Friday, January 31, 2014

Product Review: DemonBells

Just before Christmas, in either early December or late November, I read a handful of articles about the "best" gifts to give fitness fanatics.

First off, let me tell you - don't listen to those articles.  99% of the stuff in them is so basic that anyone who's really a fitness fanatic probably has at least one, if not two or three of them already.

I mean, really, who needs another stop watch, pair of cheap-o workout pants, or a cheesy glitter headband that's $20 and slips off after 2 jumping jacks?

I guess it could be worse... you could get this headband:

Ok, I digress.

Anyway, back to the review.

So, you might wonder why I read these gift guides if all they have is crap in them.  My answer is that I read them to see if there were any new fitness things on the market that I had been missing, and might want to try out.

Low and behold, I finally found something I DID want to try out - DemonBells.

At first glance, you might think - well, big whoop.  Kettlebells.  What's so exciting about that?  You already own a full set of dumbells, a 12 pound kettle bell, and enough other fitness toys to sink a boat.

Yes, it's true.  I do own too many fitness things, and DemonBells does carry a basic bell line:

HOWEVER!  They also carry these:

You see where this is going, right?


At least they were on sale.  Woo-hoo!

Since I teach high intensity cardio classes and high rep strength moves, I decided to keep it on the low side and buy the 16lb sugar skull. 

When I first made my purchase, though, I was a bit worried because the item showed as on 'backorder'.  And, after a week of waiting, I still had no idea of when it would ship.

Not to worry, after a brief email to the company asking about shipment status, I received a couple of great follow up emails and a shipment confirmation only a few days later after that.  Talk about quick service!

I've now had my bell for a week, and I can say, wow - awesome!  Love the quality, love the customer service, and love the reactions I get at the gym. 

Plus, they really go great with my various skull gear:

Sugar Skull capris from Mick's Makings

Rainbow Skull skirt from ByrdSportswear
Matching tights from Running Funky

Sugar Skull shirt and Skeleton shirt/pants/sleeves from InkNBurn

In fact, I guess I wouldn't mind a shirt to go with my bell on the days that I teach kettles. 

"Exercise your demons."  Who wouldn't want that saying on their butt?!

The only thing I'm wondering about is the 16lb weight.  The bell seems REALLY heavy, and I'm not sure if that's because I'm used to using 12lb dumbbells in each hand, or if the bell is a little heavier than the listed weight.  I suppose I could check that if I want... but I'm not that worried about it.

What's the worst that could happen if it was off?  I get even MORE ripped?  HA!

Since this is a kettle bell, and the function of it is pretty straight forward, I guess that's about all I have to say.  In the end, I'm glad I bought the bell.  I'm already known for my wacky outfits, so why not have a few wacky toys as well?! 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Read It & Weep!

A few weeks back, on the day of my run club's "Santa Hat" casual group run, I was asked to write an article for the local paper.  Of course, I was honored and thrilled for the opportunity to be in print (regardless of how small the circulation).

Oh, I never shared the photos from that run!  Here they are:

(Note: the LED lights that I added prior to the run are not featured in either photo, boo!)

Oh, you like those sparkle leggings?  Micksmakings over at Etsy can help you out with those!

Anyway, as of this week, the below is available in the Late January 2014 edition of the Chaska Herald.



New Years Resolutions: No Pain, No Gain?
Actually, If It's Not Fun, It Won't Be Done!

With New Years resolution time in full swing, I’m sure you are already a few weeks into working on the “new you”. 
How are you doing at working towards your goal?  Are you feeling confident that you’ll achieve your resolution this year? 
If you do achieve your goal, you will be part of a very elite few.  Statistics show that less than 10% of people actually achieve their New Years Resolution.  And in the era of go big or go home, that’s no surprise.  Just look at examples on TV like “Biggest Loser” and “Extreme Weight Loss”, or to fitness trends like “Cross Fit” and “Insanity”.  It’s easy to see how a person’s average expectations for improving their fitness may be inflated with an unrealistic goal of working crazy hard and seeing extreme results.
Achieving a new you doesn’t have to be as difficult or extreme as the media has portrayed.  Not to mention, for most people, these results are not realistic.  Pushing yourself so hard that your daily mantra becomes “No Pain, No Gain” will at the very least result in burn out, and at the very worst result in injury.  Either of those results is not going to get you into that elite group of New Years resolution achievers.

Instead of a “No Pain, No Gain” mentality, try to change your approach.  I suggest repeating the mantra “If it’s not fun, it won’t be done.” 
Try to make your workouts fun.  Ask yourself - what would make me WANT to get in a workout?  For example - do you look forward to a girl’s night out dancing?  Then why spend hours on an elliptical when you could enroll in a fun Zumba class?  Or, want to spend more time with your children?  Register for a local fun run and make training for it a family event. 
Studies have shown that people who exercise for the pure joy of working out actually stick with workouts longer and reap better results.  And if you’re sticking with your workouts, you have a very high chance of achieving your resolution once and for all!
Challenge yourself to make your workouts fun, and become part of that elite 10%! 
Natalie Cobb began making fitness fun in 2009, starting her journey from 240 pounds to Group Fitness Instructor at the Chaska Community Center.  She invites you to join her for a fun workout every Tuesday evening at 5:30 pm.  Drop in class is $5.25 / $4.25 (members).


Friday, January 24, 2014

Product Review: Fitbit Flex

True confessions - I'm about to review a Christmas Gift.

Hopefully I don't sound ungrateful for the gift in this review.  Since I'm not.  It is a pretty cool gift!  (Thanks to my brother in law for the holiday swag!!)

In fact, several months ago I had been eyeing a fitness monitor ... mostly out of curiosity in regards to my sleep patterns.  I mean, I know I work out a lot, so I'm not so worried about that.  I'm more curious about how much sleep I'm getting, and at what quality. 

But, at the time, I also needed a GPS watch.  And given the fact that I was increasing my run volumes for three half marathons in just over 1 month (Chicago, Mankato and Monster), the GPS won out.

Long story short, getting a Fitbit Flex for Christmas was kind of like getting a wish granted... that I forgot I had made? 

LOL!  If only I had two more wishes!

Anyway, so begins my review of the Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband (black).


First off, I have to admit - when I got this, I wasn't totally in the know about the brand. So I headed on over to Amazon to start reading about it. 

In doing so, I stumbled across this review.  After using my Fitbit for a few weeks now, I have to say I agree with many of those points.  So, I'm going to steal a portion of that review rather than re-inventing the wheel here. 

Of course, I can't keep my own mouth shut, though.  So I'll throw a few of my own thoughts in there, too.

Ok, ready? 



Let's begin.

Since the first thing you do with this is open the box and put it on, I'm going to start with that.  And yes, that means I have to admit, I'm the kind of person who rips open a box, totally skips instructions, and just goes for it. 

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened my Fitbit and found not one, but TWO Fitbits inside (along with a USB charging piece, a dongle... and some instructions - but who needs those?!). 

Happy day!  The factory screwed up and gave me a spare!!

I quickly slapped on the first Fitbit and realized it was HUGE!  The first band must be made for a giant.  So, I grabbed the second to see how it fits and...

Punch in the face! 

I realized it's not actually a second Fitbit.  Boo.  Rather, it's just an empty, smaller band.  Apparently, you have to take the Fitbit device OUT of the first band and slide it into the second band if you desire a smaller fit.  Oh, you also have to pop out the connector clip that holds the watch together on the back side and put that onto the other band as well.

Oh well.  No free Fitbit spare for me.

I switched out the device and was set to go... except the Fitbit wasn't charged enough at the factory.  Bah.  Since it was late in the evening, I hooked it up to charge and went to bed.

Next morning... queue singing birds and a rosy sunrise! 

My Fitbit charged overnight, so time to try this sucka out!  I proceed, over about two week's time, to wear the Fitbit through the following:

- multiple cardio classes (both during my own teaching and as a student)
- during step aerobic classes (mostly teaching)
- out for runs (track, treadmill, elliptical)
- during day to day activities / casual walks
- at night while sleeping
- and in the shower once just to try it

Basically, I rarely took it off except for to shower, since I didn't really like the idea of wearing it in the shower on a regular basis.

And this is where I'm going to lift the Amazon review because I like how they summed everything up.  I've done some Frankenstein work to make the review a little easier to follow, and I've added a few of my own words to make it read better, but whatever, here goes...

Overall Summary

The Flex is pretty good - IF you understand its limitations.
Fitbit markets the Flex as an "activity monitor", implying that it is capable of keeping stats on your physical activities. Unfortunately, the wrist location and using two stride lengths for all calculations (your walking and running stride lengths), means pretty much any activity that is NOT walking or running cannot be accurately monitored. This includes stair-climbing, hiking, tennis, golf, biking, working out, and pretty much every other "activity" that is not walking or running.

Thus, the Flex is not really an "activity monitor"; it's a pedometer, albeit one with "sleep analysis". It does accurately keep track of your walking and running (non-elliptical), it does keep track of your sleeping patterns, and it also wakes you with a silent vibration on your wrist at the time you set to get up in the morning (I love this feature). And it keeps you focused on your exercise goals.

The Flex really should not be marketed as a calorie-burning monitor. No device without a heart-rate monitor can accurately determine calorie burning. But, when using the Flex to simply analyze a run or a long walk, it can 'ballpark' calories burned fairly well.

I agree with everything the Amazon review says above, even if it's a little less positive than I would have put it.  The Fitbit is a fun tool for running/walking, but has failed me in all of my aerobic classes by logging my activity as sedentary/moderate rather than the intensity that it actually was.  Since I'm not totally worried about my activity levels (I'm a workout beast - rawr!), this doesn't bother me too much.  But, I can see how it would get frustrating. 

Basic Functionality

First, there's the 'onboard' function to keep you aware of your progress towards your daily goals (total distance traveled, number of steps taken, or calories burned).  A tap on the band will light up 1-5 points of light on the band, with each light representing 20% of your goal.  So, a quick glance and a tap on the band will tell you how you're doing.

For the actual stats of your progress, or reviewing your daily/weekly/ longer stats, you can view them in real time on your phone via the Fitbit App for iPhone and Android, or on your tablet or PC/Mac with the Fitbit 'Dashboard'. (Note: this was more challenging for me, as I have an old iPhone 4 and iPad, neither of which had the required Bluetooth technology. As a result, I kept my dongle to sync at work during the day and borrowed my husband’s iPhone to sync in the evenings.)

Online is where you set your daily and longer-term goals, review charts and graphs, and log other information such as weight, weight changes, and food consumed. Overall, the software is very good and keeps you aware of whether or not you are staying on track of goals.

There are also options for sleep mode. You can log sleep hours on your dashboard, or you can fast tap the band when going to bed and do the same when you wake up – thus “telling” the band the hours you sleep. (Note: I still can’t make this function work right, so I always manually log my sleep). The Flex determines amounts of restful vs. wakeful/restless sleep simply by wrist movement.

For a normal account there is no additional charge for the above features. A 'Premium Account' at $49.95/year gives additional analysis and tips such as a 'Fitbit Trainer' 12-week plan, more data analysis, a 'peer ranking', etc. (Note: I really doubt I would benefit from this service, since I know how to plan my own fitness routines, but it may be helpful for someone who is overwhelmed and trying to come up with a plan to get fit…?)
Here's an example of a dashboard and a sleep report:

Features of Note

The Flex comes with both a small and a large band. The large band goes from about 6 1/4" to 8 1/4" and the small, 5 1/2" to almost 7" and both are fully adjustable between those lengths. 

It takes about 2 hours to fully charge using the dedicated USB cord. The battery lasts about a week.

It is not entirely waterproof, but you can wear it in the shower or along the surface of a pool.

Features Lacking

The Flex does not have an altimeter and therefore cannot count stairs climbed. 

There is no heart rate monitor.


So what says the Great Oz Natalie?

Well, I guess, it depends. 

Overall I really like the idea behind the Fitbit.  And, it's easy to use and comfortable to wear.  Plus, I've seen a lot of health bloggers write that they prefer the Fitbit over other options.

That being said, I think most people would fall into one of these buckets, and would enjoy the Fitbit accordingly:

(1) You're like me - an active person who gets in plenty of workouts, doesn't need motivation, and isn't worried about hitting your workout goals.  In short, this might not be your thing.  I still really do like it for the silent wake up alarms though (works out great when I have to get up at 4 am to teach aerobics and I want to avoid waking the husband), and I think the sleep tool will help encourage me to get more sleep (since I know I really need to work on that).

(2) You're like MOST Americans - you need a little extra motivation to get up off your tush and workout, then I think this is a great option.  There's just enough information to make you aware of your activity levels, and you can make it fun by being competitive and working towards various goals.

Either way, I would actually recommend you get the step up version called the Force.  It includes a watch for only $20 more... and I figure, if you're wearing this thing all day, might as well have additional reasons to have it on, right?  Right.

And now, I open the floor to you.  Do you own a Fitbit, a Nike Fuel Band, a Jawbone ... or something else even?  Let me know what you think of your activity tracker in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I'm Being Featured! - 20 Questions, Miles of Answers/Twin Cities in Motion

While I was on vacation last week, I was informed that my submission to be featured on Twin Cities Marathon's webpage was accepted!  Whoop!

If you'd like to see all the runners they have featured in the past, under "20 Questions, Miles of Answers", check it out here.

In celebration: since I submitted just after the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend was over last October, I thought I would repost my recap of that race.  The original post is here, but the same thing is below, so read either ... or both if you like repetition.  (Hey, I'll take the extra web hits any way I can get them).



Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Spectating the 2013 TC 10 Mile / Marathon (Unicorns & Big Butts)

This past Sunday, I drug myself out of bed on a very dreary day to cheer the 2013 TC (Twin Cities) 10 mile and Marathon.  When I woke up it was 30/40 degree weather with possible rain throughout the morning. 

What a great way to start a day!

Regardless of the conditions, for the first time ever (I know, can you believe it), I decided to go to and spectate.  Hooray for trying to be enthusiastic for others while dealing with lack of sleep and cold, wet weather!  Good thing there were lots and lots of coffee options near the race course.

Given the weather, I was kind of glad I wasn't running.  This gave me a lot more flexibility in what I could wear to keep warm (or shed, as the early morning temps started to warm).  I'm not sure if that or something else made my early wake up more enjoyable... maybe it's more fun to go to a race when you don't have to worry about how much training you've done and what pace you think you can maintain for the day?

Whatever the cause, instead of my usual early morning crabbies, my thoughts of the morning were actually quite humorous.  In fact, after I suited up / grabbed my giveaways / inked my signs, one of the many thoughts going through my head was "does this unicorn horn make my butt look big"?

So, yes, that statement became my theme for the morning as I got ready for the runners to storm by:

A few weeks prior to this race, a group of friends from my local gym, most of whom are in the running "club", had made a pact to carpool down to the race and camp out at mile 24 (or mile 8 if you were running the 10 mile).  I didn't know why everyone was so excited about that specific location, but whatever, I was fine with it.  Upon our arrival on race day, I quickly became aware of why this was THE place to be. 

The energy there was AMAZING!  Everyone was happy.  People where cheering.  And...

I just have to say - could TC Running company be any more awesome?  Two RVs, a DJ mc'ing and playing music, free socks for spectators... the perks were fantastic.  If only it weren't 8am and I was too tired to take advantage of some of the... treats being offered.  (Side note, even though I'm only in my early 30s, my day drinking era has long passed.  I went to UW-Madison and burned myself out, so now whenever I try to tailgate as an adult, my body is like "Hey, we did that in college!  Enough of that!  Here's some severely debilitating heartburn to force you to stop immediately.")

Of course, I had no idea mile 24 was going to be such a hot spot, so I had come up with lots of fun ideas of how to entertain myself on my own.  By the way, shout out to my Facebook friends for helping me come up with some ... er ... creative signage.

*I added a "24" to the sign on the lower right once we got to the race. 

After getting our free TC socks, our group settled in and started cheering.  I grabbed my signs and got ready. 

Immediately, I started to get nervous.  It seems the first of the Twin Cities 10 mile racer were much too serious.  If any reaction was to be had at all, I basically got a few evil eyes or grimaces. 

Ruh-roh, I thought.  Maybe this unicorn concept wasn't as funny as I thought it would be?! 

Or maybe I shouldn't be holding a sign with the word "butt" on it, on a Sunday, in front of a church? 

For a while, I dropped the sign and we all rang cowbells and cheered instead.

BTW, ringing a cowbell is surprisingly hard work.  My triceps started to get tired after about 20 minutes.  Hence the creative way I was holding the bell in the above photo.

As the 10 miler fasties came through, we all continued to cheer and ring bells.  It was fun to see people continue to trickle by.

Eventually, 10 miler elites and fast runners passed through, and I decided to test out my sign again.  Success!  I started to get the fun folks, and got lots of cheering and thumbs up.

By the way, this cemented in my mind that I never want to run a 7 minute mile.  Those people are way too serious and focused!  If you can't laugh at stupid stuff like unicorns dancing to Lady Gaga and asking if their butt looks big on course, why even bother to race?!  (I say this as if I could ever run a 7 minute mile... and I'm pretty sure if I could, I would grimace at unicorns, too.)

More and more 10 milers tromped by as the mid and back pack runners started to filter in.  Somewhere in the mix of runners, several friends from the gym passed us by and we raised our cheer volume even higher. 

As 10 milers passed by, I enjoyed watching people read my sign, try to process it with runner's brain, slowly look at my hat, and finally realize what was going on.  Some people were a good 10-15 feet past me before I could hear the chuckling. 

Eventually, the last of the 10 milers went through.  Not far behind, the marathon wheelers started breezing past.  I've never had the opportunity to see any of these athletes myself, since I'm always in the back of the pack while they get first go at the gun.  It was really neat to watch them whiz by.  I marveled at the fact that these folks spend 26.2 miles bent in half and pushing themselves at top speed.  I don't know if I could ever do that.

Since the wheelers were mostly head down and couldn't read signs, and since the next batch of serious runners were due to come through, this time for the marathon distance, I decided it was time for a break.  Back to the cowbell and yelling.  Somewhere in this time frame, I started to notice it was getting darker and shed my shades. 

Uh-oh, that can't be a good sign.  But there was no rain, so we just kept cheering and hoping for the best.

And - being impatient, I started my next sign long before any "fun" runners were due to come through.  At that point, I didn't care.  I had tons of treats on hand to give out to the marthoners, and I was excited to get started.  So, up went the sign.

Runner after runner thundered by.  So many looked like they were going to be sick when they saw the twinkie box that I debated putting it away.

And then... there he was.

A stranger ran by and read my sign.  As he passed me, we had eye contact for at least 10 feet.  I thought I was guaranteed to finally get my first twinkie out on course.

Unfortunately, he kept going.  Eventually, I lost sight of him.  Darn, I thought that was finally it!  Disappointed, I turned my focus back to runners coming my way.

But before I could even refocus, I heard it. 

"I just have to have one.  I can't resist it."


The guy I had lost sight of actually doubled back at mile 24 to grab a twinkie.  From me.  I just about died laughing.  All of us cheered in victory that someone finally took the first twinkie.  Hooray!

I wonder what he was saying to himself during this encounter? 

I still can't believe he doubled back on a marathon course for a twinkie.  LOL!!!!  And I wish I would have noted his number so I could see how he did at the finish. Hopefully he'll read this blog and report in with EPIC PR news.

After the first twinkie was in the wild, things went south.  It started raining and my sign started to slowly deteriorate.  At this rate, I knew I'd never pull out my second case of twinkies, let alone all the skittles and other treats I had on hand. 

I spent the next half hour hoping my sign would hold up in the rain until I gave out my last twinkie.  Even the twinkie box was starting to fall apart in my hand.  But slowly, slowly more and more twinkies were making their way into runners hands.

Side note: I never thought I'd see so many grown men, some with quite impressive mustaches by the way, so excited for a free twinkie.  LOL!

Finally, the last twinkie went out.  Since the sign indicating I had treats was shredded to bits, I gave up on my treat distribution and went back to my "butt" sign.  (Sorry God.  Please don't send me to hell for using that sign in front of a church a second time.)

I continued to look for people with their names on their shirts, or for people wearing sparkly skirts like me, and cheered for them with all my heart. 

Sometimes I'd see a crazy costumed runner go by, like a Viking, caveman or ... man wrapped in bath towel and wearing only a shower cap?!  True story, I saw that.

Once I even got a response to my "butt" sign that was... er... interesting.  Two guys said to me "We're not sure, we need to look."  Hmmm... how to respond to that one?  LOL!

Eventually, after almost 5 hours of cheering, releasing15 twinkies into the wild, and endless cowbell shaking, the rain had soaked through my furry costume and I was done.  I couldn't feel my fingers any more, and it was time for a hot lunch.  Although I would have loved to stay and cheer for every last runner, I just didn't have it in me.  It turned out that the rest of my group was feeling the same, so we packed up and headed for home.

After all was said and done, I can't believe I spent 5 hours on a Sunday morning dressed like a unicorn, making butt jokes and handing out twinkies.  In the rain to boot.  But, I had a fantastic time.  And I think the runners appreciated it too (for the most part, anyway).

By the way, I don't want to hear any complaints about me recycling my unicorn costume from the Monster Dash last year.  Yes, I ran a half marathon in that.  And maybe if I wear it a few more times, it will finally become a REAL unicorn.

But until that happens, I guess we'll just have this blog.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Boo - Technical Difficulty & Resolutions

Ok, truth is out.

I was on vacation last week, and my pre-scheduled blog posts didn't auto publish like they were supposed to.


On the up side, instead, I was doing this, so I can't really complain:


Not sure where that is?  Here are a few hints:


Figure it out yet?  Note the cruise ships in the lower right of the one photo...

If you guessed the British Virgin Islands - you win!

I had a great trip, so I'm not going to complain that my blog posts didn't work.  Life on a sailboat with no wifi is going to have it's problems, right?

Anyway, below is my original post that was supposed to go up 1/13/2014.  And now, we should be back on track for the rest of the week! 


Well folks, we've passed the ever so important hurdle of Happy Holidays to New Years Resolution time. 

And, it's been s little over a full week since resolution work has begun.

So, tell me, how are you're resolutions going?

Mine, well...

A little of this:

A little of that:

Eventually, I expect to sprinkle a little of this in there, too:

Did you know that if you share your resolution goals with other people, you're far more likely to make progress towards achieving them?  Guess what that meants?!

I want to hear about your fitness goals for 2014.  Shout outs welcome below!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Frozen Farts

For those of you who are totally clueless, don't watch the news, or live under a rock... it's been freakin' cold outside, yo!!


This is just insane.

Earlier this week it was so cold here that we were literally at -50.  So cold, in fact, that the governor declared school was cancelled.  For TWO DAYS IN A ROW! 

To put that in perspective, there hasn't been a school cancellation here due to extreme cold since 1996.  So it's a pretty big deal.

You can just about imagine how I'm feeling.

All this cold weather has spurred a lot of funny conversation with you folks.  Two of my favorite interactions have been as follows.

First, a suggestion for a new costume came in from someone who comes to my aerobic classes:

Hmmm... I appreciate the thought, but... even I have standards of things I won't wear.  Sorry.  LOL!

Also, I suppose it says something about me that people are suggesting things like this to me.  I mean, they must think I would consider it...?

Oh boy, I guess my costumes have gotten a bit out of hand as of late.  Before New Years, I taught an aerobics class with a string of LED lights wrapped around me.  Which, in and of itself isn't really that big of a deal... until you take into consideration the fact that the battery pack required 3 D sized batteries and was about the size of a brick.  Fortunately, it fit in my SPIbelt, and I wore it around my waist (at my back).

Anyhow, I digress.

My second favorite interaction was this:

Honestly, that Facebook exchange wasn't THAT funny to me.  It was the following that really got me:

Wow!  One of my Facebook status got reposted.  I feel like a celebrity.  #IamAWESOME!

OMG.  I just used a hashtag.

In response to the cold, my sister decided to start creating some really cute stuff in her Etsy shop, so before I go, I thought I'd share.  And no, it's not the nose warmer above (although she could probably hook you up with one if you want it, just convo her).  Check it out:

Yep.  That's a Minion hat, Minecraft Creeper hat, and ... AH!  A shark!  Super cute, right?  If you're interested, check them out here.

Well, that's about all I have to say today!

So tell me, how are you going for you in the cold these days?