The LA Marathon: An Experience to Cherish

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The LA Marathon was truly an awesome and enjoyable experience. After months of training and praying, I crossed the finish line and finished quicker than expected. There was one point when I thought I wouldn’t make it (more on that later), so it was truly a miracle and marvelous experience. I am SO grateful for the people that cheered me along. I sincerely heard your encouragement before and during the run and the prayers were much needed. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I am also so thankful that God was watching through everything.

 

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Close to 56,000 steps and 30 miles for the day…burned more than 4,000 calories!
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This is the course map and landmarks printed in the 2017 Official Race Program
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I trained for a 10.5 to 11 mile pace…so I was pretty close and consistent, except at mile 23 (explained later).

 

I had tears streaming down my face at the finish line. I would’ve bawled if there weren’t so many people and cameras staring at me. Tears of joy, gratitude, relief, and amazement. Amazed that I even made the finish line in time. Amazed with the whole experience. It was something that I hadn’t experienced and what a feeling! I had conquered my doubts and fears. And I guess I can check this one off my bucket list now!

To start, the weather was perfect, I had just gotten over my cold, and my legs were well rested from the taper week. No injuries going into the marathon. So I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.

The top reasons why I found the LA Marathon memorable:

  1. The landmarks! I’ve lived in CA most of my life and have never have seen some of these famous landmarks until the race. It was so scenic I had to remind myself to stop taking pictures and focus on running.
  2. The support and the volunteers! There was gatorade, water at almost every mile, CLIF energy gels at miles 12 and 20, and medical tents scattered throughout. Plus volunteers were handing out their own bottled waters, popsicles, bananas, oranges, homemade cookies, even beer! I really appreciated all the signs from the volunteers…some were funny…one said “Thanks for running so I don’t have to” and some were very informative “Halfway mark” and many residents were cheering us on. A few of them even shouted “Welcome to Silverlake!” or “Welcome to Echo Park!”
  3. The energy! Wow…of course with 24,000 runners, you feed off the adrenaline of others, but it was an international event, with runners from all over the world, even celebrities, elite runners, invited runners. I felt like I was really taking part in something big!  And of course there’s the diversity and people in costumes (see photo below of Elvis, the pink swan). There was also a guy dressed as Mario Kart but I didn’t have my camera out at the time. I was also proud to see a firefighter, several policemen, wheelchair marathoner, people running with their country flags, all joining us.
  4. Going from the Dodger ‘stadium to the sea’…only in CA! It made me proud to live here.
  5. The finisher’s medal! It’s huge, 2 sided, detailed, and just about Disney quality. I was admiring the Disney medals at the runner’s expo and it’s definitely comparable.
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top left: pink swan running in the crowd, top right: Elvis, Bottom left: firefighter, bottom right: wheelchair marathoner

I will let the photos tell much of the story for the first 22 miles, but my running buddies and I ran until the mile 23 marker continuously. I was enjoying all the sights and sounds, and taking tons of photos of the historical/famous landmarks. We were making good pace, even as we were dodging people and stopping for gatorade and water. Also, I had some photos of Little Tokyo and other landmarks, but they were a bit too blurry to post.  There was too much to take in while running so photos are just representative of my journey for the first 23 miles.

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Waiting to cross the start line with the 24,000 fellow runners at 7AM…standing room only, so we walked our way to the line and past it until the crowd thinned out a bit
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Chinatown Dragon Gate (Mile 2)
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Chinatown
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Dragon dancers at Broadway
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Heading toward Los Angeles City Hall (mile 4)
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Running up the hill to the beat of the drums
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Walt Disney Concert Hall at the top of the hill
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Echo Park Lake (Mile 8)
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Pantages Theater (Mile 10)
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Note the stars lining the street below the Pantages theater.
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Grauman’s Chinese Theater (Mile 13)
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Near Mile 18

In retrospect, I realize I did not have my camera out to take photos at Rodeo Drive/Mile 20…saw some very nice high end shops.:)  I also missed seeing Chateau Marmont altogether. And I saw the Veteran’s Building in Westwood, and some very nice homes but didn’t take photos. I probably was busy looking for gatorade and water stands at that point. 🙂

However, at mile 23, I told my running buddies to go on ahead as I wanted to slow down a bit. Something didn’t feel quite right and I thought I might need to stop by the medical tent. Soon after, my legs decided to give out and I had full on, painful leg cramps (both legs), starting from the quads, then moving to the hamstrings, and calves, and then left my toes inside my shoes flexed upwards. I was paralyzed with pain. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to do. I wasn’t sure if I could even walk it to the finish line (At mile 20, we passed by a lady who had similar leg cramps and was flat on the floor…medics ran to help her). So I decided to just hobble slowly through the pain and head for anything with electrolytes. Volunteers saw me and started giving me all sorts of stuff…3 popsicles, coconut water, 7 gatorade cups, 5 water cups, CLIF energy gel, and 2 bottles of water. I had my hands full of edibles, so I seriously had to walk slow just to enjoy all the goodies. Plus it took my mind off the pain. What I learned was that the more I walked (slowly of course), the more the cramps would start dissipating…on the other hand, if I stopped abruptly or attempted to stretch, I was paralyzed by forceful and debilitating cramps. So I just strolled and ate popsicles/goodies and really enjoyed my time. I even wondered at one point if I was really still in a marathon or just taking a nice stroll in a beautiful neighborhood. I had lots to look at! I admired some succulents planted in the sidewalk. I took photos of the mansions on the side of the road. And I promised myself I would enjoy my run so I did.

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Being distracted by food, succulents, and beautiful homes while I was dealing with my leg cramps…tried to enjoy the scenery as much as I could and regain some electrolytes and fluids

It wasn’t until I had fully walked two miles (mile 23 and 24), that I realized the electrolytes must have gotten into my system because I could all of a sudden run again. Slowly at first, then on pace. So I ran the last two miles into the finish line in amazement. So going from ‘how am I ever going to make it to the finish line?’ to ‘OMG! I just crossed the line with time to spare!’ was such a turn of events, I just lost it! What an epic experience for sure!

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I turned the corner and the ocean was on the right…wasn’t long before the finish line!
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What a welcome sight! I was so grateful to see this and couldn’t believe I made it! 🙂

After I crossed the finish line, I was awarded my medal, given an insulation wrap (it was cold by the ocean), and I took in lots of muscle milk and water. My running buddies and friends were waiting for me, and with the tracking system they knew exactly when I crossed and I knew when they did. Even though I walked a mile or two, I was really only behind by about 20 minutes. We took pictures like crazy. Like the rest of the finishers, I think I was in a complete daze until I got to the car. Maybe I was still in disbelief, but what a relief to be done! 🙂

In retrospect, at mile 23, I think I was completely depleted of electrolytes. I was being stingy on drinking fluids and electrolytes, as there were lines at every port-a-potty, plus I hate using one of those (I have some OCD issues). And having started the day early (at 2:45 am), I had been on my feet and was so busy, it was just off my radar. I was very lucky I was able to walk through those cramps and recover too. I actually was fully prepared to not finish if the medics told me to, but luckily things turned out ok after all. In the future, I will be prepared to have more electrolytes for sure! Here was our crazy little schedule day of:

  • 2:45AM Wake up (eat something simple, dress, triple check I brought everything)
  • 3:45AM Carpool with running buddies to Santa Monica parking (4 blocks from finish line)
  • 4:30AM Arrive at Santa Monica, got in HUGE line for shuttles going to Dodger’s stadium (start point)…ate breakfast in line and used port-a-potty in the dark (not a fun experience)
  • 5:30 AM Board the shuttle and take ride into Dodger’s stadium
  • 615 AM Arrive at Dodger’s stadium. Use bathroom one last time and find way into corral among sea of people
  • 650 AM Lined up in corral
  • 7AM Even though race officially started, we had to walk to the start point and it was standing room only, so we couldn’t run until a little later.
  • 12:22 PM Crossed the finish line 🙂
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It was a long morning and getting to Dodger’s Stadium was already an adventure. 🙂 We watched the sunrise near the starting line (top left: waiting in an hour long line at Santa Monica for our shuttles to take us to Dodger’s Stadium, top right: Dodger’s Stadium before sunrise, bottom left: watching the sun rise with our fellow 24,000 runners at Dodger’s Stadium, bottom right: getting ready to rumble…it was 6:50am.

So as a first time marathon runner, there are four things I never knew about marathons:

  1. There are SO many people everywhere. Lines getting to the start (driving, shuttling, everything) are long, lines for the bathrooms were long (and sometimes impossible if you needed to go last minute), and most surprisingly, dodging people during the run was no joke. I’m not running for speed, but one has to add extra time to account for the crowd of people at the start (can’t run until crowds thin out a bit), and extra time to dodge runners who decide to walk suddenly right in front of you. I actually bumped into a few or had to change direction so quickly I could’ve easily twisted an ankle.
  2. It’s very important to watch where you step. Around the gatorade and water stations, tons of cups were kicked around from one runner to another, and I was so scared of slipping. People also offered oranges and bananas and the peels ended up on the floor. I hope no one slipped and fell on any of those!
  3. It’s not really just 26.2 miles. Add a mile or two at the beginning AND end. There’s security checkpoints on both ends, and corrals to walk through at the beginning, and at the end a huge area for just the runners to recover, and family to reunite, and then walking to the car.
  4. Don’t expect to be able to squat for awhile. Using the port-a-potty after the race, I almost fell in! Luckily I held onto a nearby hanging fixture and saved myself from an embarrassing situation! Also getting in and out of the car was near impossible! :0

So the LA Marathon was definitely a memorable and worthwhile experience…and now one off my bucket list! Would I do another marathon? Perhaps in the far future, but since my legs are jello today, I will say definitely a HALF marathon sometime soon! :0

Thanks for reading! 🙂

I will be linking to  TOTR

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Marathon Training: An Experience By Itself

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Today I ran 17.25  miles continuously, up one extremely steep hill, and lots of moderate hills. After a short walking break, I continued running. It was closer to 18.37 miles total.  I stopped because I felt a side stitch coming on but it didn’t materialize, so I continued running. This is my turning point…I think I might be more ready now. The LA marathon is in 15 days. I’m still not ready but I feel better about it for sure.

I want to thank everyone for their comments in response to my previous post, Marathon Jitters…I’m not ready! Actually I was really inspired to write about the training process as a result. I am grateful that I can even participate in a marathon. And I am grateful that I got to train for it. That in itself is an experience.

Maybe I’m just grateful I got through a long run, and maybe it was just a good running day. But the weather was perfect, the sun was shining, the air was fresh, and I had a really good run with my running buddies. So I’m going to focus on the top reasons why I feel that the training is an experience in itself. If I don’t end up running the marathon for whatever reason, I at least know I tried and have this valuable experience.

So the reasons:

  1. I allowed myself to run continuously for as long as I can (set a personal record)…17.25 miles. More like 18+ miles total and I could’ve gone longer but we weren’t going to push our luck. I don’t think I’ve run continuously that long before or had the reason to. Training for the marathon is my reason and I didn’t even think I had that in me.
  2. I made myself set aside time for running…and made goals. I’m not one to regularly write down my goals (I need to work on that though), but once I see numbers on paper, I do my very best to reach it.  My running buddy and I followed a 16 week marathon training schedule we found online. I tried to follow it as much as possible. Even if I didn’t get to run as far and as much as I would’ve liked outside, I still kept up my endurance by exercising indoors with combining classes and treadmill running.
  3. I came up with a positive mental mantra/attitude and I’m sticking to it.  Ok, I haven’t attempted the marathon yet, but in these past 3.5 months since I signed up, I went from a blasé attitude, to serious, to scared, to determined, to let me prove it to myself and do my best. I can attempt to do this if I try. And believe me, around mile 15, 16, today, I wanted to just walk, but I was saying to myself “I can do this…just a little more…I can do this.”
  4. I have learned more about my own abilities/physical limitations and when I need to stop running. And it’s not about pride or anything. I am giving myself the ok to stop if need be so I can recover and make it through the marathon. I had a side stitch running the 8k last week and it was probably because I wasn’t breathing well after a hill. I made good time prior to the side stitch but afterwards, I had to slow down. This time I recognized the bad breathing and gave myself permission to just walk and recover. Luckily I avoided side stitch issues so I was able to run a bit more. I haven’t hit the wall either, but when I do, I know I will let myself do whatever it takes to slow down, recover, and hopefully cross the line.
  5. I am in probably the best shape of my life (cardiovascularly).  Even if I didn’t train as much as I should have, I feel great and I can keep up with my routine classes and running, and have the stamina/endurance. And a great side effect is that I’m fitting in my clothes easily these days (but then that could also be from better eating habits).
  6. I am grateful my ankles/knees/legs/muscles are holding up, and I hope I’ve trained them to be stronger as a result. This is personal, as I recovered from a sprained ankle ahead of schedule and trained during that time (sprained in August 2016 and docs predicted I would take 6 months to recover). Trust me though, I am ultra conservative when it comes to injuries. I followed doc’s advice and never put any more strain on things if I couldn’t handle it. And yes, I still wear my ankle brace. It’s not because I need it, but because it’s a reminder of how careful I still should be and how far I’ve come. I’ve still got balance issues that I work on, but I am very conscientious about which muscles are getting worked/underworked and which ones are compensating. So far so good with the knees, ankles and everything else. I also had plantar fascitis previously, and I’m grateful so far no problems with my heel. From here on out, I’m supposed to taper my runs so I can conserve energy and efforts for the marathon day of.
  7. I’ve learned a lot about running gear and food. Different pairs of shoes (I started with 3, but ended up running best with the one that I usually wear), syncing the Fitbit and Strava to track runs, energy gels (by the way, I learned that I can only take one before mile 18 and only in small sips followed by water because my stomach is sensitive during a run), shoe inserts (I have maximum cushioning to help with plantar fascitis), compression socks, runner’s belt strap (no arm bands for me, it falls off with sweat), cap and sunglasses (I never thought those wouldn’t bother me at all during a run), compression shorts and sweat wicking shirt (I usually wear tanks, but not when running), glide (to avoid blisters), and I know for my own sake, the perfect combination of almond butter and oatmeal fuels my morning start. I learned to add more carbs in my running fuel instead of my usual high protein meals, so that I have quicker energy access and don’t feel as heavy on my runs. Oh, and very important (for me at least), I learned about the importance of all the stretching and foam rolling after a run.
  8. I’ve learned to run with my running buddies and be happy as a team. Maybe it’s the camaraderie…maybe it’s the fact they run just a tad faster than me, so I use them as my personal pacers. Today around mile 15, when I was falling behind; both were running ahead of me, and I imagined a workout band pulling me along and they were both (imaginary) pulling. Anything that works right? Just as long as physically I’m still ok, I will let my mind make up whatever it takes.
  9. I will accept that this is about the experience and to make it as enjoyable as possible. Putting aside my competitiveness and need to prove anything to others, this is something for me. I signed up for this as a ‘bucket list’ item for a milestone birthday, which I hope I can check off, but I hope that I will make an adventure out of this. If I don’t end up completing the marathon, trust me I would have at least tried my best, and probably will have a lot of ‘touristy’ photos to go along with my adventure. 🙂

Ok, so 15 more days and then we will see what happens. In my case, the training process itself was already an experience so the marathon will be icing on the cake.

Thanks for reading!

 

Marathon Jitters…I’m not ready!

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Actually, I was hoping to write about the LA marathon (official website here) after I finished it, but now I’m having second thoughts. By the way, just the description of ‘from the stadium to the sea’ is intimidating right now. So I thought I better post this and if I chicken out, I would have at least trained and tried. Thoughts today include:

  • Will I even cross the line in time?
  • I must have been crazy to sign up! :0
  • This is my first and only marathon and it has been raining so I haven’t trained very well. Yikes!

I actually ran an 8K/5 miles fundraiser yesterday for fun…in the rain. It was an experience for sure. I made sure to slow down on slopes so I don’t slip…I had rain on my face and arms and it was cold. But I was familiar with the route and I’ve done 5 miles on a regular basis, so it was fun. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t beat my time from last year (slower by 24 seconds) but with the rain and a side stitch (didn’t breathe correctly), I think I did ok overall. But a marathon? Maybe I’m having a bad day, but could I really manage more than 5x the amount I just ran yesterday? I’ve been eating more carbs today (sorry diet, but I will get back to eating better tomorrow), and I guess I pushed myself to go faster than normal on that hill…but I can’t do that in a marathon right? It’s all about survival!

Honestly, I like running. Especially long distance. I don’t run fast, but I like having time to myself to think through different things, enjoy whatever plants and interesting views I encounter, and I especially LOVE to think that I’m burning off extra calories. But not 26.2 miles! And yes, there’s a nice running adrenaline that kicks in for me after mile 4, but I know I haven’t hit the wall yet since I haven’t run long enough. I’m scared. I don’t want that to happen during the marathon. I’ve gone maybe 10 miles outside back in January,  another 10 miles recently on treadmill, and maybe 25-30 miles cumulatively in a week, but it has been raining so much, I can’t get very many long runs in. I’m sure lots of people run in bad weather, but I have my reservations…I’ll explain why. I actually don’t mind running in rain, but it’s the slippery aspect and risk for injury that makes me worry.

I’m embarrassed to admit I fell while running…in front of a busy intersection! I ran in the rain and slipped on leaves many times. But this time I fell when I tripped on uneven concrete on my last step of the run. Talk about bad luck. Worse yet, I fell while holding my iPhone and cracked the screen. So while I was looking around to see how many people saw me fall, I was trying to figure out how much it would cost to fix my phone. Luckily I didn’t injure myself on that fall. (And luckily the screen wasn’t very pricey to fix). Whew!

I should also mention about 6 months ago, I injured myself when I got knocked off mid-jump on a bosu ball during bootcamp. That was the first time I ever got injured and resting for awhile without exercise actually made me mildly depressed. I was truly humbled by the simple tasks of going up and down stairs and standing on one foot to get dressed. That was not fun. I had been the primary caretaker of my kids and all of a sudden I couldn’t do anything for them. I had gotten used to being so active and the doctors said I have to go easy for 3-6 months. I was cautious and listened but as soon as I could, I took a short hike and felt so much better. To me, there’s something about being outside and in nature that makes everything seem ok. My X-rays revealed an ankle sprain and the doctors said I was lucky nothing broke, but I have to wear an ankle brace for 3-6 months. I still wear it out of precaution even though I feel that I have recovered. It was a slow progression back to my workout routine, but I’m grateful for the quick recovery. My balance is still slightly off, but I’m working on it.

So, now I have less than 3 weeks to go. I had a good training schedule and I kept on it until it started raining more recently. I still keep up my regular workouts (kickboxing, circuit sport, weights, spinning), but I added running 15-25 miles during the week whenever I can cumulatively. I know I’m supposed to back off the classes and run more, and I will. But I love my routine, and with the rain, it’s hard to train outside. So I have to keep my endurance up indoors.

So I think ‘cardio-wise,’ I can take probably 2-3 hours comfortably, but I think the marathon might take me 6 hours. The cut off is 6.5 hours. I hope I make it. Even if I just jog half and walk the rest (or maybe crawl) to cross the line. But honestly this will depend on the temperature that day (raining might be ok, but the heat is not for me), the uphill climb in some areas, my energy that day (I have be up at 3am to get ready and drive awhile to get to the starting line), my appetite (I know I’ll be hungry so those energy gels better hold me!), and I hope there are bathrooms readily accessible, because it’s the last thing I want to think of when I run, but sometimes nature calls. Ok, I’m overthinking it, but I know everyone probably thinks about all the ‘what if’s.’

And then there’s what if I forget anything…my ID, my bib, my compression socks, my sunglasses and fitbit, my sunscreen…what if I wear the wrong shoes? Luckily my running buddy is going with me so hopefully she will help me sort through this on race day.

So here’s the self talk of motivation and inspiration. I have to remind myself this is just for fun. This is a mental block and I need to stay positive.

  • I’m not in this for time nor prize.
  • Running a marathon was on my bucket list and I’m not getting any younger.
  • I was unhealthy and over 200 pounds after having kids (especially after a set of twins), I promised myself I will not go back. So even though I’m not at my target weight, I feel like I’m fit and that’s what matters.  And I’m eating healthier (ok just not today).
  • If I can just get to the finish line in time, if I have to crawl to it, I will have hit my goal.

One of my gym instructors always says, “If you never try, you don’t know what you are capable of.” I think I’ll take that to heart for the time being and just do my best. At the end of the day, since I paid for the registration already, I might as well at least try and get a free t-shirt and finisher medal. In the meantime, if you have any insight or motivation for pre-marathon jitters, I would really appreciate a comment.  If weather permits, I’m running 18-20 miles this weekend in preparation. Preparing for a marathon is an experience of a lifetime and I’ll need all the luck I can get!  Thank you for reading and I will update…

 

It’s Not About the Numbers, Or Is It?

In my journey towards better health, it’s been a real struggle to keep the weight down…and then constant. But honestly I learned awhile ago, it’s not really about the exact number of pounds, but more about if I can still fit into my pants comfortably, and if I feel fit. By the way, I still go by that rule. 🙂

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I’ve never fallen into the recommended guidelines for ideal weight and height. Even as a high schooler, I’ve always been heavy. But I was skin and bones back then.  No one could ever guess my weight correctly. Even back then, people said I must have heavy bones ‘or something.’ But in reality, I think I had heavy muscle mass. Everybody is built differently and those standard guidelines? Even my doctors told me not to pay too much attention to the numbers. In this age of eating disorders and self image issues, I promised myself I would not get wrapped into this. I just needed to be healthy.

With age and especially after having kids (I had twins and then some), I was definitely overweight. It’s not just the numbers this time (I was over 200 pounds) but I felt awful, couldn’t do sit-ups, never mind planks nor jumping jacks, and had trouble going up stairs. That was my low point. Yes, after having kids, it’s normal to gain weight and have a different body in general, but I was far from healthy. I developed gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. Before then, that was never an issue. I should mention that I was relatively fit before pregnancy, exercised frequently, and ran a 12k (San Francisco’s Bay To Breakers) without much effort. So it was a very humbling experience and coming back from that was a huge struggle. It still is. Especially if you have a hearty appetite and sweet tooth like I do!

But luckily, I managed to come back. No more diabetes and no more high blood pressure. I’m no health expert but I learned quickly that eating healthy in moderation was absolutely key and workouts are awesome. And I workout most days now, mostly because I like to exercise in general, but also because I promised myself I would never go back to that low point if I had a choice. I would fight diabetes and high blood pressure off as long as possible if I could! In general, I do 2 kickboxing classes, 1 circuit sport class, 2 spinning classes, 1 weight class, and run between 10-15 miles a week (I’m training for a marathon so it’s a bit higher now). And I hike on my days off from the gym. I’m not at my ‘optimal’ weight on paper and I know I never will be, but I am probably in the best shape I’ve ever been, and more toned too. I’ve also thrown out my size 14-16 pants and traded them in for size 6-8s. But it’s not about the numbers right?

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Or so I thought. This was a body composition analysis done about a year ago, for free at a health fair. By the way, I’m no longer the weight I was (I’m heavier but maybe more muscular now? :0) so I blocked the weight above out as “N/A.”Numbers don’t matter anyway right? It was fun looking at how many pounds was in each arm, each leg, but the most enlightening number for me was the percent body fat.

I walked in thinking my weight was starting to creep up again, so let’s see where I stand on my muscle/fat percentage. So it turns out, the BMI is ok…at 22.8. But that never had much meaning for me. However, the percent body fat is 14.6.  According to body fat guidelines for women, I was told that body fat of 15% is basically athlete level, which I was surprised to find! I felt fit but I’m not an athlete! I’m just a busy mom that just happens to like exercising and hiking. I had a personal trainer at the time and although I had set weight loss as a goal, he looked at my report and put me on a high protein, higher calorie diet! Based on my workout routine, and calories I took in, he said that because I was at a relatively low body fat percentage, the amount I was eating was not enough, and if I were to continue, my performance was going to suffer, and worst yet, my muscle mass would atrophy.

So what a surprise! Numbers did matter in this case, and to my favor. It would explain why I was always hungry and feeling fatigued faster during workout. I knew I was gaining muscle because I outgrew my skinny jeans (won’t fit over my quads :0), but I never imagined that I wasn’t eating enough!

My lesson? Never look at numbers alone. Always consider my own body fat percentage, eating habits, daily workout needs, how I feel, and then reassess, with the help of a doctor and someone trained (since I don’t understand all the numbers and know the newest research out there).

It’s still a real struggle for me. It always will be. Especially with age and busy routines/stress. But at least next time I look at my weight I will take it with a grain of salt. Eat healthy, exercise, and live well. And maybe I’ll have to go get another body fat analysis at some point…just for fun.

Thanks for following along with me!

 

 

Guest Blog: Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Today you are in for a treat! I am very excited to invite my blogging friend, Jen Li, to write a wonderful meatball recipe! Her website is gypsybus28.com and she shares her passion for cooking, beauty care, traveling, and life in general. Her pictures and well written instructions are fabulous and inspire me to start cooking after I read her posts.  Please visit her blog GYPSYBUS28 and see for yourself.
For this meatball recipe, I actually got a preview and tried cooking it a couple of days ago. It looked wonderful in the photos, and after I cooked it, I realized it looked even more delicious (if that’s possible), smelled irresistible, and tasted like restaurant style meatballs. Her recipe was a hit in my household and we had no leftovers!
Without further ado, here is Jen Li with her marvelous recipe…thank you in advance Jen, for contributing to my blog and inspiring me to cook delicious meatballs! 🙂

Meatballs in tomato sauce

By Jen Li from GYPSYBUS28.com

Meatball is probably the most cooked dish in our family. It’s so versatile. There are so many different ways to cook meatballs, with different sauces, in a steamer, roast in the oven or even just simply BBQ. It seems everyone like it, even the kids. I remember when we lived in New Zealand, my husband and his friends used to have meatball BBQ contest. They would compare whose meatballs were juicier, tenderer and shaped better. It was a lot of fun.

Over the years, we have cooked probably numerous number of meatballs in our kitchen, pork, beef, lamb, chicken, and turkey. You name it, and we would have cooked it. As a Chinese, I like to use ginger and rice wine in my meatballs. I also learned from my husband to mix beef and pork mince together for extra flavours. He also uses more spice and herbs in his cooking.

In this recipe, the meatballs have three key ingredients, pork mince, beef mince and short grain rice. The combination makes the meatballs tender, moist and juicy.

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Certainly, I also added some freshly grated ginger and lemon zest to give it a little bit extra flavour and twist.

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To ensure the juiciness and moisture, I would recommend to use the pork mince with some fat content. Let’s say about 20-30%. The lean pork mince with beef mince would make the meatballs too dry.

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When cooking the sauce, beef stock could give it richer flavour. I use the olive oil for the sauce. However, we all know butter would make it tastier. I do intend to use olive oil more and more these days for my cooking. Just feel it’s healthier.

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Try not to overcook the meatballs in the sauce. The meatballs can lose its juice over a long period of cooking. I hope you enjoy the recipe. 🙂

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 Makes 30 meatballs

Ingredients:

  • Pork mince – 400g
  • Beef mince – 200g
  • Onion – 1, finely diced
  • Grated ginger – 1 tsp
  • Egg – 1, slightly beaten
  • Lemon zest – 1 lemon
  • Parsley – 2 tbsps. chopped
  • Short grain rice – 2 tbsps.
  • Olive oil – 2tbsps.
  • Salt and pepper

Tomato sauce

  • Onion – 1, sliced
  • Garlic – 3 cloves, chopped
  • Olive oil – 2 tbsps.
  • Dry oregano – 1 tbsp.
  • Italian Can dice tomatoes – 1, 400ml
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parsley – 1 tbsp. chopped
  • Beef stock or hot water – 250ml

 

Instructions:

  1. Put the mince, onion, egg, rice, ginger, lemon zest, parsley, salt and freshly grounded black pepper in a food processor to mix well. It will form a smooth texture, which makes the meatballs bouncy and light.
  2. Use a spoon scoop out some of the mixture and form into balls.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook the meatballs until the colour changes to brown.
  4. Once the meatballs are browned, remove from the heat and set aside.
  5. Make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan and sauté the onion. When the onion slices are soft, add tomatoes, garlic, oregano, stock or water. Bring to boil.
  6. Lower the heat, add the meatballs. Season with salt and freshly grounded black pepper. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until meatballs are cooked. The sauce should be thickened.
  7. Sprinkle some parsley and serve warm.

Thank you very much to Karen for inviting me to write a post on her blog, natureinspiredmom.wordpress.com. I am so excited and honoured that she asked me to contribute to her blog. Karen writes about hiking, gardening and healthy living. You can feel her passion through her posts and the photos she has taken. I hope you enjoy reading my post and hopefully you will have a chance to try and enjoy the recipe.


Thank you again for your wonderful post Jen! Please visit her blog at GYPSYBUS28

Making your own Kombucha

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My current Kombucha station…continuous brew with a spigot and spares just in case

Kombucha…the popular fizzy probiotic drink that is supposed to be good for you…it seems like a fad but I think it might be here to stay. Thankfully, because I love this stuff! And now that I know how to make it, I can just keep this going for however long I want. This unpasteurized fermented tea doesn’t taste anything like tea. Depending on the added flavor it can taste anything like delicious flavored soda to fizzy sour apple juice to really sour vinegar. These days I see numerous bottles of this in the stores; different brands, different flavors, at about $3-$4 a bottle.

There is some debate about how good kombucha is for you. I know people are working on  it and reports have emerged with scientific evidence. But I won’t get into that discussion. All I know is that it’s full of probiotics, I like having my fizzy drink, and I’ve had many people tell me it’s done wonders for their GI system.

[Warning: some of the pictures can be unappetizing, so please be prepared. Kombucha SCOBYs are treasures but rather unsightly if you’re not used to them. Also, if you have any medical issues, please ask a doctor before taking anything unpasteurized.]

I actually didn’t get into this until my cousin gifted me a small SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) which she grew after she drank 75% of a bottle of the Kombucha and then saved the rest as ‘starter solution.’ About a week later, she presented me with this SCOBY floating in the ‘starter solution.’

My first look at the SCOBY and I was slightly intimidated. It actually looked a bit gross. Like phlegm.

Warning: If you are slightly queasy, PLEASE DON’T LOOK and skip this photo.

 

 

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There’s the SCOBY floating on top…believe it or not the whitish top layer is a baby forming on top of the mother SCOBY and yeast cultures below

 

But it was actually a healthy SCOBY and about to make me some very treasured and expensive kombucha. So I got used to the look of it and focused on figuring out how to make kombucha taste good. I was told to burp (open up the lid and it breathe for awhile) the kombucha daily so it can have some oxygen. Some people prefer to use a filter or cheesecloth over their bottles to let air in continuously. I chose to burp them because it was just easier for me than to worry about kids (or me) accidentally knocking some over. The first thing I did was taste the kombucha. It was slightly sweet. So I was told to let it ferment some more. I let it go until day 14. Tried it. Now it was slightly sour and bubbly. So I decided to drink most of the bottle and then save 25% of it, leave the SCOBY in it, and add in more sweet tea.

This became a process for me. Every 7-10 days (when it’s colder, allow it to ferment longer or go with your own taste preference), make some boiled tea (about a whole pot full) with organic green tea, add a ton of sugar (roughly a cup) and make sure it is COMPLETELY cooled until it is funneled (use a clean plastic funnel…don’t use metal) into an almost empty bottle of kombucha ‘starter solution’ and SCOBY.  That was in the summer. The SCOBYs grew bigger and thicker and thicker until I had to separate the SCOBYs layer by layer or cut them up and put them into separate bottles with some starter solution. By fall, I ended up with so many daughter SCOBYs, even after I gave some away, I had about 10 bottles of SCOBYs and it was taking up so much counter space my kids and hubby were looking at them funny whenever they walked by. (Actually one of my kids started naming the SCOBYs because the SCOBYs started looking like they had fingers and mouths…it was yeast billowing in the kombucha!)

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Boiled water, tons of sugar, organic green tea. Clean surfaces and utensils for sure!
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Let the sweet tea cool completely before transferring to SCOBY and starter solution
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Look at all that fizz! I ‘burp’ my kombucha daily to allow them some air but it does build up sometimes and explode! I’ve had SCOBYs literally climb out of the bottle with all that fizz. Don’t worry the SCOBY survived. 🙂

So finally by winter, I bought a huge glass jar with a plastic spigot and combined about 6 of those SCOBYs in the container and added a ton of sweet tea. Success! After we drank it down to about 25-35% of the container, it was time to get sweet tea ready and just pour right on top. Continuous brew it’s called. This was much more convenient for me to access (instead of pouring and hoping SCOBY doesn’t plop out into the cup, the spigot nicely controls the amount desired), and when it came time to add tea, no funnel is needed. I just pour straight into the huge container.

So the kombucha that is fermented can be enjoyed by itself. (Unflavored, if you can tolerate it). Some days mine tastes like sour apple cider and some days a little more like vinegar.  Usually the longer it goes the stronger/vinegar like it gets. This is called the first ferment. (You could just add juice/tea and drink the first ferment or just drink it as is). Because you can flavor it and make the second ferments!

With the second ferment, instead of drinking the unflavored kombucha, start adding in your favorite flavors. And let it sit for a few days. Some like herbs, fruit, spices…get creative! My favorite was blueberry or strawberry mint. The sugar in the berries make the kombucha get extra fizzy. Sometimes I have to stand back and put a bag over the bottle before opening to avoid an extra messy kitchen!  Another favorite was apple with cinnamon.  Just watch for mold because I let one second ferment go too long and maybe there was a contaminant but the fruit and mint I put inside the bottle got moldy.

There is a super supportive and informative community of fellow kombucha brewers on facebook that one can join. They actually have to confirm your membership into their group before you see the posts, but it is easy to join and such a treasure! There’s ideas on second ferments and people routinely send in pictures and ask is it mold? The facebook page is ‘Kombucha Nation: Cultures, Health, and Healing!’

I keep some spares because the biggest fear is mold. Usually you can tell it’s mold because 1) its at the very top layer of the SCOBY 2) it’s fuzzy sometimes very green like on a piece of moldy bread 3) if in doubt let it go for a day or two and if it’s mold it’ll be obvious by then. (One of my SCOBY’s had white bumpy dots on the surface one day and I thought oh no! It’s mold! But luckily I held onto it for a couple of days because not only was it NOT mold, it was a baby SCOBY trying to conglomerate and it finally formed one by day 5).  Kombucha is unpasteurized (obviously don’t kill the good bacteria cultures) but if the balance between yeast and bacteria is off, mold creeps in and destroys the entire batch. I would have to dump the entire container, even if mold is only at the surface. My cousin told me to keep the kombucha in a warm place like near the refrigerator or oven and that’s what I do. Likely temperature has a ton to do with it. Luckily I haven’t had that happen to me yet, but if it does, I’ll have a spare ready to go.

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See that white circle floating sideways? Its a baby SCOBY forming. It was on top but I knocked it out of alignment taking this photo. No worries, it floated right back up. This was supposed to be my second ferment but I forgot to flavor it and it became too strong and ended up forming a SCOBY. The power of the ‘starter solution’ is just too strong! 🙂

Another reason I’m holding unto a few spares because I’ve heard that these kombucha SCOBYs can be converted to coffee SCOBYs…I’m a huge fan of coffee…so I might just give that a try.:)

Oh one last thing…I also have some milk kefir grains that I grow too. Also good probiotics for the gut. I haven’t kept up with that as much since the kombucha took over, but that’ll be in a future post. Stay tuned…

Thanks for reading this super long post!  I just wanted to make sure I included most everything. If there’s anything I forgot, please leave a comment below! Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

Eating healthier…at least attempting!

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As part of my New Year’s Resolution, I decided to eat healthier. I started cooking and eating out less. I was already eating a high protein low carb diet, so it wasn’t that hard to make a few other changes to go paleo. Being so inspired by nature, I try to always incorporate natural ingredients in my cooking.  Turns out my herb garden was put to good use after I started cooking! I’m still working on perfecting recipes, and making sure I can make meals my kids will actually eat, but inevitably occasions arise and what does one do?

Believe it or not, this cake is actually somewhat healthy. I made it recently for my hubby’s birthday and while it does have a good amount of carb content, I know exactly what went into it. And I’d like to think it’s healthier too. The two layers of cake are super dense as they are made from dates and strawberries. And some agave nectar. Coconut flour and eggs. But no processed flour. The berries are our kids’ favorites and the icing was made from coconut oil.

Luckily the kids and hubby loved it. And the leftovers? I ate it. :0  And while I’ll be hitting the gym to work off those extra calories, at least I know it was somewhat healthy. And it was my first time baking a cake and boy was it fun decorating!

It’s definitely a balancing act between eating well, exercising, being active in general, and dealing with the daily grind, but I think it’s all worth it.

Thanks for reading this post…more later!