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The Marathon, part II

04.22.2014

I’ve been waiting a year to write this post.

Last year, after the bombs went off and it seemed like life would never be the same, my friend Danielle and I made our way to Boylston Street. It was less than a week after that marathon. The area was still closed with metal barriers that had become makeshift memorials filled with flowers, finishers medals, banners, and sneakers. Looking down Boylston, seeing the finish line still set up and the street eerily empty, I felt hollow. I was so lucky not to know anyone hurt or killed, and yet I knew that but for the grace of God, it could have been me on that sidewalk. Or my family. Or my friends. I think a lot of us felt that way, that’s why what happened made us so angry, and made our resolve to overcome so strong. It could have been me.

Danielle and I stood there reading the notes of sympathy, courage, and resolve. “Next year is going to be big,” I told her. “Everyone is going to run.” She nodded in agreement. “I’m not going to run,” I declared. “I’m going to be out there at mile 18 again. I need to be there. Someone needs to support them.”

 

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 Tough days

And that’s just what I did. When volunteer registration opened up in November, I put out the word that November Project would be manning the Hydration Station at mile 18 once again. In just a few days nearly 100 people signed up to volunteer with me, including Danielle.

Last week was hard. There were sad moments. There were flashes of anger. And there was an enormous amount of gratitude. Gratitude to live in this wonderful city. Gratitude to have such a wonderful group of friends and family. Gratitude for the simple gift of being able to run.

The fact that last weekend was gorgeous, one of the most beautiful we’ve had this spring, helped enormously. I did a long run on Saturday, going from my house to the Esplanade, up to River Street, down the Cambridge side, over the Harvard Bridge, past the hatch shell and then over to the Common. It seemed like half the city was out there, basking in the sunshine and wearing “Boston Strong” t-shirts.

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BAA 5k the Saturday before the Marathon

When Monday rolled around, there was no pushing the snooze button. I jumped out of bed, and headed to Brookline to run laps around a baseball field and hand out high-5s. We applauded our local law enforcement, stopped at Starbucks to fuel up, and then some friends and I rode to mile 18.

The day passed in a blur. The first athletes came through just after 10 a.m. At 4:30 p.m. they were still trickling by.

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 The elites passed through shortly after 10

In between were 32,000 runners from 50 states and 95 countries. I shouted “Gatorde!” over and over and over and over. I handed out hugs and high-5s, and was once again overcome with gratitude. I was grateful for a lot of things: the sunny day, the cool volunteer jacket, the fact that someone brought a box of coffee to fuel me through the day. But mostly, I was simply glad to be there, surrounded by 50 friends and athletes who I knew were as happy to be there as I was.

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The marathon is a funny thing. Yes, there are some amazing athletes out there running sub-5 minute miles and breaking records. But the vast majority are just normal people, jogging and walking their way through 26.2 miles, not because they think they’ll win, but simply because they think they’ll finish. I stood there, offering Gatorade and thought, That could be me. I don’t know if I’ll ever do a marathon, but if I do, it’s because the Boston Marathon showed me that anyone who puts their mind to it can make it 26.2. We might not finish as fast as Meb, but we’ll finish.

I left mile 18 yesterday on my bike, surrounded by friends. We waved to cops and cheered on the last runners straggling through the course. There were a few beers, more hugs, and congratulating friends who’d run. It was an ordinary sort of fun that made the day extraordinary.

I can’t wait to do it again next year.

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Amazing carrot soup

04.17.2014

For years carrot soup has been one of those things that I love to order in restaurants, and then was always sort of a let down when I tried to make it at home. It turned out bland, chunky, and boring, nothing like the delicately spiced concoction the chefs around town produce.

Then while standing in line at Flour Bakery one day last week, I started perusing the display copy of the Flour Too cookbook. In it is a recipe for carrot soup, in which Joanne Chang calls for roasting the carrots before putting them into the soup to bring out their natural sweetness. It was such a simple and obvious act, and yet it had never occurred to me. The next night, I peeled, cut and roasted three pounds of carrots to make soup with.

Life being life, I didn’t have time to make the soup all at once. Instead, I roasted the carrots one night and made soup the next. I also didn’t have the celery or fennel that Chang calls for in her recipe, so I improvised, using what I could remember from another carrot soup recipe given to me by a friend a few months ago. That recipe called for soaking a cup of cashews in boiling water and then adding them to the soup. The cashews really add heartiness, elevating it from a side to an actual meal.

While I usually rely on my immersion blender for soups like this, it takes a long time to get it as smooth as I’d like. So I dumped it into my trusty blender and had otto the desired consistency in a matter of seconds rather than minutes.

Carrot soup
Makes five, 2-cup servings

1 cup cashews
1 cup boiling water
3 lb carrots, peeled and cut into coins
2 Tb olive oil
2 onions, diced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 small granny smith apple, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2-inch piece of ginger peeled and chopped finely
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 Tb ground ginger
1 Tb curry powder
1, 15 oz can evaporated milk OR 2 cups almond milk
salt and pepper to taste

Boil one cup of water and add 1 cup unsalted cashews to it. Let soak at least an hour, or as long as overnight.

Heat oven to 375 and arrange carrots on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in oven 25 to 30 minutes, or until carrots are tender.

While carrots roast, prep onion, garlic, apple, and ginger.

When carrots are done, heat a Tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and thyme and cook until onions are translucent, stirring occasionally. Add apple, gingers, curry powder, carrots and stock and bring to a boil. Cover pot and reduce heat to low. Let simmer at least 30 minutes. Transfer soup to a blender, or use an immersion blender to puree soup. Add evaporated milk or almond milk, if desired. If mixture is too thick, add a bit more stock or water as you blend.

Garnish with chopped nut, yogurt, or flavored oils, if you want. Though it’s just as good on it’s own.

Green smoothie and tired legs

04.14.2014

Training is always a journey of self discovery. You overcome that little voice begging for a snooze button and opt to get up and hit the pavement. You learn to push your limits. You do things you never have before.

Case in point:

1602075_745143522176685_8009493428166721322_oPhoto credit: Rosa Evora

This past weekend I pushed my limits a bit too much. I had a 5-mile race on Sunday, so I planned my long bike ride for Saturday. It was a great day- I rode out on the Boston Marathon route, which was packed with runners doing their last taper runs before the race next week. The day was warm and sunny and I felt good in the saddle, even when I turned around and rode up the Newton Hills (including Heartbreak Hill). I was shocked that I wasn’t hurting… but then, I wasn’t riding very fast either.

IMG_4721Newton fire fighters show their support

I didn’t think anything was amiss when I got up Sunday. I made coffee and had my usual pre-run banana. My legs felt fine. Nothing sore. Nothing stiff. I knew I wanted to get more than five miles in Sunday, so I decided to run the four miles to the race, and then race five. No problem. Almost as soon as I started off though my legs felt dead. Thinking I was just low on energy, I ate a Gu a mile into the run, and then stopped at a convenience store for a juice. It helped a bit, but my legs had no power in them. They weren’t sore, they were just exhausted. Though I ran the race four minutes faster than I did two years ago (isn’t that amazing to think about?), I finished about four minutes behind my PR.

After a longish nap Sunday, I headed to Copley Square to watch the One Run for Boston finish, had my first acro-yoga experience, and then went to a friend’s house warming party.

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At the  One Run for Boston finish

IMG_4742Workouts last week:
Monday: REST
Tuesday: Run 4
Wednesday: Run 4, bike 90 minutes
Thursday: swim 2,500 yards
Friday: run 3, yoga
Saturday: ride 2:15
Sunday: run 9

Totals: run 20, ride 3:45 (40 miles), swim 2,500

I’m pretty happy with how my workouts have been going, but unfortunately my nutrition hasn’t been nearly as good. Spring also means a rise in social activities, i.e. drinks with friends and eating out. I haven’t had the time to cook at home, and have been basically winging it when it comes to meals (which is why I haven’t ben posting many recipes lately either). I ate out every single night last week, and my lunches weren’t much better. This week, my goal is to plan and cook healthier meals that compliment my training.

Whenever I start to feel like my nutrition needs a jump start I make a green smoothie. Packed with fiber, calcium, and nutrients, a green smoothie always helps me hit the reset button. I made one after my race yesterday, and it was just what I needed.

Green Smoothie

1 banana
1 cup chopped kale
1 to 1.5 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons chia seeds

 

 

 

You know it’s spring when…

04.11.2014

The snow is gone. The crocuses are in bloom. Baseball season is underway. That can only mean one thing:

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Though I don’t mind winter, my mood has brightened with the weather these past couple of weeks. It’s so much easier to get out of bed in the morning when the sun is shining and you know you’ll be able to feel your fingers when you go outside.

But the end of winter also means that I have no excuse not to be on my bike. I spent the past few months pedaling on a trainer in my second bedroom while watching Netflix. Last weekend, with temperatures forecast in the 50s, I bundled up and went out for my first real ride of the year.

It was 38 degrees when I set off, dressed in ski socks, long pants, a base layer, wind proof jacket, gator, hat and gloves. I thought that might be too much, but it turned out to be the perfect outfit. I started my ride heading towards Castle Island, then rode south to Quincy, past Marina Bay, around Squantum, down Quincy Shore Drive and then home. It was a nice, leisurely 26 miles. I felt pretty good on the bike, but I was SLOW. Like people run marathons in the time it took me to ride one (about two hours).

I got a new bike computer last week, and once that’s installed I expect I’ll pick up the pace a bit. It’s hard to push yourself when you have no idea how fast you’re going.

Aside from that, there have been a few other signs of spring lately:

1. I went to my first Red Sox game of the year Monday!
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2. I rode my bike to work on Wednesday.
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3. I didn’t blow dry my hair after my swim workout yesterday.

4. I ran in a tank top this morning.

These are all good things.

While we’re on the topic: this week’s swim workout focused on increased distance. I also incorporated fins (or flippers) into it. Swimming with fins makes you faster, but it also requires you to push more water, and hence exert more effort. If you swim at a pool that has fins give it a try, I was surprised at how challenging it was.

warm up: 200 swim, 200 kick, 200 pull

main set: 4x 400, 30 seconds rest between each, try to keep an even pace throughout the 400
1. freestyle with fins
2. freestyle without fins
3. alternate back/free each 100
4. alternate back/free each 100 with fins

cool down: 2×150 pull

Total: 2,500 yards

I’ve got a long bike ride and a race on the calendar this weekend, and it’s supposed to be in the 70s. Bring it on!

 

Learning to tie my shoes

04.06.2014

Yesterday, I learned to tie my shoes.

I thought I’d mastered this skill decades ago, but apparently I’ve been doing it wrong. It was never much of an issue until last week when I finished a long run with a pain in the top of my left foot, where the lace crossed over a tendon. The next morning the pain was still there.

That, combined with some hip and shoulder pain last week, led me to ease off the running for a few days. On Saturday I planned to do a long run again, but three miles in the pain returned. I loosened my laces. It felt worse. I tightened them and the soreness stayed in the top of my foot. Later, it hurt to simply walk on.

Fortunately, I’d started my run with a group from Marathon Sports. Yesterday they hosted an event with Mizuno to promote the company’s #ifeverybodyran campaign.

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The event featured a talk with Amby Burfoot, who won the 1968 Boston Marathon and was a longtime editor of Runner’s World. Amby talked about his 1968 victory, and then about last year’s marathon, before taking questions from the crowd. We then had the option to demo some Mizuno’s (I opted to stay in my shoes), and headed out on a run with Amby that finished at the Back Bay Social Club where brunch was waiting. It was a great event, with a nice goodie bag and a delicious, healthy breakfast.

The only downside to the day was that my right foot was killing me, and I could see that my tendon was swollen. I took my shoe off at breakfast and it seemed better, but it started bothering me as soon as I started walking down Boylston Street. I stopped in at Marathon Sports to pick up my stuff, and mentioned to one of the employees what was going on. “Let’s take a look at your shoes,” he said.

The pain I was experiencing is apparently a pretty common issue amongst runners, and is due to a few factors:

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To alleviate this, he suggested tying them like this:

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My foot felt better almost immediately, and I’m hopeful this will solve the issue. What a silly thing…

 My workouts this week were otherwise good.

Monday: run 11
Tuesday: run 3
Wednesday: foam roll and PT, swim 1,900 yards
Thursday: REST
Friday: bike 60 minutes
Saturday: run 4
Sunday: bike 135 minutes; 26.4 miles

Total: run 18, bike 195 minutes, swim 1,900

I didn’t do yoga this week, but I spent a good amount of time foam rolling and stretching at home, so I’m ok with it. My swim workout was a good one… worked on longer distances.

Warm up: 200 swim, 200 kick, 200 pull

Main set:
4x 75, the last 25 was backstroke. 20 seconds rest between each
2x 400, 30 seconds rest between
I did the first 400 all free, and the second one I alternated back and breast stroke each 100

Cool down: 200 pull

Total yards: 1,900

Training vs. life… and molten chocolate cake

03.31.2014

How is it already Monday?

My day was made when I saw this video by my great friends at November Project. If you’ve never been, or don’t understand why I like going so much, this sums it up pretty well. It is fun and silly, and also kind of hard and makes me do and try things I never would on my own. And it helps a lot to be surrounded by wonderful people who hug and encourage and sweat it out next to you.

The song in this video is an instrumental version of “Run, run, run” by Michelle Lewis, which has become the de facto anthem of this year’s Boston Marathon. I tear up every time I hear it.

I was not at NP this morning, a fact that I regretted greatly when I read the blog and saw this sweet video. But sometimes, life happens. And it happened in a big way the last few days.

I planned all week to do a long run this past weekend. But there was a new dining room table being delivered, and coordinating with family to get the old one over to my sister’s. An old friend was in town, and we stayed up way too late Saturday night catching up. A yoga event Saturday with dear friends. And then, (surprise !) family in town and an invitation to Sunday dinner at my aunt’s. I spent a lot of time this weekend catching up with loved ones. I did not spend a lot of time running… I actually did not spend any time running.

It’s a hard thing to balance. I know I need to do a certain amount of training to get ready for August. But I’m also determined not to let training get in the way of the other great things in my life. I want to maintain my friendships, and catch up with family that I don’t get to see too often. I want to travel, to indulge in a nap on Saturday, to have dinner with friends. Friends, how do you strike that balance in life?

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I did have a great run Friday with NP. This never gets old. 

In addition to an unexpectedly full weekend, I completely lost my #weatherproof mentality last week. It was cold and windy, and I had zero desire to be outside. So here’s the week:

Monday: bike 65 minutes
Tuesday: speed work at track, 3 miles
Wednesday: rest/ foam roll and stretch
Thursday: yoga, swim 1,600 yards
Friday: run hills, 5 miles
Saturday: bike 90 minutes
Sunday: yoga

Total: Run 8 miles, bike 155 minutes, swim 1600 yards, yoga x 2

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It wouldn’t be a workout without a bit of extra NP spice.
Photo credit: Rosa Evora

Swimming:
This week’s swim workout focused on speed.

Warm up: 200 swim, 200 kick, 200 pull
Set: 8 x 100 freestyle on 2:00
I did the first 100 easy, then built on the second one (meaning I got faster each length), then easy, then an all out sprint. I did that twice. I hadn’t timed a 100-yard sprint in a long time, and did these on 1:24 which isn’t fast, but is good to know for a baseline.
Cool down: 200 pull
Total yards: 1,600

And a recipe… 

If you’re read this far, you deserve a treat. Namely, a wonderful molten chocolate cake that contains just four ingredients. You probably have everything you need to make this dessert in your kitchen right now: chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs.

You can mix the batter ahead of time and then pop the ramekins into the freezer until you’re ready to bake. They’ll last at least a week, maybe two, without serious damage. The easiest way to make the batter is in a double boiler. However, if you don’t have one, a mixing bowl set over a pot of water will do just fine.

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Flourless molten chocolate cake
(Adapted from Eat Boutique)
makes 4

7 oz best-quality semisweet chocolate
6 Tablespoons butter
3 eggs, separated
3.5 oz sugar

Heat butter and sugar in a double boiler, stirring occasionally until chocolate is melted and butter is fully incorporated. Set aside.

Use a mixer to beat egg whites until frothy. Add sugar and beat until egg whites hold soft peaks.

Temper the egg yolks: add 1/4 cup of chocolate mixture to egg yolks and beat vigorously. Add yolk mixture to chocolate mixture and mix well. Then add chocolate mixture to egg whites and mix well.

Spoon mixture into four ramekins, or if you don’t have ramekins, sturdy, oven safe coffee cups. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least one hour. When ready to bake, remove plastic wrap, heat oven to 325 and bake for 30 minutes, until sides are set. Serve topped with ice cream, if you like.

 

 

Back to the pool

03.27.2014

Growing up, I wasn’t what one would call  athletic. Sure, I played outside and rode bikes with the neighborhood kids, but I was a slow runner, a bit on the pudgy side, and not at all coordinated.

I had a brief soccer-playing stint in middle school, but I was pretty terrible at it; my feet and the ball seemed to always be moving in separate directions. Shortly before the eighth grade though a neighbor suggested I check out a local swim team. I loved swimming, but it had never occurred to me that swimming was a sport that I could compete in. My mom got some information about the team, and less than a week later I showed up at my first practice. I was hooked.

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off the blocks… circa 1994

It wasn’t a totally smooth transition. I had to learn how to do flip turns, and master the butterfly. But swimming was something that felt natural. I imagine it’s the same feeling that basketball players feel with a ball, or runners feel on the track. For the next five years, I swam three to five days a week, generally logging about two miles a day.

I gave up swimming when I went to college. I had my heart set on Northwestern’s journalism program, and I knew I didn’t have it in me to swim for a Division I school. Since then though, I’ve continued swimming, sometimes with a master’s team, but usually just on my own. Being in the water still feels like second-nature, though I’m not nearly as fast as I was at 17.

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my “home” pool these days

Now that I’m tri training, my goal is to log at least one swim workout a week. But I realized recently that I can’t just wing it in the water. Just like with my runs, I need a training plan. Since the swim is the only part of the race where I’ll use my arms, I need to work on maximizing using my upper body in the water, so I can save my legs for later in the race. I also need to train for distance, so the 10×50 yard sets I generally do probably aren’t going to help me much.

Last week, I did some internet perusing and came up with a set of six workouts to get me through the next month. The workouts generally start and end the same: a warm-up of 200-swim, 200-kick, 200-pull, and then a cool-down of 200-pull.  The main sets vary: some focus on speed, and some focus on stamina. Since most triathletes struggle with the swim, I though it might be helpful to post them when I do them, along with thoughts on what to focus on as you go through the workout.

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swim workouts for the next few weeks

The set I did last week was pretty simple:
warm up: 200-swim (freestyle), 200-kick (alternate flutter kick and breast stroke kick each lap), and 200-pull (alternate 50-yards free, 50-yards back stroke)
I use my warm ups to focus on technique: keeping my hands close to my body, making sure my fingers are closed, and doing stroke drills to maximize efficiency.

main set: 5×200 swim (freestyle, back stroke, breaststroke, back stroke, freestyle- no rest between 200s, simply switch stroke)
My main goal here was to swim consistently and try to focus on maintaining my speed with my upper body, rather than relying on my legs for power.

cooldown: 200 pull (freestyle)
More drills.
Total yards: 1,800

My favorite drill with a pull bouy is to drag my fingertips on the top of the water and think about keeping my elbows high and hands close to my body. Here’s a full description and video of this drill.

I’m still recovering from a shoulder injury and working to rebuild my strength, so I’ve been alternating freestyle (which tires me out fast) with back stroke (which doesn’t bother my injury as much). I think it’s good to mix it up and do different strokes, but you could do this workout with all freestyle.

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