Happy New Year!

With only a few hours left in 2015, I’d like to take a moment to thank you all for coming along on this crazy ride with me! I would never have accomplished the amazing things I did this year without your support and encouragement along the way, and I am forever grateful for that!

May each and every one of you enjoy kissing this year goodbye with people you love, and I hope you welcome 2016 with open arms and an open heart!

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Avoiding Confrontation, Sweating thru Christmas, and more…

First off: Happy Holidays everyone! With the yuletide madness, things have been quiet here on the blog but crazy in real life. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you all got to spend some time with people who make you happy, because isn’t that what it’s all about after all?

I promise to get some more posts up in the next few days (teaser: I ran a race dressed like a reindeer/elf!), but today I’ll sum up the highlights of the past few weeks:

1. I took a boot camp class and almost karate chopped a lady in the throat on purpose.

Allow me to explain. The boot camp was GREAT, but there was this one lady in the class who insisted on doing everything *better*. I’m sure you know the type: the one who’s done the class before and does all the moves before the instructor starts, exaggerates each motion, does jumping jacks and runs up and down the length of the room while the rest of the class takes a water break… WELL. In the beginning of the class, the instructor asked if anyone was new to class, so my workout buddy and I raised our hands. He welcomed us and told us to take some water or a breather when we needed it. Awesome. Class starts. It’s great! Sweat is pouring, the moves are challenging, but not so hard that I had to huff or puff or stop to catch my breath. 50 minutes later class is over, and as we’re packing the weights away, Miss Congeniality comes over to me and makes a big show of patting my shoulder and saying, “You survived your first boot camp! YAY!”

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“I run thirteen miles FOR FUN lady, so I suggest you take that patronizing hand OFF my shoulder before I bite it off and spit it out.” WAS WHAT I WANTED TO SAY. But didn’t. Instead I just smiled and nodded and added 15 minutes of angry abs to the end of my workout just to show her I can survive more than a 50 minute low-impact boot camp.

I know I may have been a little sensitive (Thanksgiving weight gain is a very real thing and bouncing around a room lined with mirrors isn’t the best self-esteem booster), but come on.

2. It’s been RIDICULOUSLY warm here in NJ. Like, 68-70 degrees some days, which means I get to run in shorts and tank tops past inflatable Santas on people’s lawns. It’s kinda weird.

3. I went swimming again! For the first time since my disastrous OWS during the One More Tri in September!

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The credit for this one goes to Workout Buddy Kevin (TM) once again – I was content to hang out and prepare for Christmas by eating cookies hand over fist, but Kevin, the voice of fitness-minded reason suggested we go for a swim at the gym. 300 meters later, I was back in love with swimming (in a pool, at least) and looking forward to adding it back into the workout rotation!

4. Christmas was a blast! In addition to fun stuff like a record player (so I can finally listen to my old record collection), Santa brought me a bunch of running swag that I’ve already started breaking in.

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How about you? Have your days been merry and bright lately? Dish in the comments!

Keep it Sassy, Keep it Classy, Keep it Real

When I started this blog, Imma be honest: I had NO idea what I was doing. All I wanted was to stop annoying the majority of my online friends who didn’t care about my running and fitness escapades, and a place to keep track of my training, vent my frustrations, and share more than just a few sentences in an Instagram photo caption.

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My friends’ faces after my 274th post about nailing a training run.

So I created the blog and created new Facebook and Twitter accounts to link to it, easy peasy. Seems like a win-win! But as time went on, I found that creating quality content for all these channels was hard, yo. By the time I get done with 9+ hours of writing and editing at my 9-5, the last thing I want to do is more writing. I’m tired. Hell, the last time I wasn’t tired was when Bush was in office. The FIRST Bush.

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Long story short, quality content is hard to create.

Fast forward to a month ago, when I attended a Content Marketing Class. In addition to some helpful tricks for my 9-5 gig (who paid to send me there!), I also picked up a few tips on shaping my social media strategy. If you’re blogging or tweeting or whatever solely for your own enjoyment, then by all means keep doing you. But if you’re interested in growing your own blog and social followings, these tips really struck me and I wanted to share them with you!

The first one? Keep it real. The most successful marketers (or bloggers, Instagrammers, etc) are genuine. They’ve found a unique way to tell their stories, whether it’s through humor or by being super smart or whatever. Think about it this way: when you’re looking for blogs to read (or people to follow on IG, Twitter, etc), what kind of stuff resonates with you most and makes you click the subscribe button? A quick re-telling of the same “Winter Running Motivation” article from Women’s Running Magazine that you’ve seen four other bloggers re-tell? Or an expletive-laced story about the time a runner got heckled by a passing motorist?

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with either of those posts – hell, I wrote both of them. I’ve learned it’s OK to publish content that will attract eyeballs simply because it’s a hot topic and people are searching for it. That’s organic traffic, and it’s a good thing. But to gain traction and connect with people, the key is to tell each story in a way that makes you stand out from the crowd.

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Go ahead, write one more blog post about the things that go through your head during a long run. But instead of using the same old “This is great/Is it over yet?” platitudes that the 12,539 articles about this topic use already, how about telling your story with GIFs?

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People will want to keep reading just to see how this GIF fits into a post about running 12 miles. I promise.

Similarly, this second tip is one that won’t fly with everyone, but I’ve found success on Instagram with it and think it’s worth mentioning: don’t be afraid to open up and switch things around a bit!  If you’re interested in growing a following, think about it in terms of making friends in real life: no one likes to hang out with the guy that ONLY talks about Star Trek 24/7 (no offense to you Trekkies, I’m part Trekkie myself). While people are coming to your blog or IG profile because you’re all about fitness or biking or running, it’s OK to open up a little and incorporate some other parts of your life into your content too. After all, it’s your feed.

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You DO have other things you enjoy besides lifting heavy things and putting them back down, yes? Well so do your readers! Show them you’re more than a one-trick pony. Post a pic of your dog. Blog about your latest vacation. Open up about those insecurities you have about your training. People appreciate that you have a life (just like them!) filled with kids and arguments and cupcakes and all that other stuff that can’t be measured with a scale or tracked with a Garmin.

I’m not saying turn your feed into the Dave-the-Doberman Show (no offense to Dave, he’s really a cute dog) – think 80% “brand” related content (running if you’re a runner, for example), and 20% cat pictures/artsy shots of your wine at happy hour/whatever else floats your boat. When you share more than your mile splits and WOD’s, I bet you’ll connect with more people than you think.

So how about it? Have you found any other tips that you’d like to share? Share in the comments!

Not Your Average Vacation

If you follow me on IG or Twitter or Facebook,  you probably noticed last week that my photos all had a distinctly “not-NJ-in-December” feel to them. That’s because we went on vacation – to Florida!

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I wanted to do something BIG to celebrate hubby’s landmark 40th birthday this past Tuesday, but he’s a more reserved kinda guy. So instead of planning a big party he’d muddle through while silently wishing for it to be over, I did some research and discovered a rocket launch happening in Florida around the same time as his birthday. So after some secret airfare stalking and finding an unbelievable deal, I presented the idea to him (instead of surprising him). Thankfully, he was super stoked! So we were off to Titusville, Florida to visit Kennedy Space Center and watch as Orbital ATK launched an Atlas V rocket loaded with supplies up to the International Space Station!

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This is going to be a picture-filled post, so if you get bored by sunshine & giant rockets, I apologize in advance.

This was Mike’s first airplane ride, but I was so proud of how he handled it.

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It was a little nerve-wracking being 30,000 feet in the air, but it was an smooth flight with virtually no turbulence and we landed a few hours later in Orlando happy, hungry, and tired.

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It was my first time renting a car so I felt super important (it’s the little things, guys), and we had a great time checking out the area around the hotel. As it turns out, the whole area is ALL ABOUT THE LAUNCH. Like, that’s all you see on every sign everywhere. Even the bars are space themed. Seriously, one was named Launch. I kid you not.

We checked in and met the folks that owned the hotel (SUPER sweet people who offered us restaurant tips and coupons for the best seafood ever, more on that later), and they invited us back to the lobby that night for cocoa and cookies and to meet Dr. Ken Kremer, who was in town to cover the launch. Cookies, cocoa, and a fellow science nerd to talk shop with? Sweet!

After settling in, we headed out for dinner at Dixie Crossroads, where I quickly learned that any aspirations of healthy eating I had before this moment were merely fantasies. Because, well, fried dough covered in powdered sugar, you guys.

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Seriously, this was the meal our first night, and every night was this big. I didn’t beat myself up though: while it looks decadent, I kept the fried things to a minimum, stuck with mostly broiled seafood for dinner and salads for lunch, maintained a pretty good 70/30 balance (except for the giant gluten free brownie I had on the last day, #sorrynotsorry), and my iPhone’s health tracker clocked us at about 5 walking miles each day, so I think it all evened out!

After dinner we returned to the hotel and met Dr. Kremer where he was discussing the rocket launch and showing off some of his amazing photography in the lobby. As it turns out, he’s a speaker, freelance science journalist, scientist and photographer based out of – get this – Princeton, NJ! We traveled more than a thousand miles and still run into Jersey folks, go figure. He’s a mega-smart guy whose articles and space exploration photography has shown up in NASA, National Geographic, NBC News, CBS, and more, and he was in town to cover the launch. We chatted about the various photos he had on display, got really into some space stuff, and called it a night.

Day 1 was the day of the launch, so we went to Kennedy Space Center to explore for the day, then boarded a bus out to the Banana Creek Viewing Area in the afternoon but (spoiler alert) it was scrubbed due to rain. No matter though – it was rescheduled for the next day and we still had an amazing time! Here’s Day 1 in photos:

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Rocket Selfie time

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There really is a person in there, I promise.

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Atlantis Robot Arm attack!

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They snapped this before putting us on the bus – too bad it didn’t happen IRL!

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Astronaut Brian Duffy – amazingly intelligent, easy going, and witty too!

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With the actual Atlantis shuttle

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Excitedly waiting in the drizzle for a rocket launch!

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But sadly being soaked by the downpour after the launch was scrubbed.

To drown our sorrows, we went to the Cracker Barrel (our first experience!) across the parking lot from our hotel and feasted. There are no pictures from that because our hands were covered in butter. But we did fall in love with the peg game and now can’t stop playing it!

Day 2 was clearer, but the WIND was very strong. Word from NASA was a 40% chance of the launch happening that night, but we were optimistic (and let’s be honest, we had nothing else to do) so we boarded the bus, took a little tour, and tooled around the Saturn V building then headed to the viewing area once more. Here’s Day 2 in pictures!

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Mike with an Apollo capsule.

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The view from under the fuel tank at the Atlantis building.

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Part of a beautiful tribute to the lives lost in the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters. Truly moving.

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The Saturn V rocket on display.

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Hubby really got into the action 🙂

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The Vehicle Assembly Building

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Space Salad! No seriously, they grow some of the greens they use in the cafe’s salads hydroponically, just like they’re trying to do in space. SPACE SALAD!

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Panoramic shot of the Banana Creek Viewing Area before it got crowded.

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Our marriage summed up in one GoPro shot.

Spoiler alert #2: the rocket launch was scrubbed again, this time due to wind! It was still immensely cool to be at the viewing area again, this time with a smaller crowd, and to hear the live audio feed from NASA broadcasting on the PA system outside. I still get goosebumps when I watch the little video I took of the pre-flight systems check (and the cheer that erupted in the crowd when we got to hear those magic words: “You have permission to launch.”

I dare you not to cheer when you hear it 😉

After the second failed attempt, I won’t lie: I was bummed. That was our last shot at seeing it in person, and that made me sad. Mike was still super happy though, and that’s what matters. OK, he did, at one point, say through gritted teeth while we held our breath waiting for the launch, “Just press the button, send it up! A $100 million dollar rocket can’t handle a little wind??”, but that was it.

To turn the negative of missing the launch into a positive, I decided to take him out for an early birthday dinner at the restaurant our hotel manager recommended: Shiloh’s Steakhouse.

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Not pictured: his twin lobster tails and my gigantic sea scallops. Again, butter-covered hands.

It was so nice to hang out in the warm(er) weather with the river right there, eating seafood and laughing about wanting to waste the millions of dollars and take the chance by sending the rocket up even if it wasn’t ready. When we got back to the hotel we decided to bring our peg game (yes, we bought our own for $4) to the open air lobby for some play time, but stopped into the main lobby to see if Dr. Kremer was there – and lo and behold there he was, with his friend Klaus!

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We hung out in the lobby with Klaus and Dr. Kremer for another hour or so, drinking cocoa and eating cookies and talking about everything from rockets to Instagram to traveling. We even caught Ken on TV when the local news station did a bit about the scrubbed launch – they interviewed him about his thoughts and we were there to see the magic firsthand. It was pretty fun, to say the least 🙂

After saying our goodbyes, we hung out in the open air lobby and played our games for a bit, then Klaus stopped by again and we chatted for a bit, then we finally hit the hay.

Day 3 was a blur – we went back to the Space Center for a few hours, walked around and generally took our time looking at all of the things we breezed by earlier to get to other attractions. It was so nice, just strolling through the Rocket Garden in 75+ degrees and sun… even though we were headed for the airport at 5pm!

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I took a “run” on a space treadmill!

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Soaking up some last minute sun before our trip back to NJ

Finally we headed back to the airport to drop off our car, check in, and wing our way back to chilly NJ! It was a whirlwind 4 days that we’re still smiling about, even a week later.

If you’re looking for something fun to do that’s not the usual “sit on a beach and drink all day” vacation, I’d definitely recommend the Kennedy Space Center. It’s totally NOT just for kids – and even as a person who was previously only semi-interested in space stuff, I was riveted by some of the things I learned! No lie, I found myself going “Wow,” on multiple occasions, and learned so much about the space program in general and where it’s headed. It’s really fascinating stuff!

And if you go, definitely check out Dixie Crossroads restaurant. Just wear stretch pants.

What’s On Your Calendar?

2016 is fast approaching, and with it comes a new chance to fill up the weekends with races and long training runs – one of my favorite parts of the new year! I’ve already started building my race calendar, and while I’m still waiting to hear about a few races (helllloooo, NYC Half Marathon lottery??), I’ve managed to come up with quite a list so far:

  1. NYRR Joe Kleinerman 10K  – I’ve unofficially (er, “officially”, now that I’ve said it here??) decided to enter the 2017 NYC Marathon via NYRR’s 9+1 Program by running 9 races and volunteering at one throughout 2016. The Joe K 10K is my first of 9 and while I’ve done Central Park a few times, I’ve never been in what’s probably going to be about 15 degree weather!
  2. NYRR Gridiron 4Miler – This is another “hey why not?” race that I’m adding to my calendar for something different to do in the throes of a tri-state winter, and to add to my 9+1 for the year.
  3. Atlantic City April Fools 11K – After getting serious runner envy when I see everyone running these races every year, I finally decided to sign up for my first 11K ever. Auto PR anyone? And because I’m not doing the AC Half this year,
  4. NJ Half Marathon – This is going to be my major goal race of the spring. Instead of running the Asbury Park Half like I’ve done for 2 years now, I’m finally doing this one instead. Just like the AC Races, I always get runner envy seeing people at this race and it usually falls the day or week after Asbury, making it impossible for me to participate. But this year I switched things up and it’s going to happen!
  5. NYC Triathlon – Holy crap, THE New York City Triathlon, enough said.

There are also some tentative races I’ve got in the pipeline, depending on budget, lotteries, and/or if I’m able to coerce others into joining my hair-brained schemes:

  1. The NYC Half Marathon – This is dependent on the lottery drawing next week. While I’d love to run this one again, I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t get it. It’s a lot for me to race two halves in one season, and it’ll clear up a lot of training time in February and March for me to run other smaller races for fun instead.
  2. The Asbury Park 5K OR Marathon Relay – Because I’m not doing the half here this year, I can’t NOT run in Asbury. It’s my favorite place to run in the world. I’ll definitely do the 5k, but if I can convince a few other people, I’d love to do the marathon relay! Any takers? 😉
  3. The Runners World Half Marathon – This would be my ultimate goal race for the fall of 2016, but I’m not pulling the trigger yet, ONLY because I’m not sure if I want to go for the full monty and register for the whole weekend’s worth of races and do the 5k, 10k, hotel and everything, or if I’m just going to head into town for the race on the day. Budgets and timing will help me decide later on – either way, excited for this one!
  4. NYRR Central Park Spring Classic 10K – This all depends on if I get into the NYC Half, which is scheduled for the weekend before. Not sure if I’d be ready to race a 10K a week after a half, but stranger things have happened.

What does your 2016 Racing Calendar look like? Do you have any plans yet or are you waiting like me?

Ode to the Fitness Buddy

I don’t know about you, but with no major races on the horizon until at least March, I’m feeling kind of lost when it comes to my running. Without a big goal race to aim for or a plan to follow, I kind of turn into a sassy cranky pants just looking for some kind of structure to my life that’ll help me avoid gaining weight through the holidays and keep me sane when the Christmas madness takes hold.

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Exhibit A: my life.

Luckily, I’ve managed to set a pattern of sorts now thanks to my fitness friend, Kevin. Kevin has been my friend and frequent running buddy for a while now, but recently he’s joined my gym and kicked me into gear in a big way without even realizing it.

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Hooray for structure!

Kevin is usually the one to text me at 9PM on a Friday with “Are you running tomorrow?” What he doesn’t realize is that I’m usually eyeballs-deep in a glass of red wine and when I see his texts I usually say, out loud, to no one, “Well, I wasn’t planning on running in 12 hours but I guess I am now.” And then I finish the glass and put the cake down because no one wants to see me sweating red velvet and Robert Mondavi.

Now that he’s also a member of the same gym, he’s taken to texting me with random thoughts such as “Just throwing it out there. In addition to running. I want to work on abs, arms, and legs. Abs every day.”

And just like that, I’ve got a strength training schedule in my life!

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Exhibit B: this past Saturday’s workout

When I’m in the throes of training, I sometimes lose sight of how fun it is to workout with someone else, so I’m grateful for his reminders. And he’s not the only one!

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My sister in law (who ran the Turkey Trot with me last week!) has been excellent at suggesting we do fun runs and races lately, which I totally need in my life if I don’t want to end up waking up surrounded by empty Godiva chocolate boxes wondering what happened to the past 48 hours.

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And my cousin Heather who ran the Trenton 10K with me is another motivator: she’s got races lined up for pretty much every weekend now through the end of 2017, and I only wish I had her dedication!

How about you: do you have a fitness pal to keep you motivated? How has sweating with someone else helped you on your journey?

Insta-Thanks!

I say it a lot, but I can’t stress it enough: Instagram is where I first found my home in the fitness community, and it’s by far where I spend the most of my social media time.

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As of now, I’m currently about 60 followers away from 10K (HOLY COW) and while I don’t know when I’ll  hit that amazing, eye-popping milestone, I want to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to each and every one of you.

But I’m going to wear clothes. Especially on the bus. Because, ew.

You guys are truly the best. I read and smile at Every. Single. Comment. And while I try and sometimes fail to reply to every one, I try as hard as I can because I want you to know just how much I appreciate you taking time out of your day to talk to me.

When I look back at the past two years to when I started this whole Jess Runs Happy thing, I see a huge spike in my overall happiness. You folks have inspired me to push myself and do things I never would have dreamed of: swimming, run-streaking, relay races – even going out for a run when I really didn’t feel like it. Hell, I’ve lost count of how many runs I’ve gone on just to have something to post about on social media that day. Some might think that’s vain or silly, but I say it got my ass off the couch and onto the pavement for miles I never would have run otherwise. What’s so bad about that? Nothing.

So thank you. Thank you for looking at the silly pictures I post. For reading the words I string together in a hopefully entertaining way on a semi-regular basis. For not getting tired of all the various ways I capture images of my big dumb face and/or my sneakers. For encouraging me to train harder, smarter, and faster. For giving me a reason to keep doing the things that I sometimes struggle with: running, smiling, being.

For all that and more, THANK YOU!