CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon – Indianapolis, IN (November 3, 2018)

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Me heading into the finish line of the CNO Financial Monumental Marathon – Indianapolis, IN

Race: CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon

Place: Indianapolis, IN

Date: November 3, 2018

Time: 3:46:17

“Ever tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”
~ Samuel Beckett

I admit it.  The results of the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon  were a hard pill to swallow.  In all honesty, I had hoped that my training, regardless of changing plans and going solo on it all…making it all up as I went, catching up on miles I didn’t get to run to build up that marathon base…I really thought it would be enough.  I didn’t feel like I was in marathon shape.  But I felt confident.

And, as we know…I crashed and burned soon after the 14 mile mark.  I finished.  But not with a time I was happy with.

Moral of the story.  Do NOT ever leave me along with an upcoming half marathon with the option to upgrade to the full marathon when I’m pissed off with my previous marathon performance.  Less than one month apart.  27 days apart, to be exact.  Because, I figured, hell, I was already in “marathon shape”…might as well try again with a different plan of action.  So, it happened.  I upgraded my registration to the full marathon (trust me, I was starting to doubt the wisdom of this the morning of the race, but I’ll get there, LOL!) and then…didn’t really broadcast it anywhere.  I told my training partner, Lauren.  My roommate, of course, knew.  And a couple of people at the gym who asked me what was next for me knew…but no one else.  Not. A. Word.

My plan for the days in between?  Recovery.  Easy runs.  Not a ton of miles.  Just easy, training runs.  I did maybe 3 speed intervals…all of only 4 miles.  My longest long run was 10 miles…last weekend.  Slow and steady with Lauren who took me on an adventure and kept the pace right where I wanted and needed it.  Some people like to pile on those miles and brag about weekly and monthly totals.  I have never been that sort.  And, honestly, it is a rare thing for me to ever hit 200 miles in a month, even during marathon training.  There is training and there is overtraining.  One of these benefits you.  The other leads to injury, burnout, and a plethora of other issues.  Just like pace, I don’t usually post my miles or mileage either.  Honestly, who cares other than me?

Deep breath.  Let’s start with the day before the race.

Thursday night was filled with packing and not trying to overthink anything.  Cathy picked out my outfit…she packed recovery wear, shoes, race gear, fuel, etc.  Everything I would need for another 26.2.  I made her pack capris because I was nervous it would be too cold at the start of the race for the running skirt she had picked.  She allowed for that…but nothing more.  We went to work as usual on Friday, planning to leave around 2 pm to make the drive up to Indianapolis.

I made certain that I got as much work done that I could in the time I was in the office.  Lunch was just a giant salad, made from all the fresh ingredients/produce that I had lingering in my fridge heading into the weekend.  We packed up, brought bottles of water that had our Nuun Immunity Tablets in them.  If you haven’t tried them…HIGHLY recommended!  And we hit the road, with our mid-day snacks to get us through the drive and the expo before heading to dinner.

We hit a small amount of traffic on the way, but we made it to the Omni Severin Hotel, in downtown Indianapolis.  Honestly, if you’re looking for a hotel in downtown Indy…STAY HERE!!  I was blown away by the hospitality, even if they didn’t do late checkouts due to it being an event weekend (I get it…but after a marathon, I usually appreciate a hot shower).  They did say that they had a fitness center with a shower and if I needed one I could get a key made to get in there and shower.  So…I mean…there was that.  Our luggage was taken up to our room by the nicest guy, Matt, who gave us the rundown about the hotel and the history behind it.  He showed us the amenities in the room and made sure we had plans for dinner because otherwise the hotel was doing a pasta dinner for the runners.  Honestly, I’ve never felt so welcome at a hotel.

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Cathy at her first major packet pickup for the Monumental 5K

Next stop…the expo.  We took the inside path through the hotel and Circle Center Mall to get ourselves over to the Indianapolis Expo Center.  Some roads were going to be closed because Trump and Pence were in town (BARF!), but it wasn’t affecting us.  We had a work-around.  The Expo felt a lot smaller this year than it was last year.  We got there, and immediately collected posters and headed to the back to get race packets and shirts.  YES…that’s plural.  Since I upgraded to the full, Cathy decided she could do the 5K, as it started AFTER the full and half marathons were sent off.  Had I stuck with the half, she wouldn’t have done it otherwise she’d miss my finish.

We stopped at the 5K booths first and Cathy did her first ever official big race 5K packet pickup.  She had to show her ID and everything.  The volunteers at her table were SO fun and very cool.  They even had thrown safety pins into her bag.  It was awesome.

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Cathy and Me with our race numbers for the next morning.

After she got her stuff…we headed over to the marathon tables where I collected my shirt and bib and we went straight into Official Merchandise.  Where I spent more money.  This time only on a lapel pin and a jacket.  The jacket is SUPER nice though.  I could have spent SO MUCH more.  HA!  We made our walk through the vendors and races that were represented at the expo.  Cathy had forgotten a BondiBand to keep her ears warm, so we had to go and get her one of those.  She found one…bright pink…that says, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”  Just like the button she has worn since NYC.  I spotted a different flavor of Gluten Free Honey Stinger Stroopwafels (I can only ever find Salted Caramel…which is GOOD…but I know there are other flavors out there…and I found a Vanilla & Chocolate one!).  But we wrapped it up quickly, stopping to find my name on the poster and then take a few pictures with the banners.  A volunteer was kind enough to get a lot of these photos for us, from every angle.

From there, we made the trek back to the hotel room.  We had about 30 minutes to kill before dinner, so Cathy went ahead and tried on her race shirt to get my opinion on the fit.  I decided I should do the same, and thank GOD I did.  Turns out, the volunteers at my end of the table gave me a men’s small and not a women’s small.  I was NOT happy.  With 20 minutes to get to our dinner reservation, we packed up the shirt and stepped outside to take a quicker route to the convention center in hopes of changing it out.  I booked it down the hall and back into the expo to the shirt exchange area and snagged my women’s small.  Whew!  Cathy was waiting in the hall outside.  We had about 5 minutes to make a 10 minute walk to our dinner reservation at Napolese.  Honestly, whenever we are in town for a race, this is our go-to restaurant.  I mean…GLUTEN FREE FOCACCIA AND GLUTEN FREE PIZZA!!

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Napolese’s Gluten Free Focaccia

I apologized to the hostess for being late and told her we had a 5:45 reservation.  Our table was still there though, next to two very loud men who were drinking a lot and talking REALLY LOUD about Queen and movies and games and whatever.  I was over it.  Thank God they left while we were eating our appetizer.

We had already had plans on what we were going to do for eats that night.  I looked at the menu on the way up so we could formulate a plan.  So when our waiter came over, we got glasses of water and put in our order.  Gluten Free Focaccia (no dairy) and then we were going to Freestyle our pizza and do a Gluten Free Pizza topped with the Housemade Tomato Sauce, Winter Squash, Mushrooms, and Duck Eggs.  He asked if the gluten-free was an allergy and made note that it was for a Celiac on the ticket.  And also made note of the NO DAIRY preference as well.  They are VERY efficient there.  And trust me…the food is amazing too.

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Napolese’s Gluten Free Pizza – no cheese, tomato sauce, mushrooms, winter squash, duck eggs

The focaccia came out first…olive oil, garlic, parsley.  SO GOOD.  And as we were polishing that off, the pizza came out.  But it was missing…the duck eggs.  Cathy pointed it out and he apologized and took it back.  He returned with a little thing of olive oil to go with the pizza if we wanted to add it and said that he took the pizza before they had cooked up the eggs and it would be up momentarily.  And we didn’t really have a long wait before it was returning to our table.  Looking SO good.  And even with polishing off the focaccia…I was ready to eat.  We polished off the pizza and took his advice, adding the olive oil…and it was light and fruity and just added a whole new level of deliciousness to the slices.  BIG FAN.  We finished eating and were given the bill, where they didn’t charge us for the duck eggs (that was sweet…but they didn’t need to do that).  We left a big tip, because or waiter was awesome.  Then headed to CVS to pick up some waters for the next morning, and then hit up the Hard Rock Cafe for a pin.  Mind you…I was not wanting to be on my feet much this time around.  But, we were never far from the hotel and we were back into the hotel by 7:30-ish.  Cathy went to shower.  I got out all my race gear and laid it out and then started my foam rolling because I was determined to do that the night before the race.  As I was doing that, there was a knock at the door.  It was housekeeping delivering a bottle of water, some ice, and a card.  It was from the hotel.  Super sweet gesture.  I knew it would all come in handy.  We finished up an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives…and then…

Lights out…9 pm.  On the nose.

I woke up a couple of times during the night…like my usual wakeup time of 3 am.  At 4

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Cathy’s complimentary drink tray that morning – orange juice and coffee!

am, my first alarm went off so I could take a pill and use the bathroom.  Back to bed for 2 restless hours.  At 6 am…we were both up and starting our morning routine.  I popped open a Pamela’s Products Gluten Free Matcha Happiness Ambition Bar.  I ate one before I ran the Monumental Half Marathon last year.  Why not do it again?  I prepped my pre-race drink and started to slowly get dressed.  At 6:15 am, Cathy’s free orange juice and coffee arrived outside the door.  We got up at 6 am so we could have a more relaxed moment and this gave her the chance to eat her Clif Bar and drink some coffee and juice as she does most mornings.  Including in her own training.

I finished getting ready, and this included slathering on some sunscreen because…it was going to be a sunny day that morning and I refuse to be the person with a sunburn in November.  I was wearing two different color CEP sleeves, my Injinji toe socks, my Newton Distance IIIs, a black running skirt, my Kauai Marathon & Half Marathon singlet, red arm warmers, and a red BondiBand that said “Breathe.”  I had some pajama bottoms to toss away prior to the race and a halfzip that I bought in a child’s size a long time ago that I was okay parting with.   I put my Nuun Energy into two of my bottles and water into the other two bottles and put my fuel belt on.  I put my new nutrition (tested once) into the front zip pouch and called myself ready.  Cathy ended up putting on a second layer on top and then we headed down to the lobby.  They had water and bananas out for the runners.  I usually eat a banana before a marathon so…I snagged one.  We ran into people from Louisville that we didn’t know, but I spotted his Chicago Marathon t-shirt and said I had run it too, but he was smarter than me this morning since he was only doing the half.  We had a good laugh over that.

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Race outfit for the marathon – minus the arm warmers, which got put on soon after.

And after they moved on…I started to have a small meltdown.  Why?  Because, despite being easy on my body and training smart leading up to this…I felt like my legs weren’t going to let me go another 26.2 so soon.  Cathy talked me down, as she usually does.  And then she had us moving out the door and into the cold Indianapolis morning.  It was 34 degrees outside.  We made the walk from the Omni to the start line, where I ate my banana and slowly drank my water.  We made it here and Cathy took a few pictures.  When we saw the pacers getting into the corral, she told me to go find my pacers and talk to them.  She gave me a hug and I left…stepping into the network of corrals and finding the 3:35 pacers (see what I’m doing here?), in the 2nd wave.  My bib was good for the first wave, but like I said, I was learning from my mistakes at Chicago…I hoped.

My plan for this race…line up with the 3:35 pace group and hold on as long as I could.  I

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Cathy & I staying warm in the hotel lobby for a few minutes before walking to the start of both of our races!

didn’t expect to be with them for long, just given how my training runs had been coming off of Chicago.  But, I figured it would be a good way to keep from going out way too fast (and we all know I would have) and at least keeping a constant pace going forward.  The male pacer’s PR was 3:09 and the female had just run a 50K the weekend before, so I can only assume that she is normally super fast as well.  Crazy good.  I never run with pacers, but I figured…this might be what I need.

I ditched my toss-away clothing and got back to the pacers just as the national anthem was being sung.  It was gorgeous.  The wheelchair racers were sent off first.  Wave one was next.  And we were moved up to the start gate.  I gave a wave to Cathy since I wasn’t on the outside of the corral…I was right behind the pacers because…I didn’t want to lose them.  After about 5 minutes…off we went.  We hit the roads of Indianapolis…and Cathy went to line up for her 5K.

The pacers guided our group down Capitol Avenue, reminding us that the pace would be slow for the first couple of miles until the race spread out a little bit.  Since the half and full marathon start together, it can be very congested at points.  Reminder, Indianapolis roads are awful.  The male pacer pointed out holes as we ran and I heard the female pacer say, “You’re going to be saying that a lot.”  HA!  She wasn’t wrong.

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Game face on as I stick close to the 3:35 pacers at the start line

We made a couple of turns before running across the first water/aid station.  They were nice enough to shout out each station as we approached so anyone who needed water or Gatorade could grab it.  It was a little chaotic through there, but I stuck with them as we made a couple more turns and made the half rotation around Monument Circle.  There was another aid station before we hit Mile 3 and the pacer sign was passed from the male to the female.  He had a pace tattoo on his arm and when we hit three, she asked, “How are we?”  He said, “We’re a little over.”  So she picked it up slightly.

Not only was I incorporating a “stick to the pacer” technique this race, I also decided to fuel more.  So every 4 miles…I was trying something new (I know…nothing new on race day, but…MEH)…Maurten Gel 100, which is apparently what Kipchoge uses!  I am no Kipchoge, nor was I aware of this when I purchased it to try…but it isn’t bad.  I like the texture way better than the Honey Stingers or Gu type gels.  I took my first one at Mile 4, which had me ease back on the pace just enough.  I took a drink of water, and pushed my way back up toward the pacers.

It was just about the 10K area that I discovered how dangerous it was to run with a pace

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My new form of fueling – Maurten Gel 100

group.  As more people fell into the group it got crowded…fast.  Someone clipped my foot from behind, sending me stumbling.  I recovered, but was pushed into someone ahead of me, which sent them stumbling.  Then someone else closed in and his foot pretty much tripped me…and again I had to catch myself.  And then someone clipped me again and that one nearly took me down for good.  The adrenaline was rushing at this point which was definitely NOT what I wanted to have happen.  I eased back just enough to allow some space so I wouldn’t get trampled at this point.

At Mile 7, the half marathoners turn left and the marathon runners continue up toward the State Fairgrounds.  At Mile 8…I fueled again.  And I was still hanging onto the pace group.  YAY.  I was a little bit behind them, but I felt that was for my own safety and sanity.  We turned onto Washington Boulevard, which we would be on for almost the next two miles.  They were giving out Clif Gels at Mile 11, but I had my own fueling to contend with.  But it was here…HERE…that I started to get a side stitch.  I wasn’t pushing my pace…but it soon turned into a stomach cramp of sorts.  I gutted through it until we made the turn and hit Mile 12…and then I slowed it to a walk to see if I could get it to pass.  This was when I was supposed to fuel again anyway…and I took the opportunity to do that before I felt I would be okay to pick it up again.  And I did.  No problems.  I made sure to drink more water this time.  I think that was the problem.  I was now further behind the pace group, but was about to hit the halfway mark.  I pushed through and continued…still feeling strong for the most part.  I was just frustrated that I was off the pace group earlier than I would have liked.

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Do you see my name on the poster? I meant to post this earlier. LOL!

I loved winding through the streets of Indianapolis.  There were crowds and people cheering in places you wouldn’t expect.  If we ran through neighborhoods, people were there too.  I may have been a bit off my pace, but I was going strong for the most part.  I made the turn onto Meridian and picked it back up a little.  Mile 16…I eased back again to fuel and drink more water.  And now I decided I would start walking some water stops in order to make sure I was hydrating.  When it’s cold outside, I forget to drink water.  I wasn’t letting anything stupid like that take me down that day.

The 3:40 pacers caught me just before Mile 18, where we ran through this area that felt like a park and were met with a wall of screaming from the people inside.  I think it was a college group, but they were fantastic.  I got quite a few compliments at aid stations and as I ran through here on my pigtails.  Love that story.  We exited onto the highway and headed toward my favorite part of the course, this gorgeous, twisting downhill on an exit ramp.  YES!  Downhill is my favorite speed as we all know!!  And this was fun.

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Cathy after she did her 5K!  She did it in 46:42!

Mile 20…and I had only a 10K left.  I took a little longer on my walk to fuel here because not only did I fuel and drink some water, but I also moved my one and only Honey Stinger Gel from my zip pocket in my running skirt to my fuel belt.  Why?  Because I was going to do one more fueling and I didn’t have enough Maurten with me.  I wanted to feel good and strong at the end of this.

At this point, if there was a hill…I speed walked it.  If there was a water stop, I walked it and took in some water.  If there was a crowd, I ran.  I was running more than walking, which was opposite Chicago, so already my plan was paying off.  I think it was at Mile 23, I went ahead and took my last gel, fueling for the last push.  The water stop here was AMAZING.  They were blaring this great song about being downtown.  And it just helped me pick it back up.

The next three miles went well, even though I could tell I was slowing down.  I think at some point the 3:45 group passed me.  I tried not to let it get into my head.  I took any water break walks that I needed and promised that I would push it at the end.  I was going to finish this one strong.  I made the turn onto W New York Street.  The crowd was amazing.  Someone shouted, “The finish is just around the corner!”  They were right.  I rounded the corner and could see the finish line down the way.  It seemed so far, but I found another gear and I started to pick it up.  As I got closer, I saw Cathy standing near the finish, screaming her head off for me.  I pressed on, crossing the finish line, arms in the air, and stopped my Garmin.  I never looked at it. I wanted to beat my Dopey time.  But I didn’t want to be disappointed yet either.

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Me crossing the finish line at the CNO Financial Monumental Marathon

So I never looked.  I started walking down the row.  I was wrapped in a Mylar blanket.  I saw some people with their medals on…and thought for a moment I had walked right past that station.  But I hadn’t.  I just hasn’t moved up far enough.  I continued on.  A nice woman put a medal around my neck and congratulated me.  I smiled and thanked her, snagging a bottle of water before stopping to get an official finisher photo from Marathonfoto.  On down the aisle of snacks, snagging a banana, a Clif Bar (for Cathy), a bag of Lay’s chips, and the famous cookie (I can’t even eat it…but I knew plenty of people who could).  And then…I made my way out to be greeted by Cathy with a hug.

I asked her, “Did I beat my Dopey time?”  And she said, “You smashed it by over three minutes.”  I was elated.  It wasn’t the time I was hoping to hit, but I once again chipped away from my time I set at the beginning of the year…doing a run/walk for the entire race.  This time, I mostly ran and felt strong and good throughout…and that was saying something.  As Cathy was finding a spot for me to lay down and put my feet up, I spotted the hat in her clear backpack and said, “You got a hat?”  She said I should have gotten one too and I told her I must have walked past that station.  She told me to lay down and she would see if she could get one for me.  After about 5 minutes, she returned victorious, saying she flagged down a happy looking marathoner to see if she could get another one.  It worked.

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Feet up…suns out…guns out.  FINISHER!

After stretching my feet up for a little bit, just basking in the sun, we finally decided to get up and head back toward the hotel.  Cathy checked us out of our room and had our bags checked.  It felt like the walk took forever, but it was a good way, save for the wind that had picked up.  I drew my arm warmers back up over my arms and we zigzagged our way back to the hotel.

We stepped inside and got into the elevator to go up one floor.  Cathy told me to go over to the bench to sit down and wait while she got luggage.  It didn’t take too long.  She opened up my suitcase and pulled out the outfit I had set out to wear afterwards, compression socks, jeans, the race t-shirt, new underwear, a proper bra, the basics.  We went ahead and took off my shoes, socks and put on my compression socks while I was sitting there.  She pulled my pigtails down, getting my hair extensions out and grabbing my hair brush.  And then she sent me around the corner to the bathroom to change.

I ducked into a stall and did that in record time after a marathon.  I realized that I had left my deodorant in my toiletries bag so I made sure I looked presentable, brushed my hair, and then went to grab that while leaving my race clothes with her.  Quick duck into the bathroom to apply deodorant, a wash of the hands, and one more fix of the hair…and I was good to go.  Once I put on my recovery shoes.

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My celebration meal at Woody’s Library Restaurant in Carmel, IN!

We headed out and she gave me the valet ticket to get the car while she went into Starbucks to grab me a much-needed coffee.  They valet went to retrieve the car, which took about 5 minutes and she hadn’t yet made it out.  I had no money on me to top the valet, which I felt AWFUL about, but I couldn’t help that.  I texted her and she said about 14 teenagers had been in front of her and she was coming. She was out in about 3 minutes and we loaded up her luggage.  I snagged my coffee.  And we were off, heading to Carmel, Indiana, the home of Woody’s Library Restaurant, my new favorite place to eat in all of Indianapolis.  Our friend Greg met us there.  I didn’t have an appetite at this moment, but went ahead and ordered the Gluten Free (Lettuce Wrap) Tex Mex Quinoa Tacos with a side of the Gluten Free Sweet Potato Fries, and Cathy got me a little side of pickles…just in case I wanted them.

I made a go at the food…taking my time to chew and to digest so as not to set my stomach off.  And I managed to eat the fries and most of the tacos before calling it quits.  I maybe had two of the pickle chips.  I was surprised I managed that much.  Afterwards, to stretch me out a bit more before we made the car ride home, the three of us went to the Antique Mall and looked around.  They both found things to buy, but I didn’t this time.  Maybe next time.  Then we hit up the gluten-free No Label at the Table bakery there.  I picked up two of their Lemon Cookies, a Brownie, and a Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf.  The lady who owns the bakery was there, and she was excited to see a marathoner there and asked me about other local races and Disney races as I shopped and decided what I wanted.

Afterwards…it was time to make the long drive back home.

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Until next year…BE MONUMENATAL!

So, the official results of the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in 3:46:17, which makes it my fastest marathon this year and the one that closes out my actual racing season, as far as I know.  HA.  I was 1377/4568 finishers overall. I was the 377/1983 female finishers. And I was 106/391 in my age division.  Very happy with my results as I was dedicating this run to the people I know…who can’t run.  Spontaneous Marathon #14 is in the books and I already can’t wait to sign up for next year.  This was a great race, all around.

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Be Good To You

justfoodI’m not the average girl from your video
And I ain’t built like a supermodel
But I learned to love myself unconditionally
Because I am a queen

~India.Arie

It’s been a hard journey for me the past couple of years, but I think I’m finally headed in the right direction.  But before I go any further, I want to give a HUGE shout-out to my amazing friend, Kari…who watched a few of my stories on Instagram back in the summer and sent me directly to a few podcasts and links…and that has been helped me out immensely…especially during this time of year.

Through Kari, I discovered Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist, well-being coach, and a certified health and fitness specialist.  And from Scritchfield…I have discovered the practice of Body Kindness.

Over the summer and through the fall, I have done my best to put the practices of spiraling up and self-compassion to work.  And I’ve made leaps and bounds in this regard.  I’m proud of myself.  After two years of consistent injuries that, basically, kept me from really being active, I put on a good 15 to 20 pounds.  And those pounds weren’t from eating a poor diet…not at all.  My food choices go up on Instagram on a daily basis and I keep nothing from it.  But the lack of exercise brought about a good amount of stress…which brought about bouts of binge eating/stress eating.  Every.  Day.  To the point that certain foods in the apartment had to be hidden in my roommate’s room just to ensure that I wouldn’t devour them one morning when I was the only one awake and stressing out over something that I really coudn’t fix at that moment or at all.  I felt uncomfortable in my skin, and while I was still at what would be considered a healthy weight for my size…I was SO mad at myself for letting myself get like this.  I was angry every time I would get on the scale and see the number.  I was so certain that, when I was cleared to run, the weight would slow me down.

Over those months, I did get back to running…and the weight stayed on.  No big deal.  I’m not someone who runs to burn calories.  I’ve never been someone who tries to compensate food intake for exercise and burning off calories.  I don’t do calculations in my head or add on miles or hit the gym a little harder.  That’s not me.  That’s never been me.  So, in that respect, I already was grasping the overarching concept of Body Kindness.

But what really makes it challenging for someone like me…is seeing perfectly healthy people who are in the same boat as me…jump into a program like Weight Watchers to drop weight by a certain date.  Hell, I was told to look into Weight Watchers…and I’m at a healthy weight…just not a happy weight (to me).  And at the same time, I had a friend who went to the extreme side of the spectrum and wasn’t eating and was over-exercising and was down to just skin and bones…and it was scary.  And it was perspective.  And thankfully, she is getting help and will hopefully get stronger physically and mentally through her recovery program.  But it was a lot of stress and anguish because…I love my friends deeply and when they go through shit…I go through shit with them.  And I was thankful that I had been introduced to this concept of Body Kindness and Intuitive Eating…because that could have spiraled out of control quickly.  And that’s not to say that the stress and those triggers didn’t get to me…but the way I dealt with it changed.

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Enter…the holidays.

I work in an office packed with women.  And the holidays are made for feasting and treats and parties and drinks and…the inevitable conversations happen at the water cooler…

“I ate one of those donuts today…I am so bad.”

“I’m being SO bad!” *said while balancing a plate with a cinnamon roll on it*

*At holiday pitch-in* “I had lost weight, but I’ve been so bad today and I know I put it all back on!”

“Look at all this bad food.  Brownies, cookies, cakes…”

“Well, this has fruit in it, so that’s good, right?”

“All that food in there…I really need to go back to dieting tomorrow.”

“I feel so guilty…I had dessert after eating my holiday meal.”

I wish I could say I was joking.  But, sadly, I’m not.  With the advent of the holidays comes the inevitable around the New Year…the resolutions.

But it’s not just the, “I’m going to eat better and workout more,” mentality anymore.  Nope.  Now we have detoxes and juice cleanses and diet pills and fasting and keto and paleo and Whole 30…or meals that are just snacks and not providing you with the nutrition your body really needs to function.  But let’s face it…diets don’t work.  They don’t.  If they did…there wouldn’t be multi-million dollar corporations built up around them.  I mean, think about it…the reason they exist is because people have to keep going back to them.  Mind…blown!

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Diets and “quick fixes” are everywhere.  But are they really that “good” for you?  Diets, cleanses, detoxes…what they advocate is a huge calorie deficit.  Most people don’t even hit the “standard” (and still low, especially if you’re active) 1200 a day.  If you’re active…you HAVE to eat more.  And I’ve had it out with people before regarding calories in vs. calories out…and I was told that I wasn’t losing weight because I was eating more than 1200 calories a day.  Yeah…I also ran 10 miles and need to put nutrition back into my body!  But the way it was done made it seem like I was in the wrong because I refused to be super restrictive.  When I am training for an endurance race, I make sure my body is fed properly after any hard effort.  It’s how it recovers faster and gets stronger.  Diets, detoxes, and juice cleanses…yeah…you lose weight.  You lose water weight.  You lose fat.  But you also start losing muscle mass.  And I’m a runner.  I don’t want to lose muscle.  Muscle is what helps this body move faster, get stronger, and hopefully…not get injured as often.  No matter what the person who created this meal plan and ran this group said to me…I wasn’t going to waiver on the type of nutrition that I needed to do the activities that I am doing.  BUT…she did this in a public forum and made me feel like a failure or that I was doing everything wrong.

I’ve witnessed first hand the effects of starving the body of nutrition and recovery…watching someone I really care for waste away from over exercising and under fueling.  If she did eat, she’d figure up how many hot yoga classes she’d need to do or how many extra miles she would need to run simply to negate the meager amount of food she did give her body.  Not fueling enough does horrible things to your body.  Especially when you’re active.  But even those of us who aren’t runners or cyclists or gym rats…your body needs fuel regardless and when you’re operating on an empty tank…it turns to other means to get the energy it means to function.  Fat…and then muscle.  And, guess what…the heart is a muscle and eventually, that’s going to stop working properly too.

I am the first to admit that I do get triggered by certain aspects of the diet culture.  Even today, as I’m comfortably settling into the idea of Body Kindness.  I literally want to throw things when someone makes a reference to their paleo/keto dessert.  Or the person who went vegan to lose weight and was disappointed when they didn’t.  Or the diet pills someone is taking because it helps make them less hungry during the day.  Or those “progress” pics that people put up that pretty much shame everyone who has put on even a pound because we’re not standing there in a sports bra with a smaller tummy or abs of steel.  Or when people eat a handful of almonds and call it lunch.  Or when someone says that they need to go to the gym because of what they ate the day before.  The words “juice cleanse,” “cleanse,” “detox,” and “diet”…they all set off alarm bells in my head.  Because, this “healthy” person is doing all this on Instagram…shouldn’t I too.  And maybe if I did…I could be that skinny and strong and…whatever.

But…I’m not that person.  And it took me the better part of the year to get to this point.  And to say that none of this triggers me at any point would be a lie.  I’m a perfectionist in my own right, and not feeling perfectly healthy or perfectly athletic has been challenging.  But…here’s my takeaway…

Four years ago…and 20 pounds lighter, I ran a race on Thanksgiving that I run every year.  I was at the peak of my running and the fittest I had ever felt.  And I ran 5 miles in 36:52.  I never cracked it since 2013…sometimes that race having me around 38 minutes.  This year…with 2 years of hip injuries and 15-20 pounds more on me…I ran comfortably for the entire race, never feeling like I was pushing myself to go faster and I finished…in 36:36.  I wasn’t dieting or fighting the scale.  I was giving myself permission to eat better, more, and what my body needed as I was also in the midst of a marathon build-up too.  So…lighter doesn’t necessarily mean faster.  And faster doesn’t necessarily come because you follow a strict diet.  Hard work is what gets you there.

And trust me…there is nothing easy about learning to love yourself the way you are.  And there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve yourself.  But, just for a moment, take a breath and forget about your clothing size and that number on a scale.  Forget about seeing yourself fitting in with the social norm.  That’s the great thing about being a human being.  We’re all different.  Perfectly imperfect.  And we don’t have to miss out on experiences and treats and foods because we’re told by society what is “good” and what is “bad.”

This journey hasn’t been easy and, yes…I still struggle.  Even today I struggle, especially with the “perfect squares” of those “perfect people” in social media.  I struggle when I hear someone say they are being bad when they are just taking part in a holiday part or pitch-in.  I hate hearing people tell me how much cardio they’re going to have to do the following day because they enjoyed a bit of dessert after their holiday meal.  Guess what…it’s okay to indulge…in life, in food, in activities.  It’s not okay to paralyze yourself and to stop living a full and happy life because of what the scale might tell you in the morning.  Your self worth is not built upon what you are eating and how much of it you are consuming.

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And I promise…it’s impossible to gain 3 pounds in one day…and it’s water weight…and it too shall pass.

So…how about this holiday season we share a bit of kindness with others, but also take a moment to spare some of that kindness for ourselves.  Don’t stress the small things.  Don’t miss out on something due to social stigmas and labels.  Enjoy every moment and every bite and every bit of movement you manage that day, that week, that month.

Magic happens when we are not just compassionate, but also self-compassionate.  So take a deep breath, and enjoy the foods and activities and moments that come with the season.  It will lower your stress…it will brighten your mood…and in the end…you’ll feel better.

Here’s what I have gained since turning my back on the diet culture…late night sushi runs with friends…wine tastings with friends…dinner parties with friends…game nights, brunches, dinners, new ethnic food outings, movie nights, fun runs, vacation planning with friends, so many more invites…so much more quality time with people…bonding…laughing…joy.  My life gained so much joy and shed so much unhappiness and stress and feeling self-conscious and unworthy.  What I was gaining was way more important than what I had been trying to lose.

I really started living and being and enjoying the little things as well as the big things.  There are always bumps and setbacks.  I’m not 100% yet.  But I’m clearing a path and have gained so much mental health in the process that it’s really become physical heath as well.  I’m not saying I don’t stress and cry and feel upset and out of control and lost…I do.  But I have outlets and I have people who carry me through it and lift me up and don’t make me feel like I’m failing at everything.  I’m a beautiful work in progress.

And that’s truly what makes the journey epic in the end.

Be happy.  Life life.  Do epic shit.  Be full.  And be well.

thereitis

Product Review: Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix

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Gluten Free Sugar Cookies made from Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix (and topped with Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting and sprinkles)

Product: Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix – $3.99+

I blame my neighbor.  I do.  Because she knows how much I like to cook and bake and make tasty treats for myself, my roomie, my friends, my co-workers, and just…people in general.  So, while she was out at one of the discount stores, she snagged me four (4)…yes…FOUR…boxes of the Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix and one (1) box of the Immaculate Baking Company’s Gluten Free Fudge Brownie Cookie Dough.  I love it when she surprises me with gluten free goodies.

All that being said…I was out at Michael’s a couple of weekends ago and spotted a T-Rex cookie cutter.  Don’t judge.  My roommate loves dinosaurs.  Yes…she’s in her mid-30s…but…that’s just who she is.  And then…there was the Unicorn cookie cutter.  UNICORN COOKIE CUTTER.  I used to have a unicorn collection.  I am a Boston Marathon runner.  Unicorns are sort of my spirit animal.

Now, sugar cookies and I don’t have the best relationship.  Every time I have attempted to make them, be it from a mix or from scratch…they have been ultimate fail.  And, while the Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix gives instructions for round cookies, I really wanted to make cut-out cookies.  So, learning from my past in sugar cookie baking, I made up the dough and wrapped it in Saran wrap before sticking it in the back of the fridge and letting it chill while I was out and about running errands that day.

That afternoon, when I returned…and called my dad to wish him a Happy Father’s Day…I set out rolling out the chilled dough between two pieces of plastic wrap, flattening it out.  Then, I took my new cookie cutters and carefully (there were some really tiny parts that were not easy to come out of the cookie cutter (hello unicorn horn)) cut out T-Rex and Unicorn shapes as I chatted with my dad.  The mix set up perfectly for this…and I kept it chilling when I wasn’t using it.  So, onto a baking sheet these cookies went and…BAM…into a preheated 375°F oven.

So, while these are virtually baking in my blog, let me tell you how easy this mix is to make.  All you need is the cookie mix, 1/2 cup of butter (I used Earth Balance Vegan Butter Sticks – room temperature), 1 tablespoon water, and 1 egg.  Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until soft dough is formed.  From here, you can form dough by rounded teaspoons and put onto a baking sheet 2 inches apart…or you can chill it like I did (this was me being stubborn…I wanted cut-out cookies, dammit!) and roll it out after it’s chilled and cut out fun shapes like dinosaurs and unicorns.  Adults can have fun-shaped sugar cookies too, you know?

I lost track on the first batch as my dad was a fun and worthwhile distraction.  These bake for about 8-10 minutes, except in my oven, because it is old and doesn’t get as warm as it says at times.  So, the cookies weren’t ready after 10 minutes, so I figured I’d go for 2 more minutes.  Didn’t set a timer, and as I was rolling out the second batch and chatting with my dad…remembered those were in there and pulled them out.  The edges got a little toasted, but they were still fine.  I noted, much to my dad’s amusement, that the unicorns became fat unicorns.  They did spread slightly…but still resembled the original shape.

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T-Rex and Unicorn Cut-Out Sugar Cookies made from Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix

While out grocery shopping early that weekend, I picked up a jar of Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting.  And some green sparkle sprinkles for the dinosaur cookies.  I had rainbow sprinkles at home already for the unicorn cookies. HA!  So, after the cookies cooled and I was off the phone and not browning the edges of the rest of the cookies, I cooked dinner…and knew these cookies would be dessert.

I snagged one T-Rex and one Unicorn cookie and gave each a schmear of the Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting.  Topped each off with some sprinkles…and dessert was ready.

I have been really impressed with the Pillsbury Gluten Free products, and these were no exception.  This mix was not only easy to make…but tasted great.  I always had a soft spot in my heart for sugar cookies (I used to bake them with all the neighborhood kids at a neighbor’s home every Christmas)…because they are so versatile.  Top them off with frosting, sprinkles, stuff them with ice cream, or more frosting…add nuts or chocolate chips…the possibilities are endless.  Sugar cookies are the ultimate decoration cookie.  And while I’m not big on frosting at all (I really am not a fan), these required delicious frosting (hence…Dollop Gourmet), and sprinkles…because sprinkles are awesome.

Know what else is awesome?  These cookies.  They have that buttery flavor, with a touch of the sweetness from the sugar in the mix.  I asked my roommate what she thought and she said they tasted just like “regular” sugar cookies.  And they should.  The only difference is rice flour and tapioca starch and potato starch replace the all-purpose flour that would go into regular ones.  These cookies have that nice crunch on the outer edge with a soft center.  SO good.  And this made SO many of these.  So, I have sugar cookies for days…and am wondering if I’ll ever run out at this point.  At least they are amazing and yummy.

So, let’s discuss what Pillsbury puts into their Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix, shall we?  This mix is a blend of sugar, rice flour, tapioca starch, canola oil, potato startch, contains 2% or less of: salt, baking soda, cellulose, xanthan gum, cellulose gum, natural and artificial flavors.

As for nutrition information…keep in mind…these are sugar cookies.  Mmmm…cookies.  COOKIE MONSTER strikes again.  Anyway, a serving size is 1/18th of the mix (if you make the drop cookies, this box makes 3 dozen; if you make the cut-out cookies, it varies.  I got 22 cookies in mine).  A serving size (for drop) is 2 cookies and for the cut-outs 1 cookie.  This serving (when prepared per package instructions) will provide you with 160 calories, 6 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams sugars, 1 gram protein.

I am very happy with the mix that Pillsbury has created for those of us who, perhaps, missed the amazing cookies that a company like Pillsbury puts out.  I am also intending to use a box of this to make Strawberry Streusel Bars or Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars for the office birthday party that is happening next week.  Just have to decide on which one I want to make.  Trust me, with an office that usually turns its nose up at anything that is gluten-free, I wouldn’t serve this mix to them if I didn’t think it was worth it.

Thank you, Pillsbury, for making gluten-free baking mixes for those of us who love to have an easier and more convenient way to make cookies.  Especially sugar cookies.  Because sugar cookies are evil. But this was so easy and my cut-out cookies were…perfect.

And that always makes this cookie monster happy!!

Weekly Wrap-Up

I know, I have been horrible about these weekly posts about good, shiny things with rainbows and sprinkles and all that lot.

But the truth is…

…I’ve been busy.

Like…very busy.  On the road, racing, cooking, baking, seeing friends, living life…

That sort of busy.  The kind of busy when I get home on Sunday from finishing up any and/or all grocery shopping and errands that were ignored Friday night and Saturday due to time constraints or whatnot…and I really don’t want to do anything except sit and veg, foam roll, and watch Game of Thrones.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But…I do like my little roundups of what has been going on…so here’s one for this week.  I’ll try to be a bit more consistent…

So, what have I been doing?  Well…where to start?

1. Back-To-Back Weekend Half Marathons


Okay…I know, when coming back from a year off of injury, the last thing I should be doing is racing back-to-back long distances, right?!  Well…technically…not in my case.  My PT and I have discussed the importance of mileage as I attempt to build myself back up to a marathon distances.  I already transferred my bib for the spring one that I signed up for, and have made someone a very happy racer to have that bib and chance to be part of a marathon I have been dying to turn.  That being said, my training continues and last weekend, I was scheduled for a 16 miler…and this past weekend 13 miles.  It just so happened that last weekend was the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon & Mini Marathon race.  I signed up because my friend, Deana, encouraged me to do so.  With 16 miles on the docket, I got up and ran 3 ahead of the race and then completed the last 13.1 miles in the rain…with lots of people and a medal at the end.  A couple of months ago, I signed up for the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon up in Indianapolis. I ran this one back in 2012, and this year, Meb Keflezighi was not only sending off every wave of the race, but he was running from the back of the pack to the front.  HOW COOL!!  So, I signed up and went up to Indy this past Friday night to race on Saturday morning in the humidity. That being said, I had my first completely pain-free race and came within 1:06 of matching my PR time for a half.  I never did get to meet Meb though.  He started just after I finished…and I beat his time.  Something tells me that he wasn’t here to all-out run this one, though, LOL!  So, I’d say my return to running has been smart, slow, and steady.  It’s been fun having races on the schedule again.  I am not running any races this year for time or for PRs…just for fun.  And that’s making a big difference in how I approach going into them.  But it is nice to see that my fitness and strength haven’t gone to hell in the forced year off.

2. Captain America: Civil War
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I am totally #TeamIronMan.  My roommate is totally #TeamCap.  So, we have our own little Civil War as it is.  That being said, today we went to the movie theater and saw Captain America: Civil War and it was everything I expected and more.  I hate seeing a divided Avengers…but I love where they took this movie.  I loved how everything played out and how they are setting up for future films on the way.  If you haven’t seen it yet…GO.  Do not hesitate.  Do not pass GO or collect $200. (Monopoly reference there, LOL!)  Buy a movie ticket (I know they are expensive…but OMG…WORTH IT) and sit your butt down in a movie theater seat with popcorn and a drink and just…ENJOY IT!

#TeamStark forever!

3. The AlterG Treadmill
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Welcome to the spaceship!!  That’s what AlterG tweeted back to me after I blogged about my experience running on an AlterG Treadmill.  First of all, this is forever happening.  Seriously, I am going to pay for package minutes to run on this thing because it is going to mean I can train like I need to and take all the pounding off my body and come out of it faster, stronger, and injury free.  It’s totally worth it.  After getting to take a spin, as it were, and test it out…I can see why so many elite runners make use of the AlterG when recovering from hard races and/or from injury.  This machine has forever changed my way of training and recovering.  I am very fortunate that my physical therapist office has one to use.  Seriously…life changing.  Regular treadmills tear me up.  This one…I could fly…so fast…and when I was finished…nothing even twinged at me.  LIFE CHANGING!

4. NuttZo
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I posted week or so ago about the Spring Sale going on with NuttZo.  I’m a #NuttZoAmbassador and decided I would take advantage of said sale.  If you missed out, I even offered my ambassador code for a 20% discount.  Stay tuned, as I am certain more sales will be headed this way.  That being said…I purchased the big jar of the Chocolate Power Fuel and then one of each of their available varieties: Original Peanut (Smooth), Original Peanut (Crunchy), Chocolate Original Peanut (Smooth), Chocolate Original Peanut (Crunchy), Power Fuel (Smooth), and (my personal favorite) Power Fuel (Crunchy).  If you are unfamiliar with NuttZo…you’re missing out.  Nuttzo is a medley of seven organic nuts and seeds…all combined to make a healthy, omega-rich, organic nut butter.  I love being a product ambassador for this amazing nut butter.  It’s pricey…but it’s worth it.  Take a chance and try it out!  You can find it in local stores or find buy it in their online store. #NuttZoFanatic #NuttZoLove #EatNuttZo

5.  Re-reading the Harry Potter Books
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I blame the upcoming release of a movie, the new book coming out, and the fact that the best time I had in Universal Studios a few weeks back was at both Harry Potter Worlds.  All of that has spawned me to revisit the entire book series.  In fact, I just wrapped up the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and will be starting Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets this week.  SO looking forward to it.  This re-read was a long time coming.  Been meaning to do this for awhile.

6. The new Goo Goo Dolls album, “Boxes”
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I have been a fan of the Goo Goo Dolls since…well…forever.  No joke. I was with them in their punk music days, and then stuck with them when they went mainstream rock.  I love their music.  And, somehow, they sneaked an album out on me. Seriously.  But after my race on Saturday, I went and picked it up.  This album is AMAZING.  I have listened to it all the way through at least 4 times this weekend.  If you haven’t heard it yet…listen to it…purchase it…enjoy it.  Nice to have some new material from them.

7. Repaying an Act of Kindness


So, just before the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini Marathon…like…Thursday morning (the race was Saturday), my Garmin 620…died.  It refused to charge, hold a charge, or turn on.  I was not a happy runner.  I posted about it on Facebook and had a lot of beautiful souls offer to let me borrow their watches for the race.  But, one of the race ambassadors, and a lady I came to know and count as a friend during the whole Norton Training Program for the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon & Mini Marathon, Melissa, offered just to give me one.  It was a no-frills watch. In fact, it was the original Garmin I had before I got the 620, so I even knew how to work it.  She didn’t ask for me to pay for it, she just said she’d give it to me.  So, in order to repay her, I do what I do best…I made her Lemon Blossoms, picked up a soft pretzel from Annie May’s Sweet Cafe, and delivered them to her that Wednesday around lunch.  It was nice to talk for a moment about our upcoming plans, and she and I are going to take a run together soon.  I love having someone join me on my morning runs.  We’ll have a good time.  This woman has a big heart and a beautiful soul.  I am so happy I got to know her.

8. The Return of Sweet ‘N Savory Food Truck
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So…a month or so ago, I went online to find out when Sweet ‘N Savory would be returning to Louisville to serve up their amazing gluten-free crepes.  I know they had mentioned they had their first event planned for April, so I wanted to be in on it.  But, what I found instead was a message that the owners were pursuing their first love…training horses, and would not be returning.  I was happy for them, that they were making a good living and doing what they love…but selfishly, I was sad because their crepes and their gelato were like none other.  Well, this weekend while I was on the road, I saw messages about them being in Louisville and serving.  Turns out, they are under new ownership.  The new owner is Brandon Lutsch, who is very familiar with the importance of gluten-free foods as his wife is a Celiac.  I am going to go and introduce myself once they have their May calendar up.  I hope to become as good friends with them as I was with the original owners, Richard and Ashley!  I can’t wait to get my hands on a crepe!!  I’ve been crazing!!

And that’s a wrap for these past few weeks.  Logging off for some decaf coffee and some Game of Thrones.

Have you eaten anything fun, new, and exciting?  Do you have a favorite food truck?  Have you ever done or been a recipient of a random act of kindness?

Product Review: Dollop Gourmet All Natural Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Spread

Dollop Gourmet Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Frosting

Dollop Gourmet All Natural Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Frosting

Product: Dollop Gourmet All Natural Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Spread – $8.99+

Okay, let me start off this blog by saying…I do not like frosting.  Well, I do, but in minimal amounts.  In other words…usually…not at all.  In fact, growing up, whenever birthdays happened in my family, my mom served me cake without the frosting…and gave my sister the frosting…because she didn’t want cake…she just wanted the frosting.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve either scraped off the frosting or just grin and bear it, making sure I have more cake on the fork than frosting.  It’s a precise ratio.  Trust me.

SCIENCE!

So, you might ask…what the HELL am I doing buying a frosting product??!!

You’d be totally in the right for inquiring, to be honest.  With that kind of lead-in and a full product review for…FROSTING…pending…it’s a natural question to ask.  The answer…I heard about Dollop Gourmet through Instagram…the pictures always looked so good, so I began following them…and my roommate was drunk when I went grocery shopping and spotted the jar on the shelf (first time seeing the product in the grocery store wild) and I get whatever I want when my roomie is tipsy and grocery shopping with me.  So…gourmet frosting it was.

I’m a social media compulsive buyer.  I can’t help myself.

Before I go much further, if you are unfamiliar with Dollop Gourmet…let’s change that. Dollop Gourmet All Natural Frosting was started by Heather Saffer, winner of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, and author of The Dollop Book of Frosting.  She  found herself regularly buying these amazing cookies from a little local bakery near the car dealership where she worked, but they were topped with “the most dreadful frosting.”  Saffer is passionate about frosting, always fighting for a corner piece of the cake…and it was this artificial frosting at this little bakery that set Saffer on her new mission – to reinvent frosting (and life).

Saffer taught herself how to bake and opened up the first Cupcake Bar in her hometown of Rochester, NY.  Dollop Gourmet Cupcake Creations became an award winning interactive bakery.  In 2012, she took her cupcakes and frosting to Food Network, competing and winning the hit TV show, Cupcake Wars.  As you can imagine, business boomed at Dollop Gourmet Cupcake Creations.  But then, one day, Saffer realized that she wasn’t having fun anymore, so she sold her stores and began to focus on the part of the cupcake that she truly loved – the frosting.  She wrote her first frosting cookbook and then set ou tto create a mindful product that would inspire unique and honest experiences, and to be living proof that you can turn nothing into something.  In other words, proof that frosting isn’t just for cake and that you can pretty much spread some frosting love on just about anything.  Saffer makes sure that Dollop Gourmet All Natural Frostings are made with premium ingredients, and all five (5) of the available flavors are gluten-free, non-GMO, and 100% junk-free.  Gluten-free and vegan frosting that you can literally eat with a spoon, scoop up with pretzels, schmear on a bagel…or just top off those baked goods…I think she’s onto something.

So, with a tipsy roommate ready to spend money on whatever I point out, and my delightful shrieks that I have finally found Dollop Gourmet in stores (because…I have been stalking them on Instagram and I need it in my life now), I grabbed a jar (yes…a jar) of it off the shelf to bring home with me.  Meijer, the store that made my night by carrying this product, only had 2 flavors, so I went with the most obvious one…Peanut Butter Cookie Dough.  Everyone knows, when it comes to me, if it involves peanut butter…it’s going to win.  And with that…it found a home in my pantry.

Fast forward to this morning.  I’m rushing around, trying to get things prepared for when I get home from spin class, while trying to eat some fruit and yogurt and get out the door to get to spin class…obviously…I need to reevaluate my life choices at times (like not crawling back into bed for that 1 minute that turns into 30, HAHA!)…and realizing I didn’t have any more of the yogurt for a recipe I intended to finally make for breakfast when I got home.  I was eating it…with my strawberries and granola.  Because…this is my life.  I knew I had jam, which was part of the recipe, but that yogurt…what to do?

After getting to spin with only 5 minutes to spare and sweating it out on the bike…I had one of those “A-HA” moments!  I recalled the jar of Dollop Gourmet All Natural Peanut Butter Cookie Dough frosting in my pantry and figured…that should be tasty with my Downton Abbey Christmas Preserves and the Irish Soda Bread in a Mug (the recipe I was going to cook up…in the microwave).  So…there it was.  Inspiration at 5:30 a.m.  And by 7 a.m…frosting with breakfast.  Hey…it works on toaster pastries and cinnamon rolls, why not bread from a mug?

It took about 2 minutes to get the mixture of oats (that I turned into flour), sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and other goodies needed to make the bread ready, to cook up to a perfect consistency in the mugs in the microwave.  But when they got there, they were turned out of the mug and onto a plate, where I ladled some of the fruit preserves on top, then followed it up with a ginormous scoop of Dollop Gourmet All Natural Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Frosting, and then more of the preserves.  It looked fantastic, I won’t lie.  I couldn’t wait to try it out.

I delivered one to my roomie and I took up the other one.  She was already digging in by the time I got seated, as I had to pour my coffee and take pictures for the blog, you know?  Priorities.  But when I dug in…oh yeah!!  GOOD!

So…here’s the deal.  Dollop Gourmet All Natural Frosting is just that…amazing, sugary, delicious frosting.  And how does someone who doesn’t like frosting like it?  Well…for frosting, it’s pretty damn good.  I took a little bit of it on its own to try, and yeah…it’s sweet and sugary and everything I don’t like about frosting, but I wasn’t offended by this at all.  Would I eat it straight out of the jar…no.  Would my roommate…yes.  But she’s a frosting freak (she’s frosting freaky)…and that would totally be her thing.  With all of that being said…let me tell you more about the Dollop Gourmet All Natural Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Frosting.  It tastes…like sugary sweet peanut butter cookie dough.  No false advertising there.  What it is…is what it is.  And while I’m a definite lover of peanut butter, this was almost too sweet for me.  But…it’s not peanut butter…it’s peanut butter frosting.  HA!!  This would be fantastic sandwiched between cookes, stuffed into cupcakes, topping off brownies, as a dip for apples, pretzels, etc.  It is a fresh palate, anyway  you choose to consume it.  Topping off an Irish Soda Bread (made GF) that I cooked up in a mug, pairing it with a sweet plumb jam…it was like the ultimate breakfast PB&J on raisin bread.  Everything worked together, and that was the magic.  Also, as the bread was hot from the mug, the dollop of Dollop Gourmet All Natural Peanut Butter Cooke Dough Frosting that I put on top…melted…like peanut butter…and was a delight to sponge up with the bread and jam.

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Irish Soda Bread in a Mug (and then out of a mug) topped with Downton Abbey Christmas Preserves and Dollop Gourmet All Natural Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Frosting

This frosting didn’t change my life…but it did make me more aware of how frosting, when done right, can do magical things to simple recipes.  Forget yogurt on this one…frosting!!  It made for a nice Friday breakfast treat for sure.

Let’s discuss what ingredients go into the Dollop Gourmet All Natural Peanut Butter Cookie Dough frosting, shall we?  This product is made from organic, sustainably-sourced palm shortening, powdered organic cane sugar, peanut butter (peanuts, cane sugar, palm fruit oil, salt), brown sugar (sugar, molasses), vanilla extract, salt, rice bran extract, and natural flavors.  This product is 100% gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, soy-free, and has half the sugar of regular frosting (but is still sweet!)

As for nutritional information, well…it is frosting, so keep that in mind, HA!  A serving of the Dollop Gourmet All Natural Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Frosting is 2 tablespoons (24 grams) an there are about 14 servings per jar.  A serving will dish up 150 calories, 12 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat, 35 mg sodium, 10 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams sugars, and 1 gram of protein.

If you love frosting, or are just looking for something new to dress up your baked goods, breakfast, or snacks…you should truly try Dollop Gourmet All Natural Frosting.  I did enjoy this, even though I’m not big on frosting.  It wasn’t bad at all.  It did taste, dead up, like cookie dough, so there is that.  We all know I’m a cookie monster…so offering a frosting that tastes like two of my favorite worldly things…peanut butter…and cookies…a definite win!

Dollop Gourmet All Natural Frosting is available in these flavors: Madagascar Vanilla, Hot Chocolate, Firebomb Cinnamon Spice, Peanut Butter Cookie Dough, and Sea Salted Caramel.  If you can’t find them at any local stores, you can seek them out online here!

Love frosting or just have a passing acquaintance with it…you’ll find a reason to love Dollop Gourmet!  That was unexpected.

United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, NY (March 20, 2016)

Me after finishing the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me after finishing the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

Race: United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

Place: New York, New York

Date: March 20, 2016

Time: 1:43:53

When I go into a race without any expectations or goals…I seem to do better than anticipated.  While I had a semi-goal of being able to do my first half marathon distance after injury (for a year) in sub-2 hours, I wasn’t going to be too hard on myself if it didn’t happen.

Especially since the weather changed drastically the week of the race.

The weekend before the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon…the weather was gorgeous.  Not just in Louisville (where I ran my first official race back…the Rodes City Run 10K), but up in New York too.  I was hoping it would hold.  I do better in nicer temperatures.  But as the week went on…the gorgeous weather started to go away.

NOOOOOO!!

For much of the week, the forecast was calling for rain…cold…wind.  Then snow…cold…wind.  And then, on Friday night, it changed to just really flippin cold and really flippin’ windy.

UGH!!  Now I was in a crisis. I had my outfit planned out for weeks…but the 30 degree temps and the strong winds (and the wind chill it would bring), meant I needed to reevaluate my wardrobe.  With much reluctance, the running skirt went back into the closet and a pair of my (albeit bright) compression tights came out.  Any of you who regularly read my running blog know…I…HATE…PANTS.  So this frustrated me.  I also packed a big turtleneck lined top and a windbreaker…and at the last minute, just before walking out the door early Saturday…I tossed in a long sleeve shirt…just in case, because I never ran in a windbreaker and I was nervous it would annoy me or just not work out…in which case, I’d rather brace against the cold in layers than anything.

So, Saturday morning was an early morning for me.  I was up at 2 am to do all my physical therapy exercises.  The stretches, the dynamic stuff outside, the plyometrics.  I knew once I touched down in NYC…I was on the move…and these stretches were more important than anything else.

I admit, a little voice in my head said, “Go on…go do an easy mile or two for a shakeout before getting on the plane.”  But, as tempting as it was, I quieted that voice.  I knew I’d be on the go both at the airports and once I touched down in the city, the shakeout wasn’t important, and I didn’t need to do it.  I’d be doing ample time on my feet just moving about NYC.

See what I have learned??!!

So, we (my roommate and I) walked out the door right at 5 am (giving us time to get a light breakfast in our stomachs and (SO VERY MUCH NEEDED) coffee into our system.  We got to the Louisville airport in record time…parked…had to take a roundabout way to the Southwest Airlines counter due to renovations that are going on, and which I hope they finish up before Derby, or that airport is going to be a mess.  Security was quick, although I ended up being randomly chosen for the hand swab, and my laptop (as always) had to be examined more closely…but it was quick, painless, and we were off and heading to our gate (which was behind a bunch of renovation boards).  Like I said, the airport was sort of a mess.

Deciding that we weren’t ready to settle in yet, we took a little walk, as usual, through the airport crowds, and Cathy and I grabbed a Cool Lime Refresher at Starbucks (and she got a breakfast sammie as well) and we went back to the gate.  I downed one of the new LUNA Bars (the Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond, which has only 5 grams of sugar and tasted like an amazing caffe mocha) and then…it was time to board.  We were at the end of the A group…so it worked out perfectly.

Our flight had a small layover at Chicago Midway before we went on to NYC.  So, we took the time to stretch our legs and walk the terminal. I was really craving something sweet, so we went on the “Great Fruit Cup Hunt of Midway,” finding that everywhere that normally had fruit cups were sold out.  With 5 minutes to boarding, we finally found something at one of the food court restaurants.  It was a large fruit cup with honeydew melon, pineapple, grapes and strawberries in it.  I carried it onto our flight into Laguardia Airport and ate it while still sitting on the runway.

The flight into Laguardia was uneventful, save for the funny flight crew.  The lead flight

Me with the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon logo - New York, New York

Me with the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon logo – New York, New York

attendant was in her 50s and just…SO funny.  Love that.  It also helps calm my nerves when the flight crew is loosey-goosey like that.  I was drinking my water to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and we landed in Laguardia early.  Taxied to the jetway…disembarked…and went to baggage claim.  My bag was the 2nd one off the belt.  Cathy’s wasn’t too far behind.  With bags in hand, we called the hired car company and they had a car out to fetch us in about 5 or so minutes.  Luggage went into the trunk and we were now on our way into Manhattan…staying at a different hotel this time (which was totally our fault because we originally had the race pegged for the weekend before this one and it wasn’t until about a month before that I realized the date of the race was for the week after…in my defense, it ran a week earlier last year!)…but the traffic situation wasn’t bad and our driver was really aggressive once he got into the city blocks, LOL!  We were dropped off at the door of The Distrikt Hotel on W 40th Street and went to check in.

We were much earlier than anticipated, so our room wasn’t ready yet.  We did go ahead and leave our bags and went to go buy a Metrocard and take the subway to get to the United Airlines NYC Half Experience (the expo), which was taking place at the Metropolitan Pavilion. We headed into the Expo, which was a madhouse!  Seriously…at some points, I felt like salmon swimming upstream.  I had the registration sheet with me so I went over to where my numbers were to pick up my bib.  From there, it was through the store and over to get my official bag with my t-shirt and stuff in it.  I haven’t really looked through what else was in there.  I made one circuit of the expo before returning to the official store.  There was a great t-shirt in there, pink and purple, that I had my eye on.  But, to no surprise, my size was gone.  Disappointing for sure.  Ah well.  Except, Cathy and I realized almost all official merchandise for women had nothing left in small.  Now I remember why I order things online ahead of this.  She did manage to find me an official finisher’s t-shirt and I grabbed a Sparkly Soul headband that had the event name on it.  Purchases made.  Back into the expo.

I actually thought there would be more vendors there and more to see and lots more places to shop.  But, for the best, there wasn’t. I walked through the line of charities…I got in line to have my picture taken in front of the logo…Cathy made a couple signs (which never got used due to the 21 mph gusts of wind on race morning)…and we settled in for a moment at a table where I could charge my phone and we could catch our breath.

Me and my awesome friend Ellen at the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon Experience

Me and my awesome friend Ellen at the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon Experience

My friend, Ellen, who got in on lottery this year (I deferred last year so had automatic entry…except I had to repay the $127 registration fee), turned up to meet up with me, and brought me a nice salad to boot.  YAY for friends.  YAY for food!  We discussed what we were planning on wearing, food, and…all the crazy shit (hehehe…get it Ellen?) that runners rely on and need to have happen prior to a run.  It was fun.  I even did a Snapchat video for her giving a running tip.  She calls me her inspiration…but I think she’s mine.  She needed to get back to the charity event she was attending, and I needed to get back to the hotel to get into the room.  The travel capris I was wearing weren’t very warm against the already chilly wind of NYC.  So, we returned to the hotel, got our room, gathered our bags, and went upstairs.  We flopped for a moment before changing into jeans and heading back out…this time just to explore.  We didn’t want to stop in for dinner until at least 5 p.m.  So, we had a couple of hours to just explore.  That’s what we did, too.

With no plan, we just wandered through some of the area, stopping into shops that drew our attention.  We went and got our chocolate from Teuscher (I got a mini champagne, dark mocha, and dark salted caramel…and Cathy got a limoncello, almond, and chocolate orange truffle), which is a requirement, and ducked into the Hard Rock Café for a shotglass and a pin.  Back out and seeing the city until we decided to hike over to our pre-race dinner spot of choice, Don Antonio by Starita on W 50th Street.  They have a fantastic gluten-free pizza menu, and while they have a couple of GF and Vegan options, I stuck with the one I knew I loved and wouldn’t give me too much.  The Marinara Pizza Senza Glutine.  OMG…this is my 2nd favorite gluten-free pizza crust in the world (the first being Annie May’s Sweet Café).  I love when there is a real and actual crust on a gluten-free pizza, and not just a cracker crust.  We devoured dinner and then hiked back to the hotel to cycle through showers, giving me time to foam roll, and to eat some chocolate.  HA!  It was an early to bed night…and by 9 pm…we were turning out the lights.

I set the alarm on my phone for the first one to wake me up at 4 a.m.  It went off and I got up to use the bathroom, take my medicine, and then crawled back into bed for another 50 minutes.  The second alarm was the 5 a.m. one, and I got up and started to get changed into my running gear for the race.  Cathy was up at 5:15 to get dressed and ready.  And while I felt good all day prior to this morning, I felt tired, but in good shape for the actual race.  I was not happy that I had to wear pants to run a half marathon, but the windchill was a factor and I under-dressed once before for a full and have been nervous about doing that again ever since (hypothermia is NOT fun, my friends).  I decided to wear a long sleeve tech shirt under my warmer top with the big turtleneck top, figuring it would be good against the wind, without me trying to get used to running in a windbreaker on the fly.  I got my number pinned on, threw on the hoodie I was going to leave behind, filled up my water bottles and we were off.

We took the subway to Columbus Circle and disembarked, climbing the stairs and being

Me at then entrance of Central Park, Times Square behind me, on the morning of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me at then entrance of Central Park, Times Square behind me, on the morning of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

greeted with some of the coldest wind.  I don’t know how the dude in front of us was handling being in short running shorts, because I would have been dying.  I think he was.  But…to each their own, right?!  We walked over to the checkpoint at Central Park where Cathy had to go her own way and I had to show my bib number and enter.  We took a picture of me with Times Square behind me and then I went in.  I walked with a bunch of runners who were just talking about some of the most random stuff.  One was talking about Scott Jurek on Instagram and it was kind of amusing to me.  We went through the medal detectors and then continued on the path to the corrals.  There was a line of port-o-potties without lines and many of the people I was walking with went to take advantage of them…and I kept on trekking.  I made my way to the line of corrals, working my way up to the one for 10000-10999.  I did a few of my dynamic warm-up moves from physical therapy, but the air temperature was enough to make me not want to do it anymore.  I did one set of each, then hunkered down and shivered for a good half hour more.  It was really, really cold.  When the corrals opened for the start of the wheelchair race, I stepped inside and did a few static stretches just to loosen up.  From the onslaught of the cold wind, my hip was already not loving me.  It began to ache during the easy walk from security to the corals.  Seriously, my body and cold weather never got along, but it really doesn’t get along with it these days.

The wheelchair racers, hand crank racers, and elite women were all sent off by 7:15 a.m.  It was awesome standing in the corral and being able to see each group take off.  When the elite women took up, I cheered loudly for Molly Huddle, who is from Elmira, NY…my hometown area.  She’s amazing.  She’s fast.  She set a new course record that morning and it came down to an eighth of a second…it was THAT close.  The elite men went off with Wave 1 at 7:30 a.m..  Then my wave…Wave 2…were shuffled forward for our 7:45 a.m. start.  It was really exciting.  When the airhorn blew to send us off, I began the walk toward the official start, and started my Garmin as I crossed.  The first step already had my hip screaming at me.  I struggled through the final mile of a 10K the weekend prior…and I just started a half marathon.  I really just made a point go focus on my form and my breathing, and just finding a comfortable pace to run at.  As I said, I had no goals or expectations…just to have fun and to finish what I start.  Well…I started.  I now had to finish.

Me running through the 10K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me running through the 10K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

The 6 miles through Central Park are beautiful and quiet.  There were pockets of spectators out there, but mostly it was runners, our feet, and our breathing.  Being the start of the race, I would catch snatches of conversations people were having as they ran the race with friends or running partners.  It keeps me amused.  Some people were tucked into their earbuds, their music propelling them forward.  There was a couple running together, and on the back of his shirt was a sign that said “Baby on Board” and an arrow pointing to his wife who was running right next to him.  The people inside the park were loud and awesome and the little loop we do outside the park to turn around and head back in…was packed, crowded and loud.  I love a good crowd.  The hills of Central Park are respectable, but my hill repeats have been more intense than those, so while they slowed me down slightly, they didn’t have me huffing and puffing.  I’m learning to love to hate to love those hill repeat sessions more and more.  I didn’t check my pace on my watch at any point, but I hit the 5K mark and felt like I was coming along well for someone who was fighting hip pain twinges since the start.  With the hills now behind us, the runners exit Central Park onto 7th Avenue.  Cathy said she’d be outside the park to see me there, so I got to the left per her instructions and headed up 7th Avenue.  She was tucked into the pocket of the turn, but I heard her shouting and screaming and I gave a wave at her as I ran past.  It lifted my spirits, for sure.  And it was on to run down 7th Avenue and into Times Square.

I think Times Square was my favorite part of this race.  The crowd was intense.  There was so much noise.  All the screens were lit up.  The Kids Mile was running through there.  There was so much energy there…that it just pulsed through you.  I loved every stretch of this portion of the race.  And it is the part I remember the most.  I love a good crowd.

And with the extreme winds we were getting, it was a great way to start off the last stretch of the race.  This portion is pretty flat, save for just after the 20K mark.  So, it was nice to easily pick up the pace a little here.  Miles 8-12 really just have you fighting the windtunnels that are 42nd Street.  Here you make a U-Turn and head down the West Side Highway.  Wind.  Lots of wind.  Thankfully there was music blasting at various stages throughout this stretch of the run.  The crowds were sparse, but there were some spectators out there to cheer.  But without the bands, this might have been a tough slog through these 4 miles.  However, as the miles tick down, One World Trade Center/Freedom Tower keep getting closer and closer.  It’s gorgeous.  I can’t tell you how long I just kept my eyes on that building, minding each time I drew up my right leg, making sure I wasn’t overcompensating due to the hip pain.  This was…uplifting.

Mile 12 takes runners through the Battery Park Underpass.  This…was fun.  Seriously.  You are underground for a long while.  Runners scream and shout and let out whoops as they run through the dark, spooky tunnel. I loved it.  I even left my sunglasses on.  Just powered on through.  Running through tunnels is fun.  For some reason, I always smile more in them.  The 20K mark was just as we were let out to run up a hill.

Me coming out of the Battery Park Underpass at the 20K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me coming out of the Battery Park Underpass at the 20K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

This is where Cathy was situated to see me before I hit the finish line.  LOVED this little uplift right at the end.  I waived and smiled as she shouted, “YOU REALLY ARE ALMOST THERE!”  And so, I burst up the hill and got hit by one hell of a headwind.  NYC has this way of always being super windy when I run there.  So…I battled the headwind and just ran…ran…ran…rounding a corner…passing up a pace group….rounding another turn and seeing that finish line.  As I ran this race rather conservatively, I still had some go in the tank and so…I powered up, powered through, and crossed that finish line.

I stopped my Garmin…and the tears just started going.  I didn’t know my official time.  I didn’t check the Garmin.  I competed and finished my first half marathon since my hip labrum tear over a year ago.  And I could still move.  No limping.  Just a small ache.  I had done what I thought I wouldn’t be able to do…and it turns out I did it well.

We were filtered through the finisher’s area where we had medals hung around our necks and mylar sheets wrapped around us to keep us warm.  We were given these nice bags filled with snacks, Gatorade and water, and then shuttled out toward Battery Park.  At the exit, Cathy was waiting.  I hurried over and got a hug and she said, “YOU KILLED IT!!  Do you want to know your time?”  Of course I did.  She told me…and I started crying.  Not only was it better than I anticipated, it was better than I could have dreamed of doing, given the circumstances.

Our bodies find ways of surprising us.  And I think not having a specific goal or pace I wanted to hit helped.

So, the official results of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:43:53.  I was 3318/20,149 finishers overall.  I was 786/10,556 female finishers.  And I was 132/1706 finishers in my division.  I, honestly, couldn’t have run this any better.  Since the cold weather made me sore from just shivering at the start, I just took this race one step at a time…one mile at a time.  And I LOVED it.  I loved this race.  It was…probably….one of my favorite half marathons I have ever run.  Even in the cold…and the wind…and the suck…it was just…fun.  And I had fun running it.  It was a struggle at times…but I finished it and I felt good at the end.

Afterwards, we hopped the subway back to the hotel where I showered and changed.

Cathy, Me and Marisa after a great evening of celebration at Red Rooster Harlem.

Cathy, Me and Marisa after a great evening of celebration at Red Rooster Harlem.

Cathy and I went to Empire Coffee & Tea House where I got a Pumpkin Spice Latte (dairy free…made with almond milk…and YUMMY!).  Then we ended up hiking around NYC the rest of the day with Cathy and my friend Marisa, who I have known since high school.  We stopped in at bakeries (I bought 3 cookies from By The Way (BTW) Bakery) and a tea shop (where I had the Energitea…an amazing green blend).  We settled in for a bit at the hotel before getting ready to head to dinner at Red Rooster Harlem.  You might recall, Red Rooster is where I celebrated my NYC Marathon finish…so I wanted to go back for this.  And it was amazing.  Once again, the chef created a dish to fit my dietary needs…and I was SO impressed.  I even had dessert.  And fun.  We sat and talked over mint tea and listened to the live jazz music in the bar before calling it a night and making the trek back from Harlem to Midtown.  We said goodbye to Marisa and settled in for the night.

Overall…I’m already ready to come back to NYC…even if I don’t have a race.  There is always so much to see and do.  But…this time…for me…the highlight was getting through the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon…after having to defer it last year.  It was just the boost I needed.

Product Review: Russo’s Gluten Free Gourmet Cannoli Shells

Product: Russo’s Gluten Free Gourmet Cannoli Shells – $15.99+

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Russo’s Gluten Free Gourmet Cannoli Shells

So, one of my roommate’s favorite desserts is cannoli.  She can indulge quite a bit when we go out to Italian places that offer it as a dessert…but it is a very rare treat for me.  Gluten free cannoli is just…not often found.  Sweet ‘N Savory Food Truck did it once during Cluster Trucked…and I had one at Da Luciano in Chicago the night before the Chicago Marathon…but otherwise, I’m normally not able to partake in this classic Italian pastry dessert.

Which is too bad.  Because I’m the one who introduced this amazing treat to my roommate, prior to the Celiac diagnosis.

But, over the New Year holiday, my roommate, my friend Jenn, and I all ventured out to Jungle Jim’s International Market, and went on a small, tightly budgeted shopping excursion.  Because…it’s sort of become a tradition.  We wound our way through the store, finally reaching my favorite destination…the gluten-free aisles.

YAY!  Let my shopping begin.

And…breaking the budget bank happened almost immediately when my roommate spotted a big yellow box on the top shelf of the first row…

GLUTEN. FREE. CANNOLI. SHELLS.

Oh hell yes.  So…with most of the budget gone for this high ticket…the shopping got a little more picky.  But I was elated…because I had gluten free cannoli shells in my basket and could easily pick up Kite Hill ricotta to make a vegan cannoli filling.

The brand was Russo’s Gluten Free Gourmet.  Russo’s Gluten Free Gourmet came about from Neil Russo, a professional chef who was hard at work on gluten-free recipes, which he was striving to perfect after hearing about the many people connected to himself that were having a hard time finding food while on a gluten-free diet due to intolerance or Celiac disease.  After experimenting on his Italian bread loaves and Tiramisu, Russo was ready to give his food to the world.  He first introduced the gluten free food in his restaurant, where he got high praise.  Soon, he opened up Russo’s Gluten Free Gourmet.  And from there…the frozen versions of some of the classic Italian foods he perfected in gluten-free form.  So good, that people even would ask if he was certain it was gluten free.  All of Russo’s products are prepared in a strictly gluten-free facility.

We decided to do it on our least favorite “holiday”…Valentine’s Day.  And with all that in mind, after a quick jaunt out to the grocery store before the weather hit yesterday…I prepped the filling and made dinner (Smokey Zucchini Cakes with a Vegan Lemon Cream Sauce) and, afterwards, went to fill a cannoli shell for each of us.

I pulled the box of Russo’s Gluten Free Gourmet Cannoli Shells down from the top shelf of the pantry and went to work.  The shells looked amazing.  Golden and crisp…they weren’t broken, which was my main concern to be honest.  I was terrified they would be these fragile little rolls…but they held their own for sure. I put some of my vegan ricotta cannoli filling into a piping bag and piped it into each of the shells I had removed for us.  I passed one off to my roomie and then went to get mine.  She was already diving in.

And that’s when I knew…this was not going to live up to the expectations I had built up in my mind. Nope.  I was just finishing up filling mine and I look up and cautiously ask…”How is it?”

“The filling is delicious.  The shell…”  When her voice trails off…I know.  I know it can’t be  good.  “…is nothing special.”

Hmmm.  So, I settled in, wine glass in one hand, cannoli in the other.  And take a bite.  Or, at least I attempted to.  This gorgeously constructed, perfectly golden, durable gluten free cannoli shell is…solid.  It was the hardest thing to actually bite into.  It was crispy alright…to the point I was almost concerned about chipping a tooth.  And…trust me…these were marked as good through April…so they weren’t over their best by date.  UGH.  But, I was determined to have my cannoli, dammit.  It was Valentine’s Day.  I owed myself that much.  I finally managed to bite through it and then loud crunching ensued.  It was…really flavorless.  Didn’t taste like much.  Tough as bricks (literally).  And heartbreakingly disappointing.  I had this grand image of devouring cannoli on Valentine’s Day…just me, my wine, and my dessert smorgasbord (I had vegan and gluten free cookie dough from Annie May’s Sweet Cafe as well).  And here I was, with sub-par, tough-as-a-rock, cannoli shells.  UGH.  They were really too tough to eat.  My roommate and I persevered, said a prayer for our teeth…and then today, decided not to risk it again…and tossed them out.  I hate when expensive gluten-free products don’t live up to their price tag.  I wouldn’t pay $5.00 for these, and here I payed $16.  Just to trash them.  Since my filling was awesome, I did dig out my gluten-free cinnamon graham crackers and made up a new recipes…that was much easier to eat and much kinder to my teeth.

Sorry, Russo’s.  Your other products have been good…but these…were horrible.  And I was not impressed.  In fact, I was beyond let down and a little angry I paid that much for a product I didn’t enjoy.  Not even a bit.

Russo’s Gluten Free Gourmet Cannoli shells are not made of cement, as you might make yourself believe if you ever tried to bite into one.  In fact, these dessert vehicles are made from rice flour, corn starch, tapioca dextrin, xanthan gum, rice extract, water, marsala, eggs, butter, sugar, salt, and vegetable oil.

As for nutrition, I believe you will burn more calories than you consume just trying to gnaw through these, but with that being said, a serving of Russo’s Gluten Free Gourmet Cannoli Shells is 1 shell and there are 6 shells in the box.  This serving will give you 70 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 14 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fiber, 1 gram sugars, 1 gram protein.

When people conjure up an idea in their mind of what gluten-free foods taste like (cardboard, tasteless, etc)…this would definitely not convince them otherwise.  It has been awhile since I’ve actually been disappointed with a product.  And I am beyond disappointed with Russo’s Gluten Free Gourmet Cannoli Shells.  Take my advice…don’t spend your money on these.  Your craving for cannoli is not worth the letdown you will endure if you decide to break the bank and try these.  It’s not worth it.  Trust me.