Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Running on Air

Sunday was the Tobacco Trail Marathon and Half. A flat, speedy course where ambitious runners set out to BQ, and I set out to PR in my second-ever Half Marathon.

I set a clear goal: under 2:15 (my first half was 2:24:24 on a mildly hilly course in November). I also set a "hope". Under 2:10. But deep down, this competitive girl knew 2:10 was the real goal.

The strategy: start off easy, begin gradually increasing the pace after the first 3 miles, then continue to pick it up through the gradual incline from 8 to 10, leaving enough in the tank to push hard at the end.

The challenge: I've been told that every race will bring some moment that you could not possibly have planned for. Mine was starting out beside the 2:10 pacer. This was not intentional. This was not a blessing in disguise. This was bad. I do not run well with others. I'm a surly, competitive runner who smiles and seems chipper but on the inside says many, many four letter words. So as our chatty 2:10 pacer set out to be the next John Bingham, I cringed.

Then I did what you are supposed to do when a race throws you a curve ball. Count to 10. Then think, "Am I going to die?" No. "Can I continue?" Yes. What do I need to change to make that happen?

I have to run my own race. I don't do well if someone else sets the pace - fast or slow. The only choices were to slow down and risk not finishing in 2:10 or continuing to run into this pacer or to speed up, break free and risk tiring myself early. I chose option two.

I pushed ahead. It was an ever-so-slightly hilly start, but I pushed to get far enough ahead to not have to battle with the group of 2:10ers the whole race. I felt some minor discomfort in my calves, but nothing major. I kept on moving now at a steady, comfortable pace.

I kept waiting for IT band tightness. It never came. I kept waiting for the knee clicking or pain that has been part of every training run since Disney. It never came. I focused on my pace, my stride, my breaths. I focused on relaxing my arms, engaging my core. I sipped water.

One mile turned into the next. I wasn't experiencing a runner's high, where you're suddenly inspired and invincible. But I was very much in the zone.

At 6.55 miles I has plenty "left in the tank" and started gradually picking up speed. As expected, miles 8 to 11 were the most challenging mentally, but they were not as bad as I expected. I felt like I was continuing to gain speed. At mile 11.5 I found myself wanting to run slow. I didn't give in. I said, "It will feel so good to push harder, finish tired, and be proud. Don't think 'I could have given more. I could have finished faster.'"

I finished in 2:10:42. Just over my "hope" goal of 2:10 and well under my 2:15 goal. Even better, I beat my City of Oaks half by almost 14 minutes. I'm elated. To run smart and pain-free felt like nothing I have ever experienced. Sure, the weather and the course were in my favor. But my focus and training played a role as well. And I'm feeling really proud of that!

My next race is in 4 weeks. I'm not hoping for a PR there. I'm just going out to have fun, while my husband runs his first Half ever. We won't run together. He's much speedier than I am. But I'll be thrilled to see him waiting for me with a beer at the finish line!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Quinoa Maple Breakfast Porridge

While preparing last night's delicious rice and tempeh with red peanut curry, I went ahead and cooked a big pot of quinoa. I stuck it in the fridge over night looking forward to a breakfast porridge.

Since quinoa is so nutritious - a whole grain and a complete protein source - I have wanted to  incorporate it into my diet for some time. Up until now, though, I have had bad luck with the execution.

This breakfast porridge has changed all that:

1/2 cup cooked quinoa (prepared ahead of time is fine)
1/4 - 1/2 cup soy or almond milk
1 diced granny smith apple
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1/2 - 1 tablespoon maple syrup
(I could have added chia or flax seed but didn't think of that until later. )

Microwave 1.5 minutes and enjoy.

This recipe is inspired by one in Eat and Run by Scott Jurek. I highly recommend this book if you're looking for running or dietary inspiration. This book and the eating it is inspiring are helping me focus on my upcoming Half this Sunday. I'm in taper mode, which was bringing a bit of stress with it. By focusing on nutrition, those pre-race jitters have subsided and I've started to look forward to Sunday's race.

Now I'm off for an easy 4 miles in the sun!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Eat and Run

I painted the kids bedroom on Sunday. I'm a chemical-phobe and wanna-be tree hugger, so naturally I investigated several low or "no" VOC options. The first option, a German product called Unearthed Paint, was truly no-VOC. Biodegradable, mineral-based paint, natural and of the Earth, so to speak. I ordered a sample which arrived in a brown paper bag and required my blender for mixing the white powder with water and natural pigment. What resulted was a drippy watery mess. The sample looked light and airy and slightly chalky on the wall, great for a kids room. But the drippiness made it very hard to handle.

Months passed. I debated ordering a second sample. Trying to make it work. But this paint would cost 100s to cover the wall. And then the Bzz Agent free gallon of Benjamin Moore Aura "no" VOC paint offer arrived. I had considered this paint initially but knew it was not biodegradable, not truly VOC-free. Still, how do you say no to a free gallon of $60-70 paint?

I bought the paint plus another gallon. More months passed. In exchange for the free paint I was supposed to use it then review it, talk it up online. But I couldn't bring myself to.

Finally this weekend I cracked the can and painted the dreadful 80s not-quite-Hunter green walls a deep lavender my daughter picked. I couldn't be more disappointed.

The paint went on evenly and covered the green in one coat without priming. BUT. The fumes! Maybe these are environmentally friendly fumes, who knows. But they're bad. Three nights later and the kids are still sleeping in our room thanks to the paint fumes.

Maybe these fumes are more environmentally-friendly than other. I don't know. But the room wreaks  of chemicals and I'm kicking myself for not going with the German paint. My kids could have taste-tested Unearthed Paints and I wouldn't have worried.

There is an advantage, though, to the fumes, to the kids sleeping in our room. No mindless TV for three days. The only TV in the house is in our room and it is usually off until until the kids go to bed. Now it is staying off. And we have been reading.

Scott Jurek's life story "Eat and Run" has my full attention. He is one of the top ultramarathoners in the world and he advocates a plant-based, (vegan), unprocessed, organic diet for runners and all planet-conscious humans. He even includes recipes.

I've attempted to go veg in the past with varying degrees of success. I believe a vegan diet makes sense for the body and the planet but I've never been good at restricting foods. Then again, until a year ago I had never been good at exercising regularly, so maybe it is time to try again. The most successful we have been was when the whole family went vegetarian after our daughter's last round of chemo. We felt Veges and Fruits would help detox her body from the arsenal of chemo and other meds that had been thrown at her. We lasted about a year until my husband went back to work (after a 4 year stint as a stay at home dad). Since he's the family cook, it fell apart after that.

But it's time to try again. I want to run faster. I want to feel healthier and leaner. I am eating too much junk. I haven't declared the family meat-free, but I am dabbling in plant-based meals. Last night was bean taco night. Tonight I made tempeh and rice with red curry peanut sauce and a side salad of brussel  sprout leaves, fresh grapefruit, and avocado topped with sriracha walnuts. Very bit from scratch!

I have to thank Jurek for his inspiration and recipes! When I finish his book I'll have to find another similar one to keep me on track. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tuesday Muse-day

Lately I've been thinking about my friend Bill. He's sort of a renaissance man. Mechanic. Distance runner. Father to a rather successful crew of kids, including a couple of doctors. He's endlessly interesting to talk to.

There are probably many more things I don't know about Bill. I only recently learned that he's a dancer in a local modern dance company. Bill has a ponytail and graying mustache. If I had to guess I'd say he is in his 50s. Not what you picture when someone says "dancer". Or even runner. And that's what has me thinking.

What does a runner look like? Or a dancer? Dance is central to most cultures, a part of celebrations and self-expression, but in the West, we strip dance from its humanity.

You must look like a dancer. Behave like a dancer. Be a dancer. Or you aren't a dancer.

We go to ballet lessons. We are told to hold in our tummies in. We plié and relevé to soul-less music.

"I don't dance." We say at parties. "I don't have rhythm." But not kids. Turn music on and they can't help themselves.

And what about running? The way we ran as children? Impromptu foot races.  Barefoot or in sandles. Skirts or jeans. On dirt, sand, road. Only later, does running become an activity that requires $100 shoes, a start and finish line, K-tape, a mileage-tracking app, and many, many Facebook posts.

Runners divide themselves into those who run with music and those who don't. Maybe those of us running with music are looking to tap into something more primal. Running. Dancing. Losing ourselves in the music.

Here are a few songs to lose yourself to:

1. Scream and Shout (Will.I.Am feat. Brittany Spears)
2. Girl on Fire (Alicia Keyes feat. Nicki Minaj) - I made this a power song on my Nike Running app.
3. Body Movin' (Beastie Boys Fatboy Slim Remix)
4. What? (A Tribe Called Quest)
5. Lose Yourself (Eminem) - Great for running hills. Just picture yourself in a hooded sweatshirt, shoulders slightly hunched and you'll instantly feel unstoppable.