Monday, September 29, 2014

The Green Fruit That Packs a Good Punch

This weekend brought a lot of miles my way. On Saturday we enjoyed a nice - and somewhat challenging - hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park (stay tuned for a post about this later in the week) to enjoy the beautiful fall colors and Sunday marked another mileage milestone with an 8.75 mile run! I'm feeling pretty good and accomplished going into a new week.

I realized the other day when I was at work, cutting into yet another avocado, that I've been eating a lot of them lately. It seems I can't get enough of them! I thought about it a bit and realized that it seems over the past year or so I see avocados everywhere. I don't remember eating them growing up, but lately they've been a staple in our grocery baskets and our Chipotle orders (chips & quac, anyone?). And that's not a bad thing.

Cut avocado

The green fruit packs nearly 20 minerals and vitamins, among them potassium, lutein, and folate, vitamins B, C, E and K. In other words, these creamy guys can help keep your skin healthy and glowing, your bones strong, metabolism humming along, and eyes seeing clearly.

Avocado Toast

The recommended serving is a quarter of an avocado which equates to approximately 90 calories. Personally, I love the simplicity and ease of avocado spread on toast with a little sprinkle of sea salt. Perfect as part of lunch or as a snack. The high fiber content means that beyond all the other benefits of avocados, it also helps keep you full.

Avocado Quinoa

Recently Woody and I have reduced our dairy and meat intake, mostly for health reasons. To keep our meals interesting, satisfying and nutrient packed, I've been experimenting with a bunch of different combos. Avocado has been a go-to ingredient in a good number of our meals because of all these health benefits plus the fact that they provide a good amount of healthy fats and they're low in sugar (the good keeps on coming!).

One night I topped quinoa with all it's protein goodness, with a mix of avocado, chickpeas, onion and zucchini, plus a dash of sea salt. Simple goodness.

If you have a grill, here's another great way to enjoy avocados: slice in half, remove the pit, brush with olive oil and place flesh side down on a hot grill. Check every few minutes till the flesh is soft and there are nice grill marks. When it's ready, sprinkle on some sea salt and if you have it, add a spoonful of a simple, chunky salsa into the center of each side. Makes for a great appetizer!

To start off this past weekend I made a point to get home in time to make dinner. Woody had finished a tough week and I wanted to make something healthy, clean, and tasty. I steamed a bunch of mixed greens (a few types of kale, escarole, and chard), sautéed beautiful grape tomatoes, made some sweet potato "chips," mixed chickpeas, sundried tomatoes, garlic that I baked first, a few slices of avocado! I had also picked up a vegan fall-themed rice mix from Whole Foods that was pretty tasty.

 Vegan Platter

Did you know that people who are allergic to latex may experience symptoms after eating avocado? It's known as the latex-fruit syndrome and I am so thankful that I don't have it!

One helpful tip that I learned just last year - to find an avocado that is not over ripe (how sad!), pull off the little stem off, if you see green flesh - like in the picture below - then it's good, if it's brown, once you cut into it you probably won't want to eat it.

If you're not able to eat the whole avocado when you cut it open - and considering the serving size this will likely happen often - one good tip for keeping the flesh from turning brown (I know we've all had it happen) you can spread a little lemon juice on the flesh then store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Avocados

I'm eager to try one of the chocolate pudding recipes that use avocado. If you have a suggestion, let me know!

What are your favorite ways to enjoy avocados? * What did you accomplish this past weekend?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hiking O’Fallon Park (Kittredge, Colorado)

We have done very little hiking this summer. While we had planned to do quite a bit during August, those plans were put aside as Woody and I both ended up traveling more than we had expected. So on the last weekend of summer, we made a point to get out for a hike!

O'Fallon Park Trailhead

We stuck close to Denver and headed up to O’Fallon Park not far from Evergreen, but just outside Kittredge – about a 40 minute drive from our house in Sunday morning traffic. The road we took to the park was pretty narrow and windy, but beautiful. O’Fallon is in an area where there are parks all over – with many options for hikers, trail running, mountain bikers and even some that allow horseback riding.

O'Fallon Park Overview

Many of the parks are interconnected; this one in particular connects in with Corwina, Lair O’ The Bear, and Pence parks, resulting in many options when it comes to exploring! With this being our first visit to O’Fallon Park, we headed out on Meadow View Loop, expecting to take it around back to the trailhead after exploring a few short out and backs for a total of about 4 miles.

Matt_O'Fallon Park

We are definitely still learning when it comes to hiking, as we were reminded once again when we took a left turn instead of going straight along a grassy piece of the trail. We ended up going the opposite direction from what we intended! Thankfully, we had a map – we do know that a strong cell signal out on the trails is rare – so we were able to figure out where we had ended up. Instead of a loop, we did an out and back of 4.5 miles.

O'Fallon Park Hike

We did find a nice little high spot near panorama point perfect for a quick break to enjoy the view, fresh air and chirping birds. There was a threat of rain but thankfully we had peeks of sun and blue sky! The weather can be completely different in the city and the mountains, even the foothills, and it can change suddenly so we took rain jackets in our backpack with the water and had extra socks and shoes waiting in the car. Thankfully we didn’t need them!

O'Fallon Park

There were a good number of other people out on the trails – I’d say more mountain bikers than hikers – but it wasn’t crowded. I enjoyed the shade, varying terrain and proximity to the city. Even though there are many places to hike around here, I wouldn’t be opposed to going back and staying on the trail we had planned to hike! I’d say this is a good place for locals and those visiting Denver who are looking for a good workout. Another nice aspect is that there are several nearby small towns including Evergreen, Kittredge and Morrison with cute cafes perfect for a post-hike brunch!

What did you accomplish on the last weekend of summer? * What are you most looking forward to this fall?

Friday, September 19, 2014

4 Fixes to Get Out of a Running Rut

When we moved to Denver last year I knew it was going to take me a bit of time to get used to running at altitude. A mile above sea level – 5,280 feet higher than NYC – I struggled to catch my breath on many runs those first few months we lived here. And with a lack of oxygen, came a lack of motivation. When each run is a struggle, it can be hard to lace up.

This summer I was struggling a bit too. After I got used to running the path in the beautiful park near our new house, I started getting bored. But before I realized it was boredom, I was just cutting my runs short because I thought my legs were too tired, or I couldn’t breath. And sometimes it was that, but looking back I know I was just bored. I was in a rut.

Until this past Sunday when I got to the end of my 7 mile run and felt like I could easily go another few! That’s when it finally sank in that my runs were clicking again. I’m feeling better now than I have in a long time, and it feels great!

Running In Bend

I know I can’t go all crazy though; I have to be careful about my mileage. When I’m running well I want to run long but I’ve learned that it’s not good for my body. If you’ve been reading along for a while, you likely know that I went through a stretch when I pretty much had one stress fracture after another. My last was October 2011 – almost 3 years ago! What changed is that I drastically reduced my mileage and haven’t run a race longer than a 10k, even though I’d love to run a half marathon.

Bird Camp last month was hugely motivating for me. It gave me that first taste of really feeling good on the run, and wanting to run as much as I could. There was a bit of a letdown right after, when I struggled (again) to get out there – partly because after running trails in Bend, Wash Park was boring, and because Woody was traveling for work and I have definitely grown to rely on my workout buddy.

Thankfully though, that’s behind me now and I’m back on track!

Cheeseman Park

While I’ve been struggling, I’ve also been running some of my fastest times in years this summer – a 24:48 5K in July (although back near sea level), 26:09 in August (at Bird Camp) and 25:31 back at altitude this past Saturday. And when I felt great after 7 miles on Sunday, it was such a fantastic feeling to know that I could keep going (but I was smart and finished there).

After this weekend, I’m feeling pretty confident. So what else should we do but sign up for a 10K in October and a 4 mile turkey trot on Thanksgiving!

Post-Run

Here’s a rundown of 4 key strategies that have been working for me lately. I hope some of these tricks might help you out of a rut or just refresh your running a little:

  • The Problem: Lack of motivation. The Fix: Even though my regular route was beautiful and car-free, I was getting bored & my runs were suffering. So, I  found a new route with similar attributes – a park with gravel paths – but I’m am able to easily change up the route to/from the park each time to keep it fresh. Also, traveling a bit for some real trail running every few weeks really pushes my mind and body. New places to explore!
  • The Problem: That first tough mile of every run is tough on my legs and my mind. The Fix: I’ve incorporated a few activation exercises into my warm-up (which I’ll admit is usually shorter than it should be) and also into my gym workouts to keep my legs and hips light and limber!
  • The Problem: Not enough energy. The Fix: I’m convinced this is somewhat associated to boredom, but also fueling. With 5am weekday workouts, eating beforehand is difficult. I know we’re supposed to eat something before a workout so I’m making a point to do that. Even just a little. So I cut a Picky Bar into quarters and have it on my dresser so I can grab a piece when I’m getting ready to head out for the gym. It’s not much, but it’s more than I was getting before. 
  • The Problem: Tired legs. The Fix: Legs up the wall! Bird Camp made me a believer. After my weekend runs and almost every night before bed, I pull my yoga mat up to the wall, grab a pillow for my head and put my legs up the wall for 5 – 10 minutes. My legs feel fresh and light after each session!

    And as always, having a goal, or some event to look forward to, is hugely important! Pick a race, make plans with a friend to try out an awesome trail you’ve heard of that’s a drive from home or explore a nearby city. Lots of people don’t run races, but there are still great ways to stay motivated, inspired and happy on the run!

    Shoes

    SOUND OFF!

    Have you ever been stuck in a rut with your running? * How do you keep your runs exciting and fun? * What goals are you working towards?

    Oh hey, my friend Grace was chosen to participate in the Asics Editors Challenge and will be running the TCS New York City Marathon for the 3rd time this November! Read about it here!