2017 Finances Check-In #2

One of my big goals for this year is to really focus on my finances - not because they're in shambles but simply because, I think like for most people, they could be better. I could spend less here, save more there, and so on. I outlined my goals here and checked in after the first week here. Now that it's been a month, I think I'd like to continue monthly progress reports, so here is the month of January:

Friday Favorites - 1/27/17

I don't know about you, but I could definitely use a reminder of all the things that did not suck this week. Here are a few of my favorite things:

Free Lululemon
I've joined Strava a few different times (I ultimately end up deleting my account when randos start giving me kudos on my runs or whatever and I get paranoid that people can see when and were I run), most recently a couple weeks ago. If you don't use or know about Strava, it's kind of like Garmin meets Twitter - the data and analysis for runs and bikes and swims is crazy amazing, but there is a big social component to it as well. Anyway,  there are all sorts of challenges and I joined one that was co-sponsored by Lululemon, to run either 40k (25 miles) or 80k (50 miles) in a specified 2-week period. The challenges I usually join aren't really "challenges", per se, since they're usually things I'm planning to do anyway (I'm training for marathon and an Ironman, I don't need any extra challenges!). To be honest I had kind of forgotten about it and ended up deleting my account the other night (see: aforementioned paranoia) when I was on r/running on Reddit and saw a PSA that if you had completed the challenge, you got a free shirt and shorts from Lululemon - say what?! I had deleted my account *literally* ten minutes before reading the post, but I looked at my emails from Strava and found the one that they had sent me about completing the challenge. I had deleted it thinking it was just junk mail, but sure enough, I scrolled to the bottom and saw that if I brought the email into the store I could get free stuff. I was still a little incredulous (and not sure they'd give it to me since technically the account I'd completed the challenge under was no longer active), but I pass by a Lulu every day on my way home from work, so I stopped in because I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask about it, and I walked out with a completely free short sleeve Swiftly shirt (I'm a recent Lululemon convert and have fallen in love with these shirts) and pair of Speed shorts.

Shamrock Marathon Training: Week 9

This week was interesting: I added in more swimming and cycling since this should technically be Week 1 of my training for the Kinetic Half in May! As I said in my training plan post, I'm kind of just testing the waters with tri training right now and seeing how it goes. Marathon training is my first priority at least until March, so I'm open to modifying and/or backing down on swimming and cycling if it's affecting my running. This isn't going to be a normal half Ironman training cycle like I have had before, and I'm okay with that. This first week was fine though, and I even nailed my long run the day after my long ride (though it should be noted that my long ride right now isn't even 2 hours...).

Women's March on Washington: A (Mostly) Photo Essay

My experience in political activism extends to knocking on doors for Obama in 2008, which is to say, more than most people I know, but not enough to really count for much. I read, I listen, I'm informed, and I vote, but before this weekend I don't think I could say I had taken a truly active stance in politics.

This weekend, I marched on Washington.

Thanks, Obama

Nine years ago this month I registered to vote. I was twenty years old and had never voted before because I had never really wanted to. That changed when a certain senator from Illinois announced his candidacy for President of the United States. I registered, I knocked on doors, I hung signs in my windows, I walked around my college campus with a clipboard full of voter registration forms - and if you know me at all you know that a lot of those things are way beyond my comfort zone - I rallied, and I voted. 

I believed.

Today is very emotional for me and my feelings about it are very personal, so I wasn't sure if I was going to address it here or not, but I didn't want to let it slip by without saying a few words of thanks.

Thanks, Obama. Thanks for giving hope to an entire generation, hope for change, hope that right will prevail over wrong, hope that we are moving forward and not backward. Without your victory eight years ago - a strong sign for many of us that we are on the right side of history -  I'm not sure I would have any hope that love will trump hate over the next four years. Even if I had nothing else from the last 8 years to be thankful for, at least I can be thankful for that.

Three Years

Today is the 3rd anniversary of my first marathon and I'm feeling really emotional about it, which is surprising because last year on this day I couldn't have forced myself to care about it if I wanted to. I'm not sure what changed or if somehow 3 years is a bigger deal than 2, but man, I'm having a hard time processing this one! That January day feels simultaneously like yesterday and a lifetime ago. I feel like I was JUST sitting at my grandma's kitchen table in Charleston, filling up my 33oz water bottle for what felt like the hundredth time that day, anticipating my early morning alarm.

And then I think of all the things that have happened since then, all of the life changes, and how life today looks absolutely nothing like life back then, and I feel like it's been an eternity. I thought it would be fun to take a look back at these last 3 years, and at the 3 years before that. See, I'm having the hardest time wrapping my mind around the fact that more time has passed since I first ran a marathon and now than had passed between my running for the first time EVER in my life and becoming a marathoner. How is that even possible?!

Shamrock Marathon Training: Week 8

I'm halfway through training for the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in March! I've gotten into nice groove with marathon training - not that it's always easy to get myself out the door, but like Alyssa put it more eloquently than I could, after so many months of intense Ironman training, marathon training really is like coming back to an old friend. This will be my 5th marathon but, somehow this is actually my 7th marathon training cycle (I trained for about 10 weeks for the Richmond Marathon in 2014 before deciding that the summer training required for a fall marathon just wasn't for me, and through 13 weeks of training for the Big Sur Marathon last year before injuring my foot about a month before the race and having to drop out)! I'm in shock that that can really be true, and a little emotional since it will have been 3 years since my first marathon later this week!

I didn't originally think I would want to do weekly recaps of my training, but I realized that I do want to document this training and that I've always recapped my training in the same structured way for a reason: because it works for me. I have two weeks to catch up on this week but next week I should be back on track. Here's how things have gone since my last update two weeks ago:

Week 8 

Back on Track: 2017 Finances Check-In

Checking in on my financial goals for this year with with Nadine and Amy!

Goal: Have $30,000 in savings at the end of 2017. 

Progress: I switched our budget spreadsheet around so that we now put money into savings at the beginning of the month rather than at the end. I should have done this a long time ago, and as far as how the math works it's basically the same thing, but it does make a difference. Now instead of taking care of all of our bills and credit card payments and then seeing how much is left over, I'm putting money into savings first and therefore limiting the amount we can put on our credit cards (without . This is the system we had in place several years ago before life got crazy and expensive, so here's to getting back on track! I put $2500 into savings on January 1.

Goal: Put any and all rent income into savings. 

Progress: No renters yet! We have a good lead but nothing solid yet.

Goal: Budget for travel.

Progress: When I made our $30k savings goal, I factored in travel expenses for trips big and small this year. The first half of this year is more loaded with travel expenses and than the second half, which means it's going to take a while to really start rolling on that $30k (that's total in our savings account at the end of the year, with travel and other big expenses accounted for). We haven't made any travel purchases since booking our Belize trip last month, but I have been shopping around for flights and lodging for other trips this year to get a better idea of how much they'll cost and when I need to book things.

Goal: Budget for running and triathlon expenses. 

Progress: This week I completed the last race registration in my budget this month. I have a bunch of races to register for this year and am trying to space them out so that I don't end up paying for a bunch all at once. This month (which started December 11 because of the way our credit cards work) I registered for the Rock n Roll DC half marathon and Rock n Roll Virginia Beach half marathon - and paid what I was expecting to pay for DC alone thanks to a crazy promo one day - as well as the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler (didn't really have a choice about when to register since my credit card was automatically charged upon winning entry into the race via the lottery system), and two Shamrock prep/competitive training runs (a 15-miler and 20-miler) put on my local running group. That's a lot of registrations for one month, but like I said, the RnR races were crazy discounted, Cherry Blossom was relatively inexpensive, and the Shamrock prep runs were $30 each. I also finally returned some cycling shoes and running tops I'd been hanging onto, so my running/tri expenses were actually less than I was expecting this month.

Goal: Donate monthly. 

Progress: We haven't done this yet but definitely plan on it before the end of the month! And that's not just a thing I'm saying, I really mean it. I have two charities I'm interested in donating to, I just haven't zeroed in on a dollar amount yet.

Goal: Get back to a more minimalish purchasing approach.

Progress: So I'm not going to lie, I ordered a bunch of clothes with Christmas money (and maybe a little bit more than that) right after Christmas and right before this linkup. That doesn't exactly align with my minimalish spending goal, but even though I didn't *need* those clothes (as in, I had enough clothes to put on my body without them), I really didn't have a lot of winter, work-appropriate clothes so I feel good about those purchases. I also got rid of a lot of more casual fall/winter clothes I do have but don't wear because I'm either in work clothes or workout clothes like 95% of the time.

So I spent a good chunk of money on clothes and went over the amount of money I had from Christmas, but I got back under my Christmas money limit by actually returning the clothes I didn't want. I have a bad habit of ordering a bunch of crap online, usually knowing I'll have to return some of it, and then taking forever to send it back. This time, rather than let the packages sit in my apartment for a month, I sent back the things that could only be mailed, and then I actually went and returned the other things in-store! I hate going to stores, but there is a Loft a few blocks from my office so I went there one night on the way home from work, and there is a J. Crew Factory within driving distance so I went out there as well. I just wanted to make sure I took care of getting the money back in the same month that I bought everything (I think of money months as being from the 11th-10th since that's when our credit card statements start and end) so that I could make my clothing budget for this month. I'm still waiting on getting the return credit for some of the things I sent back, but that just makes me feel better that I was proactive in returning it.

I'm proud to say that I have not ordered ONE thing from Amazon this whole year! All 10 days! Ben ordered some dog food, toothpaste, and shampoo for himself recently, but that's all we've ordered. As nice as it's been not seeing a million Amazon charges on our credit card activity, it has been even better not having a constant stack of boxes in our apartment. Our hallway hasn't been this clear in months!

Another financial victory: we switched to a credit card with better benefits! We have had Chase Freedom and AMEX Blue Cash cards for many years now. We primarily use the Chase card, but we haven't been paying attention to the points rates for either card and have been feeling like we haven't been earning as many points as we used to (despite spending more money than ever). So I did some research and found out that we could upgrade to a different AMEX card that gives us 6x back on groceries, which is huge because a ton of our money goes to groceries. We put pretty much all of our expenses on credit cards (the only things we don't put on there are the things we can't, like mortgage and rent and...I think that's it) so any points we rack up is basically free money we earn for things we would buy anyway.

And a pitfall: we definitely went over our food budget, which it seems we do every month no matter how much I budget for food (which is already a lot and way too much). We were doing pretty well until these last few days of this credit card statement. We ate lunch out on Sunday, which was totally unnecessary, and our daily grocery trips (yes seriously - our grocery store is literally across the street and it's not uncommon to go multiple times a day to pick up something) have continued to add up. Also I got Starbucks yesterday morning, but that was because I had gotten up at 5 to work out. You would have done it too.

Shamrock Marathon 2017 Training Plan

As expected, after I finished Ironman North Carolina I was feeling quite restless and antsy to take on a new challenge. I've definitely been enjoying the slower pace of life now that I'm no longer in hardcore training mode, but as much as I longed for these days back in the summer when I was spending 6 hours of my Saturday on my bike, I always knew I wouldn't hang it up after the big race was over. (And then, you know, the big race ended up being only 83% of what it was supposed to be, so the Universe didn't give me much of a choice but to keep going).

I knew shortly after finishing IMNC that I wanted to take a crack at a spring marathon, but I couldn't decide which one to run. I knew I could always run the Shamrock Marathon for a third time, but I also wanted to explore the idea of running a marathon in another state since I've run one in 3 states now and will be adding at least one more state in 2017 when I do IM Louisville. I looked at races all up and down the east coast and although I found a lot of great options, the New Jersey Marathon at the end of April seemed like the perfect fit: a coastal course, an early enough date that they weather will hopefully be in my favor, and one of my favorite running buddies/local New Jerseyans on board to tackle it as well. What more could a marathoner ask for?

The idea of Shamrock was still nagging at me, though, especially since I have a friend who is part of my group doing Louisville who has the same marathon PR as me and the same time goal as me. Knowing that we'd be able to get together for a few long runs and pace each other during the race seemed like an opportunity I just couldn't pass up. I may be insane, but I couldn't choose between Shamrock and New Jersey, so I've decided to run both. 

I have a busy spring - in addition to these two marathons six weeks apart, I'm planning to do a half Ironman 2 weeks after the second one. I don't anticipate being in tip-top tri shape for the 70.3 and that's okay - I'm mainly using it as motivation to keep my swimming and cycling base over the winter months before I start hardcore Ironman training in the summer, and as a baseline for my Ironman Louisville training. The way I've chosen to structure my training for the year (and I really mean the year, since all of this leads to Ironman Louisville) is to start with marathon training for Shamrock, incorporate more triathlon training about halfway though that in prep for the half Ironman, more or less play the six weeks in between Shamrock and New Jersey by ear (since my NJ goals really depend on what happens at Shamrock), take a couple of weeks to taper for the half Ironman, then shift into full-on Ironman training mode. Since I have so much training ahead of me this year, I'm breaking it down one goal at a time. That's the way I've always trained, with sub-goals and check-in races over a long period of time, all leading up to a big goal race, and that's always worked well for me. 

So with that said, for the next 2.5 months, this is what my training currently looks like, with my focus until March being finishing the Shamrock Marathon in under 4 hours. My training plan is 18 weeks long and started on November 14, so I'm already in week 8!

Back on Track: 2017 Finances

Last year was an expensive year. I haven't added it up but I am positive we spent more money in 2016 than any previous year, and probably by like...a lot. I finished school, we moved, I spent a zillion dollars on Ironman things, we now live in the 5th most expensive city in the US (seriously you wouldn't believe how much money we spend in groceries)...it was really like the perfect storm of financial crappiness.

I know this is such a cliche, New-Years-Resolutiony thing to say, but I really want to work on our finances this year. I actually keep pretty meticulous spreadsheets of all of our income and expenses, and every month I make a budget, but we (okay fine it's mostly me) aren't the best at actually sticking to that budget. We don't live beyond our means - we were both raised to believe that some horrible, unspeakable punishment will fall on us if we accrue any credit card debt and therefore neither of us has ever had any - but we aren't frugal either. I know we aren't going to become super frugal overnight and that's not even what I want, I just want to make it more of a priority to save money, budget for expenses we know are coming up, and make more thoughtful purchases.

Shamrock Marathon Training Update #1

I'm doing this a little out of order since I haven't shared any of my race plans for next year yet (other than Louisville), so surprise! I'm training for the Shamrock Marathon in March! I do have a list of my planned races for next year to share, as well as my training plan for Shamrock, but I've been meaning to post about how my training has been going for a while now, so here goes. I don't think that I want to keep up with scheduled weekly, or even monthly training updates, but I do want to share my  training here in some capacity. These updates may be sporadic, but I personally love reading training recaps (and I know I'm not the only one) and hope they can entertain or help someone out!

I decided to run the Shamrock Marathon shortly after finishing Ironman North Carolina. Shamrock was my first half in 2012 and I've run either the half or the full every year since then, and I was planning to run the half this year. However, I am really hoping to go sub-4 in a marathon this spring and I have a friend with the same current PR as me and the same time goal who is running Shamrock, so I decided to do it with him. I do have another spring marathon planned about 6 weeks later in case I don't hit my time goal, but more on that later!

I started training for Shamrock in mid-November, right after the Richmond Half Marathon (which I didn't recap because I just didn't have that much to say about it, but I ran with Alyssa and Kristen and they did write about it). Since I've been training for 7 weeks now and am playing catch-up on recapping, here is a quick rundown of each week so far:

Week 1