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Archive for May, 2012

Chapter 5 – Hittin’ My Stride

Disappointed?!

Hadn’t the allure of crossing that finish line been dangling above my head for the past two years?!

Hadn’t I endured and recovered from two stress fractures attempting to get to this point?!

Hadn’t I vehemently stuck to a slow and steady two month training plan to ensure that I accomplished just this?!

Hadn’t I just completed my first half marathon at a pace that was nearly a minute and a half faster than how I had trained?!

The answer to all of the above… “Yes.”

So, pray tell, why the long face?

Because after suppressing my ego for the past few months, rationale me was exhausted and my ego took total advantage of this weakness and was rearing it’s ugly head in full force. I am young, I workout almost daily, I adhere to a healthful diet, I am strong-willed and dedicated to anything I set my heart to…. and yet I did not feel that my performance reflected any of those traits. I had completed the race, but my sense of accomplishment was far from complete.

So, what is a girl to do? Give up on the notion of ever being a runner all together? After all, my mother had insisted that “Maybe it’s just not for you.” more than once following my injuries… and aren’t moms always right?! Yeah right… I am far too stubborn for that. The logical answer of course was to train for another race and, even more importantly, better myself as a runner in the process.

It just so happened that the Rock and Roll Series was hosting their inaugural 10k in Prospect Park, Brooklyn in October. The timing, distance, and venue were ideal and so the very next day I registered. The first step towards betterment was to determine what “better” actually meant. Prior to my injuries I had been able to run 10 minute miles comfortably. So I decided that if I could run 6.2 miles in under an hour (just shy of that 10:00/mile pace) I would deem the race a success. I consulted with my personal coach/husband and was again presented with a training plan that had all the same conditions of the one I had just completed…with the exception of some leeway with my pace. Once again, I firmly adhered to the plan… diligently getting in each scheduled run and keeping my overachieving trigger in check. And once again, my final motivational push came the weekend before my race as I chased Nick around the woods of the Ramapo Valley as he achieved his latest personal feat… completing a 50k (31 mile) trail run. Personal coach, husband, and ultimate motivator all in one… luckiest girl ever!

Race day was one for the memory books before the event even began. Highway construction and an unexpectedly high demand for race day packet pick-up nearly prevented me from even making it to the starting line (amongst the hundreds of intense and angst runners waiting on the seemingly endless line I managed to find the only two guys laid back enough to let me casually cut into the queue). Meanwhile, after dropping me at the start, Nick had (unbeknownst to him) ventured into a less than desirable neighborhood in Brooklyn in an attempt to find parking and while sprinting from said parking spot back to the park had a firsthand encounter with a street shooting. Unscathed, but experiencing a serious adrenaline rush, he made it to my corral just in time for a final pep talk and good luck peck. It was a chilly morning and my stiff muscles (there had been no time for stretching) and bare skin were screaming in opposition, but by the time I was a couple tenths of a mile in I could feel myself loosening up and settling into a rhythm that was pulsing with determination. The race itself was two laps around the park and by the time I reached the halfway point I was not only on pace to reaching my goal, but ahead of it! That realization in and of itself was enough to propel me onward, but with each runner I passed and each tenth of a mile that ticked by I got an even bigger boost of adrenaline. Seeing Nick at mile 6 was the final catalyst as I turned the corner into the finishing stretch and was in (what felt like to me anyway) a full sprint. I blew across the finish line and as my stride winded down the pounding in my chest was no longer attributed to physical exertion, but to pride. I had surpassed my expectations (official time of 58:10, a 9:21/mile pace)… I had bettered myself as a runner and I could confidently say (even if just to myself) that I had accomplished something.

Fast forward another month and another bout of goal setting and training…I entered my fourth annual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning and PR’d by nearly 2 minutes by running a 8:25/mile pace. That made it official… I was back on the road to running and cruising it.

To be continued…

And now for a culinary journey with similar ups and downs.

Ahhhh… the elusive homemade veggie burger. This growingly popular alternative to the all American beef burger is now widely available in the frozen food section of most local supermarkets. While some brands (i.e. Amy’s Kitchen) have managed to appease my picky palate, the unpronounceable ingredients and scant evidence of their namesake, vegetables, amongst most of these prepackaged pucks has left me in search of a homemade version. Easier said than done my herbivorous friend. No other food has ever tested my culinary prowess and patience quite like the veggie burger has. In an attempt to avoid embodying Einstein’s definition of insanity (cue overused quote regarding doing the same thing over again and expecting different results) I have experimented with a variety of hearty vegetables, protein bases, and sticky binders. But, my attempts have repeatedly resulted in textural and flavorful failures…dry, bland, mushy, crumbly burgers messes that no amount of condiment doctoring could save. I’ve poured my faith into my food blogger idols and placed trust in proclamations that their recipe holds the answer to the woes experienced by myself, and so many others, who are in pursuit of the evasive homemade veggie burger. And then after years of woefully scraping up the burnt crumbly remnants of my most recent burger bust the answer came from ultra-marathoner, author, and vegan advocate, Scott Jurek. As luck would have it I, the one who had chased this fleeting veggie burger dream, cannot even take credit for finally capturing it. Nick stumbled across the link to the recipe on Scott Jurek’s Facebook page and e-mailed it to me with a simple subject line of “Let’s try these.” Despite my doubts… I mean if the food blogger deities hadn’t led me to veggie burger euphoria how was some superhuman athlete turned amateur chef going to take me there?! Well… Mr. Jurek had me eating my doubts, literally. Because his recipe for Lentil-Mushroom Burgers, which resulted in a complexly flavorful patty that was moist, yet firm (they even passed the grill test!), was the key to unlocking the homemade veggie burger mystery. And now, as a reputable food blogger wannabe, I pass along the key to you… prepare for homemade veggie burger greatness!

The bonus of these burgers:

  • Lentils – Lentils are jam-packed with protein, iron and B vitamins. The body uses B vitamins to generate energy to sustain running.
  • Swiss chard – A serving of this jaunty nutritional overachiever contains more than a day’s worth of vitamins A and C. Vitamin C is required to make collagen, an important structural component of tendons, ligaments and bone. Further bolstering the nutritional value of swiss chard is huge amounts of vitamin K that are needed for proper blood clotting and bone health.
  • Flaxseeds – Flaxseeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 has been linked to improved sensitivity to insulin and glucose metabolism. It can help to reduce inflammatory response in conditions such as osteoarthritis and possibly exercise-induced asthma. Researchers are currently investigating if omega-3 reduces muscular inflammatory response after an intense workout.

Lentil-Mushroom Burgers

adapted from Eat and Run by Scott Jurek

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried green lentils
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped swiss chard (or other winter green)
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed meal
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 12 hamburger buns
  • condiments and accompaniments of choice

Directions

In a medium pot, bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil. Then add lentils, parsley, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, and 1/4 cup chopped onions.

Combine walnuts, bread crumbs, and flaxseed meal in a small bowl and set aside.

In a separate pan greased with olive oil, sauté remaining onion and garlic, mushrooms, and kale for 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Remove lentils from heat, add Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar, and mash ingredients together (I used a potato masher).

In a large bowl, combine lentil mixture, sautéed vegetables, and bread-crumb mixture. Place bowl in refrigerator until mixture is cool.

Using your hands, form patties and grill (or pan fry over medium-high heat) until lightly browned and crispy on both sides, approximately 5 minutes per side. Serve on a toasted bun (or on their own) with your favorite condiments.

Makes 12 four-inch burgers.

Make ahead tip: Place formed patties on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with foil and place in freezer. Once patties are completely frozen use scissors to cut the paper between the patties and stack them in a large freezer container or bag. When you thaw them, leave the paper between them so they’ll be easy to separate.

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Chapter 4 – Going the Distance

I don’t know if it was the prolonged pain, the fear of being wheeled down the aisle on my wedding day, or the icy demand of my mother that I “better not dare go running” but following my hip stress fracture in February, I quit running for 4 months. During that time I satiated my exercise pangs with low impact cardio (elliptical, spinning) and resistance training which helped to maintain the cardiovascular gains I had made prior to my injury. Our impending nuptials and the culmination of the school year kept me more than occupied and the itch to train for a half marathon subsided once again. By the time we returned from honeymoon in early July I was completely pain free, well rested and recuperated, and in the throes of summer vacation… the ideal conditions for the running bug to rear its head yet again. My premature registration for the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Philly left me with a monetary commitment and the perfect excuse to broach the topic of training with Nick. True to his level-headed, unconditionally supportive ways he agreed to help me train for the race in September. But in return I had to promise to adhere to the strict provisions of this individualized training plan. These stipulations included tracking the distance and pace of all runs, giving a “pain report” following said runs, keeping my pace at 12 minutes miles, and only running on designated days for the prescribed distance. The overachiever in me cringed at these provisions. 12 minute miles?! Could that even be considered a jog?! Not pushing my distance goals that extra half mile or so… even if I was feeling great?! But, just as my scheming for how to find the loopholes in this agreement began, the rational side of me finally took a stand. If I had any hope of making it across that finish line I had better listen to someone beside my own ego.

And so my training started with a 1 mile “run” and slowly (emphasis on the s-l-o-w) ramped up from there. My “Nicky P.’s Coming Back from Injury Plan” had a prominent place on our refrigerator and the bright pink highlighter marks were proof of my progress and promise. I stuck to running only 3 days a week and locked the treadmill in at 5.0 MPH. The only exceptions to my rule abiding ways were my long runs which I did on the road. There were times when I fell into a comfortable stride that was a bit faster or I added a couple tenths of a mile in order to make my way back home, but all in all my deviations were minimal and limited. I would be lying if I said that my ego didn’t make a valiant attempt at veering me off course. At times I found my finger twitching above the speed button on the treadmill and the thought of turning off my Nike+ app and doing an unaccounted for extra lap around the neighborhood crossed my mind a time or two, but luckily rational me stood firm and had my sense of guilt as support. Two weeks before race day I completed my longest run yet, 12 miles, and upon finishing I had my first firm proclamation that I really was going to do this. One week out I cheered Nick on as he completed his first marathon and as I watched in admiration as the expressions on the racers’ faces turned from grit to glory I was filled with the final bit of motivation I needed.

Our journey began on a picture perfect Saturday afternoon in mid-September. In tow were my parents trekking to Philadelphia from their home in NY in order to round out my support crew. Upon arrival, I did all the requisite pre-race rituals…. packet pick-up, healthful meal, course review, gear preparation… and hit the hotel hay. I’m not sure what reached a higher decibel… the fluttering of my nerves or the rumbling of my dad’s snores… but either way I had a restless night. Luckily, my adrenaline was in full force by the time Nick and I made our early morning exit to the starting line. We were met by a few other members of the Pacer team and the small talk and spectacles (these events are notorious for “costuming”) helped pass the time until I had to head to my corral where Nick left with me with some final reassuring words and a kiss. The first few miles of the race flew by, partly because I was being carried by the roar of the spectators, partly because of the jolts of energy sparked by seeing my proud family at miles 1 and 3, partly because I was only a 1/3 of the way in. At mile 5, I swapped water bottles and big smiles with Nick, and headed out on the long stretch of course that follows the banks of the Schuylkill River. By mile 8, I was still feeling strong physically, but my mental toughness had started to wane. Runners who were far older than me, far larger than me… seemingly far less conditioned than me… were continuously passing me by. My only goal had been to complete the race and I was well on my way to doing so, but I couldn’t quiet the nagging sound of inferiority and humility resounding within. This particular stretch of the course was dotted by few spectators (read as “distractions”) and so I tried my best to put on my blinders and focus solely on the passing scenery and sound of my own sneakers ticking away the miles. At mile 10, I had a much needed reunion with Nick who had agreed to run the final stretch alongside me. His company alone was a morale boost and his words of encouragement were more precious than any Gu pack or Gatorade (which at that point in the race are like gold!) The distraction carried me through the last 5k and when he left me at the chute his cheerful “You got this!”, coupled with a final sighting of my family cheering me on, propelled me across the finish line. I caught my breath, hung my medal around my neck, grabbed a water, and started weaving my through the crowd of sweaty, exacerbated runners towards the family meeting area. In the midst of the chaos and celebration I managed to find Nick who immediately reached out for a hug. As we closed in on one another my heart swelled to capacity with overwhelming…

DISAPPOINTMENT.

To be continued…

To ensure you don’t feel the same way about today’s recipe I had to stick with a tried and true favorite.

Whether you are an athlete, busy mom, student – or anyone who spends the majority of their day on the go – energy bars are the ideal option for a quick source of protein, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins & minerals. They are easy to throw in your trusty bag (or bags if you’re like me and carry a purse, canvas tote, lunchbox, and gym bag) and are a quick source of energy (and often a solution for sweet tooth cravings). While store bought bars certainly fit the bill, homemade energy bars have the added bonus of being cost efficient, free of preservatives, added sweeteners, and other unpronounceable ingredients, and they can be tailored to fit your personal taste preferences. I’ve experimented with many a bar recipe and have rarely met one I didn’t like, but this recipe for quinoa energy bars is a reliable favorite.

The “run” down on quinoa energy bars:

  • Quinoa is not only packed with carbohydrates to fuel your workouts, but it is rich in protein needed for muscle growth and repair.
  • Nuts and seeds are nutrient powerhouses that provide heart-healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds in particular provide the essential omega-3 fatty acids that are needed to properly metabolize fat and proteins.
  • Chia seeds became a superfood trend after being toted as the “Aztec running food” that fueled the Tarahumara barefoot runners featured in the bestselling book, Born to Run. In addition to the typical benefits of nuts and seeds, chia seeds are also a good source of calcium. For those who exercise a lot (and are prone to stress fractures!) maintaining strong bones with proper calcium intake is a must. Chia seeds also contain boron, a nutrient necessary for the body to absorb and make use of calcium.

Quinoa Energy Bars

adapted from Get Off Your Tush and Cook

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups oats, rolled, quick cooking
  • 1/4 cup evaporated cane juice (sugar)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup flaxseed meal
  • 2 TBSP chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup raw nuts of choice: I used almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit of choice: I used a mixed dried berry blend
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 2 TBSP agave nectar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Grease a 9×13-inch pan and set aside.

Cook dry quinoa according to directions. While quinoa is cooking, combine the next 10 ingredients (through coconut) in a large bowl.

Once quinoa is cooked, add to the pan the applesauce, agave nectar, vanilla, and water. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until well combined.

Transfer quinoa bar mixture into prepared pan. Using your hands, press the mixture into the pan so it is spread evenly.

Bake for 20 minutes at 350ºF. Cool completely and cut into pieces.

Store in refrigerator.

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