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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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