One day more

December has flown by and 2017 is almost upon us. Lucky for me I don’t consider the holidays to be over until I have to go back to work. That gives me a few more days to enjoy the season, but not nearly as much as I’d like. To kick off the last three days of my holiday break I woke up early this morning for the first time in about a week. (My sleep schedule has gotten really out of whack since Christmas. That needs to change or I’ll have a lot of trouble making it to work on time on Tuesday morning.) But this morning I needed to run 8 miles with one of my running buddies before the chance of rain increased sharply, so my alarm went off at 6 AM. That waking up portion wasn’t a lot of fun, but we got our 8 miles done and stayed dry. (It’s raining now as I’m writing this so we made a sound decision to run early.) It was my last long run before the marathon next Sunday so that was a bit of an exciting milestone. I can’t believe I’m leaving for Orlando on Friday! After finishing the run I headed to McDonald’s for breakfast. Yes, for a second time in 24 hours. I really need to diversify my meal options. As soon as I got home and logged into my computer I discovered that one of the members of my Galloway running group was looking for a partner for the Run the Year 2017 challenge. It entails one or more people joining forces to run 2017 miles over the next calendar year. Between the two of us we decided it was doable, so we decided to sign up! Not that I really need another challenge in the coming year with all of the crazy races I’m already registered for, but it’ll be fun all the same.

I am headed to a New Year’s Eve party in a few hours, but I wanted to finish this post beforehand. I don’t plan to stay up late tonight so I’d rather not have to worry about blogging when I get home from the party. Plus, I need to be rested for Disneyland tomorrow morning! Last year the parks were so lovely and quiet on the morning of New Year’s Day that I vowed to make a January 1st visit a tradition. It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly time to say goodbye to 2016. I’m grateful for all of the lovely things this year has brought me, but there have been plenty of grief too. I am hoping for a much more positive 2017 for all of my loved ones. Most of us are in a pretty good position at the end of 2016, but we all have wishes and dreams that we’d like to see come true over the next year. Maybe if we’re lucky, one year from now we’ll look back on 2017 fondly. Happy New Year everyone!

2016 resolutions revisited

For a lot of people 2016 was a dumpster fire. And that was in addition to the disaster that was the presidential election, which I still haven’t written about, and the heartbreak of losing so many important cultural icons. Aside from those unfortunate events, this year was actually pretty good for me. I am one of the lucky ones. However, when I look back at my 2016 resolutions it doesn’t look quite so positive! I thought I avoided setting myself up for failure by making a small enough number of seemingly achievable resolutions, but it looks like I misjudged. A lot changed for me in 2016 so the grand ideas I had in January weren’t valid later in the year. Fortunately that’s not a bad thing, but it still makes me look like a failure when looking at my list of resolutions.

Resolution #1: Track my running differently
Success! I got my first Garmin GPS watch (a Forerunner 220) for Christmas last year and I started using it to track my running even before 2016 started. And it has been amazing. Being able to see my current distance and time at a glance without pulling my phone out of my pocket is incredibly convenient while training. Also, the Garmin Connect feature stores all of my data so I can look back and see how much progress I’ve made over the last twelve months. (I’ll create a plot of my monthly mileages to share when the year is officially over.) I switched over to my new Forerunner 235 watch with a built-in heart rate monitor a few days ago and I absolutely love it. After only a year I’d be lost without my GPS watch. Here’s to another year of meeting and beating my running goals!

Resolution #2: No more McDonald’s
Failure! I even had McDonald’s for dinner tonight on my way home from the gym. I must admit that these days I have an Egg McMuffin at least once a week, usually after finishing a long run on the weekends. I’m always famished shortly after a long run so I need protein and carbs, and I need them fast. In addition, when my Wednesday night marathon training runs started getting longer I began grabbing McDonald’s for dinner afterwards. In spite of this apparent fiasco I do not feel guilty about being a frequent McDonald’s patron. When it comes to fast food, an Egg McMuffin is one of the best choices I could make. And on an even more positive note I’ve greatly mitigated the unhealthiness of my usual meal by switching from regular soda to diet. So even though on a superficial level it looks like I crashed and burned with respect to this resolution I couldn’t care less. I’m in much better shape at the end of 2016 than I was at the beginning so there’s no use stressing about such a small indulgence!

Resolution #3: Revamp dinners
Failure! The original intention of this resolution was to keep me from eating something outrageously unhealthy for dinner, like handfuls of Cheez-Its straight from the box. Even if I wasn’t having something homemade for my evening meal I wanted to transition to “real food” and away from my destructive habit of heavy snacking. In that sense I suppose I’ve been somewhat successful, but not in the way I planned at the beginning of the year. I owe my weight loss over the last four months to Nutrisystem, but that also means that I’ve been relying on pre-made food for most of my dietary needs. I know I can’t do that forever, though. Next month I’m going to evolve this resolution and add it to my list of goals for 2017 as I start cooking for myself again and working on some additional weight loss (and eventual weight maintenance). The diet struggle continues!

Resolution #4: Train for a marathon
Success! Tomorrow morning is my last training run of 2016, and my last long run (8 miles) before the Walt Disney World Marathon which is just nine days away! Holy cow! Next week I only have three very short runs on my calendar as I close out the taper portion of my training plan, and then I leave for Orlando on Friday. Believe it or not, I haven’t missed a single training run (thank goodness for relatively good health), and I’ve actually overachieved on my required mileage due to the myriad of races I was signed up for this fall. I knew when I started this journey that it wouldn’t be easy, so I am really proud of myself for following through. I can’t believe how strong I feel right now! I don’t expect the marathon next weekend to be easy, but I know I’m prepared and I can’t wait to cross the start line. And then hopefully cross the finish line too!

See my post from earlier this month for details on Resolution #5 (Weight training/cross training) and Resolution #6 (Fit into my old clothes). Luckily for me these were two unexpected successes to close out 2016. Here’s to an even more successful 2017!

New Year’s Eve preparations

After yesterday’s impassioned post you may have expected me to have a supremely productive day to make up for recent laziness. Unfortunately you’d be wrong, but I didn’t stay in bed all day either. As usual, the truth is somewhere in between. I intended to spend a few hours at Disneyland this morning, but I slept in (again) instead. I don’t consider it wasted time, though, since the holiday break is meant for catching up on sleep. After running a few errands I had an appointment at the DMV to renew my driver’s license. I had to do it in person this time around so that was annoying. Luckily with the appointment I was done in about ten minutes. After I left I realized that I might not get my new license before it expires (on my birthday), which could complicate my upcoming trip to Orlando. Having an expired driver’s license when I’m trying to fly back home to Los Angeles could cause a bit of a headache with TSA. Fortunately the solution is simply to bring my passport. Problem solved!

When I got home from the DMV I tackled some New Year’s Eve preparations. Specifically, cookie baking! I promised to bring treats to a New Year’s Eve party and I didn’t want to leave making them until the last minute. So this afternoon I whipped up two different kinds of cookies – peanut butter blondies (because I still had a jar and a half of peanut butter left over from my Christmas cookies) and chocolate chip snickerdoodle bars (a holiday favorite). For the peanut butter blondies I started with this recipe from Averie Cooks and simply replaced the original mix-ins with a combination of semisweet chocolate and milk chocolate chips. (I had to sort through quite a few ancient bags of chocolate chips in my cabinet before finding some that weren’t expired! That’s a testament to my attempt to eat healthier over the last couple of years.) The jury is still out on these blondies so I’ll give you the verdict in another post. For the chocolate chip snickerdoodles, I got the idea from Pinterest, but I based them on my own amazing snickerdoodle bar recipe. I simply added some mini chocolate chips to the dough before I baked them. I’ll have to ask my friends what they think about them because I’m not immediately a fan. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I think the chocolate chips may have ruined the snickerdoodles! At this point I wish I hadn’t tampered with such a perfect recipe, but I’ll wait to pass final judgement until I get a few more opinions on New Year’s Eve. Only two more days left in 2016!

In between holidays

The lull in between Christmas and New Year’s is always an unusual week. I’m one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to work during this interlude so I generally have a ton of free time on my hands. It’s a strange sensation! Every December I imagine that I’ll get a lot of work done around the house while I’m out of work for a week and a half, as well as do all of the lovely things I don’t have time for the rest of the year. That idyllic dream never actually comes to fruition due to a myriad of holiday obligations and the inevitable exhaustion that follows, but I still try to make the most of my winter break. So far I’ve been somewhat successful, but my list of recent achievements is shorter than I’d like. In order to avoid doing nothing for an entire day end I really should get up early in the morning and get out of the house, at least for a little while. If that doesn’t happen I tend to stay home all day and not accomplish very much. Unfortunately the last two days I haven’t followed my own guidance and I’ve stayed in bed until after 9 AM! Sheesh. While I have been able to check a few chores off my to do list, as well as keep up with my fitness regime (running on Monday and Tuesday, and going to the gym today), I definitely could have been more productive. It’s time to get my rear in gear again. Starting tomorrow I have five days before I have to go back to work so I need to make them count. Too bad I’ve stayed up way too late writing this blog post!

A Christmas present and a tribute to a legend

For Christmas this year my parents gave me a new GPS watch for my running habit/obsession and I love it. It’s a Garmin Forerunner 235 with a color display and an optical heart rate sensor, which is an upgrade from my old GPS watch. I set it up and wore it for the first time on my 5-mile run around Seal Beach last night. The wristband is more flexible than my old watch so it fits well, and it’s incredibly comfortable, unlike a first-generation wrist-based heart rate monitor that I tried some years back. Technology improves at a fantastic rate these days! It was fascinating to see a plot of my heart rate from my run last night. I’ll have to check out trends over the next few months to compare my heart rate during runs where I feel great and compare it to runs where I feel terrible. As an engineer who loves to analyze data this is going to be fun.

I went running again tonight (6 miles) so I got to wear my new GPS watch a second time. Also, I wore my Princess Leia shirt, which I’ve worn for multiple half marathons (including the Star Wars Dark Side half marathon in April), in honor of Carrie Fisher who passed away this morning. I’m a child of the 80’s so I grew up watching the original Star Wars trilogy on a regular basis, and Princess Leia was one of my role models. She was a strong, independent woman who brought down empires. She was not only a princess, but a general who fought alongside the men and often eclipsed them. For a young girl who didn’t want to wait around for a man to come along and define her, Princess Leia was a beacon of hope. RIP Carrie Fisher. May the Force be with you.

Famous peanut butter bars

I wish I had a video compilation of people’s reactions when they taste these peanut butter bars. In my experience their eyes get wide and they exclaim something like, “Oh my god!” Then they ask me for the recipe. These are seriously the most delicious and addictive treats I’ve ever had. Once I start eating them I have trouble stopping. One time back in high school I received a marriage proposal when a friend of mine tried one. I think I can safely say that if you like peanut butter, you’re going to love these peanut butter bars. I first wrote about them back in 2011, but I halved the recipe and it just wasn’t the same. But since I needed a boatload of goodies for holiday parties and other get-togethers this week I whipped up a full batch (a whole jelly roll pan’s worth) and served them on three different occasions. I ate more than my fair share too! Didn’t I say they’re addictive?

INGREDIENTS:
1 c (2 sticks) melted butter
16 oz (1 jar) chunky peanut butter
1 1/2 c graham cracker crumbs
1 lb powdered sugar
8 oz Hershey bar (I used two 4.4 oz bars)

DIRECTIONS:
The original recipe, which is handwritten on an index card in my mom’s recipe organizer, simply says “mix together all ingredients except Hershey bar.” But I’ve found that it works best if you stir together the melted butter, peanut butter, and graham cracker crumbs in a large bowl first. You can just use a wooden spoon for this. When those ingredients are thoroughly mixed add about half of the powdered sugar and stir to combine. At this point you’re going to wonder how in the heck you’ll ever be able to get the remaining powdered sugar to mix in, but it will work. Dump the rest of the powdered sugar into the bowl and stir in as much as possible with the wooden spoon. I always have to resort to using my hands near the end before the mixture gets so thick. I promise if you work at it long enough you can get all of the powdered sugar incorporated! Press the peanut butter mixture into the bottom of a large jelly roll pan (mine is 15x11x1″), using whatever you can find to smooth it out (a rolling pin or round glass works best, but I used the bottom of a measuring cup).

In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the Hershey’s chocolate. This should take about 1-2 minutes on high. Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the peanut butter mixture with a spatula. Put the whole pan in the refrigerator to cool. Wait until the chocolate has solidified to slice into squares. Enjoy!

Based on Jane’s Peanut Butter Bars (written on an index card).

White Christmas

It’s Christmas Day and I’ll run if I want to! My marathon training plan had me running 12 miles this weekend, but my running buddy sneakily signed us up for the Operation Jack virtual half marathon so I stretched this morning’s outing into 13.1 miles instead. It was nearly the same distance and the race was for a good cause. Plus, it gave me the perfect chance to wear my Christmas running shirt again and listen to my Christmas playlist before the holiday season is over. I must admit that I slept a bit later than I planned this morning, though. I intended to get up and start running right at sunrise, but I ended up walking out my door about an hour later instead. Good thing it wasn’t a hot day! In fact, it was really chilly in Los Angeles this morning, perfect weather for Christmas Day, so I had to wear my gloves and arm warmers for a few miles before I sufficiently warmed up. The storm that came through LA a couple of days ago covered the local mountains with snow for the first time this winter so it was actually a white Christmas in some parts of Southern California! I had a great view of the mountains during the first half of my run this morning and it was really beautiful. My last double-digit run before my marathon in two weeks (yikes!) went very well so I was happy about that. I was relatively fast and I didn’t get too exhausted. But when I got home I realized that I should have run yesterday when McDonald’s was open. Since they’re closed on Christmas Day I wasn’t able to have my traditional post-run breakfast of an Egg McMuffin and a Diet Coke. A travesty! My Nutrisystem breakfast sandwich just wasn’t the same. Luckily this is the only day of the year that I’ll have this problem. Running this virtual half marathon was a great way to start my Christmas Day. I didn’t accomplish much else afterwards, but I’m getting ready to go see “Star Wars: Rogue One” with friends in a couple of hours. I can’t wait! Merry Christmas, everyone!

P.S. There’s a nice cross-section of my nerdy Christmas tree on display in the above photo. BB-8, Elsa, Cinderella, Cookie Monster, and Mickey Mouse. Too bad you can’t see my Thorin Oakenshield ornament too!

‘Twas the night before Christmas

It’s been a busy Christmas Eve and I’ve barely left the house! I considered going back to Disneyland for a few hours, but I decided to run a couple of errands first thing this morning instead. I was invited to a party tonight and I wanted to make another batch of cranberry BBQ meatballs to take with me, but I needed a few ingredients first. So I rushed over to Target and Ralph’s before 8 AM to get the necessary components before the crowds of folks buying last minute gifts descended. It wasn’t the most relaxing shopping trip, but it could have been much worse, considering it’s Christmas Eve. When I got home I mostly tackled a bunch of dull chores that I won’t bore with here, and then I got started on my biggest job for the day which was wrapping Christmas presents for friends. Luckily they aren’t needed until Monday, but I got them done while I had a chance. It took me much longer than it should have to wrap six boxes, but they look pretty good. I also watched a couple of classic Christmas movies at the same time – “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Christmas in Connecticut.”

It’s getting late now and I need to go to bed soon. I went to the party at my friend’s house this evening and ate a lot of delicious food. More than I should have since I am going for a long run in the morning! Since I didn’t attempt any other form of exercise today I intended to take a walk around Seal Beach tonight to look at the Christmas lights (something I can’t sufficiently admire while running), but I was just too tired when I got home from the party. I’ll make up for it when I run tomorrow morning. It’s Christmas and I’ll run if I want to! Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Today was the first full day of my holiday break (I don’t have to go back to work until January 3rd) and I didn’t waste any time getting in the Christmas spirit. I got up and went to Disneyland first thing this morning and it was lovely. Granted, the sky was cloudy and gray after raining overnight so the crowds in the park were very light. What a wonderful gift! I wasn’t expecting that two days before Christmas, but I really enjoyed it. I went on all of the rides on my holiday to do list (Jingle Cruise, Haunted Mansion Holiday, and Small World Holiday) in a very short amount of time. After that I wandered around and did some shopping, found a pin I’d been looking for, bought one last Christmas present for a friend, and had a holiday turkey sandwich (turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce) at Earl of Sandwich for lunch. When I got home from Disneyland I got started on the task of making Christmas cookies. In an effort to eat healthier I haven’t done a lot of baking this year, but I figured the holiday season deserves a little splurge. Plus, I promised to bring some peanut butter and chocolate treats to a friend’s house on Monday. Usually I like to try new recipes when I get a chance to bake, but this time I fell back on a couple of tried-and-true favorites since I didn’t want to risk serving mediocre cookies to my friends! First I whipped up a huge batch of peanut butter blossoms, as seen in the above photo. I first wrote about these back in 2011. These cookies are a holiday tradition in my family and they never fail to disappoint. They’re incredibly easy to make and absolutely delicious. By the time the peanut butter blossoms were done it was time for my to go to boot camp at 4 PM. The class was particularly grueling today, probably payback for indulging in the turkey sandwich and a few cookies today, but I’m glad I went. Christmas is no excuse for my fitness regime to suffer! When I got home from the gym I used another famous family recipe to make a large batch of peanut butter bars. They’re in the fridge right now, but I’ll slice them up (and take the obligatory photo) tomorrow. I wrote a very unsatisfactory post about these incredibly addictive treats about five years ago, but I will revisit them later this week because the recipe absolutely deserves to be shared again. After today most of my Christmas baking is done. I still have one more batch of cookies I’m planning to make for Monday, but those will probably have to wait until Sunday.

It’s raining right now, a sign of a real winter finally returning to Los Angeles, and I’m perfectly content to be inside, warm and dry, on this December 23rd night. I’m watching an old “Doctor Who” Christmas Special right now (“A Christmas Carol” from 2010), but earlier I put on my DVD of “The Bishop’s Wife” while making the peanut butter bars. I intend to watch a bunch of classic Christmas movies over the next couple of days. There will also be some more “Doctor Who” Christmas episodes, including the new one on Sunday night. It was a lovely first day of my holiday break, and this weekend promises to be busy and delightful as well.

An earned medal – Beach Cities Challenge 2016

“So I got my Beach Cities Challenge medal in October, but I must admit that I didn’t really earn it.”
12/20/15 webpage post

On October 9th I got my second Beach Cities Challenge medal, but this time I earned it. In May 2015 I had a co-worker run the OC half marathon for me because I wasn’t healthy enough to run it myself when the race rolled around. So when I picked up my Beach Cities Challenge medal that October I felt like a fraud. To make up for it I vowed to do better in 2016 – and I did! This year I successfully completed the Surf City half marathon, the Orange County half marathon, and the Long Beach half marathon, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

I’ve already written webpage posts about the Surf City half marathon 2016 and the OC half marathon 2016 so I won’t rehash those here. The Long Beach half marathon 2016 was by far the best anyway. By October I had a few things going for me – 1) I’d been training consistently for about 5 months, including over a month of marathon training, 2) I’d lost weight, and 3) I’d already earned a new half marathon PR at the Disneyland half marathon in September. Due to the unusually high temperatures that weekend (similar to the year before) I had no time goal for the Long Beach half, but my running buddy was more ambitious. So we did our best, running as fast as we dared before hitting the most challenging portion of the course. From about mile 6.5 to about mile 9.5 the race follows a walkway on the beach with no shade for protection from the sun, which was high in the sky when we got there. It was not fun, but we survived without slowing down too much. And after that we had to tackle the uphill stretch that led to the finish line. We slowed down a bit there due to the weather and probably some dehydration. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy to finish a race! I didn’t check my watch until after we were done, but at that point I discovered that I had earned a new PR – 2:34:18! We didn’t quite meet my running buddy’s goal, but we did pretty well in the heat. I was more than satisfied. And along with my half marathon medal I collected 2016 Beach Cities Challenge medal with pride. I had earned it this year! And I already have plans to complete the challenge again next year. Maybe running one of the full marathons even? We’ll see!

P.S. My current half marathon PR is actually 2:27:44 at the Avengers half marathon in November. Marathon training has done wonders for my personal records!