Couch to 5K: My Journey

It was about 10 weeks ago that I decided I wanted to run a 5K.  I was in New York at the time, just north of Albany, working with a high school dance team when it hit me.  I knew about the Couch to 5K plan; I tried to complete it last year just before the summer started and lost the desire to continue after week 5.  I just wasn’t motivated enough.

This year, I started early.  I knew dance and traveling would take over my life starting at the end of May and although I was already dancing 3 nights a week, I figured extra cardio couldn’t hurt.  I used to do the elliptical every night but somewhere along the line, I started to hate it and tried to avoid cardio workouts altogether.  That’s a slippery slope and I was struggling hard to climb back up.

The Couch to 5K running plan is a 9-week series comprised of 3 training days per week.  Each week, the training gets more advanced and pushes you to run more and more as the weeks go by.  At first, even if you think you can run a full 90 seconds (and believe me, at the beginning I couldn’t), by the end of the 9 weeks if you really stick to it, you CAN run 3 miles.  It was truly amazing.

When I came home from NY, I started my first official C25K training on Tuesday, March 8th. I also added a page on my blog dedicated to it so I could keep myself accountable for it.  Win for me.

The training started with a 5 minute warm-up then alternating 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of walking for 20 minutes.  By the end of it, I was out of breath and sweating profusely but I felt good.  I knew that I would at least be able to do the first month of training and didn’t think much of the later weeks. 

3 weeks later, I was still going strong and decided to officially sign up for a 5K race mid-May.  That way, I told myself, I’d have to finish the training because I would have to run the race.  I searched online for a local 5K (flat for the first one) and found the Marblehead Beach to Beach exactly one week after my training would end and one week before I would travel to Oklahoma for dance.  I enrolled, paid the fee, wrote it in my planner and told everyone I know.  No turning back now.

Around Week 4, it was time to start running sans-treadmill.  I am a big baby when it comes to cold weather so when I started running, it was in my cozy gym on a friendly, easily-paced treadmill.  Since I could jog about 8 minutes on the treadmill, I figured a slow run at the beach would be no big deal.  I was wrong.  Everything other runners told me about running outside was true.  I was sucking wind HARD after about 2 minutes and cramped soon after 3.  I stopped and walked, already feeling defeated.  “It’s really cold today, really windy, that’s why I can’t do it” I told myself but in reality, runners run marathons in the middle of winter.  Nevertheless, I turned my back on running outside for the moment and went back to my treadmill.

At the end of Week 5, the plan jumps from walk 5, run 8, walk 5, run 8 to run 20 with no stopping.  I was horrified.  I remember going to the gym that day, boyfriend in tow, freaking out the whole way there, thinking “there is no way I can run 20 minutes.  I’ve never even run 10 straight before.”  I met up with my friend, Kim, who was starting week 1 of her training and I told her not to let me stop.  I cranked up some music, threw a sweatshirt over the treadmill timer and ran.  20 minutes later, I thought I was going to die, but I did it and it felt great.

After running the full 20 minutes, I was unstoppable.  I breezed through week 6, struggled a bit at the end of week 7 but pushed and eventually found myself in week 9.  Running a full 28-30 minutes no longer felt like an eternity.  I blasted a rockin’ playlist, sometimes singing along with the first few songs.  Embarrassing? Sure.  And maybe even fist-pumped a time or two towards the end of the circuit.  Unnecessary? No way!

Then, it was time to head outside again.  Since I live so close to Marblehead, mapping the 5K route was a breeze.  And it’s very pretty.  I parked my car at the will-be finish line, walked up to the start, set a timer on my phone, clicked to the playlist and ran.  I got about a 1.25 miles in when I thought my lungs were going to burst.  (I started out way too fast I guess).  I walked about a minute before getting back into it.  I think I walked a total of about 2.5 minutes through the whole run, getting slightly discouraged but still managing to pick it up every time. 

I gotta say, the route itself is beautiful but more about that on Sunday.  I also realized that I look at the ground when I run.  That’ll be a habit I try to break as I continue to run.  Either way, when I hit the starting line again at the end of the race (which is one big loop) and saw my car in the distance, I took off at full speed, giving it everything I had, knowing that I wanted to be done and still manage to finish under 35 minutes.  I hit my car at full force, collapsing on the hood, all the while trying not to lose my lunch.  I didn’t (although no guarentees on Saturday, people).  The timer stopped at 34:44.  I was overjoyed, called Tracie right away to tell her, got home and fell asleep on the couch.

The last day of my training, last Sunday, I headed to the gym with the mere intention of running 20 minutes to see how my legs felt.  I was determined to finish the 5-song playlist I was listening to (they were each 4-5 minutes so I knew I could time it about right.) When I finished the playlist, I switched on Kanye’s 5:22 song “The New Workout Plan” and decided to run until I finished that song.  Then, “The Best Love Song” came on and when I looked at the timer, I had 2 minutes left to finish out the 30.  I did it.  Clocking the distance, I knew I had started running at .33 after a 5-minute warm up walk and now the distance read 3.01.  I had to bust out the last .32.  Switching on Gaga’s “Born This Way”, I gave it everything I had and finished the 3 miles in 32:20.  I was so happy, I almost cried.  In the gym.  On the treadmill.  In front of many others.  It’s fine.  I was done.  Officially.

So there you have it…my Couch to 5K journey.  With the race a few days away, it is the culmination of 10 weeks of hard work.  (And this is only the beginning…)

For anyone out there who thinks they can’t run, think again.  I couldn’t run, but now 3 miles is just 30-33 minutes I get to sweat.  It requires heart and the rest just sorts of falls into place.

I think becoming a “runner” takes more than 10 weeks, but the plan is the foundation of any good training.  Some inspiration helps too.  Check out these blogs for motivation, product reviews and that little extra push.  These people love to run and inspire others to love it too.  I’m living proof.

Christine at Bun & Borough
Aron from Runner’s Rambles
Corey: Runner’s Cookie
Ali at Ali On The Run
Page from Twenty-Six and Then Some

Are you starting/in the middle of/finishing your 5K journey?  What was the deciding factor for you to start training? What is your favorite part about it?

Categories 5K

Weekend Recap & My First Race Week!

As you can see from my previous post, I have lots of RUNNING related things going on this week.  But I don’t want to miss out on recapping my wonderful weekend because it was jam-packed and full of fun.  Makes me wish every day was the weekend.

On Friday night, my friend/co-worker/Work Mama, Tracie, invited me to a wine tasting at a friend’s house.  We drank copious amounts of wine, ate lots of crudites, hummus and oreo truffles (made by me, which everyone loved!) and I met lots of wonderful people.  I took an extensive amount of notes during the tasting, per the English major in me, and learned quite a bit.

The party host, Dawn, from The Traveling Vineyard brought 5 wines for each of us to sample: 2 whites, 2 reds and 1 dessert.  She encouraged us to grab different finger foods to try with each.  The wines included Sauvignion Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignion.  Dawn told us that the proper way to try a wine is to use four categories: color, aroma, taste and legs.  Yes, legs.  The more “legs” a glass of wine has, the more alcoholic it is.  For example, if you swirl a glass of Sauvignion Blanc, the drip lines down the glass will be few, if any, and very thin.  But if you swirl a Cabernet and glance at the legs, they will run thick and numerous.  This is because the alcohol content is much higher in red wines than whites.  It was a great educational experience as well as an excuse to drink lots of wine.  Win-win.  Thanks Tracie!

Saturday was my dad’s 59th birthday.  (Happy Birthday Daddy!)  He took the day off from work to…work.  Around the house.  He likes that sort of thing.  Boyfriend and I went out for a walk along my 5K route in Marblehead around 1 but after a mere mile, it started pouring.  HARD.  We quickly abandoned the walk and headed to the mall to buy gifts for Mother’s Day where we waited in the obnoxious Pandora line for an hour.  Good thing he’s funny.  I would’ve been so bored alone.

On the way home, we picked up additional Mother’s Day gifts (a bottle of Midori for his mom from me and a bottle of red wine to my mom from him), a new bottle of Merlot for us, bought dinner ingredients at Hannaford’s and by the time we got back to his house, we had gotten it into our heads to make homemade wheat bread (a 3-hour process), turkey chili and profiteroles for dessert.  Perfect for a Saturday night at home.

Let me just say – the worst part about breadmaking is the WAIT.  We used this awesome recipe from a blog I found called Hot Mess Cooking.  It is a lengthy process so I’ll let you jump over there for it’s entirety.  The yeast expanded, the dough rose, we punched it, it rose again but it just takes patience…which we all know I don’t have so I proceeded to throw flour around the kitchen and boss Stephen around to pass the time.  He always loves when I do that.

Here’s what the bread looked like. It was so good.

The chili recipe, adapted from Weight Watchers, is easy and requires 1 (maybe 2) pots/pans for the entire cooking time.  We like to throw in a few extra things (mushrooms, turkey kielbasa, a jalapeno, red pepper flakes and hot sauce) but a little heat never hurts.  Just make sure to chaperone the pot if your significant other is heavy-handed with the Sriracha sauce.  That stuff hurts.

Dessert was a classic from 17th century France: profiteroles.  Simply put, these are hollow pastry puffs, light and airy that are split apart making the perfect canvas for ice cream, whipped cream, pastry cream, etc.  We made ours from a basic combination of flour, nutmeg, eggs, butter and water,placed a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream in the middle and then doused the tops in semi-sweet chocolate.  It was hard not to eat all of them.  Warm and dainty, but so light you don’t feel (as) guilty about that extra scoop of ice cream on the side or eating the chocolate sauce out of the bowl.  All-in-all, a good Saturday.

Sunday = Mother’s Day and I got to spend it with the fam at my sister’s college.  After a mid-day dinner at Bertucci’s (I got the special salad: arugala, orange, roasted red peppers, grilled chix with a lemon dressing and balsamic glaze) and a Mocha Light Frappuccino from Starbucks (happy hour, dur), we headed home.

I sat around for 10 minutes and decided to head to the gym.  I figured I’d do a short run (20 minutes or so) and get some strength training in.  I settled myself onto the treadmill with a new playlist and told myself I would run to the end of it.  At the end of it, I replayed a 5:22 song Kanye’s “The New Workout Plan” and decided to finish that.  At that point, I took my sweater down from the tread to see my time and I was at 3.01.  Since I started the run at .33 after a 5-minute walk, I decided to push the end of the 3 miles.  I clocked it at about 32:20 and marked the completion of my Couch to 5K training.  I was so happy, I thought I was going to cry.  I walked to cool down, did some strength and some abs, drained 2 water bottles and left feeling accomplished (and very very sweaty.)

Looking ahead to this week…

So it’s my first race week ever, but since this is no 26.6 mile race, I don’t feel that “tapering” really applies to me yet.  Here’s what I’ve got planned for the week workout-wise…

Monday: Cross trainer, arms, Dance 7-8
Today: Run the 5K route, abs, sides, arms
Wednesday: Cross trainer, thighs, sides, abs, Dance 7-9
Thursday: Run the 5K route, abs, sides, arms, Dance 7-8
Friday: REST!
Saturday: Well.. duh.

This Week on the Blog…

This week is dedicated to my first ever 5K!

Tuesday: Weekend Recap/My First Race Week/This week’s workouts.
Wednesday: Couch to 5K — My Journey.  Plus – Some Running Inspiration.
Thursday: Guest post by my good friend/veteran runner, Christine.  This is a post you will NOT want to miss!
Friday: Pre-Race Report… What I’m doing, eating, wearing, listening to, everything.
Saturday: The Big Day.  Registration starts at 8am.  Race at 10am.  Recap will either be later Saturday or Sunday.

I’m ready to RUN!

Categories 5K

Weekly Gratitude

I love Fridays for obvious reasons.  It’s the beginning of the weekend, it’s sunny and has FINALLY hit 70 degrees here north of Boston, I have lovely plans for the weekend and a glass of red wine calling my name.  That being said, I had lots of things to be grateful for this week.

  • Thank you to St. Pius V School, my own Kindergarten through 8th grade home.  Today, they gave out the annual endowment scholarships to students and this year was the first year my family’s scholarship in honor of my grandparents, the Leonard and Lena Torto Endowment Scholarship, was presented.  My sister and I were able to give it out and it was a very proud moment for my family.  Plus, I got to go back to my days in elementary school, see all the changes that have been made and visit with my old teachers.
  • On that note, thank you to all of my old teachers that I saw today.  It is so nice to be told over and over again how grown up and beautiful I am and how proud they are of the person I’ve become. [GLOAT.]
  • Thank you to Forever 21 for making the cutest clothes for summertime.  I love my new sundresses, sandals, sunglasses.  You better believe I’m hitting that place hardcore before my cruise.
  • Thank you to my Daddy.  His 59th birthday is tomorrow and he is the best Dad I could ask for.  I love you Dad!
  • Thank you to my Mom (and to all moms) who we celebrate this weekend for Mother’s Day.  You go above and beyond and I love you very much.
  • Thank you to music.  Man, I couldn’t do anything without you.  Life would be incomplete.
  • Thank you to my friend, Miriah, and her husband John for letting me visit last weekend.  They are brand new parents to abeautiful little baby girl, Adrianna.  She is 6 weeks old already and I fell in love when I saw her.  And of course, Miriah is her same skinny self.  Genetics were good to her.
  • Thank you to summertime.  You are so close, I can see you like a finish line.  I’ll run to you.

Me with baby Adrianna

Friday Night at The Rustic Kitchen

The last weekend of April is always a blur.  The weather is all over the place (sunshine here, rain there, 40 degrees, 80 degrees), it’s the first in 5 years that I haven’t celebrated Pup Cup (which is a typical “Spring Weekend” at my college, complete with nonstop partying and endless amounts of alcohol) and everyone is looking forward to getting April over with and moving into May.

Normally, I am one of those people but this year, I slowed down the last weekend of April and it was truly something special.  This post is dedicated to an amazing Friday night.

After work on Friday, I raced home to get a quick Jillian Michael’s Shred Workout in with anxious anticipation of the night’s events.  My Aunt Debbie treated me to a one-of-a-kind experience.  She surprised me with tickets to “The Cooking Show” at The Rustic Kitchen in Boston.  The Rustic Kitchen is an eclectic restaurant, simple and sophisticated from the outside, warm and inviting on the inside.  The wine list was extensive and the food, embedded tradition in newly renovated classics.When we arrived, our party (myself, Aunt Deb, my Uncle Gene and friend Janine) settled ourselves at the bar for pre-dinner drinks and apps.  Knowing we would be eating graciously in a short while, we decided on a batch of lightly battered calamari (with a spicy kick) and prosciutto with housemade mozzarella.  I had a glass of red wine, of course, but not my usual Cabernet.  This was 2006 Malbec from Catena, Argentina.  It was deep and bold and I think I might be trying Malbecs more often.  Aunt Deb got a delicious white, Caymus Conundrum via California 2008, and it reminded me of a spicy Asti Spumonti.  Already slightly buzzed and tummy no  longer growling, we moved onto The Cooking Show set.

I found my place setting and bellied up to the table.  In between me and Deb sat a multi-topping pizza as a pre-show snack.  As you read in my other post, I usually don’t eat pizza but in the moment, I had to try the mushroom.  The slices were small but oh so satisfying.  Not greasy, just crispy enough with the perfect amount of cheese.  A glass of the night’s selected wine, Crabalis Vermentino, begged to be tasted.  Despite my general disinterest in white wine, I loved it.

When the taping began, I felt as though I had been transported to an episode of Emeril Live.  The lights flashed, music blared and an announcer welcomed our host, Liz Bramwell, a 26-year old Culinary Institute of America graduate.  A petite woman, you would more likely mistaken Liz as a college student rather than a successful chef, but she would shock you with an extensive resume including head pastry and chef experiences in famed restaurants on Cape Cod and in Vegas.  Liz started the show off by introducing her assistant, Pepe, and offering a toast (I was pleased to see her raise her own wineglass to her intimate audience.)

First, Liz prepared a cold vegetable terrine with roasted vegetables.  Eggplant slices, zucchini, summer squash and asparagus drizzled in olive oil, then baked until soft while she blanched Boston bib lettuce and lined a loaf pan with them.  She placed the roasted veggies in delicately, including a middle layer of herbed goat cheese.  Once assembled, she pressed it down, sealed it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge to set up for “at least 8 hours” but more like 24.

Served with a slice of the loaf was a sundried tomato coulis and a thick balsamic glaze.  After chilling for 24 hours, the flavors of the roasted vegetables deeply complimented each other and the goat cheese provided a salty bite to the overall dish.  It was simple, but decadent and elegant as well.

Next, after several more questions and toasts (and many wine refills thanks to Pepe), Liz moved on to the main course, Seafood en Parchment.  First, she made an herb butter, combining softened unsalted butter with bright basil, thyme, parsley and garlic.  She then cut a large piece of parchment paper into a heart shape and brushed it with melted butter.  She layered chiffoned zucchini, summer squash, leeks, carrots and red baby potatoes on the bottom before stacking 2 jumbo shrimp, a thick 4-ounce seabass fillet and 2 large scallops on top.  2 thick slices of herb butter followed before Liz folded and secured the parchment and popped it into the oven.

When it arrived in front of me, I cut open the top of the parchment to release the steam and was greeted by the delightful scent of perfectly cooked seafood.  The scallops were tender and creamy, the shrimp delicately pink and the sea bass, well, let’s just say I’ll be cooking that more often.  The overall dish was light and flavorful.

After a final toast, Liz closed the show, leaving her audience full of wonderful food and maybe a bit buzzed from bottomless wine.  We realized before the show started that we had been seated next to Liz’s parents, Paula and Whitey.  They were a fun couple, taking the brunt of many jokes when Liz poked fun at them during the show.  You could see instantly that they were a close and loving family. 

Shortly after the taping ended, we continue to chat with Paula and Whitey.  Of course, my blogger cards were out the whole time and after about 10 minutes, Liz came back to the set to chat with her guests.  I think I monopolized her a bit.  My aunt snapped about a million pictures of me behind the set and if I do say so myself, I look good back there.  And the best part of it was that Liz, although incredibly successful for someone so young (she’s even got restaurant openings in the works!), was completely down-to-earth and fun-loving, someone I would hang out with, someone my friends would love.

After thanking her and saying good-bye to her parents, we left Boston around 9:30.  Not ready to end the night just yet, Aunt Deb, Uncle Gene and I head to the Red Rock Bistro in Swampscott for an after-dinner drink (more wine, please!)  Once home, I fell promptly fell asleep on the couch til about 3AM when Giada diLaurentis’ voice woke me up.  I slept like a rock the rest of the night.

Action shot!

I highly recommend The Rustic Kitchen for a special occasion or just to sample their wine list.  Or splurge and go see The Cooking Show.  Either way, don’t forget to make a reservation before hand.  This place is sure to get super popular very fast.  Oh and Food Network, give Liz her own show, ya hear?

Me & Aunt Deb at the end of the night