the race shirt. RunDisney uses Champion products which aren't my favorite racing shirt style, but I do like the design of this shirt with Darth Vader on it. 

People are known to go crazy for the RunDisney race merchandise for sale at the expo. I tried to make my way there quickly and apparently some things had sold out, but there was still a ton available for purchase. I bought another cool Darth Vader shirt and a pint glass, but honestly wasn't too impressed with anything.

Race Day

The half marathon STARTS at 5 AM so that meant like a 2:30, 3 AM wakeup for me. That is damn early for a race morning for me. My friend and I ended up taking an Uber to Epcot and managed to use the bathrooms at the entrance to the park (score!). There were some photo op backgrounds up which was fun.  I was in the first corral which made me feel super speedy because for such a huge race with over 18,000 runners I was close to the front. The race had a fun start with a video and then fireworks!  


I didn't have any racing goals for this race and knew that because I wanted to stop to get photos with characters that my time would be slower. My only goal was to fully experience a runDisney race and have lots of fun! The race temperature at the start was in the 60s with 75% humidity, something I was not yet used to running too in April in Baltimore (that humidity kicks in there in the summer though!). 

The race course starts in Epcot, goes through the Boardwalk and Beach resorts area, through Hollywood Studios, to and through Animal Kingdom and then finishes at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. One of the first character stops was R2D2 so I jumped right in line behind only a couple people and got a photo with R2D2-it was awesome! 

My race outfit was BB-8 inspired with a Sparkle Skirt, hand-painted visor and shirt. 


The first couple of miles took us around the World Showcase with all the different countries at Epcot which was one of my favorite parts. They had the parks lit up and many employees standing out and cheering. It was really fun to be running through one of my favorite parks with no one but runners there. 

Miles 2-4 have you going through the Boardwalk and Beach resort area which had a few more brave family members and friends cheering who were staying at those resorts and then we made our way to Hollywood Studios. I stayed at one of these resorts last time I was in Disney World with my family so it was fun running by these. I was having a great time so far!

Race photo on the boardwalk
I had been previously warned that due to the distance between parks, there were long highway stretches of races at Walt Disney World. The first 4 miles of this race were so fun and exciting that it was like a blur until I got to the long highway stretch to get to Animal Kingdom at Mile 9. Settling into miles 4-8 was a little mentally tough, but there were some characters as well as big video screens playing clips from various Star Wars films. 

Getting a photo with Chewbacca was super fun as well and one of my favorite photos. 


Running the ginormous parking lot at Animal Kingdom to get to the park entrance was killer. It felt like I was never getting any closer! Once we got into the park it was really fun to run through it, especially with all of the music, employees cheering, and wildlife due to the nature of the park. 
Miles 9-12 lead us through Animal Kingdom and back along the highway again towards the ESPN Wide World of Sports, with the last 1.1 miles going through the complex. 

By the end of the race the sun was up, and the weather was warming up quickly. Overall the course was fairly flat with a couple inclines on the highway stretches. 

I appreciated all of the photo ops with employees willing to take photos with my phone (although many of those from the beginning came out really dark i.e. my Chewbacca photo above) as well as the PhotoPass professional photos. I've heard that the lines can get long which can be annoying unless you just expect that it's part of the experience. The start and stop of running can be a little weird feeling during a half marathon too. 

This was one of my favorite photos from the race,trying to look as boss as possible in the emperor's chair. 


There weren't as many characters out as I expected, although there were some fun photo ops that put you in scenes from the movie. During the highway stretches there was some music and video screens including a DJ playing remixes of Star War music, but I was expecting more entertainment. 

This movie scene photo op I wasn't thinking straight and posed wrong and should be going away from the monster, haha. The photo then gets flipped over so that I'm like Luke hanging in the cave in Empire Strikes Back, which I did not understand at the time it was being taken. There was another fun scene photo op in the trash compactor from A New Hope


By the end after the long highway stretches, I was ready to be at the finish and enjoyed myself that last mile. 


I finished the race in 1:49:12, 11th in division and 497 overall out of over 18,000 finishers,  which is pretty solid considering I stopped to take a bunch of photos and was running this for the whole runDisney experience. That also gives you a sense of how many people run this race. 

Once I finished I was handed a medal and picked up a Powerade, water, cold towel, and box of snacks. 


Now I will say that the medal is pretty freaking awesome. It's heavy and Darth Vader middle part spins. 


I finished fairly fast so the finish area in one of the big parking lots wasn't too crowded yet. There was a big screen so you could watch as people finished. Here they had more photo ops including the big man himself, Darth Vader.  They had all of these next to each other, and the queues quickly became pretty long. 


Dressed up as BB-8, this was the first photo line I jumped into. I love this photo, although I wish I could have like hugged BB-8 or something. 




As I said, the morning heated up fast. I ended up waiting for my friend to finish his first half marathon and then journeyed back to the hotel for some snacks and a nap. I headed out to the parks later that day. It was fun to see other's wearing their medals around the parks. 


Overall Race/RunDisney thoughts

Positives 

-Great photo opportunities: You can get lots of awesome photos during and after the race. I also thought getting photos with the characters was very fun! 
-Awesome medal: If you care about your race bling, a runDisney race is definitely the place to grab some awesome, unique race medals. 
-Unique experience: I think it was a unique experience with fireworks at the start, character stops, and a fun theme throughout (especially if you are a big Star Wars fan like I am). Running through the parks before they are open is also really fun. 

Negatives

-Price: I still think for the pricetag that Disney could offer runners 10% off park tickets. The price for tickets only keeps climbing, and I think it would be nice to offer SOME sort of discount on park tickets. 
-Highway stretches: There are long stretches of highway during the races, based on how far apart the parks are and the race course. Here you aren't getting really getting any fan support or as much excitement as I expected during this race off the park premises. 
-Early start: I was pretty tired after the race so it wasn't the day where I was going to have a long day at the parks. I can't imagine doing that wake-up multiple days in a row for the challenges. 

Something that could be positive or negative is the race size. The Disney World races have a capacity upwards of 20,000 runners. It was fun to be part of such a large race,and get to start the race with the energy of a crowd of people. It also makes the expo, race start and finish, and parks/resorts more crowded at that time. My friend who started in the back because he didn't have a time to put in when he registered said it was really frustrating trying to get past many people and the start was really crowded. 



You can find information about the race and this year's events on their race website here

Have you ever run a runDisney race? Do you like big or small races? 



April 11, 2017

Favorite Walt Disney World Eats {Part 1}

Walt Disney World is truly a magical place. As a child growing up on the east coast, I was lucky enough to get to go maybe 4 times with family. I went to Walt Disney World (WDW) in Orlando, Florida again on my high school senior trip. I've had lots of fun vacations and many good memories there. My sister has been working at Disney World so now I've been back 3 more times to visit her and take advantage of some of her perks such as when she has unused guest passes (major SCORE), including once for the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon last April (recap on the blog on Thursday, finally!). 

Obviously one of my favorite things to do when I travel is try new foods so I thought I'd share some of my favorite eats from my most recent trips to Walt Disney World. No matter where I go I always pack some snacks, but when I'm in Disney World I usually eats in the parks or at least splurge on having one meal there. 

Especially with my sister there in recent years, I've become pretty knowledgeable about the parks and of course scoping out the eats so I decided to share some of my favorites-particularly for any of you RunDisney runners!  I figured I should label this round-up Part 1 since there could be multiple parts because picking a few favorites was hard! 

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Favorite Eats in Walt Disney World (Part 1)

 1. Disney World snacks-Mickey soft pretzel and Dole Whip

I know it's just a soft pretzel in the shape of Mickey's face, but something about I just love this magical carb. Nothing like a Mickey pretzel as an afternoon snack in any of the parks after walking around all day. 

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Of COURSE I had to include the famous Dole Whip. These are so delicious, cold,  and pineapple-y. The one pictured below is from the WDW Flower & Garden Show in 2014 at Epcot where a booth had alcoholic Dole Whips with coconut rum a.k.a. the best vacation snack. 

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The best way to spend an afternoon 

2. Mickey Waffles at 1900 Park Fare character breakfast at Grand Floridian (or Mickey waffles anywhere)


1900 Park Fare was introduced to me by my sister when I was looking for a place to eat some Mickey waffles (literally my favorite Disney breakfast food) and wanted to splurge on one character breakfast buffet. Now you definitely need to make reservations ahead of time for the Supercalifragilistic (character) Breakfast, and may even have to wait when you get there like we did because it's crowded. It was $32 when I went there for the buffet and character experience so it was definitely my biggest meal of the day.

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Plate #1 at the breakfast buffet

I really like this character breakfast buffet in the Grand Floridian Hotel. It's a good excuse to check out this fancy and fabulous hotel, and I like that it's a buffet. I had  waffles, fruit, eggs, lox, bacon, and more until I was stuffed. We saw some characters from Alice & Wonderland, Pooh and Tigger, and Mary Poppins who made their rounds to all the tables during breakfast. The service was great, and everything was delicious. 

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Hanging with Winnie the Pooh

4. Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom 

When I had come to Disney World with my family in 2015 for the first time in 9 years, this part of Magic Kingdom and the Be Our Guest Restaurant were all brand new. Getting a reservation was difficult, but we managed to snag a sit-down dinner reservation there and even happened to squeeze into a quick service lunch by walking up the day before. I've since eaten there for breakfast and again lunch as well. 

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Outside of the Beast's castle 
Now first of all it's just really cool because the restaurant is in the Beast's (from Beauty & the Beast) castle. There's different rooms in the castle you can sit in. For dinner my family was seated in the West Wing which is darker, but I loved the ambiance. After dinner we got to meet the Beast and take a photo with him which was fun too. 

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I thought the napkin in the shape of a rose was a nice touch. 
The food was pretty good at dinner, and I enjoyed the braised beef entree I had. Just a note, entrees will run you $21-35 dollars depending on what you are getting so this is definitely a fancier meal. However I particularly liked grabbing lunch here for around $15 and still getting to experience all of the castle and restaurant ambiance. I had the croque monsieur sandwich which hit the spot the last time I was here!  

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Braised beef entree from Be Our Guest
Dessert was a chocolate cupcake because it's a vacation. Who am I kidding? I always save room for dessert!

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Chocolate cupcake for me. Don't worry, I tried my sister's order of Grey Stuff. 

4. Meatloaf and Fried Chicken at 50's Prime Time Cafe in Disney's Hollywood Studios

There aren't a ton of places I like to eat in Disney's Hollywood Studios but last time I was visiting we ate at 50's Prime Time Cafe pretty hungry after a long day at the parks, and the Sampling of Mom's Favorite Recipes hit the spot. 

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I'm the type of person who loves samplers because I love a little bit of everything-variety is the spice of life! The fried chicken, pot roast, and meatloaf with fixings for $23 is comfort food at it's finest. Something about this big meal hit the spot after a long day walking around the parks on my past visit. I love the 50's theme of the restaurant, complete with the waitresses yelling at you to get your elbows off the table. 

5. Indian-Style Bread Service at Sanaa restaurant in the Animal Kingdom Lodge

When travelling with my family, my parents share a love of food so we have tried many different restaurants and eaten some great meals. However my dad isn't a fan of anything too culturally different like African, Indian, or some Asian foods. When I was visiting this past December for a few days I knew I wanted to hang out at Animal Kingdom where she was mainly working at the time because it was a place I had always spent the least amount of time at, and I love animals. 

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My sister knows I'm a foodie and love good eats so she suggested eating at Sanaa which sounded awesome. It's inside the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is a hotel outside of Animal Kingdom where there are freaking giraffes and zebras and animals just chilling outside. 

The outside of the Animal Kingdom Lodge
Since I was treating us to dinner and spending time with my sister whom I hadn't seen in 6 months, we started off with glasses of delicious red (her) and white (me) sangria. She told me we needed to order the Indian-style Bread Service, a choice the waiter also recommended. 
sangria at Sanaa
It is a huge platter that comes for 3 breads-naan, garlic-ginger naan, spiced naan, onion kucha, or pappadum.  The menu now says you can choose three accompaniments, but I think we choose an option to pay to get some more when we were there. The choices are little portions of curries, chutneys, pickles, a yogurt sauce, and hummus all ranging from spicy to sweet to cool. It was less than $15 and they give you extra bread so you can eat the little accompaniments to your hearts desire. It was delicious, especially because the Naan bread comes out super warm.  


After that I ordered a sandwich that was mediocre, but next time I would just go back for the bread service and a drink. 

BONUS:  Epcot is probably my favorite park because of the World Showcase. I'm always sure to grab a beer in Germany! 


What's your favorite Disney park food or meal? What is one of your favorite meals you've had on a vacation?

April 4, 2017

Mental Challenges When Returning to Running After Injury

So I talked about how to survive being an injured runner and then what I was doing to come back stronger after my metatarsal stress fracture, but I think I'm struggling right now with the return to running more than just being injured. So here's my long discussion to talk about it with all you readers. 

I finished the 6 week conservative return to running plan that my PT gave me with no problems, minus some soreness in my recovering foot a couple weeks. That plan which started with run-walk intervals and finished with 30-40 minute continuous runs had me around 10-15 miles per week, mostly on the treadmill.  After the plan I was trying to build up some longer runs outside so I could successfully finish the Philadelphia Love Run Half Marathon for which I was an ambassador. I kept my mileage from 15 building up to just over 20 miles a week with most of mileage come from a longer run on the weekend. I used the progression over consecutive weeks of 7.5 miles, 8 miles, 10 miles, 10 miles, rest, and then the half marathon. 


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Happy just to be outside
Obviously my fitness is not where it should be, and I was not feeling great during the half marathon but I finished in a not too shabby 1:45 and change. My foot had been feeling sore when not working out which brought back to mind signs that I felt when I had a stress fracture that week before the race (not on race day or during the race) so honestly I was mostly focusing on how my foot felt during the race because I was so anxious as well as the fear that I was over-doing it. Yes, I've been dealing with a lot of anxiety about my injury recovery and running in general. 

Running is already a mental challenge but adding in the anxiety and fear of being injured has made it even tougher. There are multiple mental challenges that have made returning from an injury really hard for me. 


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The first challenge is dealing with soreness and discomfort that may be felt in the recovered foot as the bone heals and is reported anecdotally from runners that it can happen for months or years after the injury.  The bone heals and forms a little callus so it should be strong, but how can I tell if it's normal soreness or pain signaling another injury? I also am extra anxious because my PT has me trying to change to landing on my midfoot instead of heel striking so in my mind I'm putting more force on the front of my foot, when actually I'll be putting less force through my foot all over (which he showed me on the fancy treadmill running analysis at PT). I've read all over the Internet, and it seems it's hard to tell, particularly when you are like me and are focused on it and hypersensitive to every feeling in your feet when running. Honestly I have so much fear of re-injury. 

Obviously if it's sharp pain that is bad and a sign of injury. If you have sharp pain, I'd get yourself checked out, just to be safeI can clearly remember when I had my stress fracture for about a week the pain was so sharp and throbbing, it hurt to even walk. There can also be phantom pains, which can be sporadic and vary in intensity in the area of the foot that was injured due to calcium buildup at the site of the bone recovery or just mentally induced kind of like PTSD. The possibility of another stress fracture when my foot was feeling sore last week had me in tears. It's hard for me to listen to my body when I'm so sensitive and hyper-focused on every little feeling in my feet. 

The second challenge is that progress is slow and steady. It's already April when I thought I would be back running like my old self, and I'm just not. I had the 6 weeks of just slowly building up from walking to running, not focusing at all on pace. Building up slowly after an injury to gradually increase the force placed on the healing tissues is key. This is especially true if you were completely off your foot in a boot or cast for a period of time which means your whole foot or body part needs to get used to the force of running again and rebuild strength. This also includes running every other day to start and not immediately adding speedwork or intense running back into your plan. This can be difficult mentally when you are just excited to get back to running. Try to think that going slow and steady now will help you stay healthy because some slow, short running is way better than no running. 

This article on Runners Connect has a great plan for getting back to running after a stress fracture and some symptoms during healing. My foot felt fine during the race and even the day after but the soreness for the week beforehand and a little bit a day after has me worried so I decided to take at least a week, maybe two off before running a lot again. 

The third challenge is social media or social comparison.  I love seeing that my friends or people I follow on social media are crushing races and getting PRs. However it can be tough to know that I'm slower and still am not at where I want to be. I want to be crushing races and having fun again! Most of my runs have been pretty tough with my legs feeling heavy. It's April and my stress fracture was in October/November so the idea of being hurt again had me in tears last week. I started my return to running plan in January so I thought I would be feeling more back to normal right now. I go between have little pity parties for myself and getting really upset at my level of fitness and being grateful because things could also be worse. I think taking a step back from social media, just as I suggested when being injured, can be helpful if it's hurting your self-esteem. 

Overall, the mental aspect of returning to running can be more difficult than the physical aspect of it. All I can do is try to take it easy, listen to my body, and trust the process. 


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Accept no limits!

Side note: This article has a great discussion on the psychology of returning to a sport after injury



Have you ever had trouble coming back from an injury? What is your biggest mental hurdle in running? 
 
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