Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Runner's wish list

Linking up with Marcia, Patti, and Erika for Tuesdays on the Run.
This week's topic: Runner's Gift List.

I'm going to share three things on my wish list.

1. Medal Display
I have mentioned before that I currently display all of my race medals on the base of a folded-up ironing board that I store in my closet.
Super unglamorous.

I've long been in need of a more attractive display. Conventional medal racks are surprisingly expensive. I've seen some folks use sturdy towel racks, but I haven't gotten around to looking into any of those. I'm not the most coordinated when it comes to installing wall displays (heck, I can't even pin my race bibs on straight). So I've been lackadaisical about finding a better solution thus far.

2. Improved GPS watch
I'm on my second Garmin, the Forerunner 110. This is a pretty simplistic model. It's appropriate for me because I only want to track time, distance, pace, and splits. I don't need all the fancy features like lactate threshold, stride length, and post-run food recipes (OK, if recipes were really available from my watch, I might actually use those).

However, I'm not enamored with the 110 for a few reasons:

a) It takes FOREVER to find a satellite signal - sometimes upwards of five minutes! This can get awkward.

b) Sometimes the distance/pace readings seem to be inaccurate.
c) You can only see your most-current split on the device; viewing your historic splits requires connecting to a computer.
d) The charging cable is finicky - you have to position the charge contact points EXACTLY right for it to work.

I would love to find a new GPS watch that improves upon these issues without costing an arm and a leg.

3. Race Dots
As I mentioned above, I have a tough time pinning my race bib on straight. It's reminiscent of something like this:

You can only imagine the havoc it wreaks on my shirts and jackets when I'm constantly pinning and repinning my bibs. Therefore, I've been thinking about those magnetic race bib positioning devices.

The catch is that I've heard very mixed reviews about them. Some folks love them, others claim they don't stay put? I'd like to try them out for myself.

What about you? What's on your running and/or fitness wish list?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Training week recap - Nov 16-22, 2015

Taking a break from the Israel travel recaps to try something new this week.

Many of my fellow bloggers post weekly training summaries. For various reasons, I've never followed suit - but this week I am going to experiment!
Let's see how this goes...
Stationary bike - 10 minutes to warm up
Lift - 55 minutes, as follows:

3 sets of 8-10 reps for each of the following:
Chest press with barbell
Romanian deadlifts
Bicep curl with barbell
Tricep kickbacks, one arm at a time, with dumbbells
Shoulder raise with dumbbells
Assisted pull-ups
Single-leg squats with dumbbells
Squats with barbell
Seated leg curl
Hanging leg (i.e. "Captain's Chair") raises, front and side

After being on vacation for a week, this was the first time I had done any lifting in 10 days. My muscles felt good after the extended rest. However, my hands were another story. Wow, did it hurt to do the deadlifts and the assisted pull-ups! I got some hefty callouses and my fingers swelled up. It was difficult to put my rings on afterwards.
Everything is AWESOME.
Yoga class - 45 minutes

Again, after being on vacation, this was the first time I'd done any yoga in over a week. It felt really good to stretch everything out, especially after the lifting session yesterday.

Plan: Zumba class, 55 minutes
Actual: Run 4 miles on treadmill

I love Zumba so I was disappointed to learn that this week's classes were being cancelled due to instructor availability.

I am horrifically behind on reaching my monthly mileage goal for November. At the time, I'd only run about 12 miles during the entire month-to-date! Therefore, I decided to knock out a few miles in place of Zumba.

My legs felt good. This is not surprising given how little I've been running.

Plan: Lift (same workout as Monday)
Actual: Rest

My monthly visitor showed up. I was stricken with cramps, overall lethargy, and fatigue. I know exercise is supposed to help with this, but I had zero motivation to push through. I opted to take a rest day. After I got home from work, I enjoyed laying on the couch under a blanket.
Everything is AWESOME.

Plan: Yoga class, 55 minutes
Actual: Lift (repeat of Monday's session)

Normally I attend a yoga class every Friday which starts at 12:05 PM. However, I had a team meeting from 11:30 AM to 12:00 PM on Friday which ran a few minutes long. In lieu of rushing and showing up late to class, I chose to do the lifting workout I'd skipped the day before. My hands felt much better today.

Run 8 miles on treadmill

Winter showed up in Chicago!!! Starting on Friday night, the entire Midwest was under a winter storm advisory. We got pummeled with freezing rain which later turned into snow. This was followed by a sudden drop in temperatures to the teens, with real-feel temps in the single-digits.

Translation: No running outdoors for me. I don't particularly enjoy doing long runs on the treadmill, but I didn't feel like battling those conditions.
Everything is AWESOME.
45 minutes on stationary bike

I was torn on whether to do an at-home yoga video, ride the stationary bike, or try to knock out a few more miles on the treadmill. I'm leaving tonight (Monday night) to go to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving, where I will have limited gym access. Since running and the yoga video do not require gym access but the stationary bike does, I chose the bike.

The ride felt good. I enjoyed the burn in my hips and glutes, which are areas I am always trying to strengthen.

I usually don't listen to country music AT ALL. This changed a few weeks ago when I watched an episode of Jimmy Fallon featuring Carrie Underwood as a guest. She performed her song, "Smoke Break."

I like it!

It's the first-ever country song to earn a spot on my workout playlist. (The one exception would be The Eagles' country-tinged early songs - but I consider The Eagles to be a classic rock band, not country.)

Things are changing around here in all different ways, eh?

Linking up with HoHo and Tricia for the Weekly Wrap.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Visiting Israel: Jerusalem (Part 1)

Continuing from my Israel arrival and Tel Aviv recap.

The bus ride between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is only about 45 minutes. Jerusalem is almost 2,500 feet higher in altitude than Tel Aviv, so the route included lots of ascents with sweeping views of the Israeli countryside.

Once we arrived in Jerusalem, I was immediately struck by the difference in the two cities. I had been told that Jerusalem had high security, and this was very apparent. Plenty of Israeli military were walking around (I later learned that military service is compulsory for all Israeli citizens over age 18). Many heavily-armed guards were present.

Armed guard talking on his cell phone.

Probably three-quarters of the men were wearing kippahs or other traditional hats. We saw many Hasidic Jewish people.

Adam and I headed to our hotel, the City Suites on King George Street. Similar to our experience in Tel Aviv, the hotel was small but very nice, with extremely helpful staff. We again were fortunate that the hotel was in a very convenient location.

We had lunch next door to our hotel at this falafel/shawarma joint. Locals were flooding in and out, which is always a good sign.

I stuffed myself with a delicious pita bursting with falafel and a ridiculous amount of toppings.

Adam and I then headed to Jerusalem's Old City. Our plan was to visit the Western Wall, then tour the Kotel Tunnels. 

Here were some of the views enroute to the Old City:

Our first destination, the Western Wall, is a portion of the structure which originally composed the western retaining wall of the Second Jewish Temple atop the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is one of the holiest sites in Judaism, and also has strong significance in Christianity and Islam.

Once entering the Old City, we walked through a maze of local shuks (marketplaces):

We went through a security checkpoint to access the Western Wall. After seeing the Wall on TV and in pictures, I was stunned to enter and see it in person.

Men and women have to access the wall from different sections, so Adam and I went to our respective entrances. The women's section was filled with women praying silently or aloud. Many were putting prayer notes into the wall.

I was struck by how pious the site was. There is something very humanizing about seeing people in their moments of deepest prayer.

Next, we went on a fantastic walking tour of the Kotel Tunnels. The tunnels are adjacent to the Western Wall and were built to connect the ancient city with the Temple Mount. Our guide was exceptionally helpful in explaining the religious history and politics behind the Western Wall site. For example, the Western Wall runs alongside the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which are sacred Muslim sites (more about those later). Therefore, there are ongoing clashes between the Jewish and Muslim people over control of the wall.

Here are a few pictures of the Kotel Tunnels:

The sophistication of the tunnels built so many thousands of years ago is truly astonishing. The tunnels are truly an engineering and archaeological marvel.

We exited the tunnels along the Via Dolorosa. In Christianity, the Via Dolorosa is believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion.

Interestingly, the Via Dolorosa is in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. A local showed us a great view of the Rock of the Dome that I mentioned above:

While wandering around, we followed some signs towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

We entered the church, then watched crowds of people paying enormous homage. After consulting our guide book, I learned that this church is the place where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.
The Stone of Unction, where Christ's body was laid after being removed from the crucifix and prepared for burial
Wow. Just wow.

There are more sites of Christian significance in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre than I can even begin to describe here. We walked all around the church and I tried to take in the magnitude of all we were seeing. Our timing worked out to see a mass, which was an amazing experience. Everything felt completely surreal.

To close out the night, we went to dinner at a cafe called Kadosh. I accomplished my mission of eating local shakshuka:

My summary reflections from the day:
I was thunderstruck to experience how the holiest sites in three major religions are within such extremely close proximity to each other. The land is bitterly contested to this day. It was harsh reality to learn of the continuing discord across the three religions. I realized how much I take for granted in my peaceful American life, much beyond my own comprehension.

More about Jerusalem to come.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Visiting Israel: Tel Aviv

I got back from Israel late this past Sunday night. The visit was an amazing, eye-opening trip that completely changed my perspective on many things. I am still reflecting and trying to process the whole experience.

I am overwhelmed with all the pictures and thoughts I'd like to share. I will attempt to break things down into a few more-manageable posts. When I last left off, I had just arrived in Tel Aviv - so let's continue from there.

I found Tel Aviv to be an energetic and cosmopolitan city with beautiful beaches and incredible art, history, and nightlife. I'm told Tel Aviv is considered the trendiest, hippest city in the Middle East, and for good reason.
View of Tel Aviv's skyline from Jaffa
Brace yourselves for an onslaught of pictures!

Day 1
Adam and I started with breakfast at a restaurant on Ben Yehuda Street called Benedict.

I had an "Israeli-style" breakfast:

2 eggs any style, fresh-baked breads, yogurt, tahini, tomato-cucumber salad, cheese, tuna salad, smoked salmon, and fresh juice (I chose apricot)

Adam got blueberry pancakes, which were by far the thickest I've ever seen in my life. Just one of the pancakes was the equivalent of about three or four normal-sized pancakes.

Source, since the picture I took doesn't do the pancakes justice but this picture does.

We headed out to enjoy the beaches along the Mediterranean Sea. They were SO clean and pristine, and were filled with ample public seating and shaded areas:

Getting to know the locals on the beach

Schlomo Lahat Promenade

We gradually made our way into the old city of Jaffa, where we had a late lunch at a shawarma hole-in-the-wall. As soon as we sat down, the servers brought out a seemingly endless array of mezze (appetizers) and enough bread to feed an army:

The green object in the basket on the left is an enormous piece of  rolled-up flatbread covered with a pesto-like sauce. It was one of two huge flatbreads in the basket. Plenty of carb-loading options all around!

Next, we took a Free Walking Tour of Jaffa. This is one of the world's oldest ports from which Tel Aviv developed. For many Jewish people returning to Israel from around the world, Jaffa was the main entry point. Jaffa is filled with archaeological, religious, and historic sites.

The streets are maze-like and filled with private residences along with restaurants and shops - especially art studios. It was fun to wander through and get lost. The locals are an interesting mixture of Jewish and Arabic.

We spent several hours walking around and taking in the views before making the long walk back to our hotel.

For dinner, we grabbed a quick bite at a local pizza joint on Dizengoff Street and had some great smoked salmon pizza. (No pictures, unfortunately.)

Day 2
The original plan was to take a day trip to Caesaria and/or Haifa. However, we were wiped from jet lag and from doing so much walking the day before. Plus, the public transit to Caesaria and Haifa was overly difficult. Therefore, we decided to stay in Tel Aviv and visit the Israeli Museum at the Yitzhak Rabin Center.

When I am traveling, I love taking public transit because I think it gives a really good sense for local life. Enroute to the museum, I enjoyed riding a sherut for the first time. This was the view from my passenger seat:

The Israeli Museum chronicles the history and development of Israel as a state while sharing the influential life of Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was the fifth prime minister of Israel and was assassinated in 1995.

I knew very little about the history of Israel's development and was unfamiliar with Rabin. In short, the museum was quite an eye-opening learning experience.

Dizzying array of photos

Walkway seals commemorate the nations that have become partners in preserving the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin.
This is the United States's seal.

In memoriam to Yitzhak Rabin
Candlelight memorial

View of the Tel Aviv skyline from the Israeli Museum

That night, we ate dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant on Dizengoff Street called La Shuk. We had some very creative spins on tabbouleh and other seafood. I am planning to try to recreate everything at home soon! 

My food pictures didn't turn out well, but here's the mint tea with which we finished:

Dizengoff Street
While in Tel Aviv, we stayed at the Dizengoff Avenue Hotel on Dizengoff Street. The hotel was small but very nice with extremely helpful staff.

Being unfamiliar with the city, we were lucky to pick this hotel as its location was fantastic. Upon arrival, I learned that Dizengoff Street used to be described as the "Champs-Elysees of Tel Aviv." It is filled with restaurants, shops, cafes, and people milling about.

Here are a few pictures, which definitely don't do it justice:

Lots of mouthwatering fruit stands on almost every street

Dancing water fountaint

It was cool to just walk around and observe locals enjoying themselves and going about their daily/nightly lives.

In summary - I thought Tel Aviv was amazing. What an incredible city with so much to see and do! I loved the energy and felt very comfortable there.

Day 3
Time to depart Tel Aviv. In the morning, we hopped onto a regional bus and headed to Jerusalem. 

I'll talk about Jerusalem next.

Linking up with Malinda for Wednesday Wanderlust.