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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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Chapter 3 – Hurdling

So where did we leave off? Ah, yes… with me on a half marathon experience high putting in my first 5 mile run.

Now anyone who knows me knows that I have zero tolerance for cold weather (which is pretty much anything under 70 degrees in my mind) So starting training for an event in the fall/winter was simply out of the question. Fast forward to the following June when a combination of consistently warm weather and the promise of free time courtesy of summer vacation led me to rekindle that notion of half marathon training. With no real plan, I started to increase the frequency, duration, and speed of my runs. Over the span of a few weeks I began to feel some positive cardiovascular improvements, muscle growth, and an overall increased sense of pleasure while running. However, at the same time I also began to experience some ankle/foot pain. I attributed it to a rite of passage into long distance running as I had seen and heard Nick and Eric describing various ailments as they packed ice onto their lower extremities. I continued moving forward and with each run relied on endorphins to push me through the increasing pain. The afternoon of the last day of school, I decided to sprint right into vacation with an extra hard run and by the next morning the pain came right back with extra gusto. I gimped through the weekend, google searching every common foot injury I had heard of. I like to believe that I have a pretty high pain threshold (thanks Mom!) and generally avoid making doctor visits, but after three days of constant pain and three nights spent tossing and turning in discomfort I finally caved and went to see an orthopedist. An examination and x-ray revealed that I had run myself right into a calcaneus (heel) stress fracture. I left the doctor’s office with a prescription for 6 weeks of rest, double daily dosage of calcium, and a highly fashionable fracture boot.

Needless to say, I was frustrated and disheartened. Adding insult to injury was Nick and Eric’s befuddlement over my decision to continue running once the pain began. Not being one to complain (over medical woes at least!) I had never mentioned the nagging pain to them prior to its apex. “You guys are always complaining about your aches and pains and you keep running!” I argued defensively. They countered with “That’s because  our pain comes after running…. not during!” Little did I know that there were acceptable and unacceptable pockets of time for pain. “Fortunately,” I now had six weeks to get schooled in running.

All summer, I kept my conditioning up with lower impact cardio (cycling, elliptical, etc.), but by the time I received medical clearance to run again the race season was winding down and so was my motivation to train for a half. So, I tucked my fleeting dream away and returned to just casual 2-3 mile runs, with my only competitive event being completing my second Turkey Trot. Like so many others, I often seize the new year as an opportunity for new beginnings. When in January I sat down to write my 2011 goals, listed under the wellness category was completing a half marathon. I decided to strike while the inspiration was hot and immediately began “training.” My aversion to the cold weather was still strong as ever so I committed myself to treadmill runs. In my mind, the doldrum hum of the machine was far preferable to frostbite and hypothermia. My training “plan” was based on nothing more than my own beliefs of what would increase my distance and stamina. I started at 5 miles again and every couple of days would increase my distance by half a mile. I was running 4 days a week (2 longer runs and 2 shorter runs) and before long I was running 8+ miles and logging 20+ miles a week. I could feel my fitness levels increasing and I felt incredible. So incredible that I registered for the Philly Rock and Roll Half Marathon for September. So incredible… except for that reoccurring pain in my left hip. But I wrote the pain off with a “no pain, no gain” mentality. My less than enjoyable fracture boot days were overshadowed by the ecstasy of the long run. About a month in, Nick and I attended a dinner party hosted by Eric and his wife, Amy. Eric and I inevitably got into a conversation about running and when I shared my plan with him he lectured me on the importance of cycling in your training (varying your distance, having harder weeks followed by easier weeks) In one ear out the other it went… I mean what does he know, he’s only a professional in the field! Eric, who makes my stubbornness look weak, recognized my close-mindedness and concluded with “I don’t want to hear it when you get hurt!” “I won’t” were my famous last words.

My Mid-Winter Recess from school arrived in mid February and with it came the opportunity to take advantage of an empty mid-afternoon gym and monopolize a treadmill for an hour and a half at a time. My hip made its feelings about these 9.5 mile runs very clear and by Friday the only way to get my hip to stop hurting (whether running or not) was to grit my teeth through the first two miles until the endorphins kicked in and dulled it. That afternoon I went to visit my parents and by the time I arrived  I was in major pain. Not wanting my parents to know (my mom had insisted that I give up running after the stress fracture and there is nothing worse than mom guilt!) so I barely left my chair at their kitchen table and when I did relied on countertop or wall support. I kept up the facade with Nick when I returned home that night, but by the next morning I was in such crippling pain that I could not bear any weight at all. After hours of  hopping around on one foot and a constant influx of Advil I finally broke down in tears and confessed to Nick just how much pain I was in and how long it had been happening. We both realized that medical attention was a must, which on a Saturday night means the emergency room. Our visit to the ER was seemingly useless as x-rays were inconclusive. I left with orders to see my orthopedist and get an MRI and a pair of crutches which would at least allow me to enough mobility to go back to work on Monday. I followed doctor’s orders and saw my orthopedist who sent me for the MRI. By now a full week had passed, but no relief was to be had (only sleepless nights and cringing with every movement) The MRI results held the explanation… I had a femoral neck stress fracture. Two stress fractures in less than a year… not the start to my running career that I had envisioned. I was once again ordered to six weeks of rest and continued use of crutches (needing a laugh… envision me trying to maneuver around my classroom on crutches with 20 kindergarteners constantly at my feet). But this time I got the added warning that one wrong move could result in the need for surgery due to the high risk associated with this particular type of stress fracture. I was consumed by worry, regret, and self-loathing. Oh, and did I mention I was supposed to be walking down the aisle in less than 4 months?!

To be continued..

And if you stuck it out with me through this you deserve a rest (and recipe) now too!

Guacamole and hummus are two of my absolute favorite foods. Aside from being incredibly tasty they are so versatile. They can be a dip, a sandwich spread, a pizza layer, a pasta sauce… and they can whipped up in minutes! I was recently making a salad and decided to throw in both avocado chunks and chickpeas. As the two flavors mingled in my mouth I started to daydream of combining these two in their most beloved forms. And thus guacammus was born and it was all I hoped it would be… creamy, flavorful, and satisfying!

The scoop on guacammus:

  • Chickpeas lend a healthy dose of protein which aids in muscle recovery
  • Avocados are loaded with potassium (double that of a banana!) which helps keep you hydrated and aids in recovery
  • Both chickpeas and avocados are high in fiber which is essential for sustained energy and fullness
  • Unsaturated fats, like those found in avocados, can stave off injuries (like stress fractures!)
  • Dip pita bread wedges and/or fresh veggies in guacammus and you’ve got a winning combination of carbs and protein

Guacammus

a Martha Stoever original recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 oz.) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 avocado, peeled and pitted
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 serrano pepper, seeded
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, loosely packed
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 TBSP lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt (more or less to taste)

Directions

Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth.

Serve with crudités and pita bread wedges/chips.

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Chapter 2 – A Change of Heart

Not long after my 5k accomplishment, and subsequent realization of a budding enjoyment of running, Pro-Activity launched their PACER (Pro Activity Conditioning and Endurance Racing) team. PACER is a social club/athletic team founded on the belief that with courage and perseverance (and an enthusiastic cheering squad!) ordinary people can do extraordinary things. In the year following its founding, I bore witness to some remarkable accomplishments including training for and completing 5k’s, 10k’s, half-marathons , marathons, and a 50 mile trail race, qualifying for the Boston Marathon, summiting Mt. Washington, and smashing PR’s. The feat that I was privy an insider’s view of was Nick’s quest towards completing his first half marathon in Virginia Beach in September 2009. At the time, we were still “enduring” a long-distance relationship which meant only seeing one another on the weekends. In the months leading up to the race, our nightly phone calls came after increasingly intense training runs and our Saturday morning sleep-ins, coffee, and SportsCenter viewings were replaced by “long runs.” The memory that sticks with me most from this time was when on a miserably humid, drizzly afternoon in August I drove Nick across town and left him on the side of a desolate farm-side road so he could run the 11 miles back to my parents’ house. I remember watching the countryside tick by out my car window, slowly turning over to our small town’s quaint main street, and then back to countryside again. All the while I was thinking “I can’t believe he’s going to cover all this distance by running!” When, well over an hour later, he ascended the steep crest of my parents’ driveway the combination of sweat and rain could be rung out of his clothing. Even after a shower and fresh outfit the bloodshot eyes and gray pallor were remaining evidence of his efforts. I clearly remember struggling to figure out why anyone would ever subject themselves to that level of exertion and assuring myself that I  certainly never would (yes… this is foreshadowing).

Then came race day and as an official PACER “loudmouth” I had a strategic cheer zone on the grassy divider where the racers were passing their mile 4 and mile 11 marks. I was well prepared with noise makers, a camera, and runner tracking text message alerts, but no amount of foresight could have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster that I would experience that late summer morning. I watched Team Hoyt members pass by, runners and disabled partners both beaming ear to ear, Team in Training participants proudly running in memory of loved ones, brave cancer survivors and war veterans. Runners of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds  who were all aiming to achieve personal greatness. When I saw Nick at the “reunion area” post-finish line my heart was swelled with pride and admiration. Nick, and every other runner who crossed my path that day, had truly inspired me.

When all was said and done and Nick and I were a couple hours into our lengthy trek back home, I finally asked the question that had been weighing heavily on my mind. “Soooo how far would I have to be able to run in order to even consider training for a half marathon?” I squeaked. “About 5 miles. Why you want to run one now?” he baited. “Ummm, I dunno. We’ll see how I feel in the morning,” I replied in a most non-committal fashion.

And what did that next morning bring? Me, at the gym, putting in my first 5 mile run.

To be continued…

And now for a snack break…

At the most recent race expo I attended I stumbled upon a Larabar booth and felt an instant surge of excitement at the thought of free samples of one of my favorite grab-and-go foods. Larabars have enjoyed quite a bit of publicity recently, especially after being featured on The Biggest Loser, but my first taste came as a result of perusing the “bar” section of Whole Foods in search of a wholesome source of sustained energy for those days that I was exerting a lot of energy while running. The allure of the bar is that it is a pure fruit and nut bar with each flavor containing no more than 9 ingredients (some as little as 2!) As a result they are gluten free, vegan, and free of any colorings, additives, or preservatives. To boot, they are simply delicious. There are 20 different flavors, most of which I have at least sampled, but the Peanut Butter and Jelly variety is my hands down favorite. I am not one to typically scoff at high price tags on healthful foods, but I am always up for the challenge of recreating something with the added bonus of cost efficiency. When I came across Jen’s recipe for a mock up of the Cherry Pie flavor I decided that was my foray into making my own. Using her nut and dried fruit ratios and the label’s ingredients for inspiration I whipped up (more like chopped, pureed, scraped, repeated) my very own Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars.

The benefits rundown:

  • These bars are loaded with heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats
  • Peanuts are a great source of concentrated protein (20-30% protein!)
  • Dates are rich in potassium which for runners is essential in maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance
  • The combination of dried fruits and nuts result in a nice blend of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, folic acid, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, and copper

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

recipe adapted from Use Real Butter and ingredients based on the LÄRABAR site

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups medjool dates, pitted
1 1/4 cups dried strawberries
1 1/2 cups peanuts

Directions

Line a 8-inch or 9-inch square pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

Place dates and strawberries in a food processor and pulse until a gooey semi-paste has formed. The mixture will be very sticky and it takes quite a bit of pulsing to achieve the right consistency (some fruit bits, but not large chunks). Scoop the fruit paste into a large mixing bowl. Pour the peanuts in the food processor and pulse to coarse bits (do not over-process). Empty the peanuts into the mixing bowl with the dried fruit. Knead the dried fruit and peanuts together until combined and evenly distributed (I found using my hands to be most the most effective means of kneading). Transfer the the mixture to the prepared pan and press evenly onto the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate the mixture until it is firm to the touch, approximately 30 minutes. Invert onto a cutting board and slice to desired size.

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