Now is about the time that many people are falling off the wagon with their new year’s resolutions and goals, so I figured now was also the perfect time for me to share mine. I don’t really ever set resolutions, but I like to have some goals to focus on.
I’ve actually got some pretty big goals that I’m keeping private for right now (but if we’re friends IRL, please ask me about them!), but here’s what I’m putting out there for the world:
1. Read every day.
In 2016, I set a goal to read 52 books, or one per week. I actually surpassed this goal and read 53! I knew I wanted a slightly less aggressive goal in 2017, but I read even less than expected and probably read somewhere around 25-30 books (which is still a lot!).
To get back into reading more regularly, I’ve set a goal to read every single day (and so far I’ve still got a perfect record!). I use Goodreads to track my reading, and I’ve set a goal on there to read XX books, so I’m hoping daily reading time will help do the trick!
I’m not putting further parameters on what “read every day” means – so some days it may be a chapter, or other days might be a bit more, like the day recently where I had 3 hours of flights and read a few hundred pages.
I’m also committing to reading all of the unread books on my bookshelf (as opposed to the hundreds of unread books also sitting in my kindle app haha!)
2. Run 2 marathons.
I’m already registered for the 10th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Marathon in May (on my birthday!), so that’s one for sure. I’ve got a free entry for Akron in September and had a great experience there in 2017, so I’m definitely considering it again as well. I’m also tossing around some other ideas!
I’m also participating in the Run for a Reason program once again and am looking to raise $1000 for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. I’m currently 15% completed with my goal. I’d love to see my friends and family sponsoring my race at $1 per mile (that’s 26.2 miles, folks!). Even $0.50 per mile is a HUGE help and goes a long way towards funding a cure. You can donate by clicking HERE!
First things first – I’ve got to get back into a rhythm with running. The past few months have not included much running and while I’m ok with that and know I’ll get back into it, I also know these next few weeks will probably be rough, particularly with all the gross weather we’ve had.
3. Create a plan and budget for a trip to Europe.
A Eurotrip has been high on my bucket list for many years, so I’m determined to finally start making some plans!
I won’t be going on the trip or setting dates until I’ve met some financial goals I’m working towards, but I’m also hoping that making more concrete plans will help keep me focused on those goals.
4. Stick to my #powersheets.
I haven’t used a planner in many, many years thanks to technology because I keep my calendar and task list in Google Calendar, but I decided to try one out this year in hopes that seeing my goals in writing, on paper, in my own handwriting, will help me stay focused on them and not lose momentum. I figure if I’ve got to drag this book everywhere with me, I may as well smash the goals and plans written in it, right? :-p
After looking at a few options, I settled on the #powersheets planner from Cultivate What Matters. Unfortunately, they were sold out of the 12-month planner and aren’t restocking their inventory, so I purchased a 6 month calendar. I’ve been chipping away at it a little bit at a time and hope to have all of my action plans laid out by the end of next week!
This goal also encompasses achieving those other goals I vaguely mentioned at the beginning of this post, so it’s actually more than just writing in a planner (though I’m definitely going to buy some fun new pens to write in it!)
Do you set New Year’s resolutions or goals? Share them in the comments!
In honor of #GivingTuesday, I’ve got a big announcement to make: I’m running the Pittsburgh Marathon again in 2018! This is the 10th anniversary of the return of the Pittsburgh Marathon, and it will be my 3rd full marathon (2nd in Pittsburgh). Once again, I will be raising funds for the Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. As part of the Run for a Reason program, all of the funds raised will stay local! This means the money raised will directly benefit all of my fellow IBD warriors here in the Pittsburgh area.
To learn more about some of those IBD friends, check out the trailer for The Stool, an upcoming documentary I had the privilege of working on earlier this year. Stay tuned for more details regarding the premiere of The Stool in 2018!
I’ve set a goal to raise at least $1000 this year. I sincerely appreciate every dollar that people are able to spare. ALL of the funds raised stay local! I will be fundraising until race day on May 6, which also happens to be my birthday! Crowdrise allows the option to make monthly donations, so please consider a recurring gift (or simply spreading your gift out over several months!).
To kick off my fundraising, all donations of $15 or more made TODAY (November 28, 2017) will be entered to win a $50 gift card to Starbucks or Chipotle (winner’s choice!).
#GivingTuesday is a GREAT way to give back to great causes! I will also be making a donation to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust as part of #GiveBigPittsburgh. What are some of your favorite #GivingTuesday charities? Comment below with a link!
I’d been wanting to update/upgrade my website for quite some time. While Blogger has been good to me over the years, I was ready for a more polished look. A few weeks ago, I finally took the plunge and started building my new site on Squarespace – I love all of their beautiful templates and the user-friendly interface. And sure, all those advertisements/sponsorships on my favorite podcasts probably contributed subliminally to my desire for a new home on the web.
The process has been pretty great – their support team has been responsive to all my questions, I don’t need to code anything myself (unless I want to), and my blog posts all imported from Blogger! I’m still building out many of the pages, but take a look around and let me know what you think so far!
It’s official. I’m a two-time marathoner. For someone who spent a long time saying I had no desire to run even one marathon, this is a big deal. Heck, this is a big deal for anyone. Less than 1% of the population will ever run a marathon at all.
This training cycle was pretty different from the last. When I trained for Pittsburgh in 2016, I was new to the 26.2 mile distance so my goal was simply to finish. I chose a training plan, stuck with it as much as I could, and ran the race. I also raised over $2000 for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. It was a truly amazing experience, and definitely convinced me I *could* run another marathon if I wanted to.
After Pittsburgh, I decided to run the Erie Marathon that September. Spoiler: I didn’t run the Erie Marathon. I didn’t run a marathon at all that fall. The summer was really busy personally and professionally, I moved, and my training just never came together. I knew by about mid-July that the Erie Marathon wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t beat myself up about it, and just focused on my other fall races (which included 3 half marathons in 3 weeks in October, all of which I NAILED).
After battling shingles in December/January, getting back into running was tough (seriously, who gets shingles when they are 31?! #autoimmuneproblems). The middle of winter is not a good time to start going outside again. I slowly got back into things, ran the half in Pittsburgh, and generally took it easy running-wise for the first half of 2017. In June, I decided to choose a fall marathon and try again. I wanted something in September or October (ahead of a trip to Walt Disney World in November!) and within driving distance (to keep costs down, but also in case any family/friends wanted to come along as well).
I had run on a relay team at the Akron Marathon a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It was a well-supported race, and the swag is nice. With Ohio also being the state I was born in, I thought it might be cool to run a marathon there. So once again I added a training schedule to my calendar and got back into a routine.
1. My routine. I was mostly able to stick with it, usually hitting my goal of at least 3 runs per week – the weekend long run being one, the mid-week long run being another, and then a third and sometimes fourth shorter run throughout the week.
2. My nutrition. I’ve been using this AMAZING nutrition for over a year now, and it’s been such a game changer for me. Consistently eating high-quality, nutrition dense shakes (that tastes DELICIOUS) has been so helpful in maintaining a healthy nutrition plan.
3. Hill repeats. In the past, most of my training runs were generally the same. Sure, some of the shorter runs might have been faster than my long runs, but I wouldn’t call them speed workouts. I don’t have a track that’s super convenient to get to (not as convenient as my neighborhood or the park, anyway). I tried to always incorporate hills in to my workouts (let’s be honest, it’s kind of hard not to in Pittsburgh), but never really had any intentionality behind any of this. I decided to start somewhere and started doing hill repeats. I picked a big hill at Graham Park and told myself I’d do one workout per week where all I do is run up and down the hill. If it ever got easy, I’d find a bigger hill (ha! Like that will ever happen.). I never felt like the hill got easier, but I definitely felt like I was getting stronger. This certainly came in handy when I encountered the hill-that-never-freaking-ends shortly after the half split of the marathon course.
4. Informed-Sport Certified Performance products. Shoutout to my amazing nutrition company again! I don’t know why I waited so long to use the performance line. The pre-workout is the only one I’ve ever tried that actually works, but doesn’t make my skin crawl. Really. No twitchy feeling. Like the pre-workout, the post-workout recovery drink tastes delicious and is a refreshing complement to my post-workout protein shake. Before mid-week and weekend long runs, I also used a nitric oxide supplement to help increase blood flow. This helped me push harder with less effort.
5. Strength training. Until this summer, I’d never belonged to a gym (other than my university rec center). Most of that was due to cost – most of the gyms near my house are phenomenal but expensive. Heck, even the YMCA is $60 a month! Knowing I would still want to do the majority of my running outside, the expense of a gym membership never seemed worth it. Planet Fitness opened in Cranberry over the summer and at $10 a month, it provides exactly what I’m looking for! I have access to strength training equipment, classes, and cardio machines for a great price. I knew that even if I only went once a month, it would still be cheaper than many of the popular fitness classes out there (not knocking them, I just can’t afford it lol). I set a goal to go and strength train at least 2 days per week throughout the duration of my marathon cycle. Most weeks, I made it! Some days I would do the 30-minute express workout circuit, and other days I’d pick and choose which machines I wanted to use. After weeks of watching others use the assisted pull-up/tricep dip machine, I finally tried it myself. I’ve always wanted to be able to do a pull-up, but that’s a really hard move to work your way up to, so having the assist of the weights really helps. This made a HUGE difference in my running. I could literally see my muscles getting stronger and it was playing out on the road as well.
6. The people of Akron. The weather on race day was HOT (more on that below) and the people of Akron really stepped up and showed up for us runners. The Blue Line Block Parties that were scattered on the course were so encouraging and kind, and they provided critical aid and refreshments. People put out spreads of watermelon, orange slices, pickles, pretzels, water, gatorade, beer, margaritas, popsicles, snow cones, and more. There was a cooler at one block party marked “Free Beer! And Free Ice!” and you better believe I grabbed as much ice as I could carry. People set up their sprinklers and sprayed runners with their hoses. They shouted words of encouraged, held up funny signs, and really SHOWED UP. The official aid stations were well-supported – everyone was always ready for every runner. Fellow runners supported one another and made conversation to help pass the time and distract from the relentless heat. People made sure those that needed medical attention got it. The police and fire departments manned every intersection, keeping traffic moving when they could and keeping every runner safe on the roads, all in the blazing sun wearing dark uniforms (and DAMN if there aren’t some attractive officers in Akron). I cannot say enough great things about the people of Akron, and the Akron Marathon. Definitely a race to add to your wishlist.
What Didn’t Work?
1. The damn weather. If I’d wanted to run a race in the summer heat, I would have signed up for one in July. It was unseasonably hot on race day, like hot even my summer standards hot. The Akron Marathon issued a weather advisory earlier in the week and encouraged people to slow their pace. Not exactly what you want to see when you’re gunning for a HUGE PR, but you can’t control the weather.
2. Shoe issues during training. I tried a few different shoes throughout my training and I struggled to adjust to the wider toe box of a pair of Sauconys. I’m super appreciative of Dave and his awesome team at Pro Bike & Run – East End for helping me choose the right shoes and make adjustments as necessary. The team there is so knowledgable and I always felt like they had my best interests in mind – it wasn’t just about making a sale.
What Happens Next?
As my training progressed and my paces stayed consistent, it became increasingly clear that a sub-5 marathon, which had always seemed like a pipe dream, was not only within reach, but was realistic. The weather dictated otherwise – I had no choice but to slow down and I knew in the days leading up to race day that the Akron Marathon was unlikely to be the place I broke 5 hours. I struggled with this idea (because it SUCKED, and still does) and tried to adjust my plan. Knowing Sub-5 wasn’t realistic (or safe in that heat, really), I set my sights on at least hitting a new PR (anything under 5:28). And I DID IT! I ran the Akron Marathon in 5:25:03. Not the time I had hoped for, but a new PR and a hard-won victory and definitely something to celebrate!
When I knew that Sub-5 wasn’t going to happen, I actually started contemplating finding another fall marathon to try again and hope for better weather. I’m still kind of undecided on that, but leaning towards not trying to do that and just looking ahead to spring races! But who knows? 😛
I’m hoping to hit the gym to strength train at least 3 days per week in this interim time (when I’m not on a training plan). Back to working on those pull-ups and building my overall strength! I’m hoping to make decisions about spring races in the coming weeks so I can get a training plan back on my schedule – I work much better when I’ve got a routine than when I’m just out there running however many miles I want.
I also really want to spectate a race sometime soon. Spectators really make all the difference in the world and I want to help someone else in that way.
Sub-5, you’re on notice. I’m still coming for you!
What About You????
What are your goals this fall? Do you have more questions about my training, or my nutrition, or have suggestions? Want to know more about the performance products I use? Not only are they the best, they’re cheaper than most of the stuff I see out there. Anything else you’d like to say? Tell me in the comments!
I’m officially registered for my second marathon! I will be participating in the 15th Anniversary of the Akron Marathon! I participated on a relay team (hey, Ohana!) a few years ago and really like the race experience. It’s well organized and the swag is awesome. I also like that’s not terribly far from home and that it’s early enough in the fall that I’ll be able to recover in time to run some other fall races as well as pace Jeff at the JFK 50 Miler in November (eek! So exciting!).
As an added bonus (in my opinion, anyway), this will also be my first race as a member of Team Challenge! While I’m not new to fundraising for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, this will be my first time to official Race in Orange. You know an organization really matters to me when I’m willing to (and excited about) wear orange. Orange. Ick. The worst color ever (except for maybe brown).
My goal is to raise at least $1000 for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, so yes, I’ll be hitting up all of my family and friends for money again. Until there is a cure for these awful diseases, I will continue to do whatever I can to raise funds and awareness. You don’t find cures, you fund them.
I’m using a Hal Higdon training plan again and have also set the following fitness goals for myself for the summer:
-Run 3x per week.
The training plan has 4 runs per week, but I’ve found that often isn’t realistic for me.
-Strength train for at least 15 minutes 3x per week.
The Cranberry Township Community Chest had these awesome fitness stations installed at Graham Park in 2014. They’re fairly basic and use body strength, so I’m not going to start some bodybuilding career (which is good because that body paint looks creepy as hell), but at least I’m incorporating another good habit. And let’s be honest, most runners have no upper body strength at all.
-Walk/Cross train 1-2x per week. I really enjoy walking so this is usually pretty easy for me to add in. In an effort to keep a good workout routine going (and to motivate me to get at least 3 runs in each week), I told myself that if it was raining really hard or the weather was otherwise crappy and I didn’t feel like going outside to run, I’d do a Jillian Michaels workout (or something similar, but I like hers). This morning I did 30 Day Shred for the first time in a long time and it was a little rough haha.
Again this should be pretty easy because the nutrition company I’ve partnered with has an AMAZING product line. I’ve recently (finally) started using the performance line and holy crap! It IS possible to have a pre-workout drink that doesn’t make your skin crawl after 10 minutes.
*Feel free to laugh in my face if I ever tell you I’m going to blog consistently.*
Can we talk about student loans? Most people I know have them, and whether they owe $5,000 or $50,000 or $150,000, they all feel this burden in their daily lives. Most of the time I joke with people that I’ll die of old age before my student loans are paid off. I also get frustrated when I think about all the things I’d be able to do if I didn’t have to make these payments every single month. Things like buying a house, or take a trip to Europe, or invest more for my retirement.
In my years of paying on my student loans, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that you have to just make the payments every month and be done with it – don’t dwell on it or you’ll make yourself crazy wondering how you’ll ever pay it off. I’ve learned that people have very different definitions of what is “a lot” in terms of student loan debt. For example, a friend told me how hard it was to make the payments on her husband’s loans, and his balance is 10% of mine.
I’ve also learned a lot about ways to make the payments a little easier. In some cases, people may be eligible to have their loans forgiven entirely. That sounds great, in theory, until you realize that most people don’t qualify. For example, I work for a non-profit organization, which should qualify me for forgiveness of my student loans after so many years of service, but I work for a 501(c)7, which is the wrong kind of non-profit, so I’m not eligible. Sigh.
Refinancing is something I’ve learned a lot about and have actually done twice now. A few years ago, I refinanced my private student loans. As a result, I was able to lower my monthly payments and drastically reduce my interest rate.
Here are my tips for loan refinancing:
Shop around for the best rates. There are many websites that will help you do this, including my favorite, Credible (more on them in a minute).
Take advantage of auto-pay discounts – many lenders will reduce your interest rate by .25% by setting up automatic payments each month. This also prevents you from missing a payment (which could damage your credit score)!
Pay attention to the length of the loan and choose one that fits your budget. This might mean taking a longer loan that has a lower monthly payment, or choosing a shorter loan but knowing you’ll have to tighten your purse strings for a while to pay it off sooner.
Take advantage of referral bonuses and get some extra cash money while you’re refinancing.
Consider adding a cosigner – this may open up even better interest rates for you.
As promised, let’s talk a little more about Credible. This isn’t a sponsored post – I receive nothing from them for writing about this, but I want to share this information with others. However, there are referral links in this post. If you use them to refinance through Credible, you and I will BOTH get $250!
First, Credible is not a lender. Instead, they will help you shop for rates from many lenders all at once. This will save you so much time! From there, Credible makes it easy for you to submit your loan application to the actual lender that you select. I am so glad I found this site when I was first refinancing because they gave me so much helpful information about the whole process. I needed a cosigner, and Credible emailed him (thanks, Dad!) directly and gave him the link to securely upload his documentation to be included with my loan application. There are other great websites out there that do this loan shopping for you, but personally, I was able to find the best rates on Credible.
They have an awesome referral program as well – if a friend refinances after using your unique referral link, you BOTH get $250! Who doesn’t want an extra $250 just for helping a friend out? If you have student loans (and again, who doesn’t?), I encourage you to check out Credible and please use my referral link to help a sister out!
I am happy to answer questions people have about student loans (and if I don’t know the answer, I will help you find it!). Comment below if you’ve ever refinanced your loans and share what your tips and tricks!
Like most people, I can agree with the sentiment that 2016 was a bit of a dumpster fire. I’m not really sad to see it go, but there were also a lot of highlights and memories made that I will cherish forever. Here is my 2016 year in review:
-I took trips to Chicago, San Antonio, DC, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Indianapolis (again), St. Louis (again), Dover, Niagara Falls, Riviera Maya, and Boston;
-I wish bon voyage to a dear friend who embarked on a huge adventure;
And the season of PRs continued today with a HUGE PR at Buffalo Creek today.”! 2:12:04 – holy crap! Huge thanks to @pghrunner for helping me through that final mile today! #hshive #nuunbassador #gameonpgh
A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on Oct 15, 2016 at 1:36pm PDT
-I met one of my favorite people and told him he was my favorite (and he loved it);
I’ve had a Goodreads account for several years now, but I used to forget about it for months or years at a time. When I’d remember, I’d log on and update my “Books I’ve Read” list with as much as I could remember (and synced it to my Kindle account!), scroll through the newsfeed to see what my friends were reading, and then promptly forget about it again. I don’t know why, considering I have always loved reading and books.
Towards the end of 2015, I was on the Goodreads app and I noticed a “Reading Challenge” section. I learned you can set a goal for how many books you’d like to read in a year, and then use the app to track your progress. If your friends have challenge goals, you can also follow along their progress and see which books they’ve read to help them reach their goal. I’d never had a reading goal before, and again, I don’t know why.
I decided to read 52 books in 52 weeks – one book per week for an entire year. Considering there have been times where I’ve blown through an entire book in a day, I figured this goal would be easy-peasy! And for the most part, it was, though I did have to read 7 books in December to finish off my goal. I didn’t put any restrictions on myself in regards to genre or book length – just 52 books in 52 weeks. Some were print books, some ebooks, and a few audiobooks as well. I did read 2 books that were advanced copies of not-yet-published books. Since they aren’t on Goodreads yet, I elected not to include them in my count. I also read a few boxed sets or 2-in-1 books and I counted those each as one book (since they show up on Goodreads as one book).
There it is – the complete list of books I read in 2016 (as of December 27). I included the last one because I received it as a Christmas gift and read it cover to cover. I’ve already flagged recipes I’m excited to try! I finished with a week to spare and even finished a bonus book.
I haven’t set a goal yet for 2017, but I’m thinking somewhere around 45. Yes, I know some people would set a goal that was even bigger than 2016’s, but I’d like to keep it fun and don’t want the pressure of having to read books quickly to finish up (that sort of happened in December).
What were your favorite reads in 2016? I am looking for recommendations! Comment below with your best suggestions!
Disclaimer: I received compensation from SavvyConnect to shop using Walmart Grocery Online, however, I was not asked to give a review and opinions are entirely my own. This is not a sponsored post and I was not compensated by Walmart in any way.
On Friday, I mentioned that I had recently had a great experience with Walmart. Yes,
As part of a market research study, I was asked to try out Walmart Grocery Online. Over the course of a few days, I added items to my online cart, much like you do with any online shopping purchase (or the way I’d make a grocery list, if I were shopping in-store). I was able to find everything I was looking for, including some specialty items like flaxseed and a Keurig water filter refill. I found a coupon for $10 off my first purchase, so of course I used that! After I had everything added, I was able to select the store and pickup date and time.
Unfortunately, this service isn’t available at my local Walmart Supercenter in Cranberry yet, so I had to drive abour 15 minutes to the Baden store, which really wasn’t a big deal. In fact, the experience was so great I’d happily drive back there again to use the online pickup.
I received a confirmation email that explained what I needed to do. They said I’d receive a call 15 minutes before my pickup window (you get an hour) and then whenever I was about 10 minutes away, I could call them back and they’d have everything ready to go as soon as I arrived. It also included a map of the store outlining where I should go and park for online pickup.
As it turns out, I forgot a few items and also had some non-grocery items I needed to look for, so I went early to shop in the store. While I was shopping, I received a call from my personal shopper (shoutout to Ryan!) saying my order was ready and to call him back whenever I was 10 minutes away. As I was just getting into the checkout lane (with only 1 person in front of me), I called him back and he said he’d have everything ready to go.
I pulled into the designated space and within a minute or so, out came Ryan with a cart containing my items. He came around to the driver side and asked if I wanted to check any of the produce before he loaded the car. Everything was GREAT (and the spaghetti squash was HUGE). He had selected everything and prepared the order personally. He also verified that there had been no substitutions on my order (in certain cases, they may substitute an item for a similar item of equal or greater value).
refer others with a $10 coupon
(full disclosure, if you use my referral link, I get a $10 coupon too!).
I highly recommend this service. Everything was so easy. I can definitely see this being helpful to busy people or those with kids. I’ve read a few other reviews of the service online and many people have said
and consider having allergen friendly treats available!
4. Coach Jeff and I are headed to Niagara Falls, ON this weekend to run the Niagara Falls Marathon. I’m doing the Half and Jeff is going to crush the Full in order to gain a qualifying time for the JFK 50 Miler next fall. I’ll have my phone on airplane mode, but will try and post to Instagram on wifi whenever I can. Follow along by following me on
and following the hashtags #PGHLaurenNATour and #CoachJeffJFK50 (and probably other hashtags I will make up on a whim).
5. Speaking of #PGHLaurenNATour (NA stands for North America, by the way), I will be in all three North American countries within a span of 4 days! On Wednesday, I leave for Mexico to celebrate my college roommate Elyssa’s wedding in Cancun! On the way home, I’ll be spending a day in Miami as well and would love some restaurant recommendations, so leave your favorites in the comments below!!!