“You’re crazy” (with its accompanying head shaking) has got to be the most-common response from anyone who learns that I’m training to run 31 miles. For fun.

I often start to explain just how rewarding and fun this whole idea is, but the other person typically either continues to tell me why no sane person would choose to run an ultra marathon or to list reasons why these long distances are bad for me (wear and tear, knee problems and other injuries).

What if they really listened? Could I really articulate just how rewarding all of this training is? How good it feels to be so tired after a double-digit run that all I can think of is a nap (after I eat a donut!)? Just how much more I get out of the run than I expend in time or effort?

I’m reminded of the refrain “those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still” but just can’t help myself. So here’s my list of reasons for why long distance running is actually good for me:

  • Running has given me the most active social life I’ve ever had. Becoming a runner has expanded my circle of friends. I also get to do something fun just about every day of the week, whether it’s running at 5 in the morning or getting roped into doing a 31-day plank challenge (I’m looking at you, Jessi).
  • Running has made me more active. I’ve never been a slacker in the active department (camping, hiking, fishing, biking and tae kwon do come to mind), but now I find even more reasons to be active. I do take rest days off, but I enjoy my fitness-related activities more and am a lot more likely to stick to my schedule.
  • Running has encouraged me to set new goals and to push myself. Planning my runs, working on my training plan and, yes, shopping for new gear give me a sense of contentment. But it’s the big-hairy-deal goals that bring me the most feeling of accomplishment. I never imagined I’d be running a half marathon, let alone training for anything beyond 26.2 miles. Just thinking about it makes me smile.
  • Running has gotten me to try new things. The phrase “I don’t do winter” was part of my vocabulary for more than 20 years. Now I run outside no matter the weather and no longer feel like I live in the Michigan tundra against my will. And I’m running through parts of town I’d never even seen before, whether on trails or pavement, giving me a bigger appreciation for my adopted hometown.
  • Running has helped me make better choices about my health. A chica can’t run 20-plus miles on a stomach full of donuts, so I’ve learned to make better food choices, am drinking at least twice as much water as I ever have, am taking my vitamins and am getting more sleep. (I’m doing that last one mostly because I can’t keep my eyes open past 9:30 at night, but it still counts, right?)

And here’s this week’s menu plan so you have more time to run. If you’re new, here’s how I make my list.

What else would you add to the list of reasons why long-distance running is good for you? Add it to the comments below. Feel free to include a link to your blog if you’ve written about this topic.

Become a morning runner

In my quest to help you find more time to run, here are tips to help you head out really early without dying (also an ongoing theme around here). This is especially important if you’re looking to either increase the times you run in a week or avoid the summer temperatures that can make running so unpleasant.

Flat chica. Become a morning runner.

Flat chica.

Lay out everything you need the day before. You know those “flat” photos runners post before race day where they lay out every single item on the ground and take a picture? Do that the evening before your early morning run. Photo optional. Grab every item you might need on your morning run, from your head to your toes, including headlamp, headphones, hydration vest, sports bra, GPS watch, top, bottoms, socks and running shoes. Bonus points for putting everything right next to your bed so you can change right away.

Another potential time saver. Become an early morning runner.

Another potential time saver.

Plan your breakfast if you’re having any. I set up my coffee pot and plan my breakfast the night before an early-morning run. If you don’t eat before a run, plan what you’re going to eat when you get back so you don’t waste time when you should be getting ready for school or work. Bonus points for making a few healthy options on the weekend that you can reheat.

Set your alarm(s). Some runner friends set three or admit to hitting snooze multiple times. I get up when my alarm goes off so I don’t wake el husbando up. Whatever works for you, even if it’s putting the alarm clear across the room to force yourself to get up to turn it off. Bonus points for using an inspirational song as your wake-up call.

IMG_2085

You, too, can wear a dorky head lamp while you run super early in the morning.

Make friends. I am fortunate to have many runner friends, including several in my immediate neighborhood. We meet up a couple of mornings a week to run at 5:15. Brutal, yes, but knowing that they’re outside waiting for me makes me get up on those days when I’d rather stay under the covers. Bonus points for starting a running group if there isn’t one in your area.

With my early-morning run group, las mañanitas.

With my early-morning run group, las mañanitas.

Take a selfie. Getting up for morning runs is hard. If posting your run on social media encourages you to do it again, consider making it a tradition. It may also help with finding other friends to run with. Bonus points for having a friend who buys you a selfie stick small enough that you can carry in your running skirt pocket (thanks, Vicki!).

While I’m admittedly a morning person, I used to really struggle to get up for our earliest runs. A year into the tradition and I look forward to that time when we’re all sporting head lamps to head out for four miles when most of our neighbors are still sleeping or just getting up. There’s something about spending that quiet time with friends that helps set the tone for the rest of the day, even when things get hairy in the office later.

And remember that I post my family’s dinner menu most weeks to help you save even more time.

While I didn’t follow the day’s theme, I’m still linking up for Tuesdays on the Run, the weekly link-up with hosts runner bloggers MCM Mama Runs, My No Guilt Life and Marcia’s Healthy Slice. Go check them out.

Do you have any tips to share? Have you seen any weird things while out on the run early in the morning? Feel free to share your blog post if you’ve written about this topic.

MENU IDEAS for your family so you have more time to run

I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest time-sucks has always been grocery shopping. With seven people (often more, depending on how many extra teens are hanging around), I have to go to two stores; sometimes twice a week.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw that my local Kroger grocery store is offering a new service called ClickList where you can order groceries online and then pick them up without leaving your car.

Here's how Kroger's ClickList service works.

Here’s how Kroger’s ClickList service works.

In a word: Wowza. I found it to be easy to use and a huge time saver. I’m sharing my experience here in the hope that you have a similar service where you live so you have one more way to find time to run or workout. I am not at all affiliated with Kroger and am sharing my experience after using the service last weekend.

How ClickList works:

Visit kroger.com/clicklist. You will have to sign up for a free Kroger account if you don’t already have one. It’s super easy and gives you several other options, including online coupons, the week’s flyers and an online grocery list.

I found the user interface to be a little clunky, but was able to figure things out once I selected the ClickList button. I had to specify which local store I wanted to pick up my groceries, add items to my list by either searching for them or browsing through different categories (think dairy, meats, breakfast food), and then choose a date and time for pick up.

There’s a how-to video on the site, but I couldn’t get it to work on my tablet.

Once I arrived at the store at my designated time, I parked at a parking spot with the ClickList sign, which instructed me to call a number to tell the store that I had arrived. Each spot has a number so the Kroger team members know where to bring your groceries.

Customers can park at the Kroger store's ClickList spots to pick up groceries they ordered online.

Customers can park at the Kroger store’s ClickList spots to pick up groceries they ordered online.

Two team members came out almost immediately, pulling my bagged groceries inside plastic crates on a wheeled cart.

Kroger cart

My groceries were wheeled to my car, already bagged inside these black crates.

One of the women unloaded all of my groceries into my Subaru’s trunk; the other chatted with me about my order, answered a few questions and used a tablet to process my credit card payment.

My view before leaving the Kroger parking lot after using the new ClickList service.

My view before leaving the Kroger parking lot after using the new ClickList service.

The whole process took about six minutes and I didn’t even have to leave my car. I will definitely be using ClickList again.

A few lessons learned/tips:

  • You have to order for the following day or later. There’s no same-day pickup option.
  • The service costs $4.95, but the first three orders are free.
  • The service offers customers a one-hour window to pick up their order.
  • The food was bagged with cold items together and still very cold and/or frozen.
  • You can choose to allow Kroger to provide substitutes for your items. My order had two substitutes: a larger size of the olive oil and a different brand of the baby back ribs I ordered (the ones they included were on sale).
  • The system saves your orders and brings up favorites so you can add them to your cart.
  • ClickList will automatically apply any of the Kroger online coupons you load onto your account; employees will take your paper coupons inside to scan them in, if you want.
  • I placed my original order on Friday and added items on Saturday and Sunday with a Monday pick-up.

The week’s menu plan so you have more time to run:

  • Chicken fajitas (I thaw frozen chicken in a zip-top baggie with Zesty Italian dressing, grill it and cut it up for the fajitas. I also cut up onions with red and green peppers, wrap them up in foil and grill them. Serve with cheese, salsa, guacamole and tortillas.)
  • Enchiladas, shredded lettuce, tomatoes
  • Arroz con pollo, red beans, green beans, fried plantains
  • Baked Chicken Parmesan with pasta, green salad, garlic bread
  • Eating for Life Caribbean Chicken Salad
Caribbean Chicken Salad recipe.

Caribbean Chicken Salad recipe.

How do you find time to work out? Have you ever used a grocery order/pick-up service? Feel free to share your blog post if you’ve written about this before.

falling in love with trail running

Running has given me many gifts, but allowing me to really see the beauty of my adopted state of Michigan has to be among the best.

Sure, it’s been a great place to work and raise a family, but it’s also been a place where I felt like a reluctant guest. A temporary resident looking to the beaches of Florida and the Caribbean for long-term living.

As a runner, I’ve learned to embrace Michigan’s weather extremes outdoors instead of heading to indoor activities to avoid the suffocating heat or teeth-chattering cold. And there is no better place to do so than on Michigan’s trails.

Want to get out on the trails yourself? Here are some tips:

  • Start slow. Making the transition from road to trail running can be jarring. Trail running can be hard but, oh, so worth it. Don’t plan to run your week’s longest run on the trails your first time out. Try a mile or two, then build up from there. I especially struggled with feeling confident as I stepped on and around tree roots, rocks and slippery fall leaves. It gets better with experience.
Beautiful trails like this one can help you fall in love while running.

Beautiful trails like this one can help you fall in love while running.

  • Wear proper gear. If you enjoyed your first few outings, it’s time to switch over to trail-running shoes. They’re just sturdier and grippier because the treads tend to be deeper to help you navigate the terrain. Unlike road running, trail running also takes you away from things like water fountains, so you may eventually want to get a hydration vest or at least a bigger water bottle. And don’t forget your bug spray in the spring or summer or your gloves and hat on the colder months.
Wearing the proper footwear can help you enjoy your trail running experience.

Wearing the proper footwear can help you enjoy your trail running experience.

  • Be prepared. This city slicker has no sense of direction, so a well-marked trail frees me to enjoy my surroundings, soaking in the lush greenery of a fern oasis on a river trail run or the way the sun hits tall grasses on a cold winter morning. Before you head out, make sure to eyeball the trail map, take a picture with your smartphone or grab a printed version. Michigan trails are easy to read because posts will show you where you are and point you to the next spot on the map. Most trails, like the North Country Trail I just visited, have additional markings that let you know you’re still on the right track. In this particular case, I kept my eye on blue markings along the trail, including spray-painted dots on trees.
The North Country Trail was clearly marked.

The North Country Trail was clearly marked.

  • Leave breadcrumbs, or at least a note. You’re unlikely to get lost if you stick to the marked trail, but it’s still smart to let a friend or family member know where you are heading and when you expect to return. I’m anything but a survivalist, but I’ve learned it’s better for me to turn around and head back in the same direction when I’m unsure of where I am headed on a trail instead of risking getting lost.
Let someone know where you're going and when you expect to be back.

Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

  • Watch out for deer … and other wildlife. Bear, coyotes and other critters may share your trail at some point or another. In addition to a Martin (looks like a mink) that ran across our path, my friends and I saw bear scat right in the middle of our trail half marathon in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. On another run in the same area, I saw the biggest woodpecker I’ve ever spotted. It had a gorgeous red crest and a huge wingspan. The familia thought I was exaggerating until I later found a description in a book about Michigan birds. (It was a pileated woodpecker, which the book says is about the size of a crow.)
Hope you fall in love with trail running.

Hope you fall in love with trail running.

Inspired to give trails a try, but don’t know where to start? Try one a state trail, ask around your running group or search online for nearby trail systems. You may just fall in love with Michigan.

What are your best tips for new trail runners? Feel free to share your blog post below if you’ve written about this topic before.

menu ideas burger basket final

In honor of the Independence Day holiday, I’m sharing the meal plan we use when we camp, including our most-recent adventure to Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s all easy and fast food to accommodate our vacation status.

From a running standpoint, our trip to the UP was amazing. Lots of challenging trails with beautiful scenery and my first trail half marathon to cap off the week.

Proof that I survived my first trail half.

Proof that I survived my first trail half.

I even got to run the four miles of trails connecting the Upper and Lower Falls, which I have to admit was the most-technical run I’ve ever done.

They weren't kidding when they said it's medium difficulty.

They weren’t kidding when they said it’s medium difficulty.

Altogether, I ran 14 miles that day. Started out running the four miles from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls on the road, then running back through the trail system and back into a couple of other trails within the park to try to get to my goal of 16.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park trails.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park trails.

Unfortunately, I ran out of water on an 80-degree day and was already past the time I had told la familia I would be back. With no cell service, I headed back to our campsite to a very relieved el husbando.

See? Worth risking dehydration.

See? Worth risking dehydration.

But I went out a couple more times because I just couldn’t waste those beautiful sunny days and scenery.

I don’t know about you, but this running thing has me trying things I never dreamed I would even consider. I’m so glad I got the bug!

Hope you have a great holiday weekend. Here’s a week’s worth of meals to make sure you can find time to run or otherwise be active. Remember, this is how you can make your own family meal plan.

  • Hamburgers, chips, fruit
  • Mac and cheese, rolls, something salad-y or a veggie. I do love this particular recipe, but we use the instant stuff when we’re camping: Italian Macaroni and Cheese
  • Taco-pasta salad
  • Spaghetti and (precooked) meatballs, rolls. Friendly reminder that this Weight Watchers Favorite Tomato Sauce is deliciosa.
  • Bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, fruit, chips

Happy camping, boating or, of course, running this weekend!

What’s on your holiday schedule? If you’ve written about this topic, feel free to share your blog post link below.