Monday, September 30, 2013

Embracing Dragon Age

I won't be spittin' nerdy health truths today. I'm actually going to be sharing some progress on my current cosplay project! I've been sharing it on the Project Reroll facebook fan page, so go like it if you want geeky updates on health, fitness, and my latest cosplay projects. 

I never would have imagined that I would be creating an elf costume a year ago because I never would have thought I could pull one of the long, lithe creatures off. I'm in no way in perfect shape, but I'm close enough to my goal that I wanted to enjoy my new body and start to embody some of my favorite video game characters.

My favorite game series of all time is Dragon Age. I also loved Felicia Day's webseries "Dragon Age: Redemption" which focused on Tallis, an elf assassin serving the Qun. The costume was designed for the webseries by Greg Aranowitz and then Felicia and the costume were put into the game in the DLC Mark of the Assassin. He chronicled the whole process on his blog. She's a passionate, feisty, redheaded elf rogue with witty quips and flirtations galore. She was made for me! Plus, when I found out that Felicia was going to be attending NYCC, I figured it was the perfect kick in the pants to get started. Plus, maybe I can get her to sign a part of the costume! That would be pretty epic, I think!



Luckily they released a detailed picture of the costume pieces a while back so I've been using that, screen grabs of Felicia from the series, and screen caps from the game to create the costume. This is by far the most complicated thing I've ever attempted. The only things I'm not making from scratch are the leggings, the boots I put my boot covers over, my money purse, and the gloves. The main materials are some dark green wool/cashmere cloth for the hood and some details, leather cords, some fake leather for the boot covers, and a lot of worbla painted with gesso and acrylic paint. There are also a lot of sundry detail stuff like studs and rhinestones and grommets, etc. Everything is being hand sewn and/or hot glued. 

To start out I had to make a mold. Correction, I had to get my friend Steven to wrap me in saran wrap and then carefully apply duct tape to create a mold of my body. 


Then I used that to make my pattern and mold my worbla over it. Worbla is a thermoplastic substance that you can use a heat gun to shape. When it cools, it holds the shape. I had to make the back and front of the armor, the leg guards, the daggers, and the hand guards out of it. 


Then I added the details like buckles for the straps and grommets for corset strings to be threaded through.



Then the long arduous process of gesso, sanding, and acrylic (making it look like green leather) began. My kingdom for an electric sander. I was more sore from that than I've been from push-ups in a LONG time. 


Then came the leather work! This included some sewing and hot gluing. I'm pretty proud of the belt and the boot covers didn't come out half bad! I still need to so some dry brushing with light brown paint on the boots and the shoulder guards, which are still being broken in.




As I complete pieces, my house is turning into an armor wrack. I'm sort of fine with that!


There are still some details left to do and of course the hood, but as you can see, it's really coming together! I'll certainly need help getting in an out of it, but I'm totally on schedule to finish on time. For a while there I was so frustrated with simply molding the front of the chest plate and the back that I considered throwing in the towel and waiting to make this for PAX East this year, but after a while, I just went balls deep and got to work. I've had a lot of help from friends. Mainly Chris (who sold me his extra worbla), Steven who's helped with the mold, and my room mate Joey who's not only had to put up with a string of obscenities flowing from the living room as I burn myself, cut myself, chase the cat away from the gesso, and discover problems, but also helped out with a lot of operations that required more than two hands to pull off. It was also cool to get some support from the @dragonage twitter account when I first posted my progress photos!

Soon, I'll be given all of NYCC the full on Tallis, but for now, it's grocery shopping, my weekly Paleo cook-a-thon, and then back to my workshop to continue work on this costume (aka, my living room)! This has taken countless hours to pull off and will take more than a few more before I'm ready to premiere it  October 11th. Focusing on this project has kept me away from snacks and totally focused on Whole30, partially because I don't have time for anything else and also because I want to look good! Obviously I fit this to my body mold EXACTLY. There's no room for weight gain here! That's like, trial by fire! 

If there's anyone out there planning to attend NYCC, let me know! I'd love to meet up with any Slayers out there who want to chat! I'll be tweeting from the @projectreroll and @annerichmond twitter accounts while I'm there so come find me!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fus-Ro-DO IT!

FUS-RO-DAH!!
Alright, guys. I need to share a story with you: I think I've discovered my new fitness-related "pet peeve."

In addition to my full time day job, I work part time as a cashier at an outdoor retailer, selling gear for camping, hiking, snowsports, climbing, etc. One day, a woman came through the line to buy a hydration belt for running. I'm not an experienced runner, so I asked how she liked using the belt over other options. We chatted about staying hydrated and how she was taking up running to try to get in better shape.

"I should probably start running myself," I said. "I do some CrossFit out of my garage twice a week, but I just signed up for the Tough Mudder, and I could really use the extra running practice!"

"I've heard of CrossFit!" she replied. "It looks like so much fun, but I need to get in better shape first."

I was crushed.

I tried to explain to her as I finished ringing her up that no, she didn't! I had 20+ years of athletic inability, excuses, and fear under my belt when I started doing CrossFit with friends in my garage -- we all start somewhere. But there was a line building up at the register, and though she smiled, I could see that she remained unconvinced by my plea as she left the store.

This happened nearly a year ago, and it's still with me today.

Guys, I was a timid and shy teenager. I picked dandelions on the soccer field and quit swim lessons when I got old enough to become self-conscious about my body. (Thank you, puberty.) I'm frequently anxious or at least quiet in public and I hate drawing attention to myself. Crowded places full of social interaction and loud people are just about the last place I want to be. I'm truly an introverted homebody at heart. Yet my intense group fitness classes are the highlight of my week, and have changed my life for the better in countless, immeasurable ways.

That timid girl I just described? Yeah, she walked into a kung fu studio at 16 with no prior martial arts experience, no strength, no coordination, and a huge, heaping dose of fear. Nearly 8 years later, the people at that studio have become my family, and I've accidentally turned into someone who prioritizes health, enjoys physical activity, and runs the Tough Mudder for fun. It's a far cry from the only child who hated sports, and it never would have happened if I'd told myself my only option was running on the dingy treadmill in the basement. (Ugh!)

Last spring I found myself in a similar situation, trying out parkour classes at our local YMCA with a group of those same kung fu friends. Um, let me tell you how much I am not a natural at running and jumping and being generally acrobatic. I am nearly paralyzed by my fear of falling -- even if it's only a 5-inch fall from a balance beam to the soft gymnastics mat on the ground, I'm terrified. But hey. I was with my friends, a great teacher, and surrounded by soft padding. So, I went out and tried it, and I had a blast!

Another friend of ours mentioned that it sounded like fun and asked if he could come along some weekend -- "But I should really get in better shape first." No! Come along and DO IT!

Look, I know how it is. Some of us legitimately prefer working out on our own, whether it's the solitude of a long run, rocking it to a workout video in your living room, or zoning out in the weight room. But so many of us avoid the gym or group classes not because we're not interested, but because we're afraid or embarrassed and don't want to stand out as beginners -- and while I fully understand that, it breaks my heart. I was just like that too (and I'm still not a fan of going to a gym!). I'm a terrible runner, gasping away after moments on the treadmill while Perfect Hair in her sexy workout clothes on the treadmill next to me goes for miles without the bright red face or death-rattle-breathing I display.

So what did I do? I stopped running on the treadmill at my university gym.

Instead, I found something that suited me much better: a small, supportive environment with folks who helped coach me through weight training, gymnastics, and functional movements in a more private setting. I couldn't do a pull-up. I'd never done a deadlift or a proper squat before. We all start at the beginning. And sometimes we progress very slowly. I'm still juuuust shy of a strict pull up -- and that's okay. We each learn and progress at our own pace.

Here's my point: If you enjoy running on a treadmill or working out to DVDs in your living room, rock on. That is awesome, and I mean it! But if you hate it, and you're just doing it because you "need to exercise," and there's something out there that's more appealing to you -- don't avoid it just because it seems challenging. There are modifications for everything that you can adapt when you're just starting out. And if you want to improve your health, you might as well be doing something you enjoy. Right? You don't have to punish yourself for hours on the treadmill before you give yoga a try, or sign up for that spin class, or walk into that CrossFit gym. Zumba sound like a blast to you? (It is!) Girl/guy, get in there. Want to try fencing? Go find a class right now. En garde!

There are no "prerequisites" for fun physical activity except a willingness to learn, a priority on safety/proper technique, and the patience to progress at your own pace. I think you'll find that your fellow zumba goers and fencing enthusiasts are going to be excited and supportive when it comes to sharing their passion with you.

What it comes down to is that there are a lot of different ways to be active out there. Don't suffer through something you hate because you think you're "supposed to." Ultimately, if your goal is to be healthy, fitness and physical activity will need to be a part of your life. Make it a part that you enjoy and look forward to!

What are your favorite ways to be active? What new thing have you always wanted to try? Get out there, Slayers! Show 'em how it's done!

-Simone
http://www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/skyrim_1256DragonFight.jpg
Even the Dragonborn starts at level 1!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Vanellope Von Schweetz Smoothie!

Sometimes, you just need something sweet, but if you're a stickler for health, then indulging yourself with ice cream or froyo everytime isn't really the best option. Well folks, I'm here to tell you that not only can you satisfy your sweet tooth, but you can get another serving of veggies at the same time so you can be both sweet and tough like Vanellope from Wreck it Ralph!

It took me a while to realize that fresh fruit smoothies are the bomb. They can serve as a great breakfast on the go or a small one can make a good snack later in the day, plus I sneak in some spinach (don't worry you can't taste it) so I can get another serving of vegetables without having to force them down via salad or sneak them into my omelette. I don't make mine with dairy, so they do satisfy the Paleo requirements. I shouldn't have to say this, but in order to make this recipe, you will need a blender. 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Almond Milk (You can buy it at the store, although there are usually some preservatives in it, or you can make it yourself).
  • 1 cup Frozen Peaches (You can make or buy these ready frozen)
  • 1 cup Frozen Mangoes (Same as above!)
  • Banana
  • 1 Cup of Spinach
  • Optional: Add any other fruit you like!


  1. Add both frozen fruits to the blender.
  2. Break your banana in half and add both halves to the blender (if you're not a huge banana fanatic, only add one half or it will be SUPER banana flavored, which I happen to like). 
  3. Add in a handful of spinach (that's generally about 1 cup). 
  4. Then pour in your cup of Almond Milk.
  5. Remember to cover the blender with the lid. Plug it in and then blend until everything is completely smooth. You want to make sure it's as smooth as possible so that you don't have tiny spinach leave particles floating around in there. The smoother it is, the less noticeable it will be. It will probably add a very "fresh" taste to the smoothie, but it's really not noticeable when you use a strong fruit like mangoes to cut it. 
  6. Pour and enjoy! This generally makes 1.5-2 servings depending on how much smoothie you want to drink. I like to keep the half in the fridge for later or share it with someone.




Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Kick Cravings in the Ass

by Chris Mason
KAPOW! Goodbye cake! PATOW! See ya ice cream!

I might be an ass-kicking super slayer, but I still fall prey to the same vices all of you do! There is nothing worse than choosing to be on a diet and then being rewarded with cravings galore for everything you promised yourself you'd eschew. As much as it sucks, it's inevitable that once you stop feeding your body things it's used to, your brain will start firing signals the you miss that chemical, be it sugar, dairy, or gluten. 

"I'm hungry!" Your brain will shout even though you've just eaten eggs with mushroom, peppers, and ground beef. 

"Ok, what do you want?" I ask it. 

"Ice cream and cake. OH! OH! A donut!" Your brain pleads.

Just no, people. If you are actually hungry, you need to eat real food. This kind of signal from your brain is just a need to keep putting junk in your face hole because you're going into withdrawal from chemicals that it's used to getting. 

Sadly, the only to stop those signals from firing is to do the hard thing and deprive yourself of those chemicals for long enough for your body to stop insisting that it needs them to go about your day to do.  You might want to try a cleanse to get the ball rolling and then start a regular diet plan that leaves out the things you crave the most except on very special occasions. 

My biggest vice is gluten. I'm might not be intolerant, but I'm certainly addicted to bread and sugar. Gluten fires pleasure signals in the brain that are so intense, they can compare to the pleasure signals you get from doing a drug like cocaine. I was doing a great job on avoiding bread products, but after my vacation, I just couldn't stop. It wasn't like I was binging like I used to at my heaviest, but I absolutely couldn't get through the day without at least a serving of bread. 

The biggest issue with ridding yourself of gluten and therefor easy access to carbs, is that your body is trained to use carbs to generate energy primarily and protein secondarily. When you remove carbs from your diet, you get headaches as your body struggles to break its addiction to gluten and you get fatigued because your body isn't used to focusing on protein as a primary source of energy. This generally lasts a few days dependent on how poorly you were eating before you changed your diet. In my experience, things really turn around after day five.

Another thing that's important when it comes to cravings is understanding what you can have and what your body needs. I learned this the hard way. On my Whole30. Usually when you're on a restrictive diet, there's a lot of "no this/no that" or you can only eat this many calories. Whole30 asks for no processed food, no gluten/grains, no dairy, no legumes, and no sweeteners just to make something more yummy. Nothing should be sweet unless it's naturally so on it's own. It's basically a stricter form of Paleo meant to cleanse the body of toxins for a month. Well I sort of adjusted my Whole30 starting out. I decided to severely limit fruit because I was trying to kick my sugar addiction and that became eating no fruit. I also didn't realize that the body needs sodium to survive so I didn't add any to anything I made for 5 days thinking that low sodium was good, so no sodium was probably better, right?

WRONG.

First of all, I got sick in the first few days like I was describing before. I attributed my dizziness to my body going through the withdrawal and energy redirection process. Turns out it just couldn't function because my blood sugar dropped down as did my sodium. After five days of the diet, I got to work on Friday and after about 30-40 minutes of standing and doing physical work activities where I couldn't sit down every 20 minutes or so, I fainted. So yeah. I should have done a little more research and realized that there's a reason the things I'm not supposed to eat are on the don't eat list and the things I AM supposed to eat are on the EAT THEM NOW OR ELSE YOU DIE list. My cravings for sugar during the fatigue phase probably wouldn't have been as bad if I hadn't forgone fruit after the first day and I probably wouldn't have had that incident at work. When you start on a plan or a cleanse, make sure you are following it to the letter. The people who developed it did so in a specific way because they understand the science of how it's supposed to work. 

I'm only 8 days into my Whole30, but I can tell you right now that not only is my overwhelming craving for bread and sugar gone, but my appetite is just less overwhelming overall. I definitely get hungry but I don't need to eat as much to feel full. 


The last tip I have is misdirection. If you're having a craving, it's always best to do something rather than doing nothing. If you just let it sink in with you without acting, it might get the better of you eventually. If you can distract yourself by doing something else, it can sometimes trick the brain into being satisfied because you acted to prevent the temptation from taking hold. For instance, you could go for a 20 minute walk. You could play with a pet. You could drink a big glass of water. You could eat some fruit. You could even play a video game. Do anything that's mentally or physically active that requires that part of the brain that was just yowling at you to give it what it wants to get a life and do something productive with itself. 

How do you handle your cravings? Do you give in and get it out of your system or do you have other things you do to get past the dancing candy unicorns dancing in your brain? Please share any tips you have with your fellow Slayers in the comments!

Motivated Monday: September Goals Check-In

Hey Slayers, it's Simone again! Sorry for the delay from my normal Friday post; I left work early with one of my rare migraine+aura combos, and while I'm lucky that my migraines are incredibly infrequent and far less severe than many, they're still not very conducive to writing, thinking, or really doing anything other than taking a nap. However, I'm rested up and back from a productive weekend, so let's dive in!

My September goals are going fairly well overall, though certainly far from perfect. (How does the quote go? "No plan survives initial contact"?) As far as tracking my spending goes, I have diligently kept up my check register in addition to checking in on my budget on Mint.com. Hooray! The snags: My part-time job is at an outdoor retailer with insanely good deals for its employees; I just ordered a brand-new $200 winter jacket for $40. I mean, with a deal that obscenely good, how can you not? (I think I spend more money at that job than I actually earn....) And, living in a northern state, you can never have too much cold weather gear. You remember the Stark words, yes?

Where I live, this meme will never die.
Because fully half of my fun/miscellaneous budget was eaten up by my contribution to our garage's new C2 "Imperial" rower (cue Darth Vader theme), I'm making a few allowances to stretch that this month since technically we bought it in August. Next month I'll have to be extra diligent, though, since our kung fu instructors' weekend retreat is coming up around Halloween, and my paycheck will be a bit slimmer since I had to go home early on Friday with that migraine. Oh, do I dream of a day where I'll have paid time off!

If you've ever rowed for part of your workout, you know that they really do belong to the Dark Side.
I am now firmly in the midst of my Zone kitchen experiment as well. It's tough to balance all the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) at each meal! I had a successful weekend of meal planning and food preparation this weekend, though, so I'm excited to see how this week goes now that I have a better idea of what to expect.

It's easy to get discouraged when you're handling normal life stresses (job satisfaction, daily commute, messy house, busy calendar...) and trying to work towards a healthier lifestyle on top of that. Being a recent grad, I've definitely been dealing with some grass-is-greener moods myself. After 5 years, I couldn't wait to graduate and have a steady paycheck. Now I do, but it's still a temporary position (cue stress!), and the 19-mile work commute downtown takes longer than my previous 45-mile commute to school. Gotta love that downtown traffic! I guess I was naive last year at this time, in the midst of battling with my thesis, to think that my life would be less stressful without homework; these paychecks are only bringing me closer to student loan bills and "Wait, this isn't what I want to do with my life" concerns.

Anyway, all we can do is continue to take small steps towards where we'd like to be, and remember to appreciate the things we do have now. For the past few weeks, I've been posting quotes I enjoy each Monday on Twitter with the hashtag #MotivatedMondays to try to start the week off strong. And though my Asian Studies degree no longer reflects my desired career path, it did supply me with a wealth of philosophical Chinese quotes. Here's one for today:

"It does not matter how slow you go -- so long as you do not stop." 
~Confucius

-Simone

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Avenger's Eggs: Breakfast of Champions Recipe

I know a lot of people who don't eat breakfast, but it's arguably the most important meal for the day. It jumpstarts your metabolism and gives you the energy you need to start the day right. I find that with the right breakfast, I don't feel like I "need" coffee quite as much. In fact, for my Whole 30, I'm forgoing coffee (even though it's not a requirement), just because I always think it's good to cleanse the body when it becomes reliant on any sort of chemical.

So this is my typical breakfast and it's very easy to whip up in about 20 minutes with the right amount of prep. I'm have it on high authority that The Avengers eat this every morning. No really. That's totally true. Check wikipedia. Well don't. Just take my word for it because I did not in any way just lie to you to promote my work. 


Keep in mind, I make my friend Catspaw's seasoned beef every week. I chop up a bag of two bell peppers and a bag of pre-sliced mushrooms. 

Ingredients

  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • 4-6 oz pre-cooked ground beef
  • 2 eggs
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Sea Salt


  1. Put the stove on medium heat. 
  2. Spray pan with EVOO.
  3. Add one handful of sliced mushroom and one handful of chopped pepper to the pan. Add a little sea salt, garlic and onion powder. 
  4. Mix everything in the pan until the veggies are evenly coated.
  5. Sauté for about 5 minutes till mushrooms are soft and brown.
  6. Crack two eggs into a bowl and 2 tbs of water. 
  7. Whisk eggs.
  8. Add to pan and scramble with the veggies for about two minutes.
  9. Add in 4-6 oz. of your ground beef mix. 
  10. Move all ingredients in the pan so that the eggs don't get burned or over cooked while your ground beef heats. This should take about a minute.
  11. Serve and put it in your face mouth!



Monday, September 16, 2013

Make a Plan

When you feel yourself slipping, the best way ahead is to make a plan. Then all you have to do is execute it. Now you're saying, "Yeah Anne, but executing is hard!" It is hard, but it's even harder if you're just flying by the seat of your pants.

So here's my plan for the next 6 weeks. I've been on vacation in England, enjoying the Ren Faire every few weekends, and attending conventions all summer. That's all fine, but I have fallen off the wagon when it comes to my health and its time to get back on it and get my bum in gear (and in squats) so that when the holidays hit, I'll be back in the habit again!

It's dangerous to go alone, I hear, so I'm teaming up with my friends Shannon and Steven for this adventure! We have some separate goals but are overlapping in a few areas. It will be nice to have two good friends to stay accountable with.

Goal 1: Fly, you fool! I have to get back to running 3x/week. I fell out of the habit on vacation and the few times I've tried since getting back... it's been terrible. I can blame it on the heat all I want, but I know the real issue is just that I've lost a lot of the stamina I built up. No more excuses. My running should be composed of  one HIIT workout with sprints and 2 longer runs (35-40+ minutes) each week. They can be outside or inside on the treadmill.

Goal 2: They'll be back, and in stronger numbers. Strength training 2x/week. This will all be bodyweight based and done through yoga or circuits. Idealy I'd do this more than twice a week, but I'm not going to pressure myself to workout more than 5x total a week right now. It's more important that I get back to regularity than to overpressure myself.

Goal 3: Whole 30. I'm going to be detoxing all my bad decisions with this month long program. I was inspired by Mike's juice fast and I think this will be a great way to kickstart my Paleo routine again whilst cleansing my system. Shannon and Steven are joining me on this adventure and it will include opportunities for us to all get together and cook new things. My alternate reason for committing to a Whole 30 is because NYCC is coming up in 3 weeks and I want to be at my best for my Dragon Age cosplay. You can follow along with construction on Facebook if you're interested!

Goal 4: Let's Put on a Show! My career (as far as the arts are concerned) has been totally destroyed by this transformation process. That seems like an extreme statement, but because my body has changed so much, nothing that's on my resume or that has been made for my reel is helpful because I'd never be hired for those roles anymore. It's like everything I built doesn't matter towards building my life into what I want it to be. That's always been the thing I DID have under control while my weight and health suffered. Now it's the other way around. I've been struggling a lot to figure out how exactly I'll turn this around and stop the self loathing/frustration cycle. I suppose the best cure is to get myself back to work and make new things. Shannon asked if I wanted to do a concert with her and another friend and I think it's the perfect opportunity to get my feet back into the water. We know that the concert will be in January, so it will take more than six weeks to finish the goal completely, but there are specific steps we're planning to take in the next six weeks. They are:

  • Set a date
  • Meet 1/week for a "state of the union"
  • Secure accompanist/ music director
  • Secure filmographer (so that I can get some new reel material)
  • Make a budget and plan
  • Save $25 a week towards the cost of producing the show

So those are my goals for the next six weeks starting TODAY! It's a little scary but I'm excited to be playing this game co-op with some fellow geeks! Do you have a plan you're trying to execute? Why not share it in the comments so we can all show our support!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Mud, Sweat, and Beers

So, here's the tally:


Dirt? Bruises? Dirty bruises!
Bruises: Countless, including a nice electric-wire-zapped one on my inner arm and a large, impressive mystery bruise on my shin/calf
Scrapes: Multiple, including a roughed-up shoulder and the aforementioned shin
Sore muscles: All of them. All the muscles.
Exhaustion: Complete and all-encompassing
Triumph: Like nothing I've ever felt before!

You guys, Tough Mudder was awesome.


My three roommates and I awoke in darkness at 4:30am after a late night of anxious packing and fitful sleeping. I could hardly eat -- I think I managed to choke down a hardboiled egg, some of a banana, and a protein drink, but it was tough to fit any food in a stomach full of angry butterflies. Our house was the meeting point for most of our team, and by the time 5am rolled around we had a caravan ready to depart . . . until the minivan carrying 7 people got a flat tire. (At least it was at our house!) After shuffling into new vehicles, we were finally underway.

We spent the next few hours discussing the order of the obstacles and our various strategies and concerns, peppered with the occasional "oh my god you guys, what are we doing" and "hey look! lightning!" We pulled in early around 6:30am and were suddenly swept up in throngs of spandex-clad (or cutoff jean shorts, for one team) people of all shapes and sizes looking tough and excited.

Our numbers drawn on and wristbands attached, we stopped by the free "mohawks for charity" tent (no, I did not get one -- maybe next year) and then climbed our first obstacle: a 6- or 7-foot wall that would corral us into the starting pen.

Kilts optional.

After a pumped up intro by the MC, the massive cannon sounded and we were off! Since we were in the first wave, we had a nice pristine field ahead and only a few early morning spectators as we jogged the first mile or so to obstacle #1!

3...2...1...

...GO!
After belly-crawling through mud underneath strings of barbed wire, more running, boosting each other over some walls, and more running, we reached the first truly anxiety-inducing obstacle: the Electric Eel, where you belly-crawl through shallow water under dangling live wires. (All of you think I'm crazy right now, I know. You're probably not wrong.) Despite my valid concerns, I tried not to think about it and slid in when it was my turn, and -- OW! -- shrieked as I encountered my first wire.

I think "delicate slither" accurately describes what I'm doing back there.
Crazy or not, I made it through with "only" a few minor shocks and was gratefully pulled out by one of my teammates at the far end. We stuck around to cheer and encourage the teammates and strangers behind us, then posed for a triumphant group picture before the 16 of us separated into smaller groups based on our running abilities. Shortly thereafter, we passed a sign letting us know we were at the 5k mark and "would be done right now" if we had signed up for a shorter mud run. But ours was only beginning, with push ups, lunges, bear crawling, steep hill climbs, and giant round haybales to vault/leap/scramble in the next few miles.

Go team!
As we reached the first "mud mile" -- a stretch of muddy hills and trenches -- somewhere around the five mile mark, the ominous dark clouds that had been hovering in the distance finally reached us, and as we shook muddy grit and stones out from our shoes and headed out again, from the sky came heavy, sideways rain. I happen to enjoy running in the rain, but it was coming down so hard and on such an intense angle that I started wishing I had goggles just to protect my contacts from washing out of my eyes! It was still pouring as we reached an obstacle intended to be a jump over two stretches of fire and into a deep pool; for our group, we jumped through smoke over some nice warm logs. The pool on the far side was much deeper than intended, and my left calf seized up as I hit the cold water and hauled myself out on the other side. Ah well, only six miles to go, right?

Our faster teammates had a few flames left, at least!
This was a fun one, actually - not as claustrophobic as I feared.
The rain did not let up at all, and soon I was shivering in my tank top (the weather said 87*F and scattered thunderstorms!) as we approached one of the obstacles I feared the most: the "Arctic Enema," a jump into a tank of freezing water. The best part? You have to submerge completely underneath a half-wall before you can emerge on the other side. Brrrr!

Once again, I didn't stop to think or agonize when I got up on the platform. This was one of the most unusual (and best!) parts of the Mudder for me -- I like to overanalyze and stress about things and I definitely stall when I'm nervous. Not here. When it was my turn at each of the obstacles, I went. I seemed to be stuck in this great "The only way out is through" mentality, and despite physical aches and pains, I never mentally "lost it." It was a really cool state of mind to experience for me, and one I hope I can tap into again.

Not me, but I shared her sentiment -- plus, it was still raining when I went through!
Though our Team Captain (who happens to also be my boyfriend) and I had intended to stay with the tail end of the group for the entire event -- which, as a weaker runner, wasn't a problem for me -- we apologetically picked up the pace after the next obstacle, two ten-foot-high "Berlin walls" that left me shivering harder and turning blue as we came down and waited for our teammates on the other side. A few jumping jacks and some sport beans helped, but I needed to run to get my body temperature back up. The going was tougher now. We were around mile 7 or 8 and the temporary drizzle had turned back into strong, driving rain. My right hip flexor, sore around mile two, was now insistently reminding me that it had been a long time since I'd traveled so far on foot. My calf cramp flared any time I tried to jump. I pitifully scrabbled at the wet hay bales, no longer able to charge but instead needing a boost through the mud and rain. Despite the pleasure of realizing I had more jogging left in me than I thought, I quietly acknowledged to myself that I wasn't having quite so much fun at that particular moment.

These were much more fun this first time, pre-rain!
But we were at least 8 miles in; we had less than 4 to go. And it had to stop raining at some point . . . right?

We waited for the rest of our group at the next hydration station, idly noticing the golf-cart-ambulance light flashing a short distance away and hoping everyone was alright. But as the rest of our group arrived, we recognized a bandana on someone standing out there with whoever was down -- it was one of our teammates. Worried, my boyfriend and I took off again. Even though the cart was a short distance away "as the crow flies," the course's path wound around quite a bit, and we must have had nearly a mile to go. One obstacle, a high jump down into a water pit, was closed because of lightning, and we didn't wait, instead running on ahead through heavy mud.

We caught up to the "middle" group and checked on our teammate, who had bad muscle cramping and a sore leg that he was struggling to walk on. Fortunately there was no damage, but he was done for the day and got a ride back to the finish line to cheer us on. The amazing part of Tough Mudder, though, is that it isn't a race at all -- and all of us, my teammate included, were still proud and excited for how far he had made it. 9 miles is still quite the accomplishment!

There were now only a few obstacles and a few miles left. My boyfriend and I joined up with two other guys who had been the "middle" group of our team, just in time for the partner carry -- and luckily, one of those guys was the second-lightest on the team after me. I stumbled through a piggy-back ride with him halfway, and then we switched and he took off! The rain was letting up and we were starting to taste victory as we passed the 10 and 11 mile marks and closed in on one of the final obstacles: the "Funky Monkey."

Some of those monkey bars are greased, too! 
I'd already known that I wouldn't be able to manage this one. I'd be okay on straight monkey bars (I think), but exhausted, wet, covered in mud, and on an incline/decline, it just wasn't going to happen. I feebly reached for the second bar out and had no grip strength on the muddy, greasy bar. With resignation, I dropped to the water and awkwardly swam to the other side, cheering on my teammates. My boyfriend made it all the way and my partner-carry teammate had only a few rungs left when he slipped. It was impressive to watch!

Hopefully this will be me next year!
We had half a mile left, and the best part? The sun came out. It had been nearly four hours, and we were so ready to reach the end. But three obstacles remained: the "cage crawl," where you swim on your back through muddy water right underneath a low chain link fence, and two of the most infamous Tough Mudder obstacles: Everest and "Electroshock Therapy."

Instead of being claustrophobic, this was kind of relaxing to drift through.
Many people struggle to make it up this one, but the enthusiasm and assistance of those at the top is just fantastic.
I was exhausted and in no shape to sprint when we reached Everest. But, as with the other obstacles, when it was my turn I charged ahead, not thinking about the spectators or the mechanics or when to reach -- I just ran. I slid back down on my first attempt, but again made eye contact with one of the guys at the top, who nodded and motioned to me to try it again. I gulped and took off.

And suddenly I was grabbing his hand.

I have absolutely no idea how I made it high enough. We came back to watch our final teammates' endeavors later and so many people failed over and over, sometimes connecting fingertips but inexorably sliding back again and again. I wish I could see a video of me getting up there. I can still hardly believe I did it.

I dangled awkwardly after grabbing on, too exhausted to try to pull myself over the top. Someone grabbed my other hand and my boyfriend hooked me by the shoulders, and the three of them hoisted me, grateful and gasping, over the edge. I made it.

There was only one obstacle and perhaps 50 feet between us and the finish line now . . . and definitely the most feared. We had to run through mud (and over mud hills) amidst countless dangling electric wires. Faceplants were commonplace here. Honestly, I was more afraid of falling than the pain of getting shocked -- I am terrified of falling in an irrational way. (I'm barely over five feet tall, it's not like I'd have far to go.) In solidarity, my teammates linked arms with me and we marched forward, facing it together.

I don't know that I had the courage to pick through -- or charge through -- on my own this time. Yikes!
I'm normally a quiet person and I don't like to be loud or draw attention to myself, but we've learned that in tough lifting CrossFit workouts, I will absolutely roar, shrieking in pain/determination/pain/defiance/pain. And oh, did I unleash the full power of my vocal cords on this one. I got shocked a number of times, and it hurt -- but we stayed together, me roaring in the middle, and we were through.

I shakingly and triumphantly remarked that I felt as though I had just done 15 espresso shots. A mix of exhaustion, exhilaration, electricity (literally), and triumph were coursing through me. I have never done anything like this before in my entire life. And yet somehow, here we were in the finally sunny noon heat, getting orange headbands, t-shirts, beer (I sadly skipped mine in favor of water) and cheers from family and the teammates who had finished before us. WE DID IT!


HOO-RAH!
You guys, it was absolutely incredible. It may have been long, cold, muddy, and challenging, but it was also full of adventure, encouragement from teammates, cheering from spectators, and badassery. I can't even convey the physical exhaustion and emotional high we felt as we stuffed our faces with energy bars and high-fived enthusiastically, cheering on the last of our teammates and brandishing our orange headbands proudly.

I have definitely never been so sore in my entire life as I was on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. (Maybe even Tuesday, too.) But I can say -- without a doubt and only a tinge of nervous anticipation -- that our team, and several more friends convinced by our crazy pictures and stories, will be at it again next year.

-Simone

I would add, "I will not wear cotton" and "I will have a blast!!"

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The No Gym, No Problem Workout

On Monday I gave some insight into excuses and what a slippery slope they are. One of the biggest excuses I hear is that people can't afford a gym membership, don't have time to commute to one, travel to much to take advantage of a membership, or hate exercising in public so weight loss is out of reach for them. So, I'm going to give you a tool to combat that excuse. 

The main line is: Just because you don't own a gym membership (for whatever reason you choose) doesn't mean you can't workout. You can do the following workouts in your house, at the park, or in a hotel room. It's totally up to you. You don't even have to buy a bunch of equipment or free weights to be effective!

I have a few workouts that I cycle through on days when I don't have time to get back and forth from the gym.

The first one is simple. Basically, Run. When it comes to cardio, distance running is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Without a gym membership, you can do that outside when the weather is good. I'll run in rain or in snow (as long as the sidewalk is clear). The only thing that forces me personally to go to the gym for a run is intense heat. It just completely deflates me and I can't perform well enough to get in the burn that I like. That's really only an issue in the summer. You can also try a HIIT running workout with sprints, if that's more your thing. Science tells us it may be even more effective than distance running when it comes to getting an optimal calorie burn for the whole day and strengthening your heart. If you need a training program to get started as a beginner runner, I recommend Couch to 5k and of course, my favorite, the Zombies, Run 5k Trainer app. 

Another option is yoga (or as I refer to it, Avatar training). I have attended a lot of yoga classes in my life throughout college and at the gym. I'm a big fan of vinyasa and you can easily do that in your home if you clear a bit of floor space. If you don't have access to a few free classes to get the hang of it and learn some positions and cycles, then there's a lot of great resources on youtube. You can put together your own warm ups and create goals for working on some of the harder positions. The only cost is a yoga mat and you can find those under $20 at drug stores or sporting goods shops. 

The last option is one of my all time favorites: The bodyweight circuit or the "Starbuck Special," as I like to call it. What I love about it is that it's simple and it's easy to increase the intensity from week to week as you get stronger. The idea is to cycle through a string of repeated exercises that target different areas of the body about 4 times. Here are some exercises you can choose from.

* NOTE: If you don't want to buy free weights or resistance bands, you can try taking an empty milk jug and filling it with sand, rocks, or cement. I've also taken a small bag and filled it with heavy hardcover books. Do whatever you need do to pick up something heavy. 

There are a lot of options and you don't need to include all of them each time. I like to increase the reps by 2 every week or increase my plank time by 5-10 seconds. To help get you started, I'll give you the circuit I started with. 

Warm up: 5 minutes of high knees, jumping jacks, or a 5-10 minute easy run outdoors. 

  1. 15 squats
  2. 10 push-ups
  3. 20 lunges
  4. 10 Pilates body roll ups.
  5. 10 rows on each side.
  6. 10 lateral oblique lifts on each side
  7. 30 seconds plank.
  8. 20 Jumping Jacks

Repeat 4 times.

Cool down: Stretching. Make sure to stretch your quads, arms, and back. You'll be feeling the burn later!

I usually finish in 22-30 minutes.

You can decide how to increase the intensity of your circuit over time. Add reps, add cycles. It's up to you to continue to challenge yourself. It may seem simple, but I guarantee you'll work up a crazy sweat and you'll definitely feel the burn. The nice thing is you can pretty much do these circuits every day without harming yourself because you're not living crazy amounts of weight like in a free weight routine. All I can say is my best body results came when I alternated running with bodyweight circuits. 

What's your no excuses workout? What do you do when you don't have a gym to lean on for support and equipment? Please share in the comments!

Monday, September 9, 2013

How to Stop Making Excuses

Excuses are bad, mmkay? They're a slipper slope and here's why.

When I spend so much time and effort working on changing my life and writing about it so other people can get inspired to change theirs, I can get a little obsessive. 

"If I don't work out every day and eat perfectly all the time I'm letting myself and everyone else down."

Then I'll be out at some event and someone will say, "I made these cupcakes!"

It takes some convincing, but after a year of saying no, I'll sometimes say yes on these special occasions. 

Once I got down close to my goal and went Paleo, I decided I'd give myself a free day a week. Just one. How bad can one day be?

I'll tell you. It was insanity. I became an obsessed behemoth on the prowl for baked goods and ice cream. It was beyond allowing myself a treat. It was completely gluttonous. 

Then vacation came. I allowed it to be vacation. I got some exercise, but nothing like I normally do. I made a plan for how I'd eat, but I was pretty free to try whatever I wanted!

So now I'm back from vacation. I am managing to eat primal with a few exceptions... but my "time to exercise" mental muscle is just not kicking into gear. That's not something you can wait for. You have to get yourself back in the habit and make some choices that your mind isn't too crazy about right now. 

There are just too many excuses out there and the margin between rewarding myself after great behavior and just allowing myself a chance to misbehave because I want to is steadily getting smaller. That's on me. It's something I need to change. Primal allows for a serving of bread or cheese a day so I take it, whether I need it or not. I'm at a concert or comedy show? Have some drinks, eat the food there even though there's NOTHING close to Primal. Could I have packed some food. Sure. I didn't. I chose not to and I chose wrong.

This is my latest excuse; A tiny jellicle ball of cuddles and playtime named Tonks. I've spent two whole days off rolling around with her on the floor, cuddling in bed, and playing with her without going for a run or stopping for some yoga. Sure, I'm nesting, but I could have taken half and hour to an hour and done something for ME. 

So in the face of a mountain of excuses how do you gain any purchase? How do you get back on track.

I started to look back on how I started. I started with small goals and changes and kept adding. I feel like an idiot for needing to go back to that model because I felt like a super hero before my vacation and now I feel like an invalid. The first thing I did was to actively stop making an excuse the second it happened.

I was waiting in line for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. You have to get there around 8am to get tickets and then you have to wait in line till noon when they get distributed. I was hanging out with my boyfriend and snuggling and then I thought... what am I doing? We have FOUR HOURS. I can snuggle for 3.5 and workout for half an hour. So I negated the laziness and got started on a bodyweight circuit. Sure, I got some weird looks from people in line, but I didn't care. I had the time, it was a nice day, and there was no reason to waste another moment worrying about all the reasons not to do it. There are always a billion reasons not to do something. You just have to buck up and make it happen. 

Next up, diet. For this, I feel like I need accountability and support. So, I've decided to hop back into the next Nerd Fitness challenge on the 16th and do a Whole-30 to cleanse my body of toxins and really get back in the Paleo swing. For increased accountability, I'm doing it with my friend Shannon from work. 

It sounds dumb, but the best way to stop making excuses is... well, to just stop making them one by one. If you feel like you're trying to convince yourself something okay, ask yourself why you're doing it and why you want to veer away from your plan. Most of the time, you'll find that the "reasons" you come up with make you feel ashamed because they're not really reasons at all. 

"I couldn't work out because I had to play with my cat." Seriously Anne? You are ridiculous. After hearing myself say that out loud, the next day, there I was, working out in the park even though I felt like people were giving me the "oddball" stare. 

"I'm at a comedy show. I want to have fun and I don't want the hassle of bringing food." There were people who brought chairs and coolers and blankets for the lawn seating. Would it have been that weird if I'd brought some fruit and slices of turkey with veggies? No. I just made the excuse not to. The next morning, I started out right with veggies and eggs with coffee. 

I could sit here and feel bad about it and frankly, I almost didn't write about it on the blog, but this is something we all do! It's time to make a change. It doesn't have to be big. I'm not back sliding because I needed to return to the mentality that helped me get started in the first place. I should be celebrating that I even have those tools cause I sure as hell didn't know what I was doing when I got started. 

We aren't perfect. We make mistakes. You have to remember a failure is only a failure if you stop trying.

So never stop! Bite, scratch, and crawl your way back to the top of the mountain one excuse at a time and you'll be back on track in no time. 

What excuses are you making and what are you doing to change them? Do you have any tips to share? Discuss with your fellow Slayers in the comments.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Setting the stage for success

Hi all! Just a brief check-in this week, but there are some exciting things on the horizon!

My goal-oriented September has started strong. After a trip to the North woods over Labor Day weekend -- in which blueberry pancakes and white toast were allowed to creep into my diet, but eggs and bacon were prioritized (mmm, bacon) -- I am off to a great start!


I'm tracking all of my spending so far, and I started measuring my food intake with my new kitchen scale and myfitnesspal.com. I also took some measurements with both measuring tape and calipers; even though it might not be the most accurate method out there, I can at least check back each month and see which way the numbers are headed. To top it off, I took some "before" pics too!

I'm definitely finding that it's easier to stay motivated when my goals seem "doable." All I have to do is write everything down; no changes yet! And I have easily visible rewards on the way: a "green" month in my Mint finance calendar (no scary red "overspent" categories!) and those workout shorts for my success in the kitchen. I can hardly wait!

I'm still overwhelmed with my work commute and various obligations (some chosen, some not), but I've got an exciting event this weekend and plan on spending Sunday prioritizing "me" and getting some house chores and meal planning accomplished.

For this week, I also have a bonus goal: really push hydration to prepare for my weekend endeavor. I even made myself a reminder note at work:

EXTERMINATE DEHYDRATION!
What is this adventure, you ask? Well, along with a large group of friends and friends-of-friends and about a gazillion strangers... I'm doing the Tough Mudder on Saturday!

For those of you who aren't familiar, the Tough Mudder is a 12 mile obstacle course that calls itself "probably the toughest event on the planet." It's designed to encourage teamwork and camaraderie while forcing gently encouraging you to face your fears and have a great time. (Awhile ago, I wrote about a few different obstacle courses over here, if you're interested in more background information!) I'm totally terrified and psyched at the same time. It should be a blast!

As nervous as I am about it, it's pretty exciting -- I would never have dreamed of doing something like this a few short years ago. I know I'll struggle both mentally and physically with a lot of the obstacles, but I'll have a team of tough companions with me, and we'll all get through it together. As an introverted gal only 5'3" tall, when I face down those obstacles, I'll try to keep the inspirational words of Shakespeare in mind: "Though she be but little, she is fierce!"

Or as one of my favorite authors, Jim Butcher, puts it in The Dresden Files"Tiny, but fierce!"

Wish me luck!

-Simone

Thursday, September 5, 2013

10 Tips for How to Diet on Vacation

Sherlock Holmes and Curious Case of the Vacation Diet.

IMG_0130


Ah yes, an experience shrouded in mystery. What does it mean? Can it even be done? Some say it doesn't exist.

Personally, I am of the firm belief that to deny yourself pleasure on a vacation is to miss the whole point of the venture. Food is fuel, but it is also a pleasurable experience! Especially if you're traveling internationally, you'll want to enjoy the food that region is known for.

I was recently away on a vacation in England that lasted nearly a month. Yes! I know. Lucky me. No, sadly I did not meet the Doctor, but I did manage to do some broom flying (Skip the featurette and go straight to me flying at 2:03).


But for real realz. If I had gone hog wild under those circumstances, I could have done a lot of damage in just three weeks. I wanted to try some English candy, cream tea and Cornish pasties. If I had eaten that every day, I would have done a lot of damage, so I set some ground rules before I went. Before you say, "Anne, I thought you were on a vacation and that you didn't want to forgo pleasure," just hold your fire! The reason I set these rules was so that I could take an honest look at what I was doing and make a real decision to eat and enjoy the foods I wanted while also making a decision to do some portion control and make sure I got in plenty of activity and veggies. That way I wouldn't be set up for a distressing failure when the fun was over and I wouldn't have to feel guilty every time I had a desert.

Without further ado, here are the 10 rules I set out for my vacation diet!
  1. I do not have to eat Paleo when we eat out, but when we cook for ourselves, it should be a Paleo meal. That was basically it. I also decided that I wouldn't have pasta for dinner and that I'd focus on meat and vegetable meals in the evenings. I got to take advantage of the delicious seafood on the Cornish coast. 
  2. Alcohol consumption is approved for this vacation. Cider during the day. Wine with dinners. This was a special treat because I normally don't drink alcohol. It's not that I think it's bad or that I have a problem. I'd just rather spend my cheats on things I enjoy more.
  3. There are three meals in a day. Fish fingers and custard was tempting, but I completely eliminated the snacking demon. 'Nuff said.
  4. Try to get in at least 5 or more miles a day. Sometimes that meant going for extra walks around the house that we rented in the countryside. There were lots of nice public foot paths. I even took an extra jaunt when we blew a tire. I could have just sat in the car, but every moment is an opportunity to make an active choice. Mom was helping dad with the tire. I was just an extraneous set of hands. 
  5. IMG_0288
  6. If something looks like an adventurous physical challenge, do it! Climb mountains, find a waterfall, explore the countryside. Make your activity level an extension of the vacation. I crawled through Merlin's cave, climbed the side of a cliff that was off the coastal trail at Tintagel, and I ran along coast of Guernsey. Nothing was as intense as what I'd normally do at home, but it was a chance to see how far my body had come and how much easier it was to enjoy those physical challenge impulses I've developed over the past year!
  7. IMG_0382IMG_0353
  8. Deserts should be limited to fancy dinners out. If I'm going to have a desert, it's going to be at the best possible opportunities. The one time I cheated on this was at our friend's house in Guernsey. She made a fresh tart and strawberry sorbet from scratch. It was easily one of the better deserts I had the whole time. Sorry I'm not sorry. 
  9. More is not always better. If you are full don't keep eating just cause it tastes good. I had my far share of chips on this vacation. However, after I had 12 (yes, that's an actual serving of fries!), I would salt, pepper or give them away so I didn't keep eating beyond what had filled me up. 
  10. Eat vegetables! Just because you're able to eat some junk here and there doesn't mean you should leave out essential nutrients. I ate them in salads or sauteed with dinners out. I even got steamed spinach at a steak house because I felt like I was going through withdrawal from veggies. Yeah, that's a thing. Listen to your body! It wants to be healthy. It's our minds that get in the way. 
  11. Bring truvia for tea and coffee. There were a few times I forgot my packets at breakfast, but luckily most places had a British sugar substitute and a few times I just used some real sugar, but it was very limited. This was probably where I failed the most out of all of my rules just cause I never thought to bring my purse to breakfast. 
  12. When vacation is over it's over. This has been SUPER HARD. I've been adjusting back to Primal (only one serving of whole wheat bread or dairy a day outside normal Paleo constraints). Hopefully I'll get back to full Paleo in the next week or so. I do dream of delicious sandwiches and baked goods but I know that stuff is out there waiting for the next vacation adventure. That's what keeps it special!
IMG_0268I am pretty happy with how I did. My clothes still fit great and my work pants STILL fit (which was my greatest concern since they have been on the tighter side since I went down a size!). It's definitely time to get my booty back in gear, but I feel pretty good about my choices. It could have been a lot worse and I pretty much stuck to the guidelines I set for myself with very few exceptions. Have you faced any vacation diet challenges? How did you tackle them? Please share with your fellow Slayers in the comments!