Running through some big changes     

Last Sunday I took Loki for a run for the first time in a couple of weeks. He yanked on the leash the whole time, drug me into the ditch while chasing a squirrel, and traipsed through every puddle until his fur was a muddy mess.

“I am NEVER taking you running again!” I growled at him.

By the next day, however, I relented. We’re doing some work on the house, and in the big picture my aggravation during a Loki run is nothing compared to my aggravation with having a keyed-up husky rocketing around the premises.

Having recently read a “science of happiness”’ article that suggested tackling dreaded tasks first – so they don’t weigh on your mind, leaving you free to anticipate the things you’re really looking forward to – I took Loki for a run earlier in the day. Instead of focusing on my irritation, I focused on his happiness.

After three straight days of this, I felt like we were both making progress. And then our oldest daughter, Loki’s official owner, who’s been living at home the last few months while working her tail off after getting her bachelor’s degree, dropped a bombshell: She got a job in South Carolina, 11 hours away. Daughter and dog are moving out in two weeks.

In a way I haven’t really even had time to process this. Last week was the end of the school year, with all the hubbub that brings, especially when you’ve got a graduating senior. We’d had baseball and/or softball games every single night, and to top it all off one of Colleen’s friends lost his father in a cycling accident. Besides all the emotional weirdness that entails, Dillon’s dad was the mastermind behind the annual seventh-grade summer trip to New York City. leaving that whole situation in turmoil.

Among the random thoughts that have emerged in the days since: Going for a run will be simpler now, without feeling guilty if I leave Loki behind but somewhat put-upon if I bring him along.

Naturally I then felt guilty for even thinking that. It’s not Loki’s fault that from his perspective I more closely resemble a dog sled than a running partner.

Things are going to be different around here, that’s for sure.

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Rowan and Loki, who will soon be heading off to the Charleston area. It will be fun to visit, but we’re going to miss them both an awfully lot!

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An 80-year-old’s workout kicks my butt

When a guy I interviewed recently for a diabetes magazine told me he controls his blood sugar with daily stair-running, I couldn’t resist giving his workout a try.

Having recently climbed up a 25-story skyscraper without pausing to catch my breath, I figured I was up for the challenge — especially considering the guy I was writing about is 80 years old.

Bonny Damocles told me he runs up and down a single flight of 16 steps in his house for a total of 100 minutes, broken up into 4 sets of 25 minutes.

Using our 12-step stairway, I stopped running after 3 minutes and began to walk. I finished that first 25-minute set, and managed to do three more sets over the course of the day, but except for a couple of minutes at the beginning of each, I had to settle for walking up the steps.

The difficulty here is that in addition to the lung-busting component, running stairs is mind-numbingly dull unless you are listening to a really riveting book on tape (which is what helped me get through sets 2-4. Thank you, Jonathan Kellerman).

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Does this guy look 80? 

So what’s the secret to Bonny’s mental toughness? For starters, a profound desire to avoid taking medication to control his type 2 diabetes. He’s coming up on 25 years since his diagnosis and says he’s in excellent health with no complications from the disease. That takes an extraordinary amount of willpower and dedication to a hardcore fitness program. As a guy who sometimes went days at a time without food growing up in the Philippines during World War II, Bonny definitely has a survivor’s mindset. Running stairs was the toughest — and cheapest — form of exercise he could think of. When it brought his blood sugar down from over 400 to 130 in 10 days, convincing his doctor he could continue his regimen without meds, Bonny’s course was set. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s not a very big guy, carrying 139 pounds on a 5-7 frame, so he has less mass to haul up those stairs.)

I really HATE this workout. And yet I now find myself doing it at least once a week. As somebody who primarily works from home, it’s appealing to have tough workouts that I can do even when I think I don’t have time. Fitting in 15 minutes here and there gets me past those points in the day when I feel momentarily “stuck.” And I’m slowly starting to build up how many of those stairs I run up vs. walking.

So: Thanks, Bonny, for the inspiration – I think. :)

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Reflections on a 5-day fast

It is definitely a weird feeling to go five days without eating when you’re constantly surrounded by food. From last Saturday morning to Thursday morning, the only calories I ingested were coconut oil (a total of six teaspoons in five days, stirred into black coffee sprinkled with cinnamon) and red wine (a total of three 5-oz servings over five days).

I did not experience any feelings of nirvana or experience any life-changing visions. I can’t even say I had the huge uptick in productivity many people report when they erase all food-related tasks from their lives, because with a family of six I still had to spend about the same amount of time shopping, cooking and washing dishes.

Still, the most surprising thing was that it was just not that hard, once you get past the first day or two of nagging complaints from your stomach. I never felt faint or on the verge of collapse, though I did not attempt to run during this fast. For the most part, I was able to walk around and live my life, pushing the mower around the yard and so forth, without other people having an inkling of what I was up to unless I told them.

The biggest takeaway from this experience is that I definitely feel more at peace with my body now. Instead of worrying that I need to feed it constantly – that sense of near-panic I’ve felt my whole life whenever I thought I felt hungry – I now know I can trust my body to tap its reserve energy stores if I don’t shovel anything down the pipe the instant my stomach is empty.

Here are some other observations from this experience:

* I felt a definite sense of calm as my metabolism slowed down. Instead of feeling like I was perpetually in the “down and ready” defensive position from my shortstop days, I could just watch the flow of the day develop and concentrate only on what I was doing right then, without constantly mentally reviewing my master to-do list to remind myself how much I wasn’t getting done right at that moment.

*It felt exceptionally rewarding to imagine my body decluttering itself while I was doing the same thing in our house, scanning for stuff we no longer need to put in a garage sale.

*I did have occasional moments of self-doubt weirdness, where even though I’d done quite a bit of reading preparing for this project, I’d still find myself thinking things like, “What is that in my mouth — a piece of tooth? What if my teeth start falling out?” (It turned out to be a bit of cinnamon and coconut oil from an earlier cup of coffee.)

*Speaking of coffee, this was a real eye-opener in terms of developing an awareness of my over-consumption in that department. At first I didn’t adjust my coffee intake at all. But without food, it didn’t take long for this to make me feel really jittery. A couple of times I felt like my heart was racing even though I wasn’t really doing anything. After that I cut way back on coffee, and even now, several days later, I’m still drinking less than usual.

*My drink of choice during this fast was lemon water with a sprinkle of salt, to make sure my electrolytes weren’t all getting flushed out of my body. The occasional Powerade Zero tasted heavenly.

*Day 5 was definitely the best. I drank hardly any coffee and felt exceptionally calm and clear-headed. I also noticed how much stomach had shrunk when I tried to drink a 32-ounce Powerade Zero and found I only wanted a little bit of it at a time. (Whereas I can usually guzzle one fairly quickly.)

*Though I was not able to cut the food-production process out of my life, it certainly was liberating to not be distracted by thoughts of food after the first day or two.

I broke my running fast on Saturday, going for an easy 3-mile run-walk with a friend who’s eight months pregnant. As I told her, I’m definitely glad to have had this experience. I come away from this feeling like I have a better appreciation for food, yet not feeling as obsessed by it. I’m sure that will fade over time, so I wouldn’t mind doing this once a year or so, to give my mind as well as my body a chance to reset.

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A second attempt at a multi-day fast

This morning marks Day 3 of my second attempt at a multi-day fast.

Why try this again? Well, in a fasting experiment last month I went three days before I ran into a big family Easter gathering that made me feel awkward about continuing. Three days without any food whatsoever — only a couple of cups of coffee with coconut oil and cinnamon each day — went by much more easily than expected. I even managed to get in a couple of smallish runs.

But from what I’ve read, the real mental and emotional benefits of fasting occur on Days 4 and 5. I never got there, so I remain intensely curious what that experience is like.

If you’re a runner or into any kind of endurance exercise, there’s probably never a great time to block off a fast on your calendar. But I figure this is probably the last chance for me to try it before I start training for my next marathon (Oct. 1). I don’t have any races planned until late June. And since Thursday marks the final day of Wells Weighs In, that gives me some extra incentive. (I don’t want to view fasting as a weight-loss tool — based on last month’s experience, the effects are mostly temporary, anyway — but since our team’s not a contender at this point, it’s not like this is some secret weapon that will put us over the top.)

The big challenge thus far was a family birthday party on Sunday. Day 2 tends to be the hardest, and I knew I was going to be spending several hours in a feasting environment. I wasn’t too worried about my self control so much as pressure from family members to indulge.

But as it turned out, it wasn’t an issue. I’d set up a laptop at one of the tables in the garage to work on invitations for our son Ben’s upcoming graduation party. That took a lot longer than expected, and since people were munching on yummy appetizers all afternoon anyway, when it actually came time for people to fill their plates with “dinner,” no one noticed that I didn’t do the same.

Yes, the food looked good. My sister-in-law Darcy loves to go all out for parties, especially for the kids’ birthdays. (My nephew Kobi was turning 2.) But since I was already a day into fasting, the food looked interesting and pretty in an abstract kind of way without threatening to override my impulse control.

Being on a special diet where you’re not just limiting intake but eliminating large categories of food can feel like you’re existing in an alternate universe. After a while those foods you’re no longer eating can feel like they’re not quite real. They don’t have the same hold on you that they did before. (After several years of avoiding McDonald’s, for example, except for the occasional salad or a vanilla cone, I can drive by a large billboard dominated by “food porn” and not even really notice it’s there.)

This is even more true with a fast. Especially having gone through this first part once before, it’s much easier to switch off the “eat” impulse. I’ve done enough research to know I can go a few days without ill effects. (And if anything bad happens, I’ll just stop. My husband knows what’s going on, and is keeping an eye out for any weirdness on my part.)

I can’t say that there haven’t been moments in these first couple of days where I’ve felt hungry or momentarily tempted by something. But mainly I’ve been focused on the feeling of allowing my body to declutter itself. Since we’ve also got a family garage sale coming up later in the week, that also feels like a case of good timing.

 

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‘Hill training’ in a skyscraper

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Fort Wayne’s skyline is dominated by, from left: The 27-story Indiana Michigan Power Center, the 22-story Lincoln Tower and the 25-story PNC Center.

Googling new workouts to try recently, I came across one that purported to deliver a “Kilimanjaro-ready body” in just six weeks.

It was intriguing to see how many components of this mountain-training regimen could be incorporated into a fitness walking program here in the Hoosier flatlands. That became the topic of this week’s newspaper column, which is what led me to do last week’s hill workout inside a skyscraper.

Fort Wayne has three of ‘em, one of which – the 22-story Lincoln Tower, built in 1930 – was Indiana’s tallest building until 1969.

The king of the hill these days is the 27-story Indiana Michigan Power Center. But when I contacted a former co-worker who’s now the company spokesman, he said the building’s stairs are off-limits for public fitness use. Though an area climber told me he does it all the time, accessing the stairs via the parking garage, I felt too weirded out about trying it after I’d been officially told no.

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The door to the 25th floor of the PNC Center.

That took me to the second-tallest building, the 339-foot PNC Center. I furtively followed a sketchy-looking cyclist and his pedestrian sidekick into the parking garage – there was no one at the entry booth – then found the elevators. A sign invited guests to take the elevator to the 25th floor to Empyrean, the swanky reception site that’s replaced the longtime poshest private restaurant in the city, the Summit Club.

I decided if anybody asked, I’d say I was here to inquire about rates at Empyrean, only decided to take the stairs instead to burn off a few calories.

I passed one guy early on, but after that I met no resistance other than gravity all the way up to the 25th floor. I was breathing hard and my legs were shaky, but I never had to stop and catch my breath.

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The rear door to the former Summit Club, now Empyrean Events and Catering.

There was no scenic view to reward my efforts, other than the open rear door to the former Summit Club, which still bore the old sign though it’s been out of business for a few years now. I could hear a couple of employees talking inside. Though there was one more flight of stairs, I knew if I took it they’d see me. This was also about the time I noticed the security camera I’d just stepped in front of. I decided to head back down before I got into some kind of hassle.

My next stop was the Lincoln Tower, but I didn’t get far.  In this ornate, art decco building the stairs are wide, open and visible from the opulent and voluminous bank lobby. A stern-looking sign on the second floor warned visitors to return to the main level and check in.

I picked up a card from a friendly receptionist who said I could book a tour that would take me to the observation deck at the top, where “on a clear day you can see all the way to Ohio.” I might do that sometime, but I doubt that this will be a regular fitness destination.

Unfortunately, in the course of reporting this column I also discovered that a rustic high rise I’ve climbed many times since childhood – the eight-story, 100-foot-tall fire tower at Ouabache State Park – is closed for repairs. The person I spoke with said the estimate is around $100,000, and it’s unclear where the funding will come from. It almost certainly won’t open this season, and obviously the question will be raised about whether it’s worth fixing.

I hope so. There aren’t many of these fire towers left around the state, and though it’s no longer used for that purpose it’s a cool historical landmark.

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The 100-foot-tall fire tower at Ouabache State Park is closed for repairs. When I mentioned this to my dad over the weekend, he said when he was a boy they used to climb up the tower on the OUTSIDE rather than take the stairs. (Sometimes I wonder how my dad and his brothers ever managed to survive into adulthood.)

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Slump-busting with a 4-legged running partner

I’d built up a running routine I felt pretty good about, only to have a really awful week drain my confidence. Feeling tense about whether I’d botch my speed and distance workouts and prolong my frustration, I opted for a complete reboot instead.

I started out last week pretending I had to squeeze in a 30-minute run during a lunch break as a means of reducing the pressure I was putting on myself. (The short timeframe also eliminated the  question of whether I had time to fit in a run.) I did these on the treadmill listening to parts of another longish Tim Ferriss podcast, this one with chess prodigy turned tai chi world champion Josh Waitzkin. I basically just ground out session 1. But by sessions 2 and 3, feeling inspired by the interview, I began tweaking my “lunch break run.”  Nothing fantastic, but it felt good to be having fun again.

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Rowan and Loki

Then, just as I was really getting into this pretend scenario, the weather suddenly got so delightful there was no way I could run inside. I was also feeling guilty about Loki. We’ve been too busy to get his new bike leash set up, and he hasn’t been getting much exercise lately. He’s my daughter’s dog and therefore her responsibility, while I am decidedly not a dog person. (Slobber grosses me out.) Still, as the only family member who runs consistently, and given that I wasn’t really trying to accomplish anything with my running this week, I took down the leash.

In the past this young husky has been a royal pain to run with, pulling the leash so hard at times I thought I might lose my footing and get dragged along like a human sled with a ruined shoulder. But since I didn’t have any real expectations on this run, I focused all my neurons on the dog. The first mile was miserable. But he was clearly out of shape because when we turned around at the end of the nearby gravel road, he suddenly seemed content to just trot along at my pace. The best part: He was MUCH more calm the rest of the day.

I needed to make a grocery run the next day, so I brought Loki into town with me, thinking we’d do a couple of miles on the River Greenway. As expected, I really had my hands full that first mile, especially when we passed other dogs. Once again he seemed to tire around the 1-mile mark, only this time he was obviously really thirsty as well. The gravel road had plenty of puddles to drink from, but the paved Greenway was high and dry after several days without rain. Loki kept eyeing the river longingly, but there was no way I was climbing down a steep riverbank with such an unpredictable dog.

Just then I remembered that we weren’t too far from Bill’s Creek, the boundary along local running legend Doug Sundling’s farm. He’s got a great running dog these days named Ginger, and Rowan and I had taken Loki out there once so the dogs could get to know each other a little bit. He’d given us permission to hike along the trails on his property whether or not he was present, and this seemed like a great time to take advantage of that offer.

On such low-lying ground, we didn’t have to go far down his lane to encounter a good-sized puddle. Loki slurped enough water to fill a couple of camel’s humps, then laid right down in the puddle for a mud bath.

We had a nice easy jog back, and I couldn’t wait to tell Sundling how his farmland trail had come to Loki’s rescue.

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Doug Sundling and Ginger at this year’s Chilly Chili Run. 

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One keeper from a chaotic, run-decimating week:  The ‘go all day’ meal

There’s nothing like a week in which you’re completely thrown out of your routine to make you appreciate how valuable a well-constructed routine can be.

Last week’s dietary experiments collided with a crazy schedule to completely destroy my running. Actually, two runs attempted during a three-day fast — and I do mean a real fast with no food whatsoever, as opposed to all those modern “fasts” full of exceptions — turned out to be acceptable and at least proved interesting under the circumstances. But runs attempted in the following days, when I was following up the fast with a ketogenic diet, absolutely sucked.

Was this because my body hadn’t “adapted to burning fat?” Maybe. All I know is that I’m eager to get back to my regular running routine, which means a return to a normal diet (or at least “normal” by my standards).

Still, new experiences do tend to leave their mark. One of the keepers from last week is a low-carb, high-fat meal that held my appetite in check for hours at a time.

The idea came from the same interview that prompted my fast. Dom D’Agostino was talking about how much more productive he feels eating two high-fat, high-protein meals a day on a ketogenic diet, as opposed to a few years earlier, when he was eating six smaller meals a day and felt like he was constantly fiddling with and thinking about food.

I did get a lot of mileage out of one meal in particular, and it wasn’t even that high in calories: two slices of bacon, two eggs, three or four big handfuls of spinach and some shredded cheese. It worked out to about 400 calories, and it really did keep me full for several hours.

There’s this mantra I’ve sometimes used on long runs where I’ll keep telling myself that I’m running at my “go all day” pace. Last week, marveling at how much mileage I was getting out of that particular breakfast, I found myself referring to it as my “go all day” meal.

It didn’t translate into good running, but it sure helped keep my mind off food. There’s got to be room in my diet somewhere for a meal like that.

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Running during a 3-day fast

Here’s something I’ve never tried before: Going for a run on Day 3 of a fast.

Well, actually I’ve never gone three days without food before, either, so make that two new things.

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Dominic D’Agostino is a neuroscientist who does research in the field of molecular pharmacology at the University of South Florida. 

As so often happens, I just kind of blundered into this little project. It started with an interview I was listening to during Thursday night’s lame-o “hills workout” on the treadmill. I was kind of frustrated with my eating lately, and I was running like crap, and meanwhile here I was listening to Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Body) interview this neuroscientist (Dom D’Agostino) who’s been doing all kinds of pretty out-there nutrition studies, on himself as well as on lab rats. This is a guy who’s apparently dead-lifted 500 pounds after a seven-day fast and doubled the length of time he can hold his breath underwater after ramping up the ketone levels in his blood through a combination of fasting and a ketogenic diet.

Or something like that. Don’t press me for details or ask me to explain the science or whether I think it’s legitimate science or pseudoscience. All I know is that I liked the sound of giving my body a chance to do some decluttering.

So late Friday morning I’m back on the treadmill, figuring I’ll listen to some more of that interview (it’s 3 hours long), and I haven’t for sure embarked on this fast but I haven’t eaten since dinner the previous night, either, just to keep my options open.

I should digress here for a moment to note that I have this running-anxiety thing about food, which is weird because that definitely was not the case when I was running to lose weight. In the last couple months of my 90-pound weight-loss project back in 2010, I’d go on 10-mile runs with my sister having eaten nothing that day but half a cup of Fiber One cereal and a tablespoon of peanut butter. (My long runs happened to correspond with weigh-in day, so I’d eat light until 5:30 p.m., when it was time to step on the scale at Weight Watchers.)

And I was fine on those runs. Ecstatic, even, at times. Feeling like a whole new person and all that.

Sometime in the years since I’ve gotten fixated on pre-run snacks. If I don’t eat something right before a run, I feel like my tank is empty and it affects my run big-time. And if I’m nervous about getting a workout in, whether I might be tired or whatever, I might even overeat before a run. (That happens WAY more often than I’d care to admit).

So on Friday I start out at a slow jog (5 mph or a 12-minute mile), and I’ve been up for 7 hours without eating anything, and everything is fine. I’m still pretty into this interview, which provides plenty of motivation. I don’t even look at the clock until 17 minutes in, which has to be a new record for me. I just keep jogging along at 5-5.5 mph and get 6 miles in before I run out of time, but I feel like I could’ve gone 10.

This proves nothing, of course, except mind over matter. But now I’m thinking why not try a real fast? Go three days and see what happens, see how I feel?

Friday was basically fine. I’ve gone without eating for a single day before, usually in the context of a weight-loss contest, so I’ve got some practice there. By Saturday, I was feeling a little sluggish. I’d planned to take a short outdoor run but the weather was freakish (60 mph wind gusts and SNOW), so I just focused on getting through the day.

Sunday morning the brain fog cleared and I felt full of creative energy. I headed out for a run but took our seventh-grader with me because even though I felt fine, I didn’t want to take any chances.

We started out at the school, thinking she could ride a bike while I ran. But she got too cold after one half-mile lap around the building, and I was just kind of slogging along there anyway. I wasn’t really in the mood for running laps. So we packed up and headed to a gravel road near our house. I figured I’d go down and back for 2 miles while she did her run/walk thing, staying in visual contact.

My brain was pretty busy processing everything on this run. Was I more fatigued than usual? Breathing harder? Or was this just how I sometimes feel in the first mile or 2 before I get warmed up? I was definitely more thirsty than usual, wanting a drink after just 1 mile on a pretty chilly day (mid-30s at that point).

At times I felt absolutely fine, and I’d speed up a bit, and wonder how far I could go if I wasn’t second-guessing everything. It was a beautiful morning, but I couldn’t really get absorbed in that because every couple of minutes some Nervous Nelli in my head would fret about something. Such as:  “Hey, what about electrolytes? I’ve been putting a little salt in my lemon water, but is that enough? I don’t even know what electrolytes are, really, other than if you run out of them it can be hard on your heart. Is my heart beating too fast? What do you suppose my pulse is right now?”

And so on. Still, just about everybody on the melon committee (a blogging friend’s apt name for all those yammering voices in your head during a workout) agreed that it was interesting to take my stomach out of the equation during a run. With no fresh fuel, this run was being powered by some reserve tanks somewhere in my body. I liked to think of it as a decluttering process, that my body was going through boxes of crap that had piled up and been sitting around unused. When you eat more than you need to every single day for weeks and months and years on end, there isn’t much need to rummage through supplies of stored biological crap to see what ought to be pitched. Hopefully this was giving my body a chance to do just that.

Or not. Maybe my body was gnawing on its own muscles by now. All I knew was, they still seemed to be working OK, and my brain had enough energy to be yammering at me from time to time until I finished the run. At which point I felt fine the rest of the day — though more relaxed than usual, definitely — until breaking the fast with a small sampling of a belated Easter dinner at my parents’ house.

Will I try this again at some point? I wouldn’t be surprised, though I’d certainly do some more research first. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else, because I’m no expert on this kind of thing. But it was an interesting experience, that’s for sure.

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The NutriBullet smoothie maker: A review

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Smoothie coming up!

If it wasn’t for the NutriBullet, I never would’ve gotten around to trying Scott Jurek’s Recovery Smoothie. (See recipe at end of this post.)

But if it weren’t for my kids, I never would’ve gotten around to trying the NutriBullet.

There’s a generation-gap component at work here. I’m basically an anti-early adopter, loathe to bring new technology into my life (as evidenced by my unwillingness to switch over to a Smartphone). Left to my own devices, I would’ve been content to continue making the occasional batch of chocolate ice bean with our blender.

But our offspring, not content with our Model T of a smoothie-maker, arranged for their dad to receive the entry model Magic Bullet for Christmas. They then happily took it off his hands and promptly put it to daily — and what sometimes seems like hourly — use.

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Does my niece Monroe realize she’s drinking spinach? I think not!

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I was sure the kids would lose the go-cups that came with the Magic Bullet we got for Christmas, but so far so good.

They loved the fact that they could use the blending vessel as a go-cup. I was dubious, warning that if the cups didn’t get rinsed out promptly after use, I’d throw them away. (This had been a constant problem with their previous smoothie-making efforts. They’d mix up a batch in the blender, pour their portion out of the “pitcher,” then stash the rest in the fridge for what seemed like weeks on end.) Surprisingly, they actually did keep the Magic Bullet components rinsed, not just the cups but the base containing the blades as well. I don’t delude myself it’s because they suddenly think my advice is worth listening to; clearly it has more to do with making sure the device is always ready for the next round of smoothies.

When the opportunity came to review a larger, more powerful model — a 900-watt NutriBullet Pro —  compliments of a PR firm handling the company, I decided it was time to give the newfangled smoothie-maker a try myself. After a few weeks of using both the small and large versions (one a Christmas gift and the other a review model), here’s my assessment:

Ease of use: There are fewer parts to fool around with on both the Magic Bullet and the  NutriBullet than on our old blender. At first I was frustrated that the blades are on the lid; I kept wanting to take the lid off and reach in to dislodge a stuck glob of frozen fruit the old-fashioned way, and you really can’t do that when the container mixes upside down. But then our son Ben showed me that all you really need to do is pick up the whole container, turn it upside down and shake it, then set it back on the base. Eventually I got the hang of that, and now I’m finally to the point that I’d have to agree that using both “bullets” is easier than the blender.

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The NutriBullet in action. Doesn’t it look like a giant lipstick?

 

Blending power: Our old blender is 450 watts. The small Magic Bullet we got for Christmas is 250 watts, and it struggles with large chunks of frozen banana, though it handles sliced frozen banana OK. For most things the kids make — concoctions of protein powder, berries and almond milk or Greek yogurt — it does a fine job. The larger review model we received is 900 watts, and it’s a beast. Not only does it grind up half a frozen banana without balking, but it’s also successfully ground up cacao nibs, dry roasted edamame and ginger root.

Cleaning difficulty: I initially thought it would be easier to clean the blender, because it breaks down into more parts. Over time, though, I’ve come to agree that it’s pretty easy to clean both Bullet models, provided you rinse them out promptly after use. Because there are fewer pieces to wash, it probably does seem a bit less daunting to clean now than the blender.

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The NutriBullet comes with a 32-ounce “Colossal cup,” in case you’re really, really thirsty.

Convenience: OK, OK, the NutriBullet wins this one hands down. It’s incredibly appealing to dump stuff in a cup, put on a lid for upside-down whirling, and then guzzle the contents without needing to take time to transfer it to another cup. I do wish the larger model came with a shorter cup that fit in the wider base, so that you didn’t feel like you were slurping from one of those  “Big Gulp” fountain drinks. (Turns out you can buy these separately; more on that below.)

Cost: An Oster 14-speed 450-watt blender, which is what I’d probably buy if I were replacing our basic model blender, costs $21.74 at walmart.com and $34 (with free shipping) at amazon.com. The 250 watt Magic Bullet RMBR-1101 is $29.99 at amazon and $39 at Walmart. The NutriBullet Pro 900-Magic Bullet 9-piece set (NB9-09SAM) is $149.99 at Walmart, while the lowest price I saw on Amazon is $109.96. (Replacement cups, it turns out, can be purchased for $12-20 in various sets and sizes.)

Given those price points, if it were just up to me for my own personal use … you know, I was going to say I’d buy the blender because it’s powerful enough and easy enough to both use and clean. But the reality is it isn’t up to me for my own personal use, because our household has become pretty smoothie-dependent, and I’d have a riot on my hands if we went back to our blender-only reality. The other thing is that I’ve cut down on morning coffee consumption by making a flavored water concoction — adding a cup of strawberries or blueberries and 1T lemon juice to the 32-ounce mega cup that I then fill with water — and I simply don’t think I’d drag out the blender to do that.

So, knowing what I know now, I may not necessarily spring for the NutriBullet myself, but I sure wouldn’t hesitate  to put it on my Christmas list. It will be interesting to see whether we still have all our go-cups this time next year, though.

 

Scott Jurek’s Strawburst Anti-inflammatory Smoothie

I was going to make up one of these and keep it in the car for after the Maple Leaf Marathon, but then my assistant (Colleen) got sick and didn’t go with me, so I didn’t get around to it. This recipe, from Jurek’s book Eat & Run, is extremely tasty, however, and it makes a great recovery drink for after a long run.

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The Nutribullet had no problem digesting this ginger root.

2 cups water

jurekbook½ cup shelled edamame

1 banana

2 cups frozen mango, strawberry and pineapple chunks

¼ cup unsweetened coconut

3T Flora Oil 3-2-1 blend (we used 2T coconut oil instead)

2T brown rice powder

DSCN02411 ½ t miso (we didn’t have any of this, so we subbed in soy sauce)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and minced.

 

Dump everything in a blender or a 900-watt NutriBullet smoothie maker. (I wouldn’t use the 250-watt model on that ginger root.) Makes three 8-ounce servings or one giant 24-ounce serving.

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“Strawburst” smoothie coming right up!

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The home-based hill workout

DSCN0494I’ve never made much use of the hill in our backyard because even though it’s steep, there’s not much to it. An abandoned railroad berm that got pushed up an extra 5 feet or so when we brought in an earth mover to improve property drainage, it’s maybe 30 feet from base to summit with a rise of 15 feet or so.

Still, running up something that steep is tough. (Heck, I’m surprised our lawn tractor can make it up that thing.) But it’s so boring that it’s never engaged my imagination enough to make its way into my regular workout routine.

Then last week I decided I wanted to add hill-training to my weekly routine. The appointed day came, and I had so many writing projects to do that I didn’t really want to take time to leave the house. That meant I could either crank up the incline on the treadmill or hit the backyard hill. In the end I did both, spreading out my workout over 2-3 hours interspersed with writing sessions. And in the process I finally came up with a framework for tackling the backyard hill that seems obvious now but had basically eluded me in the six years I’ve been running.

Running up the hill on one end of the yard, jogging across it to the other end, then down and back over to the starting point is a lot like running bleachers. I never liked running bleachers back in high school sports. But I do remember that by the time you were done you sure felt like you’d accomplished something. Not surprisingly, this proved to be the case with my “backyard bleachers” as well.

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The side view… 

For this workout, I wasn’t too worried about anything other than putting down a first-draft effort to start building a habit I could keep improving on/adding to each week. I started with a 10-minute treadmill warmup jog, then headed out and did one set of 10 “bleacher laps.”

Then I went back in and worked on a writing project until I hit a snag. Rather than waste time feeling “stuck,” I decided to hop on the treadmill. I did 5 minutes at a 5 mph jog, then did five sets of 1 minute at 6 mph/4% incline followed by 1 minute recovery at 5 mph/0% incline. Then I did a 10-minute cooldown at 5 mph and went back to my writing project.

Guess what? I was no longer stuck. Big surprise there. And yet how many times have I wasted 25 minutes (the time it took to do that mini-workout) trying to work my way out of a mental mud  bog?

Once again I worked until I got stuck. At this point, I decided to switch out of running mode because A) I’d already gotten in 3+ miles and what seemed to be a reasonable first draft/habit-launching effort, and B) I wanted to get in some upper body work and some house work before I had to hit the shower and head out to an afternoon interview, followed by our 25th wedding anniversary dinner with the kids. So this time I interspersed five sets of 15 kettlebell swings with five “sets” of strategic vacuuming.

I’m not suggesting this was a fantastic workout worthy of emulation (nor am I suggesting you break out the Bobcat to build yourself a ridiculously inconvenient backyard hill). But it was a satisfying way to incorporate some fitness into a busy day, and I’m looking forward to building on to my new stay-at-home hill-training workout.

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What were we thinking, getting married during March Madness? At least we had a TV going in one corner of the reception so folks could watch the Indiana Hoosiers on their way to a Sweet Sixteen appearance back in 1991. (Twenty-five years later, that’s Purdue getting upset in Round One in the background.)

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