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Ja, Ja, Maniac!!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of running the 1/2 Sauer, 1/2 Kraut marathon, a delightful German themed race I first read about on the T-Rex Runner’s page (her story is by far more entertaining so if you haven’t checked out her blog by now, do it. NOW. Don’t worry, I’ll wait). 

Jerbear was supposed to join me for this race — he loves all things German so this was right in his wheelhouse — but I decided it was better to just go straight to Philly from my training class in West Virginia, rather than fight all the DC/Baltimore traffic on a Friday afternoon. It ended up working out for the better because I had no idea if I was going to do the half or the full. I was literally planning on making that decision at the last possible second…which I did (spoiler alert — I did the full). 

Even after getting little to no sleep the night before thanks to a bunch of dumbys running up and down the hotel hallways, I was super excited to put on my Maniac singlet for the first time. I went through a lot for that damn thing and damnit, I was going to wear it with pride. 

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I was a little nervous when I got to the start because I was all by myself. But another Maniac ended up asking me where the group picture was (which I guessed was by the start) and we started chatting. Then another Maniac joined and next thing you know I’m meeting a bunch of new people. I’m fine with running and being alone but it was incredible meeting them and hearing their stories. Bottom line… Maniacs are freakin impressive. 

For example, one Maniac was an 11 year old kid who has run marathons on every continent but Europe and Asia. So yeah, he’s already done Africa as well as Antarctica…twice. Lil f*cker. I joke. He’s doing it to raise money for a children’s charity. When I was 11, I could barely brush my own hair so good on ya, kid. Here he is getting his mack on with the ladies (one of which is the same girl featured in T-Rex’s blog…seriously, if you haven’t read it, do it. meow.):

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We all made it for the Maniac/Fanatic picture, but for the life of me, I have no idea where they might be posted. As the race was starting they began blasting super fun German music and I loved every second of it. You can check it out here: http://youtu.be/GgUBXUxgC24

The race was in Pennypack Park outside of Philly and the course ran primarily on a paved bike path along the water with lots of tree cover. This was crucial since it was pretty warm that day. If the whole thing had been in the sun, I probably would’ve died. Luckily the vast amounts of rain we had the day prior helped break a lot of the humidity but it was still fairly hot so I took it slow. The race had other fun touches such as folks dressed up in lederhosen and dirndls and they even had Uber Hans rocking his accordion on the course (all other races, take note - THIS is solid course entertainment): 

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The other side of this picture… 

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The best part about wearing the singlet was that other Maniacs and Fanatics would cheer you on, often with a “Yeah! Yeah! Maniac!” and as the course had very few spectators, it was a nice bit of encouragement and just made me so happy. 

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The course was an out/back double loop, which was probably the reason so many people ended up downgrading to the half. Because after tackling the tough (and super muddy) technical trail, including the dreaded Mount Cuckoo at mile 7, you’d have to be nuts to do it all again. 

Well clearly I’m nuts and since I felt good when I finished the 13, I turned around with the finish line a few feet away and headed back out there to do my second loop. A lot of people hate these types of courses and while I agree they can be difficult mentally, I actually found comfort in knowing exactly what to expect from the course for the remaining 13 miles. Sometimes I get anxiety during a race when I don’t know what is coming up. 

Even with knowing what was ahead, the second loop was by no means less difficult. Each mile felt like it took forever. I’d look at my watch after what felt like a mile and realize it’d only been a tenth of one. So demoralizing. I also starting getting increasingly dehydrated so I started lingering at each aid station to make sure I was getting enough fluids. 

Eventually I finished in a tad less than 5 hours and ended up meeting another Maniac, John, who was visiting the area with his wife and still had to drive home to Atlanta that day. Oy. Good luck my friend.

We made our way back to the German club, where they had some fun folk dancing going on but sadly I only got to see one dance before they stopped to do the awards. Since I had to get back to Virginia for Jerry’s bday celebration, I could only stay for a few of them. Luckily they did best dressed first. First place deservedly went to this guy (he did the full like that): 

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I hosed myself down with some baby wipes, changed clothes, and off I went back to VA. I very much enjoyed my first race as a Maniac and can’t believe I felt as good as I did after. Maybe I should run more races slowly. Anyway, I’m now looking forward to my Fall races more than ever and can’t wait to meet more Maniacs.    

Ich liebe Marathons. 

But what about your protein?

I’ve seen the following someecard before and it didn’t truly resonate with me until I went vegetarian. 

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"What about your protein?" "Are you getting enough protein?" "Where are you getting all your protein from?" Pretty much every single person I’ve come in contact with has asked me some variation of these questions. 

So, let me just put it to bed right now.

For starters, you don’t need as much protein as you think you do (check out No Meat Athlete’s recommendations for daily intake here). For my body weight and activity level, I need to eat about 73g of protein a day. 

Secondly, I track everything I eat with MyFitnessPal and I can tell you for a fact I get more than enough and even exceed the recommended limit on a regular basis — all by eating vegetables (which, surprise!, have protein), beans, eggs, almond milk, quinoa, Icelandic Skyr (there’s a buttload of protein in there), nuts, etc. There’s a great list of protein sources for vegetarians on the No Meat Athlete page. Check it out and be amazed by how much protein can be found in things that aren’t meat. 

So there you have it. Moving on. 

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The Tale of Three Pretties

I was lucky enough to run three awesome and very pretty races in April and May: GW Parkway Classic 10 Miler, Nike Women’s Half-Marathon, and the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon

It’s hard to find a race I don’t like but these three were pretty fantastic. So here are three mini-race recaps in case you are interested in running these in the future. I’ll try and make them as quick and dirty as possible. 

Pacers’ GW Parkway Classic 10 Miler 

I ran this race last year and loved it so much I immediately signed up for 2014 when registration opened.

The course is a point to point that starts at Mount Vernon (aka George Washington’s home) and goes up the GW Parkway and ends in Old Town Alexandria. It’s mainly flat with a few soft rolling hills and runs along the Potomac river, which is just insanely gorgeous. As my friend Mary can attest, I basically just said “holy crap this is pretty” for the entire 10 miles. Just a sample of the prettiness that awaits you:

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Speaking of Mary…this was her first 10 mile race and she killed it. We ran a slightly slower pace than we normally do since I was coming back from injury and this was her first one but we ran the whole time and had so much fun. There really is nothing like having one of your best friends to chat with during a race. Not only does the time fly but it’s 1.5 hours of uninterrupted time to just catch up with each other. 

After the race, there’s a large after party set up in this park on the water in Old Town. They have massage booths, photo booths, water booths, all the booths. They even have kid friendly entertainment like moon bounces and what not. We met up with our friends and hit the beer tent (naturally) for a bit to enjoy the sunshine and music. All in all a great time. 

I highly recommend doing this race and experiencing all the prettiness for yourself. Sign up for 2015 here. Yes, it’s a little on the pricey side for a 10 miler but it’s worth it. Just do it. #bossy

Nike Women’s Half Marathon in DC

Speaking of just doing it… my very soon to be sister-in-law Ashley convinced me to register for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon. Entries are awarded via lottery and and truth be told, I was hoping we wouldn’t get in mostly because the fee is nuts (like $175 nuts). But we, including some people she works with, registered as a team and as luck would have it, we were accepted (Jerry was thrilled with that credit card statement).

Well let me just say, Nike knows their stuff as it was one of the most well-organized and enjoyable races I’ve ever done. There are so many good things to say about this race that I’ll just tick them off real quickly, bullet style:

  • The course was essentially a highlights reel of the prettiest parts of DC. In addition to running in front of the Capitol and along the National Mall, much of the course is set along the water and near the cherry blossoms. The only downer was Hains Point, which is a 3ish mile long peninsula that’s very pretty but so woefully boring. Unfortunately, because it’s a good stretch of uninterrupted road, it’s on most race courses set in DC. 
  • Every half mile or so, they had some type of entertainment, typically a local band or dj and all of them were pretty great. 
  • Shalane Flanagan - who had just run Boston the Monday prior - was there doing an easy run. Definitely got a little fan girly knowing she was there. 
  • They had fuel all along the way, including a chocolate station close to the end.
  • The race swag was awesome and I spent wayyyyyy too much money on it. Seriously…it looks like Nike puked in my drawer. 
  • Instead of a medal, you get a Tiffany necklace. Even to someone who wears no jewelry outside her wedding ring, this is a nice touch.
  • They had designated photo zones that you ran through with photographers on the other side, which was perfect so you knew exactly when they were coming as opposed to popping out of nowhere and capturing you looking like a hot mess. Here’s a shot of me exiting one near the finish line. Less hot messy than usual. 

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This is all well and good but I must say, my favorite part of the race was the energy and spirit. I didn’t really know what to expect from a women’s race. I think I thought it’d be overwhelmed with tutus and the like (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I was surprised that the atmosphere felt warmer, friendlier, happier, and more supportive than other races I’ve done. This isn’t to say the co-ed races were negative or unfriendly. It’s just that there was this aura of pure joy and warmth that I hadn’t really experienced before.

And it wasn’t like a Color Run where everyone’s out there dancing around having fun and nobody cares about their time. These ladies were running their hearts out but they were also supporting each other. It’s hard to describe but that atmosphere was definitely the best part about this race. 

I ended up making a friend in the starting corral, Becky, who was trying to beat her PR of 2:06. This was my first half since the injury so I was going to run by feel but I told her that I’d try and keep up with her for as long as I could. While she and I both slowed down towards the end and ultimately missed her PR, it was really nice getting to know her. My Achilles flared up a bit around mile 7 and I’m so thankful she was there as I probably would’ve stopped and walked the rest of the race if it hadn’t been for her. 

That recap wasn’t very quick or dirty. Just too many good things to say about it. Moving on… 

Marine Corps Historic Half 

I didn’t mean to register for this race. I meant to register for the Marine Corps 17.75k race that guarantees finishers entry into the Marine Corps Marathon in October buttttt I’m dumb and got them mixed up. It ended up being another happy accident as I really loved this race too. 

The race was held in Fredericksburg, VA and the course ran through a bunch of beautiful neighborhoods, through their historic downtown area (super duper cute), and along parks and the water. It was..you guessed it..very pretty but also very H I L L Y. 

I had no idea it was going to be so hilly. Marines kept hyping up their “Hospital Hill,” much in the similar fashion that Boston touts Heartbreak Hill. As we were going up yet another steep hill at mile 4, I just kept thinking…is Hospital Hill worse than this?? Nahhh, can’t be. There’s no way.

Well, it is. It’s at mile 10ish and it’s long and it hates you and doesn’t care that you already ran up a billion hills in the miles prior that, at the time, felt hard but were really just babies in comparison. Oh and the best part? As soon as you come down, you get to go up another hill at mile 11.5. Soul. Crushed. 

All that said, it was worth it. The Marines were awesome and put on a really well-organized and fun race. The course entertainment included bag pipes and colonial style bands and all along the way Marines were there to yell OORAH! It was strangely motivating and I dug it. 

I ended up finishing in 2:04 or so, which I was mad impressed with considering how hard it was. Here I am running with my eyes closed because I’m just that talented. 

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I attended and ran this one solo and strangely managed to still have a great time. While I will always pick having company or support at a race over not, sometimes it’s nice to not have to worry about meeting up with people afterward and just being able to focus on doing your own thing. Besides, I basically gave every spectator at the finish a high five so I didn’t feel alone at all. 

I will likely add this one to my yearly line-up as it’s just a really solid race. It also got me jazzed for the Marine Corps Marathon where I’m running to raise money for the Washington Humane Society (if you’d like to donate to help save homeless dogs and cats in the DC area, here’s the link to my page). Do it for the pups. :) 

Okay, phew… that was a lot of race recapping. As you were… 

Could You Be Any More Cliche? - AKA My Week as a Vegetarian/Yogi

Last Sunday, I decided that I would challenge myself to be a vegetarian for one week. I know what you are probably thinking, “Why on earth would you do such a thing? Meat is delicious. You need protein. Don’t you like hamburgers? Or chicken? Where will you get your protein??!?!?”

Calm down. I promise it’ll be okay. 

What brought this on?

Yoga. — Ugh, I know. Groan-city.

I started doing yoga more regularly about 2.5 weeks ago in addition to running and I really love it.  I really don’t know why there is a connection between doing yoga and the need to forego meat — I googled it and wasn’t really successful - but I think it has to do with being more connected with your body and life force and all that hokey jazz.

Basically when I finish yoga, all I crave are fruits, vegetables, and Whole Foods (they have definitely cornered the market on smug yogis). Maybe because you know you have to put yourself in interesting, twisty positions, the last thing you want to do is feed your body anything heavy or unhealthy.

I started toying with the idea of trying to go full on vegan because I’ve been reading a lot of other fitness blogs where they have seen excellent results with a vegan diet. Well Jerry promptly reminded me that my two favorite things in the whole world are ice cream and cheese so there went that plan. Life without ice cream and pizza is not worth living. Sorry vegans. 

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I started thinking… well what if I went vegetarian for a week and see how it went? As I was pondering this experiment, I began to have a few questions to make this a little more interesting for me (I’m a research nerd…clearly) and here’s what I have so far:

Question 1: Will going meatless reduce our grocery bills?

The short answer is no, not really (spoiler alert). While meat in our neighborhood grocery stores is expensive…guess what else is also flipping expensive? Fresh produce. You know what’s cheap? Crap.

Jer and I usually buy about 3 packs of meat a week (usually chicken and ground turkey) for the meals we plan out and they were always the most expensive part of our bills. I am now realizing that we were often foregoing fruits and vegetables to help keep costs low. So our grocery bills have been about the same since we’ve just traded one expensive thing for another. 

Question 2: Will I notice a difference in how I feel?

Well for starters, I definitely feel hungrier. But I’m getting better at figuring out what kinds of meals help keep me full longer so that I’m not a ravenous crazy person. I do feel like I’m doing a better job of giving my body nutrients as opposed to just trying to maintain a lower calorie diet. [poop alert] I’ve also had more frequent bowel movements and that’s a huge win for me since I usually go days without one. People are just happier when they aren’t backed up. 

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Question 3: Will it be hard to plan a full week of meals without using meat?

We already had at least one meatless dinner a week so just making more of them hasn’t been thaaaat tedious. It’s just a little more time consuming to plan the week’s menu since most of my Pinterest pins center on chicken…and when you search for vegetarian recipes, you have to sort through a million pasta dishes and soups but its been fine. A lot of Mexican dishes are easily made healthy and vegetarian and luckily we love Mexican food so looks like a lot of black beans are in our future.

I’m also going to use this as an opportunity to expand my cooking abilities, especially with things like farro or ethnic cuisine. You may be rolling your eyes but until recently, I basically only knew how to make pasta or something in a slow cooker (both of which are fool proof). So these things are big deals for me!

In case you’re curious, last week I made a southwest pasta the first night, tacos with fake meat (Jer’s not a fan - lesson learned) the second, and then a veggie pizza from scratch. No big deal. For lunches, I either took leftovers or made veggie and hummus sandwiches and had a side of Icelandic Skyr (which is loaded with protein in case you were worried my lil muscles would crumble from not eating enough animal flesh). 

Question 4: Will I miss meat?

So far, this is up in the air. It’s too soon to tell. Was it hard this weekend to turn down homemade steaks off the grill or bacon for breakfast at my in laws? Or opting for a vegan “burger” instead of a delicious cheeseburger from this great joint in Charlottesville during a bachelorette dinner? You bet. But I definitely felt better after eating the veggie burgers and not at all sluggish or overly full. That said, I woke up at 4am with a growling tummy soooo it’s pretty much a tie on this aspect of the meat vs. no meat showdown. 

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Question 5: How long will I do this? Am I going to be a fairweather vegetarian? 

Probably. I’m doing this on a week by week basis. I completed one week and now I’ve decided to keep it going for another week (I say “we” but Jerry is really only eating vegetarian for dinner. If he wants meat, he is welcome to cook it.)  

Right now, I’m just viewing it as a fun challenge. I’m not doing it for moral reasons (sorry cows - you are too delicious) so I could decide tomorrow that I want the entire McDonald’s menu. But for now, I’m holding strong and I want to see where this goes. 

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What is Steph Running Away From?

This is the question a friend said someone asked her last year when I was at the height of all my 2013 race madness and marathon training (more on that below). Ever since she mentioned it, it’s a question that I’ve be pondering…. basically what brings someone to the point where their friends think they are literally running away from their issues?

I figured it was best to retrace how I got to that point and to look at where I am today. 

1. I started running to lose weight — and to run away from zombies.

I really only started running in the Spring of 2012. Before that, running was not my favorite activity. It hurt my knees. I was always out of breath. The treadmill was boring but when I ran outside, I would think I had gone soooo far — but it was only like a mile when I checked it out on Google Maps after the fact. Ugh. So discouraging. 

But in 2012, I was at the point where I had gained about 15lbs since I got married in 2010 (so cliche). I was sick of hating how I looked. Around this time, I was also really into The Walking Dead. These two elements put together resulted in me signing up for the Run for Your Lives Zombie 5k that October.

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I figured that I needed to be in some sort of shape in order to be able to run away from those bastards so I began running a little bit at a time. It was a really beautiful spring so it was actually enjoyable to be outside. The Runkeeper app helped tremendously because I could set walk/jog intervals and ease into running, thus keeping me from hating it soooo much. Also, knowing how far I had gone and visibly seeing my progress was magical. Doesn’t take much to impress me.

Eventually I started to love how I felt after a run and the pounds started coming off slowly then all at once (bonus points to the nerds who can figure out the book reference in that sentence). I was able to do my first 5k that summer, the zombie race that fall (so fun - highly recommend), and my first 10k shortly thereafter.

2. I kept running to prove I could do things I never thought possible. 

That 10k was a bit of a turning point. I had finished the race thinking that I’d never need to go any longer than 6.2 miles. That was until my good friend Elliot said, “If you can do a 10k, you can do a half marathon.” 

Um, ex-squeeze me? A-Baking powder? You be crazy.

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Then he gave me a registration coupon code…and well mama’s a sucker for a discount, so I signed up for the 2013 Rock n Roll DC 1/2. Just like that. From this point forward, I will pretty much blame Elliot for everything in my life related to running (I’m obviously kidding. In all seriousness - I actually thank Elliot for being such a good friend and my biggest resource for running guidance). 

I found a half marathon training program and it was then that my running no longer became about my weight or a means of exercise. It was so much more than that. It was…and really still is… about testing my boundaries and limits and seeing how far I could go. I had never gone more than 6 miles, so to do 7 or 8 in training was nuts to me. But with each week, I got stronger and I loved the feeling of shattering the limits I had placed on myself. 

3. Somewhere along the way, running became therapy. 

In the middle of all the half marathon training, my dad ended up needing another kidney transplant (yay for real life). He had one about 27 years ago but they don’t last forever so it was time for a replacement model. Both my Uncle and I were going through the donor testing process and it was during this time, I spent a lot of time trail running — aka crying in the woods… just like Leo. 

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The possibility of losing my father was so overwhelming. This man is everything to me. Just thinking about it filled me with so much emotion that I almost couldn’t breathe. I also had concerns about being the potential donor. Yes, I would do it in a second, without hesitation, but there are side effects and I was worried how it’d affect my chances of having kids, etc. Ultimately, my uncle ended up being a perfect match, which was better for my dad since there was a lower likelihood of it being rejected. 

Both my dad and uncle made it through the transplant just fine but running really did help me get through it all. I don’t really understand how or why but it did and I’ll be forever grateful for it. 

4. I developed an addiction to running. 

For all the reasons I’ve cited so far, I ended up becoming totally addicted to running. It’s not heroin or crack so you’d think it’d be a positive thing and for most people it is. But there’s a fine line between a healthy addiction and then becoming an exercise addict - something I was off and on in high school and college (and clearly have never dealt with). 

It started when I was training for my marathon that summer. After I finished, I thought I was invincible and signed up for three more fulls in close succession that fall. Not to mention, I had already signed up for a ton of other races of all distances. It basically got to the point where I had at least one race almost every weekend. It was absurd.

All those races, and the fact that I was hell bent on improving my times, meant that I was training all the time. I never skipped a run and if I did, I was agitated, irritable, and downright not pleasant to be around. Just ask my husband. 

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In addition to being a slave to my training, I got addicted to the feeling of running with other people. I don’t have anyone to run with during the week and so races became my way of running with others. Even though there are local running groups that I could have trained with, I liked the variety races gave me with respect to routes and it was fun exploring new parts of town.

Like most addictions, it started to negatively affect my relationships. With so many races on the calendar, I didn’t go out with my friends as much. I felt like I got flack every time I had to bail or go home early (this honestly could have just been my perception and not at all a reflection of reality). So I slowly began to alienate myself from them. I resented them because I felt they didn’t understand me or my desire to do all of this - and I’m pretty sure they resented me because I couldn’t see how I was being crazypants. It took a lot of “Wow, I really missed hanging out with you” type comments in the past few months for me to see just how much I had alienated myself and I’m vowing to never let it get to that point again. I’m just grateful they stuck with me. 

5. Today I run because I can and only if I want to - not because I have to. 

Life has a funny way of working itself out and restoring balance. All of that training and those races ultimately caused me to develop severe Achilles tendinosis. The injury forced me to not run for over two months. And when you are unable to do the thing you love (and are addicted to) for an extended period of time, it really puts things into perspective and provides a lot of clarity. 

Today, I am at the place where I feel every run is a gift but I know my life will go on if I miss one. I no longer care about my race times — just that I finish. This has allowed me to focus on running with my husband and friends and I’ve had so more fun with them than I ever had running by myself.

While I will continue to do marathons and other races, I am not going to sign up for every single one nor will I be so serious about it that I forget to enjoy the other parts of my life. It really is all about finding - and maintaining - balance. 

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Why do you run? Have you ever been addicted to running (or another type of exercise)? 

Spring Yoga Challenge

When I lived in LA, I got really into going to yoga classes at YogaWorks. I had a really stressful job and a 90 min vinyasa flow class after work always made me feel so much better. Not to mention that I felt stronger and it helped tone me up a bit. 

We ultimately moved back to the DC area where there are no YogaWorks studios (yes we have other yoga studios in the area but I’m crazy brand loyal to these guys). I bought one of their dvd’s a few years ago and its held me over for the time being but when you do the same video over and over again, it can be a little tedious and less of a challenge. 

Anyway, long story short, I found that they now offer videos online at myyogaworks.com for only $15/month. I’m still in the 14 days free trial period but so far I’m in love. 

Then this morning I discovered that they are doing a 28 Day Spring Yoga Challenge and decided to sign up. I’ve read a million times that yoga is great for runners, especially to help them stay injury free (something I desperately need).

You don’t have to subscribe to myyogaworks.com to do it - for at least the first week - and basically they email you a video to do every day with the goal that by the end of the 28 days you’ll feel transformed..or something. Anyway I’m always down for a challenge and since some of the videos are only 15 minutes, I’m pretty sure I can fit it in to my oh so busy schedule. 

They encourage you to blog about the experience every day, which I definitely won’t do but I will likely check in every now and then to see if it’s making any difference in my running. 

Day 1…here we go! 

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