Wednesday, October 25, 2017

November is National Running Safety Month

Almost overnight the temperatures have dropped and the leaves started changing color from their summer green to their fall reds, oranges, and yellows.  As summer fades and fall begins, tank tops and shorts are packed away and the long sleeve shirts, pants, gloves, and hats come out.  If you are like me, you don’t adjust the time that you run just because it is now dark at that time. You have races scheduled, and you still need to fit in the mileage every week.  Instead, you purchase reflective gear and lights to make you more visible during your runs.  Some of the gear I own, I purchased when I first started running before dawn when I lived in Washington, DC.  The streets were always well-lit and most drivers were used to runners and pedestrians.  

Where I live now in St. Louis County, the streets aren’t as brightly lit and seeing runners out before dawn or after dusk isn’t as frequent of an occurrence, so I needed different gear to adjust to my new surroundings.  November is National Running Safety Month and as our days grow shorter, I wanted to share my nighttime running gear recommendations with you.

My first purchase back in 2009 was this Nathan reflective vest, which once contained an LED light strip in the front pocket.  It was worth the money since I still use it today.

I picked up these flashing LED light clips for FREE at race expos.

At some point I purchased these Nathan LED light clips.  They have multiple flashing speeds to choose from. Like the clips above, you can clip these to your shirt, pants, or shoes.

These reflective slap bracelets can go on your wrists or ankles.

My new Amphipod fuel belt and my new Fitletic arm band both have reflective strips near the zipper.

Through the years, I have purchased several headlamps but just couldn't find one that I liked to run with.  Through a fellow runner, I found an amazing product to light my running path and they are called the Night Runner 270 LED shoe lights.  They are basically headlights for your shoes, have multiple settings, are rechargeable, and I LOVE them!

I accumulated all of my nighttime running gear over the course of many years but these days, runners can purchase an entire running safety kit with a few clicks.  This running safety kit includes many of the items I listed above, but for far less than what I paid!

In addition to gear I wear or add, I also ALWAYS carry my driver's license and medical insurance card.  I know many other runners who love Road ID.  I carry my phone in my arm band and only use it for music when running with a group.  I also always let my husband know where I am running, especially when I change my mind at the last minute.

The websites below also have great information and tips about winter and night running safety:

Speaking of nighttime running, the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas races are November 11 - 12! Distances include a full marathon, half marathon, 10K, and 5K with all races starting  in the late afternoon or early evening.  This race has been on my bucket list ever since I ran the Walt Disney World Wine & Dine Half Marathon, which used to be run at night.  Now night races, especially races this scenic, are difficult to come by.  They actually shut down the strip for runners.  I can only imagine how amazing of an experience that must be and one day, we are going to pack our bags and I am going to run that half marathon!  The runner perks are pretty spectacular and make me want to sign up even more, but you can also check out this website for information on great package deals and this website for information about shows and other things to do once you get there. 

I have a few runner friends who have either run the Las Vegas Rock 'n' Roll races or are running it this year and I am truly jealous!  You won't need the nighttime running gear I listed above to run the races in Las Vegas, but you should consider investing in reflective gear or LED lights if you plan to run pre-dawn or after dusk this fall and winter.  Your safety is so important if you want to keep running for years to come!  Be safe, and good luck to everyone running the Las Vegas Rock 'n' Roll races next month.  #VegasStrong

Thursday, October 12, 2017

MO' Cowbell Half Marathon Recap

On October 1st I ran half marathon #45, the MO' Cowbell Half Marathon in beautiful St. Charles, MO.  I am a MO' Bassador for this race, so it is always great to see all the planning and hard work behind the scenes turn into an amazing expo and race experience for our runners.

Why you should run this race:
  • Many distances available including a 5k, half marathon relay, half marathon, and the marathon
  • Virtual race option
  • Medals and 1/4 zip pullover for all distances

  • Option to have packet mailed (for a fee)
  • Large expo with ample parking, variety of vendors indoors and outdoors, and free health and fitness classes

  • Great pre-race communication via email and social media
  • Start/finish is just off of Interstate 70
  • Several hotels close to the start/finish line
  • Don't Fear the Reaper plays at 7:20 a.m. for you to ring your cowbell to
  • Plenty of parking in downtown St. Charles near the start/finish line
  • Amazing volunteers throughout the course
  • Scenery varied between urban and country and the roads were well-maintained
  • Runner tracking available via three methods - text message updates, GPS tracking via the Athlinks race day app (android users only), on-site and online results via the website
  • Post race food included cookies, granola bars, pretzels, bananas, chocolate milk, and water 
  • Runners' Village filled with vendors and games, just past the post-race food
  • Large PR bell to ring loud and proud

My experience at the race:
I walked this half marathon, which gave me plenty of time to take the course and the scenery in and snap photos along the way.  The last time I completed the MO' Cowbell half marathon was in 2013 and last year I ran the 5k, so it has been a while since I have been on the half course.  There were parts of the course that seemed different from 2013, but I can't say for sure.

I enjoyed the variety of scenery between historic downtown St. Charles, Frenchtown, local parks, country fields, the streets of New Town, the never-ending MO-tivational Mile, the steep downhill back to Frenchtown, and the finish in Frontier Park.  The volunteers along the way were great!  Quite a few even danced as we passed and remember we were walking the half, so they had to have been dancing and cheering for the thousand-some runners before us.

The weather was perfect and the support along the course was great.  This race is just always a great way to start your fall running season.  I will be back next year and I hope to see you on the course!

Strolling through New Town

Bubble Bus

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

#WellnessWednesday - CycleBar Chesterfield Groupon

Back in July, you read the post about my first experience at the CycleBar Chesterfield studio during their grand opening.  Several months have now passed, and they are offering a deal on Groupon where you can purchase four classes for just $40!!!!  I purchased this Groupon because it was such a steal and I finally completed the four classes.  You can read my original post about the layout of the studio, class format, and the little luxuries that are included with your CycleBar experience by clicking here.  My experience with using the Groupon warranted a quick post because it was such a great experience!

I used my Groupon classes very sporadically, so I stood out from the regulars in every class.  At each of the four classes, the CycleStar instructor sought me out and introduced themselves.  As I left each class, they told me "good job" or gave me a high five.  There were also cold, wet towels waiting on the other side of the studio doors after class, which is exactly what you need after a great class!

You can choose between a wide-variety of themed or classic rides: Confidence Boost, Throwback Thursday, Wine Down Wednesday (yes, there was wine waiting after class), and Dance Party were the four that I took.  No matter what the theme is, the song when you work with the arm bars will always be my favorite part of class!

I had a few issues while trying to book my Groupon classes using the app, but management responded quickly to my emails and were able to resolve the issue on their end.  So easy!

As I finished my last Groupon class I received an email with a link to special Groupon Extension pricing, which offeres six rides for only $60!  This is a great deal considering the drop-in rate for a class is $20.

I am not sure how much longer the Groupon will be available but if you were on the fence, I hope that this will sway you to click the purchase button.  It's a great workout!!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Vine to Wine Half Marathon Recap

Last weekend I ran my 44th half marathon, the Vine to Wine Half Marathon in Greenville, Illinois. This was the 2nd year for the race and I was excited to check it out since I was not able to run it last year.

Why you should run this race:
  • Greenville, IL is off of Interstate 70.  It took me just over an hour to drive there from Creve Coeur, MO so it is very easy location to drive to for a day.  The town is quaint and scenic and contains quite a few restaurants for carb loading the night before or celebrating post-race.
  • Packet pick-up was available the night before and on race day.
  • Great pre-race communication and price increase reminders.
  • Ample parking adjacent to the start/finish line.  I was in my car watching Hurricane Irma updates until 10 minutes before the race.  Then I just walked right up to the start line.  So easy!
  • Plenty of porta potties at the start/finish.
  • Packet pick-up was quick and easy.
  • Long sleeve tech shirts in unisex sizing!
  • Great finisher medals.

  • Water stops every mile.
  • Amazing volunteers!!!!!
  • Post race wine and entertainment.
  • Post race snacks like granola bars, fruit, Gatorade, and bottled water.
  • Additional on-site food for purchase.
  • Post-race survey.
  • Friendly runners!!!  Numerous times I heard "good morning" or "keep it up" or "good job."  Numerous times as in too many to count.  It actually caught me off guard because in my experience, that atmosphere isn't typical outside of Disney races
  • Nice country scenery along the course.  I saw a lot of wooly worms on the road, which I never see in the city.  My grandma, a former farmer, says that their frequency and color show you what kind of winter to look forward to.  I would say 80% of them were black or brown....whatever that means.

Suggested improvements for next year:
Really the only suggestions I had are for better signage for both the winery and race day parking.
  • I drove right past the winery by following Google maps.  I turned around in a subdivision and as I was exiting, I saw three other cars turning around too.  The sign for the winery itself is very small and when you are unfamiliar with a place, it is very easy to miss.  I might also be slightly biased because I am used to the wineries in St. Charles County which have large signs at the winery itself and when you are within a mile or two of the entrance. 
  • I heeded the warning and came early to race day packet pick-up, but there were no signs about where to park.  I saw freshly mowed fields, but I followed the other cars to the main building before someone ran out to tell us to park at the far side of the field.  A few signs would really make a difference for us newbies. 

My experience at the race:
Although I have been running this summer, I haven't been running longer distances consistently.  I have also primarily been running on treadmills, indoor tracks, and flat trails.  Having grown up two counties east of Greenville, I should have realized that "rolling hills" in the country is very different from rolling hills in St. Louis.  It seemed like the steeper hills were towards the end of the race and I specifically remember hills around mile 10 and one around mile 11 that were so steep that even walking was difficult.

Road conditions also vary a lot more on country roads than in the city, so my ankles were sore as if I had run a trail race.  Even though it took me over three hours to finish, the time actually flew by and the scenery and volunteers along the course kept me engaged.  For those looking for a fun 5k or half marathon, I would recommend adding this race to your 2018 schedule.

Did you run this race too?  Be sure to add your review to Bib Rave to help other runners decide which races to run.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

#WellnessWednesday - Cat Yoga

We had our wedding reception in my hometown in Central Illinois on June 3.  Knowing that weekend would be stressful, I took the following Monday off of work and signed up for a cat yoga class at Five Acres Animal Shelter in St. Charles, MO at 12:30 p.m.

This was the first time I had ever been to Five Acres Animal Shelter, and I was very impressed with their campus.  Cat yoga is scheduled only on Mondays because Five Acres is closed to the public that day.

The class was held in a building that only houses cats.  There were signs on the other buildings to guide you there.  

I arrived shortly after Noon so that I would get a good spot and have time to play with the cats before class.  Once you entered the building, you checked in and you left your donation (minimum $12 required donation).  You enter into a large open room with cat towers and cat condos around the perimeter.  There were several litter boxes in the room, but you could not smell them at all!  There were also cat shelves mounted at varying heights on the walls.

Once I set up my mat, I continued down the hallway to the various cat rooms.  Some rooms were open to allow the cats to roam throughout the building, while others were kept closed.  All of the doors had information about the residents of that room written on and mounted to the glass.

At the end of the hallway was a door that led to a "catio," which is a screened in porch just for the cats.  

After making my way through all of the rooms, it was time to start the yoga class.  The room was full of other participants by that point, but I never felt crowded.  There were two cats that pretty much slept on their cat towers the entire time while two others roamed during class.  Staff gave us toys to attract the cats, and they were definitely put to use.  Of the course of the class we managed to get in a good workout while also giving the cats plenty of attention.  

After class, I went into the only room I had not visited yet.....the kitten room.  There were two kittens out in the center of the room, and they were so adorable that I did not want to leave.  

If this yoga class was not on Mondays during work hours, I would take it again.  It was a great way to de-stress and support a good cause at the same time.

Because I had a great experience at the Five Acres Animal Shelter cat yoga class, I decided to sign up for a weekday evening class at Tenth Life with a friend, for what they call Cats N' Mats.  Tenth Life is located on Cherokee Street, which is a neighborhood known for it's amazing Mexican food.  For this cat yoga class, you pay online in advance through Eventbrite.  The total came to $16.74 and since it supports a good cause, I didn't mind the fee.  

This was my first time in the Cherokee Street neighborhood.  I showed up early because I didn't know how difficult it would be to find a parking space at that time of day, but there ended up being plenty of parking available on adjacent streets.  The doors opened shortly before 6 p.m. and we checked in and were told that we could set up in either of the two main rooms.  My friend and I picked our spot and immediately started playing with the cats.

By 6 p.m. both rooms were filled with participants, yet there was ample room to spread out.  The instructor positioned herself in between both rooms so that we could all see her.  Despite being new to yoga and only being familiar with a few of the terms, I could just feel the difference in the flow of this class vs. the cat yoga class at Five Acres.  Neither was better or worse, they were just different.  Some of the poses were the same in both classes while others were completely new to me.  There was substantially more laughter during this class, but there were also more participants and more rambunctious cats roaming about.  

The classes at Tenth Life fit my schedule better, so I will most likely be a repeat customer.  I could technically do a "cat yoga" class at home with my own cat for free, but there is just something about the opportunity to attend a yoga class at a shelter that warms my heart.  

The St. Louis area is filled with low cost and even FREE opportunities to attend a yoga class, many of which are listed on the Eventbrite website.  Click here to check out the list of upcoming classes.  It is a pretty extensive list this time of year, with both indoor and outdoor options available.  There have also been "Yoga with Bunnies"and "Goat Yoga" classes in the area, so I am definitely open to attending more nontraditional yoga classes in the future.  I will keep you posted on what else I come across....

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

#WellnessWednesday - CycleBar - Chesterfield Review

My first CycleBar class was actually the Sunday before my wedding, March 19 at the Chesterfield, MO location during their grand opening celebration.  I first heard about CycleBar through Facebook when their page popped up as something I might "like."  A quick Google search showed that they were opening two locations in the St. Louis area this spring, one in Chesterfield and one in Creve Coeur.  Their class format sounded similar to SoulCycle, so I liked the pages for both locations to stay in the loop for any grand opening deals.

As our wedding approached, I was very busy with last minute tasks and packing, but I kept watching the social media posts for both locations.  The Chesterfield location released their schedule of free classes first, most of which I could not attend, but I managed to find one on March 19 that worked.  The class was at 10 a.m. but I showed up early because I did not know what to expect.

As you enter, you see cubbies with cycling shoes and several tablets against the wall.  This is where you check in.  The outermost tablet is where you tap your name to check in.  The center tablet is where you see which bike you are on, since you are assigned or you assign yourself to a specific bike for each class.  I was bike #35 that day, so I found cubbie #35 which contained cycling shoes that were my size.  When you create your profile online you enter stats like your height, weight, age, and shoe size.  I entered size 8.5 as my shoe size but when I arrived at CycleBar, my shoes were a size 9.  Staff explained that these particular shoes run small, so they recommend going up a half size for better comfort.  

I grabbed my shoes and was escorted by the main desk, past the merchandise, and into the locker area.

The locker area is a large open room that contained half-size lockers on two walls.  The lockers are numbered, but you don't have to pick the same locker number as your bike.  The lockers all contain usb charging ports as well as instructions on how to set your lock.  There were also restrooms and shower rooms adjacent to the locker area.

The wall between the lockers and the studio is used for announcements.  There is also one bin for your used cycling shoes and one bin for used towels that are collected after each class.  

We were offered red CycleBar water bottles before class and were given the option of either chilled water or room temperature water.

Once we had our water, we were escorted into the studio where staff helped us find our bikes.  The studio is large with three rows containing 48 total bikes.  The middle row is one step up from the first row and the back row is one step up from the middle row, so that all riders can see the instructor at the front of the room.  The instructor is on a platform facing the class with large ceiling-mounted tv's behind them on either side.  The entire wall behind the instructor is a mirror, so that riders can see themselves and watch their form.

The bikes were made by Schwinn, obviously custom-made since they all had the CycleBar logo on them.  Mounted to the front of each bike were two holders; one for the four pound bar and one for the six pound bar....hence the name CycleBar.

What I LOVE about these bikes are the handle bars that are easier to grip because they are wider in the spots you place your hands for position two and three.  It makes perfect sense because the handle bars are difficult to grip when your hands get sweaty, yet this was the first time I had seen handle bars like this.

I brought my own towel to class not knowing what to expect, but each bike already had a fresh towel on it ready to go.  Staff help each new rider get set up on their bike and then explain the settings so that we were able to do it ourselves the next time.

Before you start your ride, you hit the button at the top of your bike's computer so that you can track your stats.  When I signed up for this class and set up my profile, I inadvertently unchecked the box that would allow my stats to also show on the tv's during class.  I could still see my effort and mileage on my bike's computer during the ride, but my stats would not show on the tv's which showed all riders and then ranked them in order of the effort they put out during the ride.

As class started, the instructor went through the different hand positions and what the different columns on the tv screens meant.  On the far left is your chosen screen name.  Then there is a column for your bike number as indicated by the bike at the top of that column.  The next column has a music note, or "Energy Points" which is used to rank riders during class.  The next column under the lightning bolt is for your watts, which is your current effort or energy output.  The last column with the speedometer shows your current RPM (revolutions per minute).  Not shown on the tv's but on your bike's computer, is total mileage.

This particular class used current, upbeat music that was easy to ride to.  The instructor would tell you what your gear and RPM's should be in order to ride to the beat, which made it easy to replicate the instructor.  We moved through all the different body positions over the course of the class and had one song entirely dedicated to working our arms using the arm bars.  Towards the end of class was a "connect" song where we just rode in whatever gear felt best and just reflected on our day and your ride.  Throughout the class the instructor would turn on the tv's to show riders how they currently ranked, but she mainly had the tv's turned off so that we would not fixate on the stats rather than the ride itself.

At the end of class, we unclipped and dismounted to the right side of our bikes to stretch.  The instructor let us know that our class stats would be emailed to us.  I wasn't sure if mine would be since I had unchecked the box for my stats to show during class.  But to my surprise, I received the stats and I ended up ranking 12th out of 47 riders!!!!  After each class you will receive an email with your stats as well as a link to the play list used during that class.  Then when you log into your account, all of your previous classes are saved so that you can see your performance over time.

This particular class was a "brunch" ride so as we exited the studio, the smell of waffles greeted you.  Mimosa's were also available.  What I didn't realize about the grand opening rides was that you could attend more than once.  I wish I would have known this, because I would have made an effort to come to a couple classes since they were so much fun and you burn a ton of calories each time.

After we got back from the wedding and honeymoon, I saw a Groupon for four classes at CycleBar - of course I bought one.  The classes have been loaded to my account and now I am just waiting to find times that work with a friend's schedule before I attend again.  The last time I checked, the Groupon was still available. Click here to get yours before they are gone.

Since returning from the honeymoon, I have been attending classes at CycleBar - Creve Coeur, which is my closest location.  Eventually, I will post my review of that studio, so stay tuned!