Spin Class Aversion, Stuffed Crust Pizza, and North Korea: Lessons Learned after My First Week on the Upgrade Challenge

Who has two thumbs and loves to run? This girl!

Who has two thumbs and loves to run? This girl!

Lesson #1: You can run, but you can’t hide…from spin class

I’m a runner at heart, I’ve successfully finished a full marathon and ran in several half marathons. I like to do speed and incline workouts on the treadmill and go for long runs over the weekend. A few years back I competed in some sprint triathlons. The run was always my best event, my worst was… the bike. Now I have to say when I competed in my second sprint triathlon and medaled third in my age group it felt really good. I had conquered a personal time goal and had survived (definitely not dominated) the bike ride with an old, borrowed road bike. I started to attend a spin fusion class in order to improve my bike performance. Spin fusion was a great bridge for me into the biking world. We ride hard up hills or have sprints and jumps for two or three songs and then spend time off the bike planking, doing push-ups or whatever else one of my favorite fitness class instructors can come up with (yes I’m talking about you Robbie Nartey). I stopped attending the spin fusion class about a year ago. I don’t know if it was my inability to get to the class on time or the treadmill calling my name, but I slowly just started running again instead of riding. but this week it was time to get back in the saddle. Wednesday night I set my alarm an extra 15 minutes early to make sure I got up in enough time to make it back to spin fusion. I had a goal this week to get outside of my workout box, or in my case get off of the hamster track, and I decided for week one spin fusion would be a great class to ease into. The alarm went off, I snoozed. It went off again, I got up and took my sweet time packing my gym bag as I played the mental justification game trying to decide if going for a run that morning would really be that big of a deal. By the time I got to my car I was running 5 minutes late, but determined to go to spin fusion. I walked into the class facing a new instructor and running late. I hopped on the bike, strapped in and was about two songs in when I started watching the clock. A 45 minute class, I had shown up 5 minutes late…yay, it was really only going to be 40 minutes! These are the kind of mind games I play with myself during a workout. About halfway through the third song I could tell this instructor was going to push us hard and I dug in, welcoming the external motivation. Running is such an internal sport, when I’m on the asphalt running around my neighborhood no one would be the wiser if I skip a block or two to get home a bit faster. But in the spin room there’s no mercy, and as much as my hamstrings or quads are on fire I’m an obedient trainee – you tell me to keep it at 120 mph or an 18 and I’ll do it. Just when I thought I could take a bit of a breath of fresh air, ready for our 3 minute time off the bike and out of the saddle the instructor looked right at me. “We decided to change up the class and stay on the bike the whole time, that’s okay right?” She must have seen my desperate glances at the clock wondering when we would get some reprieve. I gave a confident smile/smirk and a “yeah, of course” as if this is what I had wanted all along. I had never actually taken a spin class for the full 45 minutes before and I either had to strap in for the long haul or attempt to fake a cramp and run for the treadmills. My pride wouldn’t let me get off the bike, but I’m glad I didn’t. The class was brutally satisfying. I felt accomplished afterwards with a great appreciation toward people who attend their own spin classes as religiously as my feet hit pavement. It was a great start to my new workout experience challenge and even though I paid for it the entire weekend in sore and tender leg muscles it was worth it!

Lesson #2: Everyone has a soft spot for beer and Little Caesar’s pizza (with cheese stuffed in the crust).
I really enjoyed eating my raw and vegan meals throughout most of the week, but about midway through the week my roommate and I shared some slices of the cheesy pizza!, pizza! and it was delicious. When it comes to raw meals my go-to recipes are salads.  Yeah, I know, those aren’t really recipes are they? Usually I end up mixing up a bit of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, tamari and agave nectar to create the perfect dressing to add to my salads. Although by Friday I was getting bored with salads and in an effort to avoid splurging on the leftover pizza!, pizza! I whipped up some nori rolls full of freshly chopped veggies. It’s a very simple recipe: I sliced up red and green peppers, cucumbers, avocadoes, broccoli, carrots, and cabbage and piled them into a nori wrapper with mung bean sprouts. I finished it off by sprinkling some sesame seeds before rolling it up. I made an almond dipping sauce for the rolls which was made of some raw almonds blended with a bit of ginger, apple cider vinegar, agave nectar, tamari and crushed red pepper to add some much needed heat. (I’m disappointed with the photo quality of my nori roll, but just maybe I’ll learn my lesson and break down and buy an actual camera). These little suckers were incredibly tasty and I had some leftover veggies so I wrapped them up in rice paper and noshed on veggie spring rolls over the weekend too. Using the rice paper means the meal is not exactly raw – but it is gluten free and vegan and an incredibly easy and delicious meal so it’s a win, win, win in my book!

Nori roll

Lesson #3: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, this was true even for North Korea’s deceased Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.
In an effort to expand my world view I’ve been delving into articles in TIME. One of the articles I read this past week was about the Japanese sushi chef and Dear Leader confidante, who goes by the alias Fujimoto. Prior to reading this article my limited knowledge of North Korea and specifically Kim Jong-il primarily came from pop culture, including the comedic portrayal of him in the popular and inappropriate movie Team America. I had heard stories of his eccentricities and this article was fascinating because the story came from someone who served him personally for eleven years. This chef has revealed many facts previously unknown including the actual birthday of the current North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, he’s a mere 30 years old. The story is a short, but personal look at a man whose assertive and boisterous personality led to a unique friendship with Kim Jong-il. Friendship might be reaching; perhaps relationship is a better way to describe it as friendship implies they were on even terms. Its heart rendering when it alludes to the human rights atrocities completely overlooked by the “dear leader” and his entourage of weak people happy to live in forced ignorance celebrating an ostentatious lifestyle. It is just as troubling when it becomes evident this Japanese sushi chef is still lost in this troubling world. For anyone interested you can find the article on GQ’s website. As so often happens for me reading this article has made me want to research and delve deeper into North Korean culture and life. I’ve had friends recommend the Vice Guide to North Korea and I’ll be watching that three part series sometime this week, so I’ll hopefully have more to share next week.


Cheezy & Creamy Avocado Sauce with Veggie Noodles

I love a good pasta, I mean who doesn’t right?! I love every type of noodle: fettucine, angel hair, macaroni, gnocchi and every type of sauce: marinara, alfredo, pesto to name just a few. In my quest to alkalize my diet I had to find a place for pasta and sauce, or at least a delicious and satisfying alternative. Months ago a friend shared a recipe with me from Hungry Girl which uses avocados in an alfredo sauce recipe. The avocados offer a creaminess to the alfredo sauce along with healthy fats and nutrients. Using avocados as my base I’ve created a delicious, raw sauce which tastes divine especially served with veggie noodles. The sauce is incredibly easy to make which makes this entire recipe a breeze to whip up in a pinch. The basic sauce includes avocado, almond milk, raw cashews, nutritional yeast (although not a raw ingredient it adds an extra cheesiness) garlic, salt, and pepper. DSC04120DSC04122

Turn on the blender and voila – sauce is ready to pour!

The blender will actually warm up the sauce a bit, but for those not too focused on a raw sauce can nuke it in the microwave for 15 seconds or in a saucepan at a very low heat. Pour the sauce over broccoli slaw & julienned carrots and stir.


Cheezy & Creamy Avocado Sauce

1/2 avocado

1/4 – 1/2 c. almond milk (unsweetened)

1 – 2 T nutritional yeast (more if you’d like to add some cheesiness)

1/8 c raw cashews

1 T minced garlic (I LOVE garlic so feel free to use less if you aren’t as in love with it as me)

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp pepper

Blend the ingredients – add more cashews if you’d like to thicken it or add almond milk to thin the sauce to your desired consistency. ENJOY! DSC04118

Do you have a favorite pasta sauce or recipe? If you do I’d love for you to share it with me!