7 National Parks in 2 Weeks // The Road Trip

7 National Parks in 2 Weeks // The Road Trip

Want to see 7 National Parks on a 2 week vacation? Here is how we did it.

What I am sure most of you already know is that Mike and I took a two week, National Park road trip this summer. But what you might not know is how much time and planning goes into planning our adventures. Each summer, we try to take some kind of extended trip. With two careers and no kids, we are fortunate to have these opportunities. Yet, they don’t come easy and we plan our entire year about them in order to afford and enjoy ourselves along the way.

Almost always when the world sees all the crazy and beautiful adventures through pictures on Instagram, videos on Youtube or blogs and the rest of the internet, we forget that there is a process of careful organization and planning. So how do you do it?

To plan a summer trip we start looking in November and December of the previous year (ahem, planning starts now) at prices… camping, glamping, hotel, AirBnb, flights, rental cars etc. We gather a list of lowest prices and make an estimate on whether or not this is a trip we could support. Through notes, e-mails, and long talks, we start making decisions on where to go, where to start, where to stay, etc.

For our National Park Road Trip, we had (ok I had) about 10 rough drafts of what our road trip would look like… it looked like a mad scientist at work. We knew we had to start in San Francisco (MIke was working out of that office, but we did fly from Chicago) and we had to end in Aspen for a wedding (shoutout #vanderstokely). Eventually, flew home out of Denver. *Note we flew into Reno because of a race I did prior to this trip (Tahoe Rim Trail 100). Then made our way to San Francisco, where we would start our 7 National Park Road Trip!

After creating several outlines of where we wanted to go, we finally decided on a final route. Once the actual locations were mapped out, then it was time to look at time spent driving from place to place in order to figure out how many days we would stay in each location. It was also important for us to check out attractions, must sees at the park through Lonely Planet and other websites. For example, we wanted to stay longer in Yosemite than in Sequoia to see more.

Here is what we came up with:

Credit: Mike Nolan

Credit: Mike Nolan

 

Here is the FInal Outline with details added (Changes made while traveling written in italics)

Saturday, July 22nd: Leave San Francisco for Yosemite ✔️

  • Camp from Friday to Sunday (21-24) ✔️
  • ***Not so fast - Yosemite forest fires kept us from camping outside of the park. Detoured down the 1 to Monterey for the night. Not bad, eh?
Monterey, California

Monterey, California

Sunday, July 23rd: Spent the Day in Big Sur (Gorgeous!)

  • Found a retreat in the mountains through an app called Hotel Tonight (Mike to the rescue)
  • Got up early for our trip to Yosemite
Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California

Monday, July 24th: Stay at Cute Air BnB Cabin (booked) ✔️

  • Yosemite! All day at this gorgeous park. I really don’t need to say much more. If Yosemite isn’t on your list, you aren’t doing it right.
  • Absolutely loved this AirBnb
  • Great local brewery close to AirBnb for post park meal and beer
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Mike on the Left, Half Dome on the Right

Mike on the Left, Half Dome on the Right

El Capitan! Absolutely amazing day!

El Capitan! Absolutely amazing day!

Yosemite Micro Cabin #13 in Ahwahnee, California

Yosemite Micro Cabin #13 in Ahwahnee, California

Tuesday, July 25th: Drive from Yosemite to Sequoia (Buckeye Flat Campground-booked) ✔️

  • All - Day Sequoia!  Death Valley? Never made it to Death Valley, but it’s an option
  • We ended up car camping, so we didn’t have to bring tents, sleeping bags, etc. You could always pack a bivy or sleeping and just sleep outside. But, also... bears.
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Wednesday, July 26th: Drive from Sequoia to Vegas (6.5 hrs)

  • Stay in Vegas one night 
  • This was the one night we had a nice meal and walked the strip
  • Found a quick, cheap hotel on Hotel Tonight

Thursday, July 27th-30th: Drive from Vegas to Zion Ponderosa Ranch-booked (2.5 hr) ✔️

  • All-day Hiking in Zion National Park! You could spent 2-3 days at this park, if not more! Must hike Narrows and Observation Point. Wanted to do Angels Rest, but didn’t have time.
  • I can’t say enough great things about Zion. This place is insane (and crowded) and is a must see!
Arriving!

Arriving!

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The Narrows Hike

The Narrows Hike

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Observation Point Hike

Observation Point Hike

Reached the Top!

Reached the Top!

Zion National Park from Observation Point

Zion National Park from Observation Point

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This place is incredible!

This place is incredible!

Sunday, July 30th: Zion to Grand Canyon to Kanab (1hr 20m)

  • Visit Grand Canyon (OMG, magic!) Started hiking at North Kaibab Section
  • Left early from Zion to visit Grand Canyon all day
  • Kanab, UT  ✔️
  • Mike found an amazing yurt set-up, called BaseCamp 37 through a website called, HipCamp
  • This place was incredible. I was a little skeptical at first, because it is literally in the middle of nowhere, but that is exactly what makes it so damn special. Plus, their wifi password is GoPackGo, so obviously I knew I was in the right place.
The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

Shoutout to the Coconino Cowboys!

Shoutout to the Coconino Cowboys!

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Chicago meets The Grand Canyon

Chicago meets The Grand Canyon

Wide Open Spaces 

Wide Open Spaces 

Making Our Way Back

Making Our Way Back

After a long day of hiking the Grand Canyon, this is the epic evening we rolled in: BaseCamp37

After a long day of hiking the Grand Canyon, this is the epic evening we rolled in: BaseCamp37

Bruh!

Bruh!

Sunset in Utah, Looking at Arizona

Sunset in Utah, Looking at Arizona

Sunrise and time to head to Bryce Canyon 

Sunrise and time to head to Bryce Canyon 

Monday, July 31st - Thurs, Aug 3: Kanab to Bryce to Moab (5hrs) ✔️

  • From Kanab, we stopped at Bryce Canyon for a morning hike and left around 1pm. Then made our way to Moab. (this was a long day)
  • The Virginian Motel
  • Arches National Park (10 min from downtown Moab)
  • Canyonlands National Park (right outside Moab)
  • Moab is SO rad! It is a town with anything and everything to keep you busy in the great outdoors. Plus great restaurants, ice cream, bars, and shops, that are very walkable.
Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

woah, this is what they're talking about...

woah, this is what they're talking about...

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hot temps, cool peeps

hot temps, cool peeps

They say Zion was formed by the waters and Bryce was formed by the wind

They say Zion was formed by the waters and Bryce was formed by the wind

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Arches! 

Arches! 

We are at the bottom of the Arch, holding up 2 for 2 years of marriage (anniversary)

We are at the bottom of the Arch, holding up 2 for 2 years of marriage (anniversary)

Priorities: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate and LOVE LIFE

Priorities: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate and LOVE LIFE

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

shade vibe 

shade vibe 

Thursday, August 3rd: Moab to Aspen (3hr 40 min) ✔️

  • Wedding Resort Reservations
  • *Note: If you end up flying out of Denver, you could tack on Rocky Mountain National Park to your list! We wanted to add this one, but time ran thin.

All-Around Tips:

  • Don’t be too married to your plan. Things will come up and you’ll just need to adapt.
  • Book some spots and leave others open for last minute reservation
  • Write down your must-see spots or sections. You don’t want to leave thinking, OMG I can’t believe we never saw that.
  • Almost all of these parks had food or one/two restaurants in the area
  • With that said - Pack your own water (take a large Nalgene or water bottle with you), snacks, and lunches
  • Breakfast: coffee, granola bar, banana
  • Lunch: peanut butter and jelly, apple, chips, granola bar, trail mix
  • Dinner: Usually we would find a local spot and share a meal or find something easy/cheap
  • Talk to locals! Ask for ideas on food, must-see hikes, day-trips, etc.
  • Read signs! Don’t be ignorant to Park Rangers or guidelines, they are there for a reason
  • Carry your map with you at all times
  • Sunscreen, Sunglasses, and more water than you think
  • Pack light: a couple of t-shirts, easy dry shorts, sports bra, nice warm sweatshirt or fleece, a rain jacket, hat, hiking socks, and trail shoes
  • Must BUY National Park Pass-it is 100% worth it and a big $ saver: https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm
  • Look for any car rental discounts through your employer or your credit card company. The rental car was one of the most expensive parts of our trip, but was still manageable and easy for us. You might want to take your own car or research other ideas.

This trip is something I have wanted to share for a while because it really was so magical! Enjoying the incredible environment, sights, and sounds, that the United States of America gives us, is truly inspiring and incredibly memorable! It was an adventure unlike any other!

I hope December, has you thinking of your 2018 goals. Whatever those might be, write them down and make an organized plan to achieve them. Keep that positive, encouraging crowd around you and go after whatever it is you’ve been thinking about. I believe in you.

Questions? Thoughts? Ideas? Leave them in the comments below.

Looking for more inspiration? Catch me on socials:

Instagram: @ashleymnolan

Foodie Instagram: @glutenfreetrailrunner

Twitter: @ashleymnolan_

Facebook: Ashley Nolan

Youtube: Ashley Nolan

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Race Report

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Race Report

The alarm went off at 3:00am. Mike got up immediately, as I laid there for a moment in the silence and darkness. Here we go. Everything was set out and ready the night before, so it was easy to get dressed, grab my coffee, my pack, and head to the car. It was a quick 20 minute drive up to Spooner Lake State Park where I would start the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. As I ate my peanut butter sandwich and sipped my coffee, I could feel the warm breeze coming in from the slightly rolled down window.

The pictures get better... promise.

The pictures get better... promise.

We quickly found parking in the lot around 4am. We sat for a while and reviewed where we would meet each other. I felt calm, but excited! There was nothing left to do, but get out there and run… 100 miles.

We eventually made our way over to the shuttle and then to the start line. The start line was filled with heat warmers, coffee, anxious runners, and excited families, volunteers, and crew! After the national anthem played, it was time to embark on the Tahoe Rim Trail 100!

1-30: Quick kiss to Mike and at 5am, I hit the trails. With plenty of headlamps to guide our way, I never had to turn on my headlamp. Which was great! I had been concerned about the battery life and figured this would be a great way to keep it fresh for the night, later on that day. Up and down we went, in and out of aid stations. The first sights of Lake Tahoe, the awakening smell of the tall pines, the stars, the sunrise, the moon, the bluest blues you’ve ever seen. Every turn and every twist was more beautiful then the next, and I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be. It was pure joy, pure excitement. Childlike happiness experiencing things for the first time. Everything felt good. Felt great!

Before I knew it, I was running into Diamond Peak (30 mile aid station), where I would meet Mike for the first time. It was noon by now and the sunshine, blue sky day was keeping my spirits high. When I arrived to Diamond Peak, I knew I had gels I wanted to take from my drop bag (Mom, a drop bag is the thing I packed and dropped off the day before). I headed over to the drop bags, while keeping one eye out for Mike (I still don’t seem him). A kind man at the drop bags looked for my bag, no luck. “Are you sure you dropped it off here?” he said. Crackle in my voice, “Yes, I am sure.” Now, looking around for Mike and starting some self-talk, it’s ok you don’t need that drop bag. You and Mike both agreed if you missed each other it would totally be fine. It’s fine. Everything is fine!

Then the man at the drop bags asked what it looked like and I explained, also saying it’s ok-if it was here, we’d see it. Couldn’t miss it. I was warned this might happen. It’s fine. Just then, he ran back behind the boards as if to remember he had some bags back there and as he came back around in his hands was my orange Marmot bag! Fantastic! After thanking him and shouting out a few, “I love you’s” I heard, “Ashley!” It was Mike! Perfect, I have my bag and Mike is here. Quick chat, replacement of gels, and I was off to climb ‘the wall’.

30-50: The wall at mile 30 is a 1,700ft climb in under 2 miles. It’s one of those hills that gets steeper as you get higher and continues to test your patience as it turns and continues to climb relentlessly. It never ends. The reward: insane views of Lake Tahoe and an aid station at the top. In and out and I was on my way back. When you hit Hobart Aid Station, it feels so good! Hobart is your first aid station on your way out, so when you hit it on your way back, you feel so close… but you’re not. 10 miles are still on tap until you hit the 50 mile halfway point, not to mention a climb up to Snow Valley Peak, the city’s highest peak at 9,214ft. Followed by a strong descent into the Spooner Lake Trailhead and then around the lake into the 50 mile aid station (also the start/finish). Thrilled to roll into the 50 mile aid station because of the obvious (Mike, food, quick refill and recharge), but also because I had been feeling like I had something in my shoe for the last 3 miles or so. I would try to move it around in my shoe, but it didn’t seem to go away. I was convinced something was in my big toe.

The 50 mile is where this race sees the highest dropout rate. Of course! How cozy it is to be back by the parking lot with your family and friends?! Who in their right mind would want to go round two? After seeing Mike and having a quick bite/sip of whatever they had to offer at the aid station, I sat to change my socks and shoes. Turns out there was nothing in my shoe, that stabbing pain in my toe was the world’s biggest blister (e-mail me for pics). Quickly, I saw the other blisters forming and rolled band-aids around each one after a quick wipe down. I had no idea what I was doing, but I thought as long as I can wrap them up, it would hurt less.

After about 20 minutes (a long time) at the 50 mile aid station, it was time to get back out there. Mike walked me down to the trailhead and I wasn’t ready for the mental strength it would take to let him go until mile 80. Going out for another 50 felt daunting, but I didn’t sign up for anything less than 100 miles. It was time to get tough.

Heading Out of the 50 Mile Aid Station

Heading Out of the 50 Mile Aid Station

50-80: Heading back out took some self-talk. I was feeling down mentally, people had made space along the trail now and I was alone. And, I knew I’d be alone for a while now, perhaps until mile 80. Not to mention, I was worried about my blisters. What if they broke and got so bad, I had to stop. That was enough of that-I had to quickly move on from the pity party. I kept on telling myself, “Ashley, if you wanted to sign up for something easy why didn’t you just go to the American Girl Tea Party? You didn’t sign up for that, you signed up for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100.” I have no idea what made me think of the American Girl Tea Party, I don’t even know what that is really… but I pictured it and it didn’t feel anything like I was about to be a part of.

A few hours passed quite quickly, despite the nausea and stomach cramps hitting harder ever since leaving the 50 mile aid station. Before I knew it, it was dark. A look at the watch, 8:50pm. Dark?! Already? I was hoping to not turn on my headlamp until at least 10pm. Heading into Hobart, I was hoping for something to settle my sick stomach. Not sure if it was everything I dabbled in at the 50 mile or just an over indulgence of GUs throughout the day, mixed in with the very hot temps, or just the fact that I’d been traveling through the woods for 14 hours now, but my stomach wasn’t getting any better and made it hard to take in calories.

Mike caught this pic of the sunset. I watched the sunset over Lake Tahoe. Insane! Color explosion.

Mike caught this pic of the sunset. I watched the sunset over Lake Tahoe. Insane! Color explosion.

Heading into Tunnel Creek, I was met by the most amazing trail angel. He asked me all the right questions and helped me with my upset stomach (Starbucks mints, who would have thought). Guided me in refueling and prepared me for that relentless 6.3 mile Red House Loop, which starts off descending 1,000ft, 2 shallow creek crossings, and back up 1,000ft at night. He walked me to the trailhead and relit my spirits. My confidence resurfaced after that Tunnel Creek stop and I am forever grateful for that trail aid station angel, whose name I believe was Nick! Thanks, Nick!

Up and out of Red House Loop, I checked back into Tunnel Creek and headed out where my next aid station after Bull Wheel would be Diamond Peak - mile 80! Mike! But, hold on - there was still a long way to go.

And, wasn’t that the truth. Making my way to that Diamond Peak arrow (pointing down to the descent) felt like days, years, decades. I made up plenty of songs to keep myself company in the starstruck silent night. One foot in front of the other, headlamp bobbing, I was making my way. I thought of Cheryl Strayed, who decided she wasn’t going to be scared on her PCT thru-hike, I thought of my dad, telling me to, “Take it easy skinny,” every time I got ahead of myself, I thought of Laney telling me to, “Stay calm and stay confident.” Stay calm, it’s fine, everything is fine. You’re fine. I stopped, I put my hands on my knees, I let out a “fuck” into the desolate night as I looked up. A shooting star! I quickly thought of my sister, who loves shooting stars. She would freak out if she could see these stars from the North Shore of Lake Tahoe in the middle of the mountains at 3am! Despair turned to feeling grateful, humbled, and thankful for what the night gives the soul. I knew God had been carrying me all day, but I still needed him more than ever. Fine, fine I’d say, you’re busy, I know. Take it easy skinny. Stay calm, stay confident. Decide you’re not afraid. Move, move, move. Keep going.

There was the arrow pointing down to Diamond Peak! Yes, 4 miles and a loss of 2,000ft until the 80 mile aid station, where I would meet Mike (he agreed to pace me in for the last 20 miles). Out of water meant it would be difficult to eat what was in my pack. Still dealing with an upset stomach, I slowed on the GUs. Instead I stuffed a handful of salt and vinegar chips in my mouth, being as careful as I could not to drop any on the ground for fear the bears might follow me. Making my way down the mountain bike trails, I thought of fresh water, all the things I would eat at mile 80, and what it would feel like to have Mike with me. It was close to 5am as I made my way into mile 80 at Diamond Peak.

What a sore sight Diamond Peak was! I thought I was in bad shape. Lots of people wrapped up in space blankets, either deciding to call it quits or taking a quick nap in order to regain their strength and get back in the run. As I came in, wobbly and a little out of it, I quickly told Mike I was out of everything and needed calories. Energetic and ready to assist, Mike got me back in business. Warm rice soup, refill of gels, ginger ale, water, electrolytes, coffee, and we made our way out of mile 80. Now, I was refueled on gear and calories. It felt like such a relief to have Mike joining me to finish these last 20 miles!

Coming into 80 miles! In need of calories, water, and a hug.

Coming into 80 miles! In need of calories, water, and a hug.

80-100: The sun began to rise now and the huge smile resurfaced on my face. Mike and I caught up a bit on the day’s events as we made our way back up ‘the wall’. I very briefly let him know that this was a pretty long climb and not to worry, the whole race wasn’t like this! He was game for whatever this course was about to throw at him. Just then he turned to the right and calmly said, “Oh look a black bear!” This is the same guy who has been warning me about bears and mountain lions since April. I’ve been telling him since it’s a race and highly traveled trail, you’d be lucky to see any animals! Did I know if that was true? No, but I wasn’t about to tell Mike to be worried about it! Go figure-he jumps into the run and not even two minutes later spots a black bear. We laughed at the hilarity of the situation and then debated the size of the bear. I swore it was small, he says it was huge! Regardless, there was no time to worry about the bear… we had close to 2,000ft of continuous climbing ahead of us. As we made our way to the top, we enjoyed those insane Tahoe views together. I was so excited he could see this with me. The sun was making it’s way up by now and the blues were bluer than anything we’d seen before. Quick stop at the aid station and I set the pace through the next section. Back to Tunnel Creek and the day was moving. I felt so attached to Tunnel Creek by that time, it was almost sad to leave all the volunteers who had helped me get in and out of there throughout the weekend. I felt so grateful to that aid station and every aid station.

Lake Tahoe!

Lake Tahoe!

Moving on to Hobart, I started to feel overwhelmed. Not sure what did it-perhaps, low on calories, not sleeping, not enough caffeine, or again just rolling through 85 miles of nonstop, but I began to doubt everything. I was doing the math and became a bit frantic about finishing. PSA: Don’t declare yourself a mathematician or expert on planning after 27 hours and 85+ miles. Mike calmed me down and assured me he was there as my pacer to make sure I made it through in a timely fashion. I told him he didn’t understand, it doesn’t stop at Hobart, you still have Snow Valley! He had no idea what this meant, but kept me calm and kept me moving. That overwhelming feeling, subsided slightly as we quickly approached Hobart. And, then ever quicker into Snow Valley. The climb up to Snow Valley at 9,214ft sucked, but I expected that! It sucked a little worse with Mike there. I said, see isn’t this terrible! ;) Exposed and hot breeze in your face, but bye-golly was it gorgeous! And, Snow Valley had lemon sorbet! Was this morning getting better, heck yeah it was.

Lake Tahoe and mountain range in the background. Shoutout to Athletico.

Lake Tahoe and mountain range in the background. Shoutout to Athletico.

Out of Snow Valley, you’re on the mountain for a while still, exposed to the sun, the wind, and the once again never-ending downhill. It was hot! I mean, 100 degrees hot. And, whoever is saying, oh you’re up in the mountains, it’s cooler up there-it’s not. At this moment it was hot as hell and I was-once again-out of water! Every switchback, every twist, every turn, I felt the heat, I felt the hot breeze, I wanted water. My feet were bursting out of my shoes, my back ached. I was losing it. Stop, hands on knees, “fuck”. Mike told me to just follow his footsteps. We were around mile 94 now, but 6 miles felt like eternity and the clock ticked and the day got hotter. My feet killed, I was in pain, I had no water, no calories, I swore at ultrarunning and the idea of running 100 miles, I shouted at the trail Gods and reflected on the stupidity it takes to sign up for something like this. Mike went faster! “Mike, too fast!” I whisper shouted, there wasn’t enough energy to actually shout. He said, “I know, but I want this thing to be over!” Even he had enough.

Then, we approached some fresh looking people. Make-up, fancy sunglasses, white clothes, they weren’t ultrarunners… they had to have come from the trailhead. This means we are getting close! Faster we went. Before I knew it, I spotted the white tent aid station just below at Spooner trailhead. I shouted (a real shout this time), “Mike there’s water there!!! That’s an aid station! This is the best day ever!!” Faster we went to get water. A boy scout and instructor were there to help us. I smiled and chatted. The instructor said, how incredible what we were doing was and what a wonderful example it gives to the younger kids. 100 miles, anything is possible! I smiled enthusiastically, and said, “Yes! It’s so great! Anything is possible!!” If only he’d known of my hands on knees delirium with whisper shouts of fuck, if only he had known of my crying voice with no tears (you can still hear it from Snow Valley Peak if you listen closely), my anxiousness of blisters at mile 50 that had me convinced I wouldn’t be able to get to mile 60, if only he knew of how down I was without water or calories, the aching nausea I experienced from 50-70, me cursing at the whole stupid idea of running 100 miles. But, he didn’t because I was all smiles. Because, in 100 miles-just like in life-you can go from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. Just keep going.

He said, “1.7 miles to go! Congratulations.”

And, Mike and I ran off! Going through the same trail we had ran for a shakeout on Friday, just two days ago, felt like weeks ago now. Never could I have imagined what had laid ahead of me.

We rounded Spooner Lake and made our way across the bridge. Mike turned and said how proud of me he was… I said, us. It was us that did. It was a team effort. There is no way I could have finished those last 20 miles without him, not to mention every long run he met me on during training, every check-in during week day 30 milers, his patience throughout the day, but also after every damn long week of training. We did this.

There it was! The blue arch at the finish and we were through! Right away I saw George “Squirrel” the race director and thanked him for making my dreams come true. I told him how much I loved the course, then told him I was from Chicago and the whole finisher’s tent erupted in laughter! Being that this race was at an elevation of 7,000-9,214ft with close to 20,000ft of climbing they asked me, “What were you thinking?” We all laughed and I told them the obvious, go big or go home!

A sincere thank you to every single person who has been there to support, encourage, and help me on my way. If there is anything I can do to help you or guide you on your way, please let me know. Huge goals, require a huge support system and I am forever grateful for every single person who helped me accomplish this one. Thank you to every single person at TRT for your work! Top notch run, that I would encourage everyone to run. Thank you to Trails and Tarmac and David Laney for the continued support in training, strength, confidence and overall guidance. Absolute brilliance running through that group and not one step of this would be possible without them.

Hope sharing my story lets you in on what it’s like to embark on a 100 mile run, encourages you to try something new, inspires you to not be afraid, stay calm and stay confident, and most of all take it easy, skinny.

Imerman Angels Project Announcement

As Mike and I were putting together our adventure plan for 2017, a friend approached us about partnering up with Imerman Angels in running the Chicago Marathon.  It took us only  a few minutes to quickly reply with an enthusiastic YES!  The Chicago Marathon has been on Mike’s radar for some time now; mixed with my love for endurance sports, it was a no-brainer to run such an iconic race together for an incredible and awe-inspiring organization like Imerman Angels.

In the simplest of terms, Imerman Angels provides (free) personalized connections that create one-on-one support for cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers.  Imerman Angels uses a unique matching process to find cancer support that can be related to the type of cancer the survivor may be going through.  Now, I don’t have to sit here and type my stories of how cancer has affected mine and Mike’s families because the truth is, we have all been affected in some way or another.  Whether it be a close friend, family member, sister or brother, cousin, aunt or uncle, colleague or even our own self… It’s an unfortunate truth that we all have our own experience to share when it comes to cancer; whether we have been a caregiver, fighter, survivor or supportive friend/relative.  Since we can all share this connection, we must take action in support of those feeling alone, lost, confused and most of all, scared.  It is crucial that we provide one-on-one support for every cancer fighter, survivor and caregiver who needs it-free of charge.

Because the Mentor Angel experience is completely free, the organization relies heavily on fundraising. That’s where WE come in!

A little background for you here: many of you know of my passion for endurance sports particularly running and ultramarathons, however, Mike… well, I made him run a marathon once without training and let’s just say, I am super lucky we are still married. BUT-this time around, we will be training together.

T-Minus 9 Months Nolan

T-Minus 9 Months Nolan

Mark your calendars for Monday, January 30th! Mike will begin training for his first official marathon and we want you to follow along! We are going to be posting videos, training tips through social media, our fundraising website and blog posts so that you can follow our journey to 26.2 miles in October.  There are also a few ultramarathons on my calendar for 2017 (including 50k, 100k and even a 100 miler), so if you are looking for insight on training for the longer distances, you can find that on our outlets as well.  Our goal is to share our experience so that you walk away with tips on fitness, health, running, marathon training, and most of all/at the very least some good old fashion entertainment! WAHOO!

What we need from you:

As you keep up with our running journey for the next 9 months, please make a contribution to our fundraising goal of $2,500 to be raised before the Chicago Marathon on October 8, 2016.  That means $25 from 100 people. Donating is super easy and can be done on our fundraising page here: Ashley and Mike Nolan Fundraising Page

There is so much more to come in the next 9 months so please stay tuned to the following outlets (Mom, you just have to click on the words and it will take you to the site):

Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.

The North Face 50 Mile Championships - San Francisco

The North Face 50 Mile Championships - San Francisco

The North Face 50 Mile Championships kicked off last weekend in beautiful San Francisco.  This would be my 3rd 50 miler and what I consider to be the biggest race of my year.  If you’re interested in running this race, the 50 mile distance, an ultra or just want to hear some trail stories, you’re in the right place.

Late Thursday night we arrived in San Francisco.  Woke up Friday morning to a bright sunny view of the bay, Golden Gate Bridge and those beautiful hills over the Marin Headlands.  It would be less than 24 hours before I would be running over that awe-inspiring, yet relentless vertical and I couldn’t wait for it to begin.  I headed out to the start/finish line on Friday to check out the scene and run a quick shakeout before picking up my race packet downtown.  The 60 degree sunshine  warmed me up as I ran down the Tennessee Valley trail and out onto the beach.  

The trails were soft with a little dirt and a little mud, but smooth and easy.  As I made my way up and topped out on one of the sections of the trail, you could see all the way back to the Golden Gate Bridge and to the right, endless Pacific Ocean.  I knew I was in the right place for a little soul-fulfilling adventure, but didn’t want to get carried away before race day.  Headed back to the car after a couple of pictures and made my way downtown to pick up my race packet.  Had a delicious pre-race dinner at Fog Harbor Fish House with Mike, my sister and my mom.  After dinner we were all pretty tired so we headed back for some shut eye.  Alarm set for 3:00am and I was easily asleep in no time.

3:00am

My alarm went off and I was ready to go; actually Mike was up before me and he was ready to go! Had a quick peanut butter sandwich on gluten free toast, a cup of coffee, got dressed and was out the door before 3:30am.  We were already ahead of schedule!

4:00am

We arrived at the parking lot and the shuttle was there to take us to the start line.  It was still so dark and cold.  I wanted as many minutes in the cozy car as possible.  When we finally decided to make our way on the bus, it was surprisingly warm and filled with runners.  I felt a rush of excitement!  All the runners had their headlamps and gear on.  We were ready to go!

5:00am

Start! Last kiss to Mike and we were off.  It would be around 2 hours before the sun would rise and I would take my headlamp off.  It was time to settle in and enjoy the darkness on the trail, the stars up ahead, and the slight glimpse of light over the hills. If you’re thinking running in the woods or through Marin Headlands in the dark can be dangerous or hard, it’s actually really freeing and not too bad when you have a bright light leading your way.  Of course, pay close attention to your footing, but other than that, it really isn’t that difficult to see.  When I turned to look behind me or gazed into the distance, I could see the stream of headlamps making their way up and down the headlands.  It was a really peaceful time! I loved it.

1-32 miles

The sun began to rise and it was time to ditch the headlamp. Nutrition was going well, legs were feeling good and the work was paying off.  As the darkness faded away and the sun rose, it turned into a whole new race.  With the continuous breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, Sausalito and the everlasting Pacific Ocean, time seemed to be flying by.  Each part of the course brings on a new and invigorating sense of excitement and I was smiling from ear to ear.

32.1 - 38.1+

You know what also brings on a sense of invigorating excitement… getting off course! Oh and getting stung by either a bee or a wasp.  Whatever it was, that stung hurt and left a big ol’ bruise on my backside to prove it’s existence.  Anyhow, back to getting off course.  After heading out of Cardiac Aid Station at Mile 32.1, life still felt like a wonderful dream… and slowly my feelings started to shift.   I began to see a lot of friendly hikers, then more… soon, I found myself among a very public trail with orange ribbons in less than ideal places. This didn’t seem right, but wait there is another orange flag in the bush and then one above this tree.  Where did that other runner go in front of me?  I still see runners behind me in the distance. As I ran, a bit of paranoia started to creep in as I had that sinking feeling I wasn’t in the right place.  Casual day hikers told me that, yes, they did in fact see runners.  And, that they were right down the trail by the parking lot.  Ok, keep running.  Now, I asked a new set of people, have you seen any runners?! Yes, but they were further down.  Hmm, this can’t be right.  I turned around and ran back to the runners I saw behind me.  They too were concerned that we were off course.  We all made our way to the parking lot and up the road, where we hit Old Inn, the aid station at 38.1.  Only problem was, all of our watches were short on that mileage (ie; did not say 38.1).  BUT because of GPS glitches in the hills, they had been short ALL day! So, did we run more or less? No one really knew. After a chat with race officials on how to solve the issue, we decided to run back up to Old Inn over to Cardiac to assure we ran the full mileage required.  Wait, what? Really? But, that looks like uphills and those look like stairs and for five seconds I thought, I don’t really care if my watch is short on mileage (it has been all day) and I just want to eat chips and guacamole at Don Pisto’s and order a spicy margarita. Woah. Deep breath.  

No way was I going to try and take the easy way out. If they were going, I was going.  So, up we went!  Made the turnaround so our watches matched the mileage.  At this point, we knew we were running more mileage because of the shortage on our watches so naturally this was frustrating to runners.  I shouted out, “More kilometers, more fun!” an old Sean Meissner quote, who I believe heard it from a European who he was racing with and got lost.  Anyhow, the idea was let’s make it fun and enjoy it!  Soon enough, I made my way back into Old Inn at a true 38.1+.

38.1-40.8

It would be only a short distance until I would pick-up Mike at mile 43.8 as my pacer.  My energy filled back up after rolling through Old Inn.  I was so excited to see Mike! It wouldn’t be that long until I saw him and once we were running together, it would be the most fun adventure two young kids could have! He would see how great it was and we could daydream about chips and guac together!  The next aid station came up sooner than expected! This is wonderful! Wait, nope, this is not wonderful… this is not where Mike is… this is only Muir Beach.  How did I miss this?  Did I not study the aid stations enough? Ugh.  I thought, fine fine fine, it’s ok, a little break in between.  Now only 3.0 miles. Easy!

40.8 - 43.8

And, then mile 41 hits.  Who in the good God decided to put that much vertical at mile 41?  I’ve made it through Cardiac.. twice, I ran McKennan Gulch, I did Stinson Beach, I even ran back up Old Inn.  You know when you wake-up and think it’s Friday, but it’s Tuesday? Or when you can’t find your car, so you call 311 and see if it’s been towed and the lady ends up telling you it’s been stolen; the vertical I was going up at 41 was a combination of those feelings times a million.  So, there I was still going up this damn thing and the time is passing, really slowly passing. The 3 miles that were suppose to be so easy from Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley were 14 decades in runner's years.  Ok, now I’m not making sense, but either did this section of the trail.  That warm California sun started to feel hot now and my energy, as well as, my patience was wearing thin.

43.8 Tennessee Valley

The three miles finally concluded and believe it or not I was running into Tennessee Valley, while also making a lot of other weird noises.  I finally saw Mike in his bright orange long sleeve with a GU Stroopwafel in his hand.  He had a huge smile on his face and I could tell, he was ready to go. He started pumping his fist and cheering me on.  All I could muster up was, “You know you’re suppose to eat those waffles 15 minutes before you run.”  He said, “I know I brought it for you, but you don’t look like you want it.”  He tore that waffle open and ate it, while I stopped at the aid station.

43.8 - 46.7

After a refill of the water bottle, potato dipped in salt (new favorite) and some sips of Mountain Dew, Mike and I were headed out.  At mile 43.8, it would be 2.9 miles until the next aid station.  There would be one more climb and then we would be headed downhill to the finish.  Mike was so encouraging.  He said great things like, “You look amazing! You’re strong! You’re going to do this. I am so proud of you!”  He was so energizing and inspiring.  At the time, I wasn’t saying much of anything.  Especially when he talked about how wonderful the scenery was… “Yeah, great, saw it.  Just trying not to die now.”  More weird noises.  But, thinking about it now and even shortly after race, his love and support were so powerful and meant so very much to me.

46.7 - 50

We hit Alta at mile 46.7 and it would be 2.8 miles to the finish.  Mike was persistent on pushing a pace and thank God he was because I sure wasn’t.  Once we hit the downhill, he really had me going and we began to pass people.  Slowly but surely, there was Fort Barry and then the parking lots that we were at just 11 hours earlier. Mike pointed out each of these as we made our way in,  as a measurement for how close we were getting.  Another last view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Pacific Ocean.  We made our way down the trail and then it was up the road to the finish.  We were so close, but it still felt so far.  All the seconds, hours, minutes, my body had been moving and working so hard were fading away as I heard my sister yell, “ASHLEY!” in the middle of the still calm and quiet rustic street. She was amped up and I wanted all of her energy or just an ounce of it, anything.

Finish!

We made the turn and there was the shoot.  Ran it in with every last bit and received the finisher medal.  Yahtzee!

My mom and sister came to greet us.  I was a glass case of emotion, not knowing if I wanted a chair, a water, food, a drink or just to shower and sleep for 15 years.  After a couple of pics, we headed back to the car and opened up the Kettle Chips.  We made our way back to San Francisco and recapped all the race stories of the day.  My mom even told me how she got a picture of Dean Kardashian, I knew she meant Dean Karnazes, but was too tired to correct her.  My sister told me how she went hiking on her own and found some really neat spots.  Mike told me about his insane breakfast that we all had to return to the next day.  The race was incredible, but it was these moments I cherished the most.  It speaks to the quote, “Happiness is only real when shared.”  When you can share these moments with others and even help to inspire or motivate others to try something new or discover something in themselves, that’s it.  That’s the magic.

After a shower, we hopped into an uber and settled in at Don Pisto’s. All the chips, all the guac and a few spicy margaritas.

Race Prep

Race Prep

Racing season is here! Time to get serious about committing to those racing goals and assuring that your body is well prepared to make it to the start line.  Often times it can be difficult for me to discuss an upcoming race with someone.  I would rather discuss it after I have completed it.  A lot goes into making it to the start line, especially if it is your goal race.  Not a training race, a goal race! The mothership!  So many things can contribute to your training not going as planned.  Injuries, health issues, unplanned events that disrupt your regularly planned schedule, are just a few things that can keep you from getting to the starting line.  And, even when you reach the starting line (congratulations!), there are still issues that can arise, keeping you from completing the race that you imagine.

For me, one thing that alleviates some of the unknown going into race day, is preparation.  Here are my top five tips for prepping for your next race:

1) Physical Preparation: Maybe the most obvious one! Have you followed a training plan?  Does your body feel ready?  Of course physical preparation should have started weeks or months before your goal race, but it is important to remember as you approach your race, your body needs rest.  Tapering can bring on anxiousness and body aches you never knew you had.  It is common to find yourself tempted to train when you should be resting before a race because you feel like you are unprepared.  This is the wrong strategy to use.  You must allow your body the time needed to soak up the stress you have put on it so that it can come back stronger and prepared to fight.  Tapering before a race, is a time to take on a new book, catch up on those training or nutrition articles you've been meaning to read. The week before a goal race should be dedicated to resting your body and allowing yourself to trust in your training.

2) Mental Training: We've all heard the saying, "Physical strength is what gets us to the starting line, but mental strength is what gets us to the finish line."  This one is so true, especially for the endurance athletes out there.  Our mind can play some crazy games on us.  The lows get can lower if we aren't careful, but the good news is more information comes out daily on training your mind for toughness.  During your training begin visualization practice.  This is when you are actually visualizing yourself running through the course.  Is it the 20 mile mark, passing an aid station, those muddy hills?  Visualize as much of the race as you can.  Picture yourself beginning the race, as well as, finishing it.  What will that look like and what will it feel like?  Practice meditation and relaxation.  I love using the app Headspace for guided meditation.  Give up 10 minutes of your day to meditate.  Meditating helps to slow your mind, ease anxiety, calm your nerves and feel mentally prepared.  I don't always make the commitment to meditate, but when I do, I can feel the difference.  Develop a mantra or a source of motivation for yourself.  When I completed the Ironman, my Dad said to me, "This is your day."  I never really thought it would make such a big impact on my race day, but I thought of it over and over again.  This was my day, this was my time.  I still think of that mantra during races.  Maybe it isn't a mantra that you need, but just the thought of a motivating factor that can help you get through those lows.  Telling the people at work you finished the race they never thought you could finish.  Proving to yourself you can do it! Even just one word can help push you to the finish. Mine is, Believe. What will yours be?

3) Nutrition:  What you eat and drink the week before a race will play a part in how you race.  Be careful not to spend too much of your taper time at the local pub or pizza place.  This is a time to feed your body all the nutrients it needs to function at it's very best.  Think clean eating, vegetables, lean proteins and fruits.  Drink lots of water so that your body is fully hydrated for race day.  Not only is the day before the race important, but two days before the race is even more important when it comes to race, rest and nutrition.  During your training you need to discover what meals work best for you and which ones you should stay away from.  Now is not the time to try out new foods.  Stay away from heavy dairy and anything that can cause an upset stomach or even worse, possible food poisoning.  Stick to a balanced intake of protein, carbs and vegetables. Best bet is to cook your meals at home. Whatever nutritional temptations you have, keep them for the post race celebrations.  It will be worth it!  Make sure to plan your pre-race meal.  If you'll be in a new town for a race, plan ahead by checking out restaurant reviews and menu items on Google.  If it is a big race in a small town, request reservations so you aren't left waiting on a table to open up.  I know I need down time before falling asleep the night before a big race and you will too.  Make sure to plan your dinner routine accordingly.  In addition, have your breakfast ready to go.  Typically, there is nothing open early enough on race day for breakfast, which means I have to shop for my race day breakfast ahead of time.  And, coffee?! Make sure you know where the coffee shop is on race day and when it opens! When you don't have your morning routine together, it can throw you off and cause additional race day morning stress, that is not needed.    

4) Study Session: Have you done your race research?  Memorized the course?  Know when hills or tricky turns are on the map?  Triple checked the starting time and race packet rules?  It is important to prepare yourself for aid station markings, so that you can continue to keep yourself properly fueled and hydrated throughout the race. If you are running a trail race in an unfamiliar place, be sure to review the map so you don't end up off course.  Are headphones allowed?  Do you need to carry a water bottle or will water at the aid stations be enough?  Have you checked the race website or social media accounts for any updates?  Occasionally, I will get race updates sent to my e-mail and they will go into the SPAM folder.  Be aware of any communication coming from the race directors.  This is also a good time to let family and friends know where to look for you or meet you after the race.  At the very least, schedule a place to meet your family after the race.  When you finish, you will be tired and hungry; the last thing you will want to do is walk around looking for your significant other in a crowded area.  Study up and spread the word!

5) Equipment and Materials: Now it's GO TIME!  Walk through every part of your race in your mind. Do you have everything you will need?  Race bib pinned on shorts or singlet?  Places to store your gels?  Your favorite race socks set out?  Last minute equipment checks are important, especially if your race requires a lot of equipment (think triathlon). Always pack a back-up shirt, shorts, long sleeve and light jacket.  Here in Chicago, weather can change from 82 degrees and sunny one day, to 40 and rainy the next.  For real, it happened last week.  Keep your eye on the weather and plan for everything.  When you go to bed the night before, you should have all your materials set out and ready to go.  The easier it is to get going in the morning, the more time you can spend using your energy towards race strategy and shaking off the nerves.  

Here is a quick running check-list for race day:

  • Shoes
  • Shorts
  • Shirt or Tank
  • Sports Bra 
  • Socks
  • Long sleeve or Light Jacket (wind or rain)
  • Race Bib pinned on
  • Water Bottle or Belt
  • Gels, GU or Chews
  • Watch (fully charged)
  • Music Device, Headphones*
  • Sunglasses*
  • Hat or Visor*
  • Vaseline or Anti-Chafing lotion*

*optional

Side note: if you end up wearing a jacket or long sleeve to the starting line and then realize you don't want it, hand it over to a friend or family member and ask them to bring it to the finish.  It could end up being cold at the finish and this is a perfect opportunity to get some warmth back in your body!

There you have it! You should be prepped and ready to go for your next big race! And remember, it doesn't become an adventure until something goes wrong! Embrace the obstacles and enjoy these moments. 

 

 

Palm Springs: Hiking and Trail Running Guide

Palm Springs: Hiking and Trail Running Guide

February in Chicago means one thing… a google search for the warmest cities in the U.S. so you can get out of this cold and dark city.  When Palm Springs came up as a result, I didn’t know much about it.  After seeing that the high was 90, hiking was close by and Joshua Tree was just a drive away- we booked it.  I didn’t realize how astounding this trip was truly going to be.

From the moment we got off the plane it was blue skies and palm trees, with mountains surrounding the entire city.  Mike found the Ace Hotel, which I highly recommend.  It has such an eclectic, laid-back feel with an undertone of hip rock n roll vibes.  The pool is the perfect place to spend the afternoon while listening to the latest DJ and ordering your ice cold beverage from the pool bar.  As you lay out, the sun hits you from right over the palm trees and stays there until it sets over the mountains… every single day. Perfection.  From the Ace Hotel you can you walk into the downtown area for food and drinks, music and local shopping.  There is even a trolley that rolls in and out of downtown, called the Buzz.  It’s available Thursday-Sunday and is the perfect mode of transportation when you aren’t up for walking or not in the mood for driving.

Let’s get to the real stuff though… the game changers… the life changers… the, 'oh my god, I am never leaving' feels.

I never expected the hiking here to be as spectacular as it is.  You are literally in the valley, between the Joshua Tree National Park and the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains.  There are trails in every direction and the only decision you need to make, is which one you want to get lost in today.  We discovered a new trail to hike each day, however, we didn’t cover nearly as much ground as we would have liked to. Therefore, consider this a starting point to your next hiking trip in Palm Springs.

Tahquitz Canyon, South Lykken

On our first morning out in Palm Springs, we started out (as we begin most mornings on our day off) with a cup of coffee and a morning walk.  As we approached the downtown area, Mike suggested we go search for a trailhead.  Seeing as we were right next to a large mountain, there must be one close.  Off we went, coffee in hand and it wasn't even 30 minutes into our walk when we began making our way up South Lykken Trail.  Literally, a backyard hike in Palm Springs.  Not only is it just a short walk from the downtown area (you can literally see the trails while eating breakfast), but the trail also takes you up and over the city as you travel through each vista point.  The South Lykken Trail is 4.4 miles long with an elevation change of 1,004 feet.  It is considered strenuous and you are completely exposed to sunlight throughout the entire hike (cue: water, sunscreen, early morning hike).  The trail does not loop back around, so if you want to hike the entire 4.4 miles you’ll need to figure out your way back to your car (parking only available on the South end off South Palm Canyon).

We ended up hiking this trail 3 times; once from the south end and twice from the north end.  I’d suggest trying out both to get different views and experiences.  Definitely a must hike/trail run.

Morning walk to the trails

Morning walk to the trails

South Lykken Trailhead from the north end

South Lykken Trailhead from the north end

View of Downtown Palm Springs and Joshua Tree in the distance

View of Downtown Palm Springs and Joshua Tree in the distance

Up South Lykken from the south end

Up South Lykken from the south end

All uphill from here

All uphill from here

 

Indian Canyons

Indian Canyons is literally 6 minutes from the Ace Hotel.  To enter the park, it is cash only so make sure you have that on hand.  We arrived at Indian Canyons with a backpack full of water and snacks.  It was our second day in Palm Springs and we were ready for some adventure!  As we passed the sign that read, extreme caution: rattlesnake habitat, I knew it was going to be a great day!  We were on our way! The Palm Canyon trail is most likely the trail you will begin on.  It is a 15 mile trail that begins with a descent into a canyon of palm trees (hence the name).  It felt cool, calm and damp.  After bumping into a few families here and there, Mike and I were off and away into a hike of our own.  The trails wind around and connect with signs, forcing you to draw a conclusion on which way you will turn next.  After about 3 miles, we made our way up and over the canyon and into the mountainous range of the desert.  This was the first time I had ever experienced the desert mountains.  There aren’t pine trees, here as I was used to seeing on a mountain, but instead small bushes and cacti.  

Beginning of Palm Canyons at the Trading Post

Beginning of Palm Canyons at the Trading Post

It was another bright blue sky and hot sunny day.  We quickly felt the warmth of the sun upon us and began to drink our water.  Once you are on top of the mountains, it feels like you can run forever on these trails.  Just when they swept you up, you were slightly turning and then back down again.  They were quick, rolling and free.  You could see for miles.  And, suddenly there we were, just as we wanted to be-in the middle of nowhere feeling nothing but the hot sun, the sweat rolling down our face and the happiness that results from fully engaging yourself in nature.

Mike looking over Palm Canyon... Do you see how it got the name?

Mike looking over Palm Canyon... Do you see how it got the name?

Up and Over the Desert Mountains

Up and Over the Desert Mountains

Desert Mountain Paradise... Feeling the heat here!

Desert Mountain Paradise... Feeling the heat here!

We turned around and ran back down from the mountains, into the canyon.  Thankful for some much needed shade, we ran into a group talking about ice cream (mmmm…).  Onward!  At this point, we had the option of taking the trail back towards the trading post or veering off and discovering what other trails had to offer.  I looked at Mike and could see the magic in his eyes.  He wanted more.  So up and over we went to discover some new views.  At this point, I am not even sure what trail we were on.  Maps aren’t really our thing. We were just busy getting lost in the landscape.  It must be pointed out that these trails are relatively easy to navigate and if you are doing out and backs, paired with the signs, you should be fine as far as navigation goes.  That is to say if you have enough water with you… We had been out in Indian Canyons for most of the morning now and I could sense the sun only getting hotter.   I mean middle of the desert hot.  You start to feel the heat burn over your dried up sweat.  No bueno.  Our water was low and I knew it was time to head back to the trading post before any signs of dehydration started to appear (or should I say any additional signs).  While heading back to the trading post, we took the round-about way while running the trails.  After a few climbs, we were finally beginning to descend and you could hear a cheer come from me as I saw the trading post in sight.  You know your calories are running low, when you begin asking, “If you could have anything to eat or drink right now, what would it be?”  I dreamt of a cold smoothie hitting my lips and cooling my insides.  A few more twists and turns, when we bumped into an older charming couple.  As they pulled off the trail a bit so we could run quickly past them, the man mentioned, “You know you’re suppose to enjoy the scenery too, right?”  We thanked them for moving aside and I laughingly said, “Oh, is that how it works?”  At this point I had seen all the sites I needed to see, just get me back to the trading post where cold water is readily available!

As we dipped back down into the canyon, we said hello to people resting in the shade.  I thought about how re-energizing a break in the shade could be, but decided we should push on and finish the trail. Sooner to the trading post, sooner to my smoothie.  Just up the road and through the parking lot, we passed the trailhead map and we were back at the trading post.  When we arrived at the trading post, I bought two fresh, ice cold waters.  We sat on the picnic tables and reflected on Indian Canyons, in all it’s glory.  While taking it all in, we overheard the park ranger warning people of where he last saw rattlesnakes on the trails.  He said, they usually hang out in the canyon where water and cool temps are readily available.  I imagine that our quick running feet kept them from slithering across the trail or maybe they went to go grab smoothies.

Hot, sweaty and looking for our way back to the Trading Post

Hot, sweaty and looking for our way back to the Trading Post

Joshua Tree, Ryan Mt Skull Trail

Holy mother of pearl.  You know those people that come back from an experience and say that they feel like a whole new person, something inside them changed, they see things differently now… that my friend is, Joshua Tree.  

Mike and I left Palm Springs at 5:45am so we could watch the sunrise over the mountains as we drove into Joshua Tree.  It is only about a 50 minute drive from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree.  We grabbed our coffees, packed some lara bars, trail mix and hit the road.  We knew we wanted to hike Ryan Mountain as our first adventure into Joshua Tree and I suggest you do too.  

As we drove into Joshua Tree on our search for Ryan Mountain, there was no one.  The cars had yet to make their way into the park, campers were still asleep and everything turned magical. Here we were in this enormous canvas of wild beauty with nothing but the sunrise to make our eyes and hearts grow as we turned down this winding road.  You could feel the excitement fill up in the car as we drove.  There are stopping points along the drive into Joshua Tree, where you can view the changing terrain and read information about it.  When we stopped at the first one and it turned out to be a quote from Edward Abbey, I knew we were in the right place.  It was windy, but the sun warmed your face, warmed your soul.  Everything felt right here. You know that feeling you get right before you’re about to do something you know you’ll never forget, that happened.  We got back into the car and continued to drive in search of Ryan Mountain.  We weren’t really sure where we were suppose to go.  It was too early for the park ranger to be out at the entrance and we never took the time to look at a map before we went, because what kind of adventure would that be?  Luckily, Joshua Tree is easy to navigate and you really just follow the road through the park until you see the Ryan Mountain Trialhead.  It is more towards the middle of the park.

WooHoo! There it is!

We threw on jackets to block the wind and headed up! Since we started early, the sun was still on the east side of Ryan Mountain, slowly making it’s way over.  This meant that half of our climb up was in the shade.  The trail begins with a short walk over to the climb and then you begin to hike up the trail.  

Trail Begins

Trail Begins

Making Our Way Up

Making Our Way Up

Happy Human

Happy Human

Most people compare it to a stair-master.  I actually think it was relative to the hikes at Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin.  You are climbing the entire time until you reach the top, only a few switchbacks.  The trail does wind around the mountain and eventually we hit the sun.  Every single step led to a new and stunning view of the sun, landscape, mountain and desert air.  Each view was breathtaking and filled you with wonder, imagination, new ideas and the curiosity to see what was going to come next.  It was only Mike and I, the whole hike up.  Even the roads were still empty.   As we made our way towards the top, you could feel your breath getting heavier and warmth building in your lungs, but mostly light filling your soul.  We arrived at the top and tagged the Ryan Mountain sign.  I’ve hiked other mountains, i have seen other scenes from the top… but this, this was different.  The view that Joshua Tree provides you with, is one you have never seen before… there aren’t pine trees, but instead clusters of large dinosaur like rocks, the landscape gives you a feeling of everything new, yet filled with historic value.  Suddenly, you feel humbled and a sense of gratification that you haven’t seen it all, you haven’t experienced everything… life is no longer filled with the same tastes, scenes and routine... everything is new again and there is no limit to the possibilities.  We are kids again.  Playing in the rocks, getting our shoes dirty, eating snacks, laughing, jumping, swinging, dancing...  With no time limit and no schedule to follow.  No deadlines or competitive edge.  It’s just us and this glorious sun, desert air and this beautiful mountain.  Time stood still.  

Mountain Top Bliss

Mountain Top Bliss

Looking Out to the West Side of Ryan Mountain

Looking Out to the West Side of Ryan Mountain

After taking in the silent moments, two other hikers joined us at the top.  We greeted each other with smiles and good morning!  What a glorious morning it was.  Much different than the, “Good morning,” you give walking into work or grabbing your morning coffee from the corner cafe.  This was an epic, “Good morning,” a look where we are before 8:00am and how gratefulness fills your roots kinda morning.  We began to make our way down the 5,456 ft mountain, we saw a few cars driving through the park now and bumped into a few hikers on our way down.  One man said he saw us dancing and celebrating at the top!  Looks like we weren’t alone up there after all! I knew with his full smile, he felt the same joy I did.  The trail downward feels a bit more technical and steep on our way down.  Each new winding turn downward, gave us another new view that we didn’t quite capture on the way up. And, just like that we had made our way through the 3-mile hike with a gain and loss totaling 2,114 feet of elevation.  Now a couple more cars filled the lot by the trailhead and a group had just arrived, wondering what trail to take to begin their trek up.  One woman was deciding whether or not to bring her jacket. With the sun shining so bright, I wanted to go tell her that she should be ok with her long sleeve and that it gets a bit windy at the top and that it is going to be beautiful, it is going to be awe-inspiring, inspirational and maybe I should just come with you.  I wanted to go again and feel all the emotions that went along with it.  

On Our Way Down

On Our Way Down

There is something to be said for first experiences.  Even if I did go with her or decide to take another trek up, the first experience of any event  is so powerful, so mind-altering and so child-like.  Seeing something completely new again, like a child splashing in the ocean for the first time.

Mike playing in the rocks after coming down from Ryan Mountain

Mike playing in the rocks after coming down from Ryan Mountain

After Ryan Mountain, we walked around the surrounding trail and rocks before heading back to the car.  We made our next stop at the Skull Rock Trail.  We quickly figured out why it is called Skull Rock, as these colossal rocks literally looked like massive skulls.  There is a 1.7 mile trail that loops the monstrous clustered skull rocks, but we paid no attention to that and began climbing over each one.  The granite on the rocks, scuffs up your hands just like when you were a child on the playground.  We climbed and climbed, until we didn’t see anyone, no cars, no voices… just us.  We stopped and sat on top of one of the enormous rocks, pulled out some turkey jerky and sat still; knowing that this was a moment we never wanted to end.  Bright blue skies and the warmth of the sun shined over us.  Sitting gave the legs a rest and felt sweeter than ever.  Even the jerky tasted like the best in the world.  We finished up and climbed our way back to the trailhead.  This proved to be a bit tricky, as every rock looks the same.  A little lost and a little confused, made the return all the more fun.  I even think we heard someone yelling for their child.  It's an easy place to get lost and found… 

Skull Rock, Get it?  The water the hits the granite, is what creates the crevasses 

Skull Rock, Get it?  The water the hits the granite, is what creates the crevasses 

Hanging out in the middle of nowhere, eating turkey jerky 

Hanging out in the middle of nowhere, eating turkey jerky 

Do you see the man made out of rocks behind Mike?

Do you see the man made out of rocks behind Mike?

The magic of Joshua Tree never leaves your warmed soul.  These are just a few highlights the National Park has to offer you.  Visit and I can assure you, you will be dreaming of your return.

The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.
— Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Joshua Tree: a yucca that grows as a tree and has clusters of spiky leaves 

Joshua Tree: a yucca that grows as a tree and has clusters of spiky leaves 

Mount San Jacinto and the Tram

Right outside of the downtown area there is a tram you can take up to Mount San Jacinto.  After driving to the Valley Station at an elevation of 2,643ft, you will grab your ticket inside the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Center.  The tram runs every 15 minutes, which means you can show up at virtually anytime during the day and grab a ticket up.  The ride up to Mount San Jacinto (elevation of 8,516ft) takes approximately 10 minutes.  It reminded me of a round ski lift with windows all-around.  Only difference is, this goes straight up and every single time it hits a tower, everyone on the tram reacts with world-ending screeches.  Ok, maybe that was because our tram was jam packed on our way up. Isn't anyone else nervous in small confined spaces?!  By the last one (there are 5 towers I believe), you’re used to the shaking the tower will cause this all glass elevator and a sense of relief hits you at the top.

Time to hike! John Muir was right.  The views from the top of San Jacinto are insane and well worth the short-lived panic attack they call a tram.  Within just minutes we went from a 90 degree desert to a full on, pine tree, snow covered, windy mountain within minutes.  With a jacket, hat and water, you could stay up there and adventure all day long.  Definitely, a must in Palm Springs.

The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!
— John Muir
All the elements on top of Mount Jacinto.  The most important one: LOVE!

All the elements on top of Mount Jacinto.  The most important one: LOVE!

Palm Springs held all the tools one needs to gain a sense of enlightenment, a chance to reflect and a refueling of all things vital to fulfilling our spirit.  A profound reminder that we need to take the time necessary to engage our soul in our deepest passion and reignite the flame that keeps us feeling alive! Although, this provides you with some ideas on where to start your journey in Palm Springs, know that this is truly just the start of the great wonders and mysteries you can find in Palm Springs.  This majestic place already has us planning our next trip.

Perfect place to be after a day of hiking: Ace Hotel. Happy Hour starts at 3pm.  Don't be late.

Perfect place to be after a day of hiking: Ace Hotel. Happy Hour starts at 3pm.  Don't be late.



Getting Back Your Motivation

Getting Back Your Motivation

The long winter days can you leave you feeling unmotivated, tired and miserable.  When will the sun poke it’s head out again?

Here’s a little secret: we all lose our motivation at times, get frustrated and want to throw in the towel. Living in Chicago, we not only have to endure the never-ending winter months, but we also have to make decisions on when it is actually SAFE to run or workout outside.  We must not let our, “throw in the towel, I don’t wanna days,” become our everyday.  We need to get the motivation back and move forward! Because, like it or not that race you signed up for is coming, that spring break trip you booked will require a swimsuit and that 20 pounds you promised yourself you’d lose isn’t going away by couching it until June.  

Here are 4 ways to get your motivation back:

1) Re-examine your training plan  

If you find that the workouts you promised yourself are not actually being completed consistently, it is time to adjust.  Life can throw you the unexpected, which means not every week is going to be perfect when it comes to training.  Start this week by creating a plan from now until Sunday with realistic goals of when and where your workouts will take place.  What would you like to achieve by the end of Sunday?  How will you get there?  I begin with how many miles I need to complete for the week.  Then, I break it up into how many miles I will run to complete my long, tempo and hill runs.  I will also keep track and plan for my nutrition for the week.  If you haven’t done this yet, get to it and make sure it is realistic and manageable.

2) Don’t Look Back

When you feel lousy about yourself because you skipped a workout, ate terrible all weekend or just had an awful training week… chalk it up and move on.  As I was getting through my workouts each week, I noticed I always wanted to workout harder on Monday and wanted to take off on Wednesday.  After taking note of this for a few weeks, I decided to switch my cross-train/rest day to Wednesday and my hard run to Monday.  Let your setbacks teach you, but not derail you from moving forward..  We beat ourselves up so much when we don’t follow through.  Take the day off and use that rest to come back better than ever.  Just make sure you come back.

3) Make it Fun Again

A running buddy once asked me, “How do you run for so long? I just don’t like it anymore.”  I completely understand this feeling.  Some days are going to feel like work, but know that when it gets hard is when the improvements are coming.  Take it slow.  If you are going for a longer workout for the first time, know that it is going to be harder and give yourself praise for making it to the end.  Sometimes on runs, I might think of a nice reward to end it with.  After this 12 miler, I am stopping for my favorite smoothie.  If you are completely miserable, it is time to switch it up for a bit.  Get the bike out, start with walking, try a swim or new workout class and ask a buddy to join you.  Classes or group workouts can become a permanent fixture in your weekly routine and hold you accountable. 

 4) Quick Reads, Quotes, Videos, Fun Run

Sometimes all you need to get yourself going is an inspirational story or quote.  I keep quotes in my training journal, planner, on my desk and look for new ones on my phone.  There are plenty of video clips you can bring up or interviews that can help boost your confidence.  If those aren’t making an impact, sign-up for a fun run with some friends.  With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, the spring runs are beginning to appear.  


Whatever your feeling might be at the moment, know that our clocks change on Sunday!  Which means longer days are coming.  Even though Chicago leaves us enduring the tough winter months, we are tougher people as a result!  Get out there no matter what the elements might be.  Plan well, take it slow and be proud of your accomplishments.  Everyday doesn’t have to be your best day, but you can put your best into everyday.  Ya feel me?! Onward!

My Story: Gluten Free, Dairy Free

My Story: Gluten Free, Dairy Free

 

 

Hi, my name is Ashley Nolan and I am going to need to see the Gluten Free Menu.  Sigh.  It seems like just yesterday I was sitting at Quartino’s (Italian restaurant) overhearing a mother ask for a gluten menu for her child.  I glanced back over to Mike and rolled my eyes, as I said, “That is going to be me isn’t it? The mother who requires the gluten menu for her kids.”  What is gluten anyway?  Why does it seem like everyone is gluten free? Is it healthier?  Don’t we need carbs? … Are these gluten free people just annoying health freaks?  

 

Let me preface this blog post by saying, I am not a doctor.  I am merely sharing my own experience in order to help others who may be feeling the same frustrations.

Quick Background

It seemed like my whole life I’ve had a stomach ache, headache and was generally uncomfortable after I ate.  Many times I attributed this feeling to being full.  First, it started with dairy.  I have never been a big fan of milk because it would always make me feel sick, but it was only after several lattes, that I realized this feeling wasn’t normal.  My friends and family members began to ask why I drank the lattes if they made me sick and suggested that it might be the milk… ultimately, it ended up being dairy all together.  And, just like that, at 22 years old, I was lactose intolerant.  Cheese on pizza on occasion, but my absolute favorite thing in life = ice cream, I can’t even eat anymore (without a huge meltdown).  

From age 25 to 30, I continued to have bad abdominal pain, bloating, stomach ache, headache and general uncomfort.  UGH! At times it would get so bad, I thought it was appendicitis.  I had gone to the doctor for ultrasounds and nothing would turn up.  I always made an excuse, until this past year.  It got to be too much!  Due to my symptoms, I found myself constantly thinking I had the flu!  I would buy kombuchas, probiotics, eat crackers and drink ginger ale.  My stomach would inflate so much, but I wasn’t eating enough to create a food baby.  All these symptoms, feelings and emotions started to impede my work day, my sleeping, my mood and my overall being.  Something needed to change, but I wasn’t sure what.  

How I Figured It Out

Ever since the gluten free craze hit, I had done my research and I knew gluten was not the best thing for you (I knew minimal) so I tried gluten free foods and always enjoyed them more.  I felt like I could eat gluten free items and not feel that full and bloated feeling.  But, last summer I got married and in traditional marriage preparation fashion-I was on a fruit and veggie, protein shake, juicing obsession.  I felt good! I felt great! My skin was clear and all my symptoms fell to the wayside.  Yet, that wasn’t a signal to me that I might need to be gluten free.  It was just that I was eating a strict healthy diet; who wouldn’t feel good?


After the wedding, I went back to my normal diet.  Which by the way, wasn’t terrible but did include gluten whenever I desired.  I noticed I was getting very flu-like sick without eating dairy, along with many other unpleasant symptoms that I felt in the past.  I was running out of ideas.  So, I did the week test; Monday-Friday only stick to fruit and veggies, lean protein, no carbs and on Saturday and Sunday back to normal…. and guess what would happen.  You got it; by Friday I would feel great and then by Monday I would feel terrible again.  But, was this legit a gluten intolerance?  After a trip to the doctor, I found out that it was in fact a gluten intolerance.  I ended up not getting tested for celiac disease because I was told the diagnosis is the same-cut out all gluten from your diet.

 

Since Then...

It has only been two months since I had my doctor visit.  I was warned that when I stopped eating gluten, I would feel better and think that it was ok to eat a little bit here and there.  My thought was, oh no, if not eating gluten will make me feel better, I will never eat it again… then on a fun Saturday night out I decided to get a monster cupcake.  And, you guessed it; I was sick until Wednesday.  So, seriously… never again.  Do you know that after eating gluten, you can feel the repercussions for up to 5 to 7 days?  There is nothing you can take to make it better.  All you can really do is try to manage it until it subsides.

Since the cupcake incident, I have not consumed gluten and I have had no real stomach issues.  Cramping, bloating and nausea have gone away completely.  During the day, I feel more awake and talkative, instead of groggy and tired.  I have even noticed my anxiety has decreased! I have continued to keep a food journal and monitor how I feel after I eat.  I think I am on the right track.

In addition, to my new favorite blog Gluten Dude and the website Paleo Leap, I have also found several resources from reading the Grain Brain (thanks Kelly Case!).  My whole notion of the annoying health freaks (even though I’ve always been one too)  has completely dissipated and I beg you to do your own research on gluten and grains in general.  Why? It can’t kill me… Well, yes it actually can and it it just might be.  Not just in your gut, but in your brain too.  If you are interested in knowing more, please check out the resources I listed above.

 

Now, let’s answer some of those questions I asked earlier:

 

  • What is gluten anyway?  According to the Celiac Disease Foundation Website. Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape and gives food that chewy texture, which holds food together. Gluten can be found in many different types of foods (pastas, breads, crackers, baked goods, cereal, beer, etc), as well as, in lipgloss, medications, vitamins and nutritional supplements .

  • Why does it seem like everyone is gluten free?  Not everyone is gluten free.  But, according to HealthLine News, about 6 percent of people suffer from a gluten sensitivity.  That means from consuming this wheat protein (which is the primary grain product in the U.S.) 6 percent of people are feeling generally uncomfortable.  In addition, according to Dr. Mercola, “full-blown Celiac disease, which is gluten sensitivity affecting your small intestine, affects an estimated 1.8 percent of people in Western cultures and is on the rise. But, gluten sensitivity may actually affect as much as 30 to 40 percent of all people, and according to Dr. Alessio Fasano at Massachusetts General Hospital,virtually all of us are affected to some degree.”

  • Is it healthier?  Not necessarily.  Cutting out gluten, means that you are cutting out the wheat protein found in the majority of foods containing grains in the U.S. This includes; fried foods, bakery items, pizza, desserts and many processed foods.  To cut these foods out, is very healthy!  Yet, if you do not suffer from a gluten sensitivity, it is perfectly healthy to have complex carbs in moderation. One thing I do want you to know, is that Dr. Perlmutter (the author of Grain Brain), along with other emerging studies have found that, “Gluten sensitivity appears to be involved in most chronic disease, including those affecting the brain, because of how gluten affects your immune system. Glucose and fructose,(sugars) and carbohydrates can also have powerfully toxic effects.”  There is strong evidence that illustrates the correlation between brain disease and what you put in your gut.  It is important to note how you feel and how that correlates to what you eat.  

 

Onward

 

One person’s lifestyle doesn’t work for everyone.  Just as a training plan for one athlete might not work for another athlete.  Therefore, I encourage you to keep your own food journal, reflect on how foods make you feel and do the research.  Know that what you put in your body every single day, contributes to your health now and in the long run.  This might seem obvious, but I think that we generally have a misunderstanding of what healthy foods consist of and what nutrients our bodies need to thrive.  With all the options out there, we need to start understanding our best options and stop choosing to put so much crap into our bodies.


Going forward, I will be sharing all of my recipes on the website under the Gluten/Dairy Free tab to help give you some ideas on how to form a diet around these changes.  Whether you are frustrated by your own gluten or dairy   training for a race, trying to lose weight or just looking for some tips on how to gain more energy; I know you’ll find these recipes helpful.

How Great You Are: Completing Your Goals in 2016

How Great You Are: Completing Your Goals in 2016

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Here we go!  A clean slate and a new start.  Anything you dream of can be yours... are you ready to sacrifice what you are for what you want to become?  This year can be the same as the last OR you can make a choice to accomplish those goals you have been wanting for so long.  YOU have the power to make this life what you want it, but you have to create a plan and you have to decide you are worth your greatest goals. How to Complete Your 2016 Goal:

  1. First things first... decide on your big goal for the year.  Is it a marathon, a trail race, Ironman, climb a mountain, travel abroad, lose 20 pounds, your first 5k, to walk 20 minutes each day?  What is it you want to change or acquire?  Take out a piece of paper and write down every goal you ever wanted to accomplish, I mean ever!  Even if you don't think it is going to be possible, write it down!  In 2011, one of my goals was to visit another country.  I was a graduate student with a full-time job, the thought of visiting another country, much less taking a road trip to Wisconsin, seemed close to impossible. However, 2011, ended up being the year I took a volunteer opportunity in Rio de Janeiro, to join a soccer camp and help teach in a classroom.  It was an incredible experience that I don't think I would have ever thought would become a reality, had I not listed it as a goal earlier that year.  It has been said, that writing down your goals can lead to a 95% higher chance of achieving the goal!  Now from the goals you listed, rewrite the ones that you could accomplish this year.  Then start looking at time frames and decide on your number one goal.  Keep this page handy!  Once you decide on what it is you want to accomplish (#1 goal), write it down with a time and date. Ex: On June 4, 2016, I will run a 100 miler at the Kettle Moraine race. Now, we work backwards from this date.  What training and races will you need to complete in order to achieve your goal?  Create a rough outline.  Ex: If I would like to complete 100 miles by June 4th, I know I need to put certain races (with specific distances) in my calendar leading up to this date.  Working backwards from your top goal, will allow you the preparation you need to complete your goal.  Now it's time to go to the mattresses! (Do you know what that's from?)
  2. Creating measurable steps towards your goal; aka training!  Once you have your specific goal mapped out, your training plan can be produced.  Research is incredibly important!  Hours have been spent looking at various races and the training that is necessary to get yourself to the finish line.  Putting a training plan together for yourself can be fun!  Begin thinking about what you can do today to get to your goal?  Review training plans online, websites, stories from people who have accomplished the goal you have created for yourself.  How did they get there?  How can you adapt this training to your lifestyle?  I typically find a training plan online that aligns with my races and then adapt it to my current fitness and schedule.  If I know I hate 5am workouts, then I should be planning my training sessions for the evenings.  That means I probably won't be hitting up bowling night on Wednesdays and $2 beer Tuesdays. "In order to achieve something you have never achieved before, you have to do things you have never done before."  What is it you need to map out to achieve your goal? Financials, weightlifting, nutrition, time?  Make adjustments that are realistic and that can be achieved over time.  Then decide to commit and begin.  You do not need to wait until Monday or February or until you buy that one thing that will make everything easier. Start today and decide that you are committing to this goal.
  3. Track your progress. There are plenty of tools out there to keep track of your training.  You do not need anything super techy or expensive.  A simple free phone app can track your training and nutrition.  Grab a notebook from the junk drawer to track your goals, google docs or all the above!  Keeping a journal or a simple google document available through your G-mail, is an easy way to track your goals.  It is a fun and convenient way to reflect on your training throughout the year and also gives insight to planning what is next.  There is nothing wrong with altering this document throughout the year to fit your needs.  I personally, use all of these strategies, but my favorite and most consistent use of tracking my training is my planner and my believe journal. It allows me to track not only what training I have completed, but also how I felt, the weather, things getting in my way and ways to stay motivated.  It is crucial to keep track of your progress to achieve your goal.  "A goal without a plan, is just a wish."
  4. Share your goals!  Don't be afraid to state your goals loud and proud.  Surprisingly, the most resistance you may hear is from your closest friends and relatives.  Why?  Because, you're doing something you have never done before and that scares people.  They can either support you with positive words and optimism or they might not hear much from you this year.   You are about to do big things!  That quote by Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness, is still one of my favorites; "People can't do something themselves, they want to tell you you can't do it."  Don't let anyone deter you from what you want.  Find the people that believe in you.  Sharing your goals will also make you more accountable.  People will want to ask you how your training is going, they will want to know what you are doing to achieve your goal and will want to hear about your plan.  All of these are great conversations to be having and allow you clarity in the pursuit of your goal.  You also never know who you might be inspiring... your friends, your children, parents, husband, girlfriend or just someone who came across your social media.  Sharing is also a way to learn.  In 2009, after I signed up for the Ironman Madison, I had no idea what I was doing!  However, I shared my plan in conversation and that led me to a lot of triathletes with an abundance of information.  They let me in on what I should be doing to prepare and they even invited me to several group workouts, which proved to be crucial in my training!  When I ran my first ultramarathon, a 50k, everyone thought I was saying 5k wrong.  How could you possibly run 31 miles?  Then on the trail, I met a man from France who told me about a 300 mile race he does in Europe for fun.  You begin to realize you're not only not insane, but you're a couch potato compared to these awe inspiring maniacs out in the field.  You have to start somewhere and you never know where that start could lead you.
  5. Find motivation and inspiration.  One of the biggest pieces to achieving success is consistently finding the motivation to pursue your goal.  These goals aren't easy; hence why they haven't been achieved yet.  Let me let you in on a secret, successful people don't achieve their dreams by luck; they achieve them because they work harder than anybody else. No excuses.  You are going to need to work harder this year than you ever have before.  Look for people you can turn to as your role models.  Follow inspirational runners, coaches and athletes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  Social media can be a powerful tool in motivating and inspiring  you.  Find local and international stories that inspire you on various news outlets.  Search Pinterest for inspirational quotes and YouTube for motivational videos.  Post your goal somewhere you will see it every single day!  Everything you do should align to your goal.  Look at each day as a challenge that you need to overcome.  Stay focused and when you miss a workout, skip a day or get off track; realign yourself and never give up.

Every minute that passes you are closer to dying. It's true.  That quote, "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'" is how you need to look at life.  Create a mantra for yourself, a phrase you can tell yourself when you're tired, sick of the day or just tempted to quit.  This year, I am using the phrase, "No excuses."  There are days when I feel so busy and so tired, that I end up slacking on my workouts, nutrition and overall well-being, but that doesn't do me any favors.  This year, no excuses. Never give up on your dreams and never forget how great you are!

Dream big.  Set goals.  Be great!  And, always adventure well.

Need more motivation? Watch now.

If you'd like to follow along with my 100 mile training (#1 goal), check my Instagram out @ashleymnolan

Vince Lombardi Jr.

 

 

 

Spending Time Outdoors Means Less Stress

IMG_5081 (2) Living in the city means whether you like it or not, people are everywhere and in Chicago, busy people are everywhere.  We all have somewhere to go.  Our days are filled with everything from work to new activities, commitments or just the daily chore list.  Not only can these overbooked schedules cause stress, but lately it feels like every time I turn on the news or open up a news outlet there is another disturbing violent act unfolding.  These events leave us debating and questioning the answers to all of it. We have entered times where news conferences start with, "another mass shooting," which results in anxiety and fear for what is to come.  Last week I felt so sad hearing these stories over and over again, as I am sure many of you did.  All of it made me want to go home, crawl under the covers and lock the door.

After some conversation with my husband, colleagues, family and friends, I realized hiding under the covers is the exact opposite of what we need to do.  Instead, I decided to make an effort to find the joy in each day (my favorite coffee in the morning, the way the fresh snow looked, meeting Mike for dinner, the excitement students exude when they have learned something new or seeing a friend smile).  Trying to find ways to balance the fear and anxiety by being mindful, compassionate and grateful. These have been the best tools I have found to find happiness in each day.  And, LORD it's not always easy, but let me give you more ideas...

Have you heard of, "ecotherapy"?  It is therapy through nature.  Huh? It means you can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, by simply enjoying the outdoors and being outside.  I am not kidding-this stuff has science and statistics behind it! We are talking numbers baby!  It's no wonder my friend Kerry is always smiling ear to ear when she sends me pictures of her on the ski lift! Yet, living in the city sets limitations.  We don't have mountains outside our doors, so what can we do to enhance our experiences with nature in the winter?

Here are some simple ways to get outdoors during the winter in the concrete jungle:

  1. Ice Skating:  There are 3 ice skating rinks that I love in Chicago; Lincoln Park Zoo, Millennium Park and my latest favorite, The Ribbon at Maggie Daley. It is free if you have your own skates.  My advice-go grab a pair from Play It Again Sports. I bought a pair of Bauers for $30 a few weeks ago.  Now we can just hop on the ice rink without having to pay or wait in line for rentals.  Totally worth it.  Another fun fact; ice skating can burn around 420 calories for each hour you skate.  That equates to at least one hot chocolate, right?
  2. Winter Running or Biking:  With so much access to trails and the Lake Shore Path, let's take advantage of these higher than normal temperatures and head out for a micro-adventure! Run to your favorite brunch spot or bike to a museum!  A bundled up outdoor adventure will be the perfect way to get those endorphins flowing.
  3. Skiing, Snowboarding, Tubing:  Ok, we aren't talking big time mountains, but while you're saving up for that trip to Lake Tahoe, you can start practicing at some local spots.  Two of my favorites are Devil's Head and Cascade Mountain.  Both only about a 2.5-3 hour drive from Chicago. Totally do-able for just a day trip or plan the whole weekend for a little getaway.  Too far? Check out Northerly Island for some snowshoeing.  Only downfall-there needs to be 3 inches of snow (at this rate you might be waiting a while).
  4. Run a Local Race or Find an Outdoor Event: One of the great things about living in the city is, there is always something going on. Fleet Feet has a list of all the local races in the area.  Sign-up for one and gain a little motivation to get your training outdoors.  Several of these local races benefit an organization or find creative ways to give to others in need.  Plus, you are joining together with people in the community!  Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo and Christkindlmarket are just a few ideas for outdoor events.  Check local park district websites, as they always have the latest events going on and lots of kid friendly ideas as well!
  5. Morning or Evening Walk:  One of my favorite moments each weekend, is when Mike and I take our morning coffee walk.  It is a great way to get outside first thing in the morning and see what is going on in the neighborhood. Mike and I get time to talk and set some goals for the day.  Evening works too! Decide to walk to dinner, grocery store or fill-up some to go cups of hot chocolate and see where you end up!

Ecotherapy can also be referred to as,“green exercise," or simply activities taking place in nature.  Studies have shown that several benefits stem from activities in nature like, increased creativity and focus.  Being in nature leads to a better mood (yes please!) and improved self-esteem.  According to Peak Fitness, "One meta-analysis of 10 studies found that physical activity outdoors for as little as five minutes leads to measurable improvements in mood and self-esteem."  Just 5 minutes!  It can even improve vitamin D levels on a dark and gloomy day.  In another study, it was found that people exposed to 46 percent more sunlight after surgery used 22 percent less pain medication per hour.  Talk about healing power!

With all the stress life can throw at us, especially around the holiday season (just seeing a line in a hot store, gives me heart palpitations) it is important to take time to enjoy the little things.  Life can fill us with fear, but we have the choice to not hide under the covers and instead choose faith.  Choose to find the things to be grateful for, show compassion and be mindful of others.  It isn't always easy, but I hope these ideas can help you get outside and enjoy a little peace in nature, a way to adventure well.

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” -Zen proverb

 

5 Things I Learned at Fleet Feet Lakeview

5 Things I Learned at Fleet Feet Lakeview

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Rarely do I walk in a store and not know what I am looking for... typically, I have it written down, I have done my research and I know exactly what I need.  Only question I need to ask is, in what aisle is said item?  Yet, when I ran into Fleet Feet Lakeview last Friday, this was certainly not the case and I had a lot to learn.  Fleet Feet is the go-to running store in Chicago.  With 6 locations throughout the Chicago area, it is the most convenient store to drop by and grab what you need (all things running related).  The Old Town location, which has been closed due to a fire (hopefully, reopening in January, 2016?), is what I consider to be the most popular and well-known location, but Lakeview is the closest to me and so Lakeview is where I went on my shoe adventure. After a trail marathon in October, tight calf muscles turned into ankle pain and ankle pain turned into top of the foot pain.  Foot pain equaled a pause on the running... which then turned into a visit to the doctor and resulted in specific exercises to cure this nagging muscle injury (are you with me here?).  As the light at the end of the tunnel was slightly peaking it's way through, like a January sunrise on a bitter cold morning, I realized I needed new shoes!  That is when I ran over to FF-Lakeview.  This is what I learned...

  1. Gait Analysis: Record your stride and find the support you need - First things first, I told him all the issues I was having (just running related, not personal-that would have taken far too long) and he quickly suggested I hop on the treadmill so he could record my stride and see what the issues might be. Ok-I get it, a lot of places are doing this and have been for a long time, but seriously, he was able to slow down the video and show me where my strengths and weaknesses were. Every runner needs this evaluation! Get it done.
  2. Minimal trend is falling off the wayside - You guys, remember barefoot running, having as little drop as possible... I guess that's not what is cool anymore-the new thing, HOKAS. Ok fine, I am late to the game on this one too. But, have you seen them? They are weird and clunky looking.  What is the deal and why are ultrarunners going from the smallest amount of fabric between the ground and their feet to this bulky feathered pillow?  Answer: It is designed to support a runner's natural form while encouraging an efficient, smooth roll from initial impact to toe-off.  Bottom line, you're getting the natural form you would get with the minimal running trend, but without the "I feel every rock that hits my shoe and now I have an overuse injury" effect.  I didn't end up with the HOKAS, but the engineering behind it seems pretty innovative and logical.  Why do I care about the minimal trend? I've been running all my ultras in the New Balance Minimus and while this shoe has worked well for me, lately it might just be the reason for my nagging injuries.  Although, the most minimal shoe helps in strengthening your feet and stride, it should be used gradually and might not be the answer for big miles (as I am slowly realizing).
  3. Compression Socks: More than a fashion trend. You've seen them.  Everyone from Kara Goucher to that old man you see on the trails, is wearing compression something.  I learned that these bad boys actually have some science behind them.  Do you know they've been around for... well a long time?! Doctors have traditionally prescribed them to address complications caused by diabetes, lymphedema, thrombosis, cellulitis and other conditions.  So what does this mean for a runner?  Compression socks or any compression accessory (they make oodles now) provide decreased muscle oscillation.. say what?... muscle movement back and forth.  So with the compression on, you have less muscle movement and stability.  With more stability, you gain more balance, efficiency, increased circulation and even aids in recovery.  Ya dig?  With the lower calf, ankle and foot issues I have been having, I picked up a pair.  Although not cheap, neither is the podiatrist, physical therapy sessions, nor the consistent meltdowns of being injured (sorry Mike!).  Consider it.
  4. Trail Shoe vs. Road Shoe: You may need more than one.  Anyone with a running problem, typically has a shoe problem.  That is unless you don't like spending money... ME!  I get a new trail shoe and road shoe about once a year.  At around $100 a pop, that is more than I like to spend. Anytime a gift card makes it way into my hands, I am always putting it towards a running shoe.  Sad news, it isn't easy finding a road shoe and a trail shoe that is going to suit your needs... Here's why- if you are running Lake Shore Path pavement for 85% of your training, you need a road shoe.  But, if you are running your ultras on rocky terrain like Kettle Moraine, you need trail shoes, what the?!  There's more; if you are running big miles-you should consider a shoe that you train in (and are able to get more miles out of = more cushion) and a racing shoe (less cushion, more pushin).  This allows you to train and run more miles on one shoe and have a second shoe, (eh hem racing shoe) that allows you to go fast with a little less support.  You don't need to pull out your racing flat, but a shoe that allows for a little more speed is definitely a good idea.  Why is this groundbreaking? Because, my one shoe a year idea not only causes the support in my shoes to be worn out much faster than if I was using the train/race shoe theory, but it also exposes me to injuries more quickly.  The budget is yours, but the idea is beneficial.  And, just as you buy your $12 juices and organic groceries, your feet deserve the love too.  Tip taken from FF: Your shoes should never celebrate a birthday.  Got it!
  5. Running Community: Ask questions, get answers.  I have been running ever since I earned that blue ribbon in elementary school that said, 1st place in the 50 yard dash.  I am constantly reading all the running articles, websites, interviews and keeping up with Meb, Kara, Fleshman, Jurek, Timmy and Howe... but I walked into Fleet Feet thinking I knew exactly what I wanted and instead of getting a sales guy telling me everything I obviously already knew (sarcasm), I was able to have a conversation with a runner who really understood what I was looking for and how to correlate my running shoe to my training and racing goals.  These people (the Fleet Feet crew) are way more informed than I am and woah, I definitely do not have all the answers (there, I said it mom!). Lesson learned: go out there and ask questions, you may just learn something new!  Finding a store, running group, training partner or coach in your community, can really allow you to turn to people you trust when injuries arise, when you need new gear or you're just looking for some motivation.  The larger we can make our running community, the more connected and educated we will be.

In the end, only you can decide what shoe is going to work for you.  Do your research, but also be aware of articles and reviews that the brand might be trying to serve.  Make an attempt to not be persuaded by fancy colors and running trends, instead find what correlates with your running style.  It reminds me of the time I got fitted for a hiking backpack and I told the REI man, I wanted one that looked really cool-he told me, he didn't care if there were glittery purple stars and a Hello Kitty sign on it; if it fit correctly, that is the one I should get.  Point taken.  Best bet, go to a running store you trust and get the Gait Analysis, pay attention to what they have to say and find the correct fit for your running needs.  Big takeaway: if you don't take the time to take care of yourself now, it will catch up to you.  Whether it's your diet, a nagging pain, a guilty pleasure or worn out running shoes, letting things go will ultimately do a disservice in the future.  Do the stretches, choose organic, grab the new running shoes when necessary, take your vitamins, track your training, write in your journal, listen to country, sign up for that race you've been thinking about, buy that ticket to Thailand... sorry, I just realized this is my to do list.  Gotta go, I've got work to do.

Be well, run well, adventure well.

TNF Endurance Challenge: Wisconsin 26.2 Race Report

TNF Endurance Challenge: Wisconsin 26.2 Race Report

After a busy summer of wedding planning, getting married to the super handsome Nolan and a fabulous trip to Spain, it was tough to get in some good consistent running and almost impossible to get an actual race in. The North Face Endurance Challenge in Wisconsin, has always been on my list and I thought the marathon would be the perfect distance to throw myself back into some training.  Before I run a race, I always try to do some research on the course and I find race reports on various blogs to be very helpful in planning or even deciding if I want to sign-up.  Hopefully, this race report helps you! You won't find my splits, intervals or heart rates... or any numbers for that matter in this report (minus the mileage at aid stations), instead I'll tell ya a little bit about the course, atmosphere and any tips I think might be helpful. Long story short: if you're thinking about signing up for this one or even considering a trail marathon or ultramarathon (TNF has a 50K and 50 miler option), I highly suggest you choose this series.  The race takes place at the beautiful Kettle Moraine State Forest, the Ottawa Lake Recreation Area to be exact. This is only a 2 hour drive for us city folk (Chicago). The marathon starts at 9:00am which is considered super late for the typical marathon race, however, it is perfect because you can leave Chicago at 6:00am and arrive with more than enough time to check out the scene, stretch it out, use the bathroom and throw down your first gel.

The North Face does an awesome job with the set-up at the start and finish. Music was playing, they had an announcer, North Face swag, fire pits to keep you warm, beer tents, recovery tent, meal tent, etc.  Everything you would expect but really high energy (which is always a good way to start!).

They begin the marathon in two waves, which I really appreciate because on single-track trails,  it can get really crowded in the start and can keep you from starting out at the pace you are looking for.  I was in Wave 1 and they called us up to the starting line.  The scene is colorful, with endless trees and rolling hills on the horizon.  Deep breath, Wisconsin-I love this state.  And, we begin! All the GPS watches beeping with the hit of a button, remind me we have started this glorious journey and for the next few hours, it's just us and the woods!

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As the cheers send you off, the volunteers are there to guide you to the first trail.

The majority of trails are single-track on the Ice Age trail and if you are a fan of trails or a midwest runner nerd, you know the Ice Age Trail is real cool.  There are some equestrian trails (I saw 6 horses!) and very little road, like so little you are on one once, maybe twice for a few minutes.  The hills are very manageable (some climbing 200-300ft) and the whole course is run-able.  Sometimes in trail races you might find yourself walking the uphills (usually in mountain races) but in this one, you can run the whole thing-another reason why it is one of my favorites in the Midwest. The route was incredibly well marked and Aid Station #1 lands at 1.8 miles: you won't stop at this one-you should have everything you need to keep you going for 5-6 miles. Aid Station #2 lands at 6.4 miles: this one you'll want to stop at for a quick refill of water (I use a handheld water bottle with pocket).  The aid stations were stocked really well with all the fixings you could want.  One racer even talked about the delicious peanut butter sandwiches he had eaten! YUM! I don't eat on runs shorter than 60K (only gels every 45 min for me); anything solid just doesn't agree well with my stomach, but everyone is different on race day.

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The course was so beautiful with the leaves on the trees just beginning to change.  The Wisconsin setting made for an enjoyable run, gliding up and down hills with a slight opening into a meadow, surrounded my prairie and tall grass.  At 6.4 (2nd Aid Station), I felt like I had only ran 3-4 miles.  I was right where I wanted to be and I was enjoying every minute of it!

Aid Station #3: lands you at 11.7 miles.  Although the temperature was rather cold, the wind stayed away in the woods.  This really helped with the running and was quite a surprise for you when you hit the open road (hello cool breeze!).  Either way, the wind was manageable.  There were also little bridge crossings over the low lying wooded area.  Loved those! Did I mention there were porta potties at the aid stations? Remarkable.  Luckily, I didn't have to stop to use any of them (there were close calls) but it was a nice convenience to see them at the aid station.

Aid Station #4 and you are at 17.3, you know the point where you don't hate life yet, but you definitely realize you are running a marathon and maybe the lamb wasn't the best choice last night... and hmmm I wish that porta potty was closer now. Ok, moving along... This section incorporates quick sand! Yep, the equestian trails are wide and flat, with an occasional hill.  But, the quick sand tends to lie on the parts of the trail where tires would have ran over it.  Choose the middle grassier part for a little more firmness and just keep running, that's all you can do at this point.  YAY challenge=more fun!

If I had to give you a little bit of advice, it would be to not stop at the aid stations for longer than you have to (this goes for any race, triathlons included). Aid stations can become comfortable and make you not want to go back out (mommy!).  Don't get comfortable.  Get what you need and keep moving.  This is how I run every race, but I really noticed how people took their time at these aid stations (probably because they were stocked with so much yummy stuff and those sconnies are SO nice, how could ya not stop and have a chat with 'em).IMG_4519

Aid Station #5: aww a marathoner's favorite part, the 22.6 mile mark. HA! Just kidding.  In a way, you appreciate that you only have under 4 miles to go, but in a way... You still have under 4 miles to go.  Here, you return to a loop that you went through in the beginning so it feels exciting because you know you are getting closer.  With a little over just 2 miles to go, you reach a much needed and appreciated downhill that will run you right to the finish line. Happy Happy!  There were two men cheering right before the downhill.  They must have hiked the little over 2 mile hike to the top and bless their hearts for doing just that because their optimism and positivity was just what I needed.  "Just over 2 miles to go! All downhill from here," they said over their clapping.  Thinking this was similar to the cheer of, "You're almost there!" I asked, "Are you serious or are you just saying that?!"  They laughed and said, "No, really!"  They were right. Whoooosh! Down we go. And, no sooner there was the finish line! :)

Not sure if it was the Wisconsin atmosphere or the trail running etiquette (a mix of both, I'm sure) but every runner, volunteer and person at this race was incredibly kind and caring!  Runners cheering each other on as you pass one another and volunteers getting you anything and everything you need.  As you cross the finish line, the announcer reads off your name (pretty fancy for a trail race, huh) and you receive a shiny medal to show off to all your friends.  The finish line immediately sends you to the recovery tent, where lots of delicious post-running treats await you.  OH, and that beer tent! Yes, the beer tent.  That was a nice plus too.  Entry gets you a beer and free meal, very much appreciated!

Post Race Celebration with the Nolan

Since this was a North Face Endurance Challenge, it was awesome to have North Face Endurance Runners Timmy Olson and Dean Karnazes present at all the post-race festivities. Timmy is from Wisconsin and I have raced with him a few times out West.  He is definitely a huge inspiration to me and a great source of motivation.  Check out his blog when you get a chance.  It was so great to see the bigger names in ultrarunning at events in the Midwest and I wish we had more of it.  Super inspiring and fun to be able to talk to these guys in person.

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After a beer, some warm-up around the fire and a post-race meal, we hit up the awards ceremony.  All that fun got me 2nd female overall in the marathon, which means I earned the North Face Endurance belt buckle and some sweet North Face swag, woohoo! I wanted this to be a fun run to get me back into the swing of things; I'd say it was a success and I feel so blessed to be able to do all these things I love. Trail running, racing and endurance sports, are true passions of mine.  Any chance I have to run a race healthy, in stunning wide-open spaces of nature, I am in my glory.  It made it all that much better that we were in a state I love (good ol Wisco) and my hubby was there with me! I hope you go out and sign-up or try something new! Don't ever let anyone tell you you can't do something. Adventure well.

2nd Female Overall 26.2 (Timmy Olson giving out gifts on the left and North Face on the right)

Endurance Runner Stephanie Howe on Recovery, Training and Fulfilling Your Dreams

As a person who finds their passion in running and endurance sports, I find myself looking to other women in the sport who are consistently creating new goals for themselves.  I find the confidence, ambition and passion, these women hold to be admirable and inspire me to continue to pursue new goals that I set for myself.  I believe it is important that we as women, can help guide and mentor younger girls and athletes to create and fulfill the dreams they have set for themselves or maybe have yet to discover. These thoughts brought me to Stephanie Howe, a leader in the ultrarunning community.  As an endurance runner for The North Face, she has been able to pursue her passions and create a platform as a positive role model for others.  Most recently, she finished the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), an incredibly difficult mountain race in France, with several routes topping out at extremely high altitudes.  I asked for her insight on recovery, training, motivation and being a woman in sport, while pursuing her dreams.  Here is what she had to say.

How is the recovery going from UTMB?

HOWE: I’m still recovering. I think it really takes 4-6 weeks after racing 100 miles to feel back to normal again. Normally, I turn a corner around 1 week post-race and my legs aren’t sore anymore. I actually feel quite good, like I could run again. But there’s a lot of deep damage that occurs, to the tendons, ligaments, etc. You have to let those things heal! So many people jump back in too soon, and end up injured and burnt out. I really try to take my time getting back into training after a big race.

I’m just over 3 weeks post-race, and I’ve been able to do some activities. Minimal running, but lots of biking, yoga, and other activities. I try not to think of it as training, but rather just having fun. Most days I wake up and then see what I feel like doing. Sometimes it’s a mountain bike ride. Sometimes it’s nothing.

Another big aspect of recovery after 100 miles is the mental side. It takes a while to process what you put your body through and I find the psychological aspect to be just as challenging to recover from as the physical. I’ve found it helpful to have other, non-physical things to look forward to post-race. Such as an art project or baking croissants. Something that takes my mind away from the physical. When in doubt a trip to the wine bar with girlfriends always works!

You wrote about your experience at UTMB and the dark places you kept finding yourself in. You used the word, "courage" to really help you through those dark moments.  How do you deal with adversity and not let the negative take over time and time again?

The word “courage” at UTMB came from people along the course. I loved it. In the US, people would still probably tell you “good job” or “you’re doing great”, which isn’t always true or helpful. In Europe, they saw me suffering and wished me courage.

I like the suffering. It’s actually something that I want to experience when I run 100 miles. I can’t really explain it, but it’s so alluring to go to that place when I’m totally vulnerable and broken and then to keep going. Completing a task like that is the most amazing experience. I embrace it, rather than overcome it.

Do you have a word or phrase you use to keep you going when times get tough?

Not always. I like to focus on being present. I think awareness to the current situation and not thinking about other things helps me along. Sometimes I will say things like, “Just keep moving forward” but normally I have little internal dialogue.

My mantra is take chances and I do think those words before a race. To me, that phrase means allowing myself to step out of my comfort zone and try. Every time I start a race I’m giving myself the opportunity to try.

You were involved in cross-country and Nordic skiing at Northern Michigan. Is there anything or anyone that influenced you to pursue those passions?  

There are so many people who helped shape me into the person I am today. One of the earliest influences in my athletic career was my ski coach, Kevin Brochman, in Minnesota. He coached me when I was in high school and was the first person to believe in me. As a young athlete, it means a lot to have someone believe you can be great.

My parents were also big supporters. They always believed in me and made sacrifices to give me opportunities, whether it was for sports, academics, or otherwise. I asked my dad recently if he was surprised that I became a runner (when I was in junior high I HATED running). He told me “Nah, I always knew you were good at running.” I guess it was in my cards.

What originally got you into running and how did you fall in love with the sport?

When I was younger I actually hated running. I was good at it, but it wasn’t my passion. As I grew up, I found that running just made sense for me. For a long time I really wanted to be a Nordic skier. I tried hard to be good at skiing, but I just was more of a natural runner. In the off-season I would run and race a bit. I tended to do really well at the running races and it was lots more fun for me. As I got into grad school the shift to running happened. I had less time to train, and running takes so much less time than skiing. Plus, I was having so much fun running the mountains in Montana. I fell in love. :)

How did you build a life that took you from cross-country to North Face sponsored athlete (among several other accomplishments)?

I keep things in perspective. I never sought out to be a professional athlete. I sought to build a career and a life that was fulfilling to me. I have found success in running, and much of that is due to a well-rounded life. I know many professional runners who just try to train and race. In my opinion, it doesn’t work very well because there is nothing to balance them out or keep them grounded. It’s too easy to get caught up in all kinds of crazy things and taking yourself too seriously. I’ve found myself getting too invested in all things running, and I have to remind myself WHY I run. It’s because I love it! And having a job or things outside of the sport help keep me loving it. :)

What is an average week of training like for you?

It really varies on what I’m training for, what season it is, or what else is going on in my life. It might look something like this though:

Monday- rest day

Tuesday- strength training

Wednesday- workout

Thursday- distance run

Friday- cross train or distance run

Saturday- long run

Sunday- cross train or long run

I always take 1 rest day per week. I think it’s important to reset and absorb all the training. I also don’t run a ton of mileage each week. It’s not necessary to run high mileage to be successful. I focus on quality over quantity.

How do you stay motivated to train? More importantly, how do you consistently find the time?

I don’t see it as training most of the time. Often, I am just out on the trails enjoying the experience. When I think of running as “training” it sometimes conjures up negative concepts. I never want to force out training runs. Of course, not every run is pleasant, but I hardly ever finish a run where I’m not happy. I run because it fulfills me, not because I have to “train”.

I find the time because it’s important to me. I think everyone can find the time; it’s just a matter of priorities. When people say, “I’m too busy……..” I want to roll my eyes. I’m busy too. I find time to run because my health and mental clarity depend on it. I’ll make sacrifices in other areas to have time for myself each day. I think that’s important.

You have an incredible list of accomplishments at such a young age, including 2014 Western States 100 Champion.  You have raced and received top 10 finishes in the biggest races in the world.  What is the one accomplishment you are most proud of thus far?

Aw, thanks! I’m pretty proud of my races, but becoming an ambassador for the sport and a positive role model is more important to me. I feel lucky that I had great mentors when I first started running and I want to be that for other up and coming runners.

That said, rounding the track under the lights in Auburn and crossing the finish first is a feeling I will never forget. It was pretty surreal to win my first 100 miler, let alone Western States!

Being a woman in sport and having a husband who also runs, do you ever feel pressure to work harder because of this and how have you dealt with that pressure?

To be fully honest, this question sort of drives me nuts. If I were a male no one would ask how I balance the pressures of running, working, having a family, etc. But because I’m female it always comes up. I don’t think I need to work harder to be a successful athlete or person! Why should female athletes need to work harder? To establish themselves? I know there are gender inequalities in ultra running, but I’m not going to label myself in that category. It’s not constructive.

You are a coach, Doctoral Candidate in a PhD program, wife, cook and athlete... often times women will sacrifice their own dreams to attend to the needs of others.  How do you find balance in pursuing your own dreams, while also building a partnership with your husband, school and other commitments?

I create balance in my life by not emphasizing any one part too much. I don’t see it as sacrificing; I see it as the right decision to make all parts of my life flow. When you think you’re “sacrificing” to make something work, it can become detrimental in the long run. Like I’m giving up _(blank)_ to pursue my dreams…. I think it creates resentment, kind of like a martyr. It’s not a healthy way to think.

What advice would you give to young women entering endurance sports or with a desire to fulfill their dreams?

I think it’s important to be authentic. Don’t try to be someone else and don’t give up everything to pursue a dream. Make it happen in a realistic way and be open to have that dream morph along the way.

Who do you look up to (personal or athletics or both) and how has that person influenced your life?

I have many people I look up to, so it would be hard to just name a few. I am really inspired by people who take chances and put themselves out there.

What is your next adventure?

It’s a secret……follow along to see!

The subject of identity continues to arise all around me, whether it be in sport, my career, coaching or in conversation.  We ask questions about how and why we continue to put men and women in categories.  Conversations about the assumptions and expectations we create, the misconceptions and judgments that endlessly arise.  For Stephanie Howe, this doesn't seem to be an issue.  Although, she recognizes inequality, she isn't interested in placing herself in categories.  Which I agree, isn't constructive.  Instead, she is focused in a life that feels fulfilling to her, doing what is right, for her life in that moment.  I'd say she's doing one hell of a job doing just that.

Follow along with Stehanie Howe's adventures on her blog here.  Through her posts and story, I know it will create the inspiration and motivation you might need to adventure well.

The FAQs: Stephanie Howe

Favorite pre-race meal: Totally depends on my mood, where I’m staying, and the race distance. I’m not a picky eater.

Favorite guilty pleasure: I don’t think of food like this. Eating should be a pleasurable experience, not something associated with guilt.                            (AMEN Stephanie!)

Favorite book: My nutrition & exercise physiology textbooks

Personal Motto: Take Chances

Hobbies outside of running: Anything outdoors (hiking, camping, cycling, paddling, skiing, etc), coffee, traveling, wine, and cooking.

Life-Saver (something you can't live without): My husband Zach and my dog Riley

Legacy you want to leave behind: Hopefully I’ve inspired people to work hard to achieve their goals, whatever they may be.

Spain: Madrid, San Sebastian, Barcelona

Spain: Madrid, San Sebastian, Barcelona

When we began to plan our honeymoon, we thought-Hawaii, Belize, I think Cabo even came up once... We knew we wanted to go for 2 weeks and we were looking for experiences, new adventures, something we hadn't seen yet.  We wanted, "One for the books," as they say... Then came Spain. IMG_3723

If you are thinking about Spain, have thought about Spain, never heard of Spain, you need to know Spain and should want to think about it more.  Here are some highlights from our trip to help guide you in your thoughts.

Several of the links are connected to Trip Advisor.  Trip Advisor was actually incredibly helpful. Mike downloaded the app to his phone (no international plan needed) and it guided us from there.  Of course, a lot of the places we went were recommendations from locals or well-known to the area, but again Trip Advisor didn't disappoint.

Madrid

We arrived in Madrid wide-eyed with excitement.  The wedding high still hadn't worn off and we never slept. We flew into Madrid direct from Chicago. 8 hours isn't too bad, even after a wedding.  We grabbed a cab and headed towards our hotel.  We decided on Urban Hotel Madrid because of the location and reviews.  (Note: since this was our honeymoon, we spent a little more on the hotels and dinners than we normally would)  When we arrived the staff was incredibly kind and informative.  They laid out a map of Madrid in front of us and directed us to all their favorite spots.  They were even nice enough to give us an upgrade-only if we agreed to wait until the afternoon to check-in.  Perfect! We'll take it.IMG_20150805_202519250_HDR

We spent the rest of the day exploring the city.  There are so many different cafes, restaurants and shops throughout the streets.  Very charming and romantic.  Here is a list of the Madrid highlights.IMG_3435

Madrid Eats

  • Street Xo: one of the best in Madrid.  Unique and flavor filled dishes, incredible drinks and high energy atmosphere.  A little bit of a wait, but definitely worth it.  It is on the top floor of the El Corte de Ingles, which threw us off a little bit.  Menu changes so, best bet is to go with what the waitress or chef suggest and then watch the magic unfold.IMG_3326
  • El b_Us : stopped by here in the afternoon for a coffee and a bite to eat, hip, calm cafe.  There are magazines and newspapers to read and it is in a nice location.  Great stop mid-day or even for an early appetizer and drink at night.
  • Museo del Jamon: anyone who ends up going to Madrid, will eat here.  Awesome atmosphere, with ham hanging from all around, stand by bar and eat meats, cheeses, sandwiches, along with a cold beer or tinto de verano (red wine with soda spritzer-not typically a fan but delicious in Spain) - a must go to spot.IMG_3236
  • Plaza Mayor: this is a central plaza in the city of Madrid.  There are plenty of tapas restaurants in the plaza.  It is a romantic spot to go for dinner or a bite with a nice glass of red wine.  We just enjoyed people watching and the atmosphere. Buildings are beautiful all around.

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Madrid Hot Spots

  • Santiago Bernabeu Stadium: If there is only one place you visit in Madrid, let it be here.  Incredible use of technology to represent the history and culture of the Real Madrid soccer team.  The self-guided tour allows you access to the field, locker rooms, a restaurant and bar where you can sit in the stands and pro-shop.  You will leave here inspired and with a better understanding of the soccer culture in Spain.IMG_3398IMG_3404
  • Museo Nacional Centro de Arte: Art Museum! Check out Guernica by Pablo Picasso here and learn about years of history throughout Spain.IMG_3262

Even the halls were gorgeous

  • Plaza de Sol:  I really don't have to tell you to go here, as you will end up here by default... Busiest and most popular place in Madrid.  Shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, ice cream shops... make sure to walk it day and night.

IMG_3228 San Sebastian

After a 3-4 day trip in Madrid, we headed for the airport and took a flight to San Sebastian.  Thank goodness for the only one hour flight (pretty sure it was even shorter).  I have quickly realized after a few flights last year, that I'm developing a fear of flying-not convenient when you like to travel-anyhow, this flight was short and sweet.

As we landed in San Sebastian, we grabbed a cab to our hotel.  I must say, traveling, grabbing a cab, asking questions in Spain was quite easy.  Mike and I know a bit of Spanish, but anything past dos cervezas por favor, was a work in progress the entire trip. Spanish speakers are not required for a trip to Spain.

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We stayed at the Hotel de Londres. It was incredible.  Again, we spent a little more since it was our honeymoon, but anywhere you stay in this area will be absolutely beautiful.

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San Sebastian Eats: just to clarify, every single place you eat here will be outstanding! San Sebsatian is home to the highest number of Michelin star restaurants per capita=heaven.

  • Bar Nestor: Holy mother of pearl.  We went here twice.  No menu, no reservations.  Be patient, grab a glass of wine and wait for a seat or  you might even have to stand and eat-it's worth it.  The waiter will come to you with two large steaks, I am talking the size of my head and the thickness of my arm... you pick which steak you want them to make.  Then order the tomatoes and peppers.  They'll bring bread automatically.  Never in my life have I loved tomatoes or peppers more (Mike doesn't even like tomatoes... he does now).  If I died and went to heaven right there, I would have been content.  The steak returns cooked and cut on a black pan.  Typically cooked medium-rare, if you prefer a little more darkness, you just have to press the piece on the pan and bam it's cooked.  Incredible.  My mouth waters as I type.  We ate the whole steak, tomatoes and peppers both times (and is the reason why I had to up my running mileage on the return to the US).  After you finish, order the coffee drink, with cinnamon, liquor and milk-straight from the cow... I believe it is called, "Indio," although we kept asking for el ninos and they kept telling us they do not sell children.

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  • Arzak: I felt every restaurant was an "experience" in Spain, but this was truly a creative adventure for the palate. Arzak is run by the famous father-daughter chef, Juan and Elena Arzak, who have won countless awards.  This restaurant is consistently on best restaurants in the world lists and is a 3-star Michelin restaurant (San Sebsatian is home to highest number of Michelin star restaurants per meter=heaven).  If you are looking for a delectable food tasting experience, this is your place.

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  • Atari Gastroteka: Amazing place on the East side of Playa de la Concha (beach/bay).  Endless pinxos and wine by the stand up bar, sit down or even choose to sit outside.  Order the beef cheek if you are looking for something a little fuller.  Lively atmosphere and great service.

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  • Bar Sport:  Enjoyable spot for that time in between lunch and dinner.  After the beach, we were hungry a few times, but not quite ready for dinner so we would hit up Bar Sport, eat, drink and catch a soccer game in the afternoon.  Be sure to order the foie gras!  It is a must have, that mike is still dreaming about. Friendly and fun staff.  Order a glass of the txocoli wine (pronounced: chacoli) to top it off.

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  • Borda Berri:  Another great pinxos (tapas) place.  Small and super busy but worth it!  Try it out for a little something different.

San Sebastian Hot Spots

  • Playa de la Concha: The beach is incredible and gets super busy in the afternoon.  We would head down after a coffee in the morning and stay until mid-afternoon.

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  • Parte Vieja: Walk the path from Playa de la Concha north to Parte Vieja. This is a mix of city streets, that have shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.  Walk this part during the mornings, afternoons and nights - there is a different feel to them at different times of the day paired with various events and activities.

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  • The nightlife in San Sebastian is electric! They literally party all night.  We didn't embark on too much of the partying, but did go out dancing and for late night gin and tonics in Parte Vieja.  Get to know some locals, if you can.  We were lucky enough to go out with an enthusiastic crew from Basque country.  They showed us a night out dancing and what it was like to party in Basque... they even invited us to brunch on Sunday and I am pretty sure one said we could come over for dinner.  To say they were hospitable is an understatement.  By the time the night was over, Mike and I felt like they were old friends.  A good reminder that no matter where you are, it's important to be kind, grateful and most of all-enjoy life.

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Barcelona

Barcelona was the last leg of our trip.  It was an hour flight from San Sebastian to Barcelona.  We decided on early flights as we traveled, so we could make the most of the days.  The hotel we chose in Barcelona was the Grand Hotel Central.  Beautiful rooms and rooftop bar/pool area.  Staff was kind and welcoming.

Barcelona Eats:

  • Bodega Biarritz: This is a place we stumbled upon just outside of Placa Reial (see below).  Everything you want! But, go early because they may run out of the popular dishes.  Delicious pinxos, tapas and unique, lively atmosphere.  Order the mojito (be careful with the second).
  • Placa Reial: this is another really beautiful square that is lined with restaurants.  Lovely for a romantic night of eating, drinking and people watching.  There is always a lot of action going on in the squares.
  • La Alcola Azul: I would go here a million times again.  Perfect spot for a lunch or dinner.  You'll walk through the alley streets with tall brick buildings from side to side.  Things can be hard to find in Barcelona, but this one is definitely worth the search. Sit outside if you can.
  • La Paradeta: After the tour of Sagrada Familia (see below) we walked over to this fresh and outstanding seafood restaurant.  As you walk in, there is a seafood counter with live lobsters crawling around, oysters that still smell of saltwater freshness and several other creatures that I could not begin to pronounce... We'll take one of each.  They cook it up for you, call your number and the enjoyment begins.
  • Rubi Bar: For a little late night action and out of this world drinks, find this place.  Over 50 types of gin and not to mention the strawberry mojitos. Yahtzee! A friend let us know about this gem... You won't be disappointed.

Barcelona Hot Spots:

  • La Sagrada Familia: Do not leave Barcelona without going on this tour.  Your mother will thank you. 2015 Traveler's Choice and all around fascinating, mind-blowing, awe-inspiring experience.

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  • Camp Nou Tour & Museum:  This is where the soccer team, Barcelona plays.  Easy cab ride over from downtown Barcelona.  It is a self-guided tour and ends with a 3 floor pro-shop with tons of jerseys to choose from.  I'd choose Real Madrid's tour over this one, but the history of the club is incredible... we are talking Neymar, Suarez... and oh yeah, Messi here.  Can't go wrong.

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  • Park Guell aka Gaudi's Park: Anything and everything with Gaudi's name on it, you should add to your list.  Note: they do offer tickets for sale to enter the park, however, we didn't buy them-in my opinion you can still hike the park and get the full experience without the purchase of a ticket.

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  • Catedral de Barcelona: This cathedral was close to our hotel and was beautiful to check out.  An art fair was going on in the area and there are plenty of shops and cafes to pop in and out of on the way.

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It is no surprise that Ernest Hemingway found much of his inspiration for his great works in Spain.  Such a majestic place leaves me with many thoughts and words, however, I wanted to highlight some of our best findings in hopes you will go out to find a place that brings you to such happiness.

Spain was a place that required you enjoy life, be grateful, eat, drink, dance and fall in love.  The people were kind, the views were breathtaking, the food was endless and the drinks were satisfying.  My days are now filled with pleasant daydreams of sunsets in San Sebastian, the enlightenment that the architecture gives you in Barcelona and the romantic way Madrid fills your heart.  This was indeed, one for the books. Until the next adventure.

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