Monthly Archives: January 2012

I Love Butternut Squash

I love all types of squash- acorn, spaghetti, kabocha, zucchini, delicata, pumpkin… I could go on and on. But I think my favorite type to cook and eat is butternut squash.

Butternut squash can look intimidating, but once you figure out how to prepare and cook it it’s not bad at all. I’ve had it in pasta, on pizza, in soup, in “french fry” form, mashed, and plain, and all were great. Butternut squash is especially delicious when roasted. I picked up one of these beauties at the store last week and couldn’t decide what to make with it. Then I found a recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod called Roasted Butternut Squash Orzo Salad and knew I had to replicate it at home [click the link to see the recipe].

My Kindle Fire makes cooking in the kitchen easy!

I stuck with the original recipe for the most part but instead of just orzo I used a Harvest Grains blend from Trader Joe’s. It included Israeli couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans, and red quinoa. I like the variety of grains and all the different textures!

First things first, peel or cut off the thick skin on the squash. Be careful with this part! Then cut off the top and the bottom so you have a flat surface to stand the squash upright.

Stand the squash upright and slice it down the middle, making two halves.

Scrape out the seeds and guts from the inside of each half.

When you’re finished it should look like this.

Cut the squash into strips and then into 1 inch cubes.

Arrange the squash on a baking sheet lined with foil

Then roughly chop up some red onion.

And add it to the baking sheet along with some garlic.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil.

Mix to combine! Hands work best to get the olive oil to cover all the pieces.

Ready to go into the oven to roast away!

While the squash was roasting, I boiled a pot of water and added the Harvest Grains blend and let it simmer away.

In the meantime, I chopped up some fresh baby spinach.

I like to take a bunch of spinach leaves, roll them up tightly, then slice it up that way. It makes it super easy and quick!

Lots of spinach!

Measure out one cup of dried cranberries.

When the Harvest Grains are done cooking and the water is absorbed, add the spinach and stir it in well until it starts to wilt.

Then add the cranberries…

Remove the delicious smelling butternut squash from the oven and add that to the pot as well!

Mix it all up until ingredients are evenly distributed.

Then add a little bit of salt and pepper, and some high quality olive oil to finish it off, and stir well.

The finished product!

Our portions, ready to consume 🙂

My ultimate taste-tester getting ready to give his review.

The verdict? Kevin and I both loved it! It had so many great sweet and savory flavors all combined into one, and the roasted squash took it up to a whole other level. It was delicious and very filling! Kevin actually called dibs on the leftovers and took them for lunch the next couple of days.

I have a feeling we’ll be making this (and other butternut squash recipes) again in the future!

NBC4 Health and Fitness Expo

On Sunday Kevin and I went up to D.C. with his sister Kara and her fiance Brandon for the NBC4 Health & Fitness Expo! I had been hearing this expo advertised on the radio and TV for weeks and I love this type of thing, so I really wanted to go. Plus I heard that some of the Biggest Loser contestants would be there and Kevin and I are HUGE BL fans.

When we arrived at the Convention Center I could not believe how big the expo was. I’ve been to tons of race expos and none of them were as big as this was. It was packed with vendors, health organizations, information tables, activity areas, many booths offering a variety of free health screenings (how awesome is that?), and other  free stuff!

We made our way to the stage area where the Biggest Loser Q & A was beginning. On stage were Sarah, from BL 11, Sione from BL 7, and Antone from the past season, BL 12.

It was awesome to see them in person and hear them speak. They all look great and what they have all accomplished is truly amazing!

Antone is our favorite! We love him and wanted him to win. He got second place this past season.

After listening to them speak for a little while we went over to the Biggest Loser booth and found some more past contestants! First we met Ramon (the second runner-up from BL 12). We loved him too because of his motivation and great personality. He made a huge transformation and became an awesome runner in the process. He actually won the Biggest Loser marathon that they had for the contestants that had been voted off, earning his spot in the final 3! He ran it around 5 hours, which is unbelievable. I told him how proud I was of him when he ran the race. Marathons are definitely NOT easy, especially for someone who has lost 150 pounds!

Then we met his girlfriend and another Biggest Loser contestant, Jessica. They met and fell in love on the show – awww 🙂 Jessica was absolutely beautiful and so sweet. She also kicked some butt in the BL Marathon. She told me that her and Ramon will be running the LA Marathon next. I can’t wait to see how they both do!

After the BL excitement we walked around the entire expo and checked out all that it had to offer. We saw so many great things – stations where you could climb your way to the top of the Washington Monument or another famous landmark, Zumba classes, an Urban  Evolution fitness class that uses city-like props to do crazy gymnastics moves, and so much more!

And then we saw this. Really McDonalds? Why are you here at a Health and Fitness Expo with posters of french fries and Big Macs plastered all over your booth?

I thought it was great that NBC4 organized this health and fitness expo for the public for free. One of the things I love about the D.C. area is how active the people are. Everywhere you go in and around the city you see people biking, running, and playing different sports outside. There are tons of fitness clubs and healthy restaurants (lots of vegetarian ones too!) It’s always inspiring and motivating to go to these kinds of events, where health and fitness is a priority and everyone is there to learn how to take better care of themselves. We left with motivation, lots of information, and some great free swag (the mini Larabars were our fave). I can’t wait to go back next year!

20 Perfect Miles

I’m still in disbelief over my 20 miler this past Saturday. As I wrote about earlier this week, I have been running faster than ever lately and I’m not entirely sure why. However, even though my pace has dropped significantly, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the first 20 miler on my training plan. The fastest I’ve ever run 20 miles in the past was the Air Force Marathon where I PRed, and I hit the 20 mile mark right at 3 hours (9:00/mile pace). Every other time I had run 20 in a race or in training it took me closer to 3:10 – 3:20 to finish, not including multiple walking breaks. 20 mile runs are no joke and they always take a toll on me. So I decided to go into this run without any expectations and run by effort, not worrying about time. I mapped out a pretty hilly but familiar route that I have ran many times in the past. I ran at a pace that felt comfortable, that I could maintain without huffing and puffing and without burning out my legs, and this is what resulted.

Total Time – 2:54:25Average Pace – 8:43/mile

Mile Splits:

  • Mile 1 – 8:47
  • Mile 2 – 8:48
  • Mile 3 – 8:48
  • Mile 4 – 8:49
  • Mile 5 – 8:53
  • Mile 6 – 8:54
  • Mile 7 – 8:45
  • Mile 8 – 8:59
  • Mile 9 – 8:50
  • Mile 10 – 8:41
  • Mile 11 – 8:31
  • Mile 12 – 8:36
  • Mile 13 – 8:46
  • Mile 14 – 8:36
  • Mile 15 – 8:41
  • Mile 16 – 8:40
  • Mile 17 – 8:33
  • Mile 18 – 8:47
  • Mile 19 – 8:38
  • Mile 20 – 8:23

I felt amazing the entire time during this run. Like last week’s 18 miler, I kept waiting to feel bad or hit a wall and I never did. My nutrition was on point, my legs felt great, and my mind stayed positive the entire time. I didn’t have to stop once. It was perfect 🙂 I even ran a negative split – my second half was two minutes faster than my first half!

Thumbs up for a great run!

I also was lucky enough to have the most amazing husband EVER come out and find me while I was running to take a few photos. The last time he did this was back in August when it was about 60 degrees warmer and Hurricane Irene was due to visit any minute. He loves being my running photographer 🙂

Checking my watch after a mile beep - am I really running that fast?

It doesn't look cold but it was, and the wind made it worse!

Switched out my Camelbak for a water bottle around mile 12.

Chewing on some Honey Stingers... my fave 🙂

Big hill right at the end! I think I can, I think I can...

I'm almost done and still smiling!

Alright, time to go home and eat.

Since I’m in training I’m starting up with a weekly run down once again. Here it is:

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: 4 mile run (37:15 / 9:18 pace), Body Pump (40 minutes – cut short for swimming), Swim class (30 minutes)
  • Wednesday: 6 mile treadmill run (55:15 / 9:12 pace)
  • Thursday: 6 mile run (50:55 / 8:29 pace), Body Pump (1 hour)
  • Friday: 1,150 meter swim (1 hour)
  • Saturday: 20 mile run (2:54:25 / 8:43 pace)
  • Sunday: 10 mile run (1:30:05 / 9:00 pace)

I ran a total of 46 miles, went to Body Pump twice, and swam twice. The only thing that was missing was yoga! I need to go soon! This week is a cut-back week. My body is thankful for that!

Until next time...

Out of My Comfort Zone: Swimming

[Source]

A couple weeks ago I took on a big challenge: finally learning how to swim correctly. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while because I know how good swimming is for the body and I want to incorporate it in my routines as cross-training. I am also interested in doing a triathlon someday and the swimming part has been holding me back. It’s not that I can’t swim at all- I just have never felt totally comfortable in the water and never learned the proper way to swim. I can “fake it” but not enough to use it for fitness purposes.

The pool at my gym has always been a very intimidating place for me. It’s filled with people wearing goggles and swim caps, with strong muscular arms and shoulders and perfect form. I decided it was time to face my fears and signed up for an adult swim class. I went to buy a one piece bathing suit (not cute!), some goggles, and a swim cap. I was nervous and worried I wouldn’t fit in.

I showed up for my first class last Saturday morning, got dressed, rinsed off, and went into the pool area. And waited. Nobody showed up. I started feeling more and more anxious. Finally I asked a lifeguard if he knew what was going on with my class and he called the swim director to find out. Apparently, I was the only one that had signed up for the class and nobody had notified me that it had been cancelled. I was so disappointed. I talked to the swim director who was very apologetic and she offered to give me one-on-one lessons instead (these usually cost over $200, I paid $75 for group classes). She told me she would see me on Tuesday evening.

For a brief moment I thought about giving up and not doing any lessons at all. But I knew I had to just do it and get over my stupid worrying! I went to the gym again on Tuesday feeling nervous still, but ready. I walked into the pool and my instructor came up to me right away. She was super nice and made me feel comfortable right from the start. She told me that she had been coaching for 13 years, and asked me about myself and why I was interesting in swimming. I told her I wanted to get into triathlons and using swimming for fitness and she told me to hop in so she could see what I could do.

I felt like I was about to take a test or something. I did my best attempt at freestyle all the way down the length of the pool. It seemed like it took so long to get to the other side even though my pool is only 25 meters long. When I finished she told me that I was actually better than some of the people that come in for adult beginning classes. She told me she could see that I have a lot of strength and have potential for being a great swimmer, but that I was doing a lot of things incorrectly. I knew this already- that’s why I wanted to take a class! She had me work on one technique at a time and I went back and forth to practice a few times after each adjustment. First, we worked on my breathing because four strokes was too long for me to go before taking a breath. I was feeling like I couldn’t breath and it was making me panic, so instead I did every 3 strokes and alternated sides. After breathing, I focused on putting my head all the way down in the water because she told me it was too high. This was making my legs drop too low in the water. Finally, we worked on not kicking as much. Obviously, my lower body is my strongest area from running and I was trying to use my legs too much. All of this was a lot to think about and coordinate at once (especially for someone with zero coordination), and I found myself breathing heavy after each lap. It was exhausting!

After our one-on-one session my coach told me that I would be a good fit for the other class they offered, an Adult Triathlon class. I looked at her and laughed because I felt like it was way too out of my league. She said it really wasn’t, and that there were other people in the class at my same ability level. The class met from 6 – 7 a.m. on Friday mornings, which actually works better with my schedule because Friday is my cross-training day. I said I would try it.

I went to bed on Thursday night excited to swim the next day. I was really motivated to learn and improve.

On Friday morning I got up really early, packed my things, and went to the gym. I put on my suit, swim cap, and goggles and tried to walk into the pool with confidence. There was a swim team there practicing, but I tried not to be intimidated this time. There was only one other woman there for the triathlon class, so I just tried to tune everyone else out and listen to my coach. She told me to start with a warm-up of 6 laps (150 meters). I went slow and tried to work on the techniques that she showed me earlier in the week. It was hard for to swim for 6 laps without stopping so I stopped at the end of a few of them to breathe for a second.

After my warm-up, she took me through a bunch of different drills to work on my breathing, keeping my head down, gliding on my side, and not using my legs too much. I swam with a buoy between my legs at one point to work on my balance (I have the worst balance ever!) I did at least 4 sets of 100 meters for each of these drills. She told me to try to do each set without stopping at all. I tried to just push off the wall and keep going when I got to the end of each lap. By lap 4 of each set I could feel myself fatiguing and my form falling apart, but I tried to hold it together as best as I could.

We ended with a bunch of 50 meter sprints. She told us to do two laps as fast as we could. She timed us to see how long it would take. The lady that had been coming to classes before me was swimming each sprint in 1:08 – 1:13. I did each one in 1:14 – 1:15. We did about 8 of them, resting in between, and my coach said it was good that I was so consistent with my times because that shows that I have good stamina that has crossed over from running. Next time I want to improve those times!

After class my coach told me that I had swam 1,150 meters in total. That converts to 1,258 yards and .71 miles! I couldn’t believe I swam that much in an hour. I know other people can swim much more than that in that amount of time but that was huge for me. I showered quickly, got dressed, and went home to finish getting ready for work. I was exhausted but felt great at the same time.

After my swim class I felt like I was on cloud 9 all day. I was also STARVING all day. I ate before and after class, and still had to eat lunch an hour earlier than usual. Then I had a snack before dinner, ate dinner, and had a snack afterwards.  My stomach was grumbling all day. Swimming is no joke! No wonder Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day when he’s training.

I am really starting to enjoy swimming and excited to see myself get better with more practice. It’s going to be a great form of cross-training to incorporate into my routine, and I know it will make me a stronger and more well rounded athlete.

New Gear I’m Loving Lately

Back in July I wrote about a few of my favorite running things, and since then I’ve discovered a few new loves to add to the list!

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12

I’ve been wearing Saucony Hurricanes for the past couple of years. They were great for giving me stability and correcting my overpronation problems. However I had heard that the Brooks Adrenaline shoes were almost the same as the Hurricanes, if not better. I also liked that they were cheaper (I bought mine for less than $100, the Hurricanes are usually $120 – $130). I go through shoes quickly, and it really adds up! I was nervous to switch to a new shoe but I’ve been LOVING them. Compared to the Hurricanes, they feel lighter yet more supportive. I think they do an even better job of correcting how my ankle rolls inward, and they support my high arches as well. I’m a Brooks convert now!

Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves

These have been my savior on my double weekend long runs. I wear them during both runs and the compression works to support the calves and shins. The sleeves also keep the oxygen flowing to the legs so that blood circulates well. I have worn these two weekends in a row- when I did a 16 miler on Saturday and 10 miler on Sunday, and then a 10 miler the following Saturday with an 18 miler on Sunday. I was amazed by how fresh my legs felt as I was running and even the next day on my second run. Usually my legs are dead tired and feel as heavy as bricks- not with these sleeves! I also haven’t been sore at all. I also wear my compression socks for recovery after running but these are the best to wear during a run. I’m so thankful I found them!

Injinji Lightweight Performance Toe Socks

When I went to the running store recently I was talking to one of the guys there about how I tend to get blisters and calluses, especially in between my toes. He recommended these toe socks which I was unsure about at first, because I thought they would feel weird between my toes. He was so convinced that I would love them that he gave me a pair to try for free. I tried them on my long run that weekend and absolutely fell in love. They felt good and my 8 mile run was completely free of any friction, and I could feel the muscles in my feet and toes working independently instead of one unit confined into a regular sock. They’ve kept my feet in great shape- callus, blister, and pain-free! I went back and bought two more pairs, and I’m sure I’ll be back for more later.

Mizuno Breath Thermo Layered Running Tights

   

These aren’t exactly new- I bought them last winter- but I’ve been loving them lately. They have special thermo technology inside the fabric on the inner thigh and calf that converts moisture (sweat) to heat to warm up your body. These tights are AMAZING. They are my go-to pants any time the temperature goes below 30 degrees. They keep my legs nice and warm 🙂

Lululemon Headbands

I don’t own anything from Lululemon except for these headbands. I love everything Lululemon and I know the clothes are amazing quality but it’s just too expensive for me right now. I already gave Kevin the hint that a gift certificate or an outfit might be nice as a special gift for a holiday 🙂 Anyway, I do love these headbands. Unlike other headbands that refuse to stay on my head, these will remain where I put them for hours. I wore the gray one last week on my 18 mile run and it barely moved at all.

Kettlebell

I bought this with a gift card that I had to Walmart (LOL) because I wanted a way to do some strength training at home. I love Body Pump, but the classes at my gym don’t always work with my schedule.  I looked up some Kettlebell circuit workouts on Youtube and it’s been a great alternative that I can do on my own time without having to leave my house.

Fruit & Protein Smoothies

I guess this isn’t considered ‘gear’ but I’ve definitely been loving smoothies lately. It’s kind of strange because it’s winter, but I cannot get enough! We got a new blender for our wedding and it’s made all the difference in making deliciously smooth smoothies 🙂 My current favorite is frozen banana, strawberries, peaches, almond milk, and Sunwarrior protein powder.

Kindle Fire

Again, this isn’t really ‘gear’ but it has helped me with one of my most dreaded tasks – running on the treadmill. Kevin got me the Kindle Fire for Christmas and it’s been a lot of fun, but especially great for keeping me occupied and not bored to death when I’m forced to run on the treadmill. I love downloading books and reading them. It makes the time fly by!

What new gear have you been loving lately?

Getting Faster

Lately a strange thing has been happening- I’ve been running faster than ever before. This all started without me really trying. I mentioned it in my post about how I am running 3 marathons in 3 months, and since then I have been trying to think about what has changed for me over the last few months that may be causing this. I have a few ideas…

You can see how my average pace has dropped significantly since October! From 9:20 - 10:00/mile to 8:15 - 9:04/mile.

  • I stopped focusing so much on speed. After 3 years of training for a specific time goal and finally meeting it, I was burnt out on speed. I was in between training plans and ran when I felt like it. I started focusing on running by effort levels instead of pace and on ENJOYING my runs and how they made me feel. I didn’t care about speed or look at my watch as much, and I was shocked when it beeped mile after mile and I saw what my mile splits were. What used to be a difficult pace for me felt almost effortless!
  • I started believing I could run faster. Running fast has NEVER been easy for me. I have always struggled with maintaining good speed and never thought I would be a relatively “fast runner”. But once I saw what was happening on my runs I started to change my mind. Why can’t I run fast? Why can’t I become a ‘fast runner’? And I started to believe that I could. When my new training plan began I started to push myself on some of my runs just to see what type of pace I could maintain and I was shocked at the results. I was consistently able to run faster than my goal marathon pace used to be, even on runs of 14 – 18 miles. I realized that it was my mind that was holding me back, not my body, and that I was capable of more than I thought I was.
  • I started running higher mileage. Since I’m training for a 50K my weekly mileage is higher than it’s ever been before. I’m running 5 times a week with two long runs on the weekend. My weekly mileage has been in the 30s, now 40s, and will enter into the 50s in a couple weeks. Surprisingly, my body has responded very well to this high mileage and has adapted well to running on tired legs. In fact, some of my fastest runs are my back to back long runs!
  • I stopped counting calories. As a vegetarian athlete, I was always very careful that I was eating enough calories to fuel my workouts. I was never crazy about counting calories, but I did like to make sure I wasn’t under or overeating so I used rough estimates to figure out what my net calorie intake/outtake was each day. If I was short I would be sure to eat a snack at the end of the day. I decided sometime in October to stop keeping track of calories. I still write down what I eat most days, but I don’t count the calories. I listen to my body for cues to know when to eat and when to stop eating, rather than focusing on a number. This has helped me so much because I never feel too hungry or too full. I think sometimes I was eating too much because I thought I “had to” to make up for what I burned that day, and it made me sluggish on my runs the next day. Now I just eat when I’m hungry and try to keep my portions in check.
  • I am strength-training consistently for the first time in my life.  I have always struggled with getting into a strength-training routine. I would do it for a couple weeks then push it to the back burner as my running got more intense. All that changed in July when I discovered Body Pump and fell in love. Since then I’ve gone 2-3 times a week most weeks, and I have seen awesome results. I am more toned, have more upper body strength, and my core and back are stronger which gives me better form and posture when I run. The squats and lunges have also been great for strengthening muscles in my legs that weren’t necessarily being used while running. I love how Body Pump is a group class that uses fun music to work out your entire body in only an hour. I also love how there are new releases every 3 months to keep it interesting!
  • I was put on a higher dose of medicine for my hypothyroidism. I have written about my thyroid issues before and how I take medication daily to help my thyroid work properly. I get blood work done every 6 months to monitor my thyroid hormone levels and ensure that they are not too high or too low. In early October I got my results back and for the first time in years my levels were off. My doctor told me that my thyroid was once again under-active and my current dosage of medication wasn’t enough anymore. This made perfect sense when I started thinking about other symptoms I was having but was attributing to life as a teacher, grad student, and bride-to-be: constant exhaustion, zero motivation to do anything, weak and numb fingers (uncontrolled hypothyroidism causes joint swelling and it was happening in my wrists), difficulty maintaining my weight despite being as active as before, and my digestion wasn’t working as well. It all clicked! My doctor increased my dosage and I could feel a difference after only a week. I had TONS more energy during the day, the numbness disappeared, and everything went back to normal. This is also when I started feeling stronger on my runs. One of the symptoms of hypothyroidism is feeling weak and drained of energy, and I felt that way on many of my runs in the past which I assumed was a normal part of distance running. However, recently I haven’t feel that way at all on my long runs. I have a steady stream of energy and haven’t hit any walls yet. My body just seems to be functioning better as a whole.

I have no idea if these factors have anything to do with how I am running faster now. They are just the things that have changed for me over the last few months and they were all I could think of to explain it. This newfound speed really excites me and I can’t wait to push myself more and see what I can do in my a road marathon.

Out of My Comfort Zone: Trail Running

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Lately I’ve ventured into a totally foreign world: running on trails. I signed up for the HAT 50K trail race because I wanted to try something new and get out of my comfort zone. I was feeling a little burnt out from running on the road after three years of intense training and I knew there were tons of trails around my area to explore. However, I knew nothing about running on such a different type of terrain. The only experience I had was one 5K and a few Warrior Dash races, which all left me with incredibly sore ankles and leg muscles. Clearly I was not used to this type of running!

I knew that the best way to get comfortable on trails was to actually RUN on them (duh). One of the goals of my new training plan was to get on the trails at least once a week, for one of my long runs or at least part of it. It would be difficult to do it more than once because most of the trails require me to drive to them, and I don’t have enough time for that in the morning.  The first step was to figure out where to go and convince Kevin to come with me. I knew there were a lot of trails nearby, but I had no idea how to access them or where to go. I started doing some research online. I found a few great websites like Every Trail and Washington Running Report’s Trail Maps. It’s amazing how many great trails there are in my area that I never knew about before!

We started with a 6 miler on the trails in Prince William Forest Park. I have run past the entrance to this trail many times but was always too afraid to go in alone. I looked at the map ahead of time and saw that we should be able to run 3 miles in and 3 miles back.

We entered the park and immediately I noticed two things: 1) I’m slow, and 2) It takes a LOT of concentration to run on trails! One of the things I love about running is getting in the groove and zoning out for a while. There can be none of that while on the trails, at least not at first. My mind and eyes were constantly looking around me, looking on the ground for rocks, sticks, roots, and holes. My ankles felt weak and unstable running on that type of terrain. The trail was wide but it was VERY hilly, full of rocks, and other things that made my accident-prone self nervous. The hills seemed never ending and it wasn’t long before we took our first walking break. I usually stop my watch when I take a break, but I kept it on because I wanted a realistic idea of what my pace was like on trails. It was actually kind of nice to take walking breaks without feeling guilty about it!

It wasn’t long before we reached the turnaround point and headed back to complete our run. Since the trail was a little more familiar now I knew what to expect and felt more comfortable. We almost took a wrong turn but ran into a woman with a map who helped us. I was thankful Kevin was there with me. Along with being accident-prone and clumsy I also have no sense of direction so I’m sure I would have gotten lost. Plus the trails went very deep into the woods, and I don’t know if I would feel safe going alone. We finished the 6 miles in 1:02:32, an average pace of 10:15/mile.

After our first trail run I went to my local running store to talk about shoes. I already wear very supportive shoes to correct over-pronation but I felt very unstable on the trails and wanted something made for trail running. The guys that work at VA Runner in Woodbridge were experienced trail runners, and we talked for a long time about all kinds of things related to shoes, training, gear, trails in the area, and nutrition. I tried on a few pairs of shoes but he told me that I would be fine with the ones I was wearing to start out with, since I was only running on trails once a week. He recommended that I buy trail shoes in February, closer to the race. He also told me that I should go run at Burke Lake Park because they had a nice 4.5 mile trail loop around the lake. He said it was well populated and safe. I was sold!

Burke Lake Park is only a 15 minute drive from where we live and well worth the trip! I went by myself the week after my first trail run with 8 miles to run. I planned to do two loops around the lake and then walk the last mile as a cool down. When I arrived there were many runners and walkers on the trail which was comforting since Kevin wasn’t with me (I get anxiety running alone in the dark or in the woods). I discovered quickly that it was much easier terrain than Prince William Forest Park. It was mostly dirt and flattened gravel, but it was more narrow than the other trail which meant I had to run around people sometimes. This wasn’t a big deal unless there was a group of people walking side by side and blocking the whole trail- so annoying, especially when they don’t move when you let them know you’re coming up on the left.

Anyway, I loved this trail! It was beautiful running around the lake. The 4.5 miles were challenging the first time around and a little easier the second time because I knew what to expect. I finished in 1:18:00, an average pace of 9:45/mile.

Since that day we’ve been back to Burke Lake Park twice and each time my pace has gotten a little bit faster and I’ve gotten more comfortable. My body is responding well to this type of running too. As I run on trails more I can feel my ankle muscles strengthening and I don’t have as many little aches and pains afterwards. It does drain my body though- I can feel that I worked extra hard if I run the next day because my legs feel much heavier than when I run on the road. I will admit that I have been choosing Burke Lake Park over Prince William Forest Park because it’s easier. I know I need to stop taking the easy way out and get more experience on more challenging trails, and I plan to do that this weekend. I want to explore as many trails as I can in the DC area. I am really enjoying this new type of running and I am excited to see where it takes me!

Any experienced trail runners have any advice for a newbie? Trails in the NOVA/DC area, gear, online resources, tips, etc.? I would be so happy if you shared!