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2009, The Year in Review

Every year I send out a Holiday/End of Year Letter. Here are the highlights of our year!

It was the year of many home improvements. We got new carpet, a new floor and a sliding glass door in the kitchen. 2009 will ultimately go down as The Year of the Termites. After I noticed a crack in the dining room corner, my husband and his son tore out the dining room wall and corner. They rebuilt it themselves. We seized the opportunity to have much-needed siding and new windows installed. The house looks incredible! Now if we can just get the drywall hung . . .

We celebrated our first anniversary last March. We managed to squeeze in two trips to Colorado and my determined husband learned to ski quite well.

In our second year of gardening, we grew a Stupice heirloom that produced copious amounts of seriously delicious tomatoes. Our habaƱero did handsomely. We grew lots of garlic. We also grew our first pumpkin, watermelons, muskmelon and butternut squash, though none were impressive. Tragically, we have a black thumb concerning the one vegetable we love most: spinach. We learned a lot and I'm already plotting ways to expand the garden for next summer. We also had a share in a CSA. Getting different vegetables each week forced me to branch out in my cooking. I loved the challenge.

In June, we ran the Highlands Sky 40 Miler in West Virginia. I highly recommend this beautiful and rugged ultra.

We flew back to Kansas in July for my 20-year high school reunion. Eek! It was fun reconnecting with old friends.

We also bought a new Honda Element - the perfect vehicle for two trail runners!

We both had a good year of running. We ran a few new races including Highlands Sky 40 Miler in West Virginia and some shorter road races for a change. I managed to run Personal Record times at Bull Run 50 Miler, Women’s Half Trail Marathon, The Big Schloss 50k, as well as a 10k and a 5 Mile Turkey Trot. My husband set PRs at the 10K and 5 Miler and he can still beat me at all distances longer than the 100-yard dash.

New adventures in 2009: We took some basic climbing skills classes and we were hooked. Now we belong to a climbing gym and go every week. We enjoy our newfound form of cross training.

In sad news, my cat Buster went to the great mousing grounds in the sky in November. He was with me for fourteen years. We miss him and his antics around the house. My cat CousCous meows a lot more now. She misses her brother.

We're currently gearing up for the training runs we put on in the Massanutten Mountains during the winter and early spring. The logistics are all new as the race course has changed.

We are both very happy to be employed in this recession.

In the coming year, we hope to put a few finishing touches on our kitchen, tackle the bathrooms, run many trails, PR a few races, and enjoy time with good friends and family.

Hope 2010 brings new challenges and good things your way!

Becoming A Better Runner

I'm a runner. I came to running late, after college, for vanity's sake. I've never been particularly fast. I started running because aerobics and machines bored me, and because I didn't have to go to the gym to do it. I liked running because it was hard. I loved the calmness that came as a byproduct of running. I ran because I didn't have to do a lot of planning ahead. I could just run out my door and go as fast or as far as I wanted.

I flew by the seat of my pants, with no training plan. I signed up for my first 5k after some convincing by my cousin and uncle. I did almost all of my training on the treadmill. I never ran more than 3.1 miles. I was incredulous to discover, mid-race, that we had to run up Capitol Hill. How could they have a hill on a race course?!?

My first marathon, ten years ago, was a run/walk slog culminating in a 5:15 finish. I didn't do speedwork, tempo runs or hill repeats and I couldn't make heads nor tails out of Ed Eyestone's Runner's World column. I just loved being in motion in the early morning sunshine. I loved the suffering that made me prove what I was made of every time I did a long run. I loved the post-run naps. I even loved the resulting soreness.  It all made me feel alive.

It has taken years of running experience, miles and training, but I'm getting better and I'm getting faster! How?

. I've been running more consistently. Despite being an "ultrarunner" since 2003, sometimes I only ran twice a week. I've hooked up with a friend and we run twice a week at lunchtime. I've been running four or five days a week. I find the more often I run, the quicker I ease into a rhythm and the more often I want to run. Newton's First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.

. Many of the ultrarunners I hang around are speedy. Running with them (albeit way behind them) forces me to increase my speed. It also raises the bar of what I see as possible. Hanging on with them for even a couple of miles boosts my confidence. Running with faster friends ensures that you never get complacent!

. I've had goals before, the difference this time is that I've set short-term, small-scale goals, then followed each up with another. After years of training for one big marathon or multiple ultra distances, I signed up for some shorter road races. I trained for speed rather than solely for endurance. While I could have trained with more specificity, I focused on what was doable and that worked for me. It paid off in several PRs. A couple fell easily because they were so old, but the rest were hard-won.

2009 Race PRs
Bull Run Run 50 Miler, April 11:13:50 a 31 minute improvement!
Lehigh Valley Half Marathon, May  2:01:27 I was happy - this was two weeks after my 50 miler!
Women's Trail Half Marathon, September  2:12:56 Shaved 19 minutes off this baby, felt strong the whole race
The Big Schloss 50K, September  7:55 27 minute PR, chilly damp temps and wind kept me moving on the ridges!
Veterans Day 10K, November  49:52 A PR of 3 minutes 28 seconds. This was hard-won!
Alexandria Turkey Trot 5 Miler, November 39:42 Old PR: 48:05, 1999. It's been a few years!

Surprisingly, I enjoyed my return to road racing. I'm encouraged that a little more effort in my training paid off in a big way. I'm really excited to think I can see even further improvement with a little more training specificity.
While my true love is trail running, I now appreciate the shorter distances on pavement. I'm looking forward to 2010!


In Praise of the Fat Ass

I spent the first day of November running the Potomac Heritage 50K. It was a cool, overcast day and we had a little drizzle, but the leaves were colorful and it was really the perfect temperature for a run.

Though not advertised as such, the PH 50K is a 'Fat Ass.' A Fat Ass is a trail race with a disclaimer: "Free, no frills, no awards, no t-shirt" and the threat of no aid except perhaps some water set out along the trail. I have yet to run a Fat Ass that didn't offer snacks and Gatorade, but we're spoiled here on the East Coast by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club (VHTRC). And the RD of PH 50K, Kerry Owens, pulls out all the stops to provide a post-race feast.

You don't worry about the course
at a Fat Ass, because you're not looking to run a PR. The un-runnable sections are all the more enjoyable. As if the mere fact that you don't have to run on them isn't enough!

The beauty of a Fat Ass is that
nobody has anything to prove. While you could treat it as a serious race to train for, obsess about and leave it all out on the course, you can also feel ok about cutting it short to get to the finish line a little earlier. Because your rivals may one-up you by arriving at the post-race party first and drinking the best beers in the cooler and eating all of Joe's Cincinnati Chili and Luanne Turrentine's homemade cookies.

Laid-back trail running, beautiful scenery, post-race party. Simply put, it's a fun day on trail with friends.

Our Favorite Soup

I took a cooking class a few years ago called "Fabulous Fall Soups." It lived up to its billing. Every soup we made was a savory delight. The soup I make more than any other is the Autumn Harvest Lentil Soup.

While there's quite a bit of chopping involved, it's a simple, straightforward recipe that doesn't require you to make a stock. It's also great to make in stages. Don't have time to do it all in one night? Interrupted by a crisis demanding your attention? You can easily pick up wherever you left off. I usually double the recipe and freeze in individual screw-top containers for lunches. If you do this, don't double the amount of water or the soup will be too thin. Add half again as much. Also, you'll need two large pots. You don't need huge stock pots, just something big enough so you can comfortably combine the lentils with the vegetables.

Update: Nowadays, I make this without the lentils. You can just cook everything in one big pot. You may wish to add a few extra veggies instead.

Autumn Harvest Lentil Soup (Adapted, just barely, from Myra Kornfeld)
1 cup red lentils, rinsed and sorted
4 cups water
bay leaf
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into small dice (about 2 cups)
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 inch piece peeled, minced fresh ginger root
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 cups butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice (1/2 lb)
1 medium parsnip, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1/2 cup)
2 medium carrots,
peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 1/2 cups water
2-3 T fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 bunch spinach, cleaned, torn into small pieces or a 7-oz bag baby spinach

1. Add the lentils, 4 cups of water, the bay leaf and 1 tsp salt to a medium saucepan (or larger if doubling recipe). Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer partially covered 20 minutes. The lentils should be tender. Remove the bay leaf. Puree the lentils with an immersion blender or just whisk until creamy. I like both results.

2. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet (or stock pot if doubling recipe). Add the onions and sweat them over medium low heat for about 7 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander; saute another 3 minutes. Add the butternut squash, parsnip, carrots, 1/2 tsp salt and 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

3. Add the lemon juice and spinach and stir. Add the lentils and simmer 5 - 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Add a generous pinch of cayenne. Taste and add more salt, lemon juice, and cayenne as desired. As with most soups, this one is delicious served right away and even better the next day.

The Big Schloss: My Favorite Trail Race

The Name
Let's start with the name: The Big Schloss. It even sounds bad-ass. You know right off this ain't gonna be some namby-pamby run with a bunch of pavement or flats you have to run.

Courtesy of Pete McLaughlin with whom I shared a killer hill from miles 19-21  
The Race Directors.
Amy and Steve Platt mark the course, recruit and retain the volunteers, arrange for the pavilion, provide delicious food and drink, inspire the runners, record the results and a few thousand other details I won't include in the interest of brevity. Amy even drove me the half-mile to the showers and back so I didn't have to walk in the rain. I love you Amy! Did I mention the very reasonable entry fee? Two gallons of drinking water. Yeah.

The Volunteers
There are the volunteers I know and love who show up at every race to cheer us on and fill our Camelbaks. They are near and dear to my heart. At this race there are also a gaggle of fun, friendly hashers. Most are once a year volunteers, yet seem unfazed by rain. They bring fresh ideas, like setting out aid station offerings like bacon. BACON!!!

The Course
First, it's gorgeous. A flat, sepia light filtered through the cloud cover and mist obscured a carpet of Autumn leaves of crimson, green and bright yellow. It was a magical scene.
Big climbs
. Some require all four limbs to scramble up.
Long, gradual, technical downhills
meant to be run forever. *sighs contentedly*
Rocks, rocks and more rocks
. If you haven't logged miles in the Massanutten recently your dogs will be barking by Aid Station #3. They might even try to bite.
Views that should not be missed
(barring this year's wall of fog) provided you're up to a little death-defying rock scrambling.

The Weather
Moving on . . . No, seriously, the weather was pretty good for running. In past years there have been a few sections where I overheated a bit. Not this year! Cool temperatures and early mist became drizzle a couple of hours into the race. Early afternoon brought dark skies and full-fledged rain with some pretty stiff wind on the ridges. While I was thankful for my thin, albeit fully-drenched shell (which still amazes me with its ability to warm), it was chilly enough to keep me moving at a brisk pace. That is a key factor in finishing more quickly, which often results in a PR!

The Post-Run Cookout
Brats. Burgers. Chips. Guacamole. Mac and Cheese. Homemade pasta salad with sun dried tomatoes. Broccoli salad. Cookies and Brownies. Variety enough to please everyone. This year Steve and Amy went above and beyond and had a cooler full of hot chocolate to warm the rain-soaked runners.

Time on the trail running with the usual suspects and catching up on their lives never gets old. Ultra runners are an incredible group of humans. Driven, encouraging, adventurous, friendly, inspiring, positive, amusing, and tales of trail hi jinks at the ready. An added bonus was sharing laughs with Laurie, whom I cajoled into volunteering in the rain. She's still speaking to me.


I must be getting better at this running thing. This was my fourth PR this year!
  1. Bull Run Run 50 Miler 
  2. Lehigh Valley Half Marathon 
  3. VHTRC Women's Trail Half Marathon 
  4. Big Schloss 50K -- 27 minutes faster than in 2007!
I trimmed 20 minutes from AS #2 to AS #3. Less time in aid stations made a few minutes difference. More importantly, scroll back up to the elevation chart above (thank you Pete McLaughlin!). That section features a steep two-mile climb, and I'm taking this as indisputable evidence that I've improved my uphill skills.

The Camping
I rarely camp anymore. I miss it. Add that to the list of simple pleasures somehow stolen by Adulthood. The dirty little secret about ultra runners is that we'll run all day in the mountains regardless of the conditions but after socializing a bit, most of us leave the glorious outdoors behind and head back to our cozy little homes. Boo! Have we forgotten that the best conversations take place around a campfire? Have our taste buds become so accustomed to gels we can't appreciate S'mores any longer?

Photo by Nina Hale
Has sleeping in the night air to the lullabies of crickets lost its allure? Is there anything more satisfying than waking with the sunrise to coffee and breakfast in the cool of morning? I hereby issue a call to ultra runners far and wide: Let's go camping!

Goal: PR at The Women's Half Marathon

A section of the Women's Half Marathon trail

Before this becomes a food blog and I have to rename it 'ultraeatergirl'
(though that's certainly catchy and even sounds kinda bad-ass) I'd better write about my running.

My next race is, um, tomorrow! It's the VHTRC Women's Half Marathon Trail Run. I've run it every year since 2003. I don't have any other "streaks" so I feel compelled to keep this one alive. It's also one of the few trail races that is shorter than 50k. Believe it or not, sometimes I don't feel like running all day.

I set my PR here in 2006 and my goal tomorrow is to beat it. I've got a very good shot at it, because several years this race has marked my return to running after an injury and I've been under-trained. [Disclosure: To my knowledge, I have never over-trained for a race.] Below are my times on this course over the years:
Women's Half Marathon
Course Distances
SectionDistCumAid Station
Park Road1.01.0
Do Loop*
HT to S/F*
BRT to Turn0.510.5
BRT to WRS*0.511.01.0
BRT to S/F2.113.1
A/S Dist = Distance between aid stations
HT = Horse Trail
S/F = Start/Finish
BRT = Bull Run Trail
WRS = Wolf Run Shoals Aid Station
Turn = Upstream Turnaround
* = Aid Station at end of section

2003 3:02:47
2004 2:49:26

2005 2:37:56
2006 2:31:58 <~~ OLD PR, must go!
2007 2:40:10 (post-sesmoid fracture)
2008 2:38:57

Three weeks before the race, I ran the course (second half first, then the first half) and matched my PR. I was certainly keeping a good pace, but I wasn't running my hardest. Based on that effort, I'm optimistic.

On the other hand, my taper has bee
n a bit long, about three weeks. Since then I haven't run more than 4 miles and I haven't run more than twice a week. I've biked short distances, run short distances, sprinted around the bases playing softball, but in general I've been lazy. Two nights ago was our softball league championship game and I did a lot of hard base running. My quads are pretty sore. What will they feel like tomorrow? Now is when the mental game begins. Has my taper been too easy and too long? Did I run too hard three days before my race? My piriformis is making its presence known. I haven't slept well the past few nights so I'm not as well-rested as I should be.

All these worries will plague me
until I toe the line tomorrow. They'll taunt me when gravity makes itself known on the climbs. There will be an ugly gash in my confidence as I stagger into the Fountainhead aid station after the punishing Do Loop, leaking self-doubt and fatigue. I'll be dreading the last 5.2 miles and wondering (as I do every year) why I signed up for this Anaerobic Suffer Fest.

Wish me luck. That PR h
as got to go!

Finishing the 2008 Women's Half Marathon

Thai Basil Eggplant (Pud Makua Yow)

Tom picked these up at his favorite farmers market

Tomatoes, Peppers and Thai Basil grown in my garden

I've been remiss in singing the praises of my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share. Fabulous, pesticide-free fresh produce once a week. How to eat it and use it all before it spoils? It's not always easy and it's rarely convenient. It challenges me and forces me to branch out in my cooking.

I'm lucky that my garden is going gangbusters. I have a huge Thai Basil plant that is seriously overgrown. I've wanted to make tofu basil since, well, forever. Turned out my tofu was a little past prime, but by some good fortune Tom brought home three perfect, slender eggplants so I used those, along with some purple peppers from my garden and a CSA
chile (serrano, I think) and hardneck garlic.

Thai Basil Eggplant (Pud Makua Yow)

Adapted from here and here

1 medium-sized eggplant, chopped into 1 1/2 inch pieces. (Don't slice into perfect rounds, they tend to stick to the wok)
1/2 red bell pepper, large dice
1/2 green (or purple if you can find it) bell pepper,
large dice
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
1-2 Thai or serrano chiles, finely chopped

2 tbsp chopped garlic
a generous handful of fresh Thai basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp mild-flavored oil, like canola or sunflower; don't use olive oil

Sauce (adjust depending on how much sauce you prefer):
1-2 tbsp light soy sauce
1-2 tbsp water
2-4 tsp brown or palm sugar

Combine soy sauce, water and brown sugar; set aside.

Heat wok on medium-high heat. Add 1/2 tbsp oil (more if you need it) and eggplant. Fry for 2 minutes on either side, eggplant should just start to brown and turn soft. Remove from wok.

Add a little more oil to wok if needed. Toss in onions, and fry for 3-4 minutes, or until soft and glossy. Remove from wok.

Heat remaining oil. Add garlic and chiles, and fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add sliced peppers and onions; fry for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Return eggplant to the wok, and toss to combine.

Add sauce to the wok, stirring for 1 minute. Cook until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened (it shouldn't take long). Toss in basil.

Serve hot, by itself in a bowl as I did because I was way too excited about this recipe to think ahead, or if you are more of a planner you might like it with rice.

Summer Bounty: Rosemary Saddleback Potatoes, Baba Ghanouj, Squash Gratin

Oh yes, I've been busy in the kitchen! Between my garden and my CSA share the past couple weeks, there's been lots of food to goad me into trying new recipes.

From my CSA:
  • blue potatoes
  • a medium aubergine (eggplant)
  • a big green zucchini squash grown especially for its blossoms
  • potatoes (plain ol' beige ones)
  • hardneck garlic
From my garden:
  • yellow summer squash
  • heirloom (Stupice) tomatoes
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • oregano
  • parsley
Things that went to waste: shiso and spearmint (well, I did muddle a little of the spearmint in some lemonade).

There were several salads, of course, but you've seen enough of those. My real triumphs were Rosemary Saddleback Potatoes and Baba Ghanouj, both from In Season: Cooking with Vegetables and Fruits.

The Rosemary Saddleback Potatoes were delicious, and oh so simple. Slice the potatoes almost all the way through, insert sprigs of rosemary between the slices, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, bake. My only complaint was that it took about 45 minutes to bake. Patience is not one of my virtues!

The Baba Ghanouj idea came to me as soon as I had my lovely aubergine in hand. It went wonderfully with warm, fresh naan which I made from my beloved ABinFive. I bet their grilled flatbread would be even better!

Grill or broil your eggplant/aubergine* until slightly charred. It should be quite soft, so you may need to cook it a bit longer on a lower setting. Let cool, halve, peel, and toss into a food processor. Add the zest and juice from half a lemon, a garlic clove (two if you love garlic), 2 T. tahini (sesame paste), 1 tsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. kosher salt, a pinch of cumin and/or chile powder (go easy, you can always add more).

Since I had a lot of squash and potatoes on my hands, I made two similar dishes that incorporated both. First up, Summer Squash Gratin from 101 Cookbooks (pictured below). A week later I made Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte from Smitten Kitchen. They were both fantastic, and even better when reheated in the oven for maximum crispness of the thinly-sliced potatoes. I think the Smitten Kitchen version is slightly less time-consuming, other than that I couldn't choose a favorite. I'd recommend a mandoline or food processor with slicing blade, in the interest of saving time and your fingers as well as ease of achieving uniform-sized slices.

*My aubergine was rather small, you may find it necessary to increase the cooking time and amount of ingredients if yours are larger.

A Three Day Endurance Event

Please support me as I attempt an endurance event that spans 3 days -- my longest yet! -- in the fight to end breast cancer.

Apparently I'm not allowed to run, so this time, I'll be walking. It should be a whole new kind of challenge.

The Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure® is a 60-mile walk over the course of three days. Net proceeds from the 3-Day for the Cure are invested in breast cancer research and community programs.

At the fountain with my Mother
I'm walking in memory of my mother's best friend, Bobbi Gordon; and in honor of my mother JoAnn and everyone who has had to fight this disease.

Please donate - any amount, honestly, will help.

Thank you in advance for your generosity and support!

Because Cancer deserves to be beaten.

Green Bean Salad and Potatoes with Pesto

I was in a mad rush to Cook Away My CSA this week before leaving for my high school reunion -- yes, that's my 20 year reunion. Can you believe I am still cooking and blogging and being so active at my age? Now, where was I? My memory just isn't what it used to be! Oh, yes -- To avoid spending a lot of time cooking, I made one of my favorite salads. I assure you that is a short list. I'm not a big salad fan: If it's going to be cold, and healthy, it had better be tasty!

Green and Yellow Bean Salad with Chunky Tomato Dressing and Feta. This summer-in-a-bowl salad comes to you from Cooking Light, so you can feel justified eating ice cream for dessert.

An aside: We stopped at a roadside stand recently and Tom insisted we take home some wax beans. Not having been a fan of the only incarnation I'd ever tasted, School Lunch Wax Beans, I was somewhat less excited. Of course they were wonderful. Even if you aren't as enamored of them as my husband, give them a try in this salad. I didn't have any this time, and I missed them.

Here's what I started with from my Bull Run Farm CSA this week. Basil, Zephyr squash, Snap Beans, Broccoli, Potatoes and an apple (much to Tom's disappointment, we don't have a "fruit share," Leigh just had a few extras he was giving out). Not pictured: hardneck garlic.
From my CSA share, I used the basil, snap beans, broccoli and potatoes. We also sliced up the first heirloom tomatoes from our garden and the flavor was amazing.

The salad:

Broccoli and Potatoes with homemade pesto:

Stupice heirloom tomato from my garden:

Warm Potato and Lentil Salad

As a member of the Cooking Away My CSA group, I humbly offer my first attempt at using the bounty I received from my CSA, Bull Run Farm in Virginia.I can barely contain my pride, because for someone who cooks quite a lot, I have to admit a reluctance to experiment with recipes. I didn't exactly go hog wild, but I didn't measure a single ingredient!

I used potatoes, fresh garlic and the remnants of my spring onions from my CSA. The mint I had picked up on a whim from the farmers market and the parsley was from my garden. At the last minute I threw in some lemon balm too (mostly because I did not have a lemon and the rather sad lime I squeezed in as substitute didn't yield much juice; I did go to the store later and remedy this).

The Verdict: Delicious! This is perfect for bringing to a picnic or serving guests at home. I think it would be even better if you added goat or sheep cheese as the author suggests for a heartier dish.

Warm Potato and Lentil Salad
Adapted from In Season: Cooking with Vegetables and Fruits
Serves 4 as a side dish

1 1/4 cup lentils, preferably French Puy I used green lentils I had on hand
1 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 garlic clove, peeled but not chopped (fresh garlic from my CSA)
1/4 onion, chopped
(I used the last of my CSA spring onions)
Some parsley stalks
(I bruised mine with the flat of a knife)
Handful of coarsely chopped parsley

1 small bay leaf
Plenty of salt and pepper
1/2 lb potatoes
Plenty of mint leaves

Grated zest and juice of one lemon
*Lemon balm, chopped (optional)

Cook the lentils in enough water to cover together with the olive oil,
garlic, onion, parsley stalks, bay leaf and salt. For a richer taste,
use half water, half white wine. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes.
The lentils should be soft but not falling apart. Drain.

Boil the potatoes in salted water with most of the mint. When they are cooked, drain and allow them to cool a bit, but not completely. Peel and cut them into chunks. I overcooked mine a tad, so I just chopped into various sizes as they were soft and falling apart. Don't chop them too small, I think having more surface area allowed more mint and parsley to stick to them.

Add the potatoes to the lentils. with more olive oil, the lemon zest and juice, and lots of chopped parsley and mint.

Season well and eat while still warm.

Lawyers Have Heart 10K

Summer In The City Ah, Georgetown on a warm summer morning! Alright, technically it was a muggy spring morning. There's still nothing like waking up and running out your door to take in the sights and sounds of the city on a Saturday morning. Seeing those souls who are out and about on bicycles or walking their dog or baby or both, gathering at the Farmer's Market on Wisconsin Avenue or strolling to the nearest Starbucks, for me it's a tiny reconnection with humanity.

After our 25-minute warm-up run to the waterfront, we wriggled our way through the crowd. The Lawyers Have A Heart 10k used a wave start. Bright orange construction netting stretched between wooden poles clutched by antsy pace group leaders kept entrants from surging ahead. Brilliant! We sort of started in between Wave 1 (8:00 minute mile pace and under) and Wave 2 (runners expecting to finish in 50 minutes or more). Based on our respective finishes, that was probably about right.

The Course It was a very fast course, an out and back that ended in a long downhill. No chance of getting lost and no trail markings, but not once did I fail to muse "how about that" at the sight of a big number on a sandwich board every mile!

Race Strategy - The Good: I've been doing more speedwork this year, and lots of core and hip work that has made me feel stronger and has noticeably improved my running form. I
wasn't sure how fast I could run, but I was optimistic. I'd had a strong and smart race at the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon, and felt I could have started my finishing kick earlier as I passed so many people and still had a long sprint in me as I rounded the track.

The Bad: I had gone to bed late all week leading up to the race. According to new research, simply
getting more sleep can improve athletic performance.

The Ugly: The night before I indulged in wine and cheese and brownies and a beer and dancing at the Gipsy Kings concert and didn’t get to bed until after midnight. I hadn't followed a 10K-specific um, any training plan.

Last-Minute Race Strategy I decided I'd give the race my best effort and consider
it good speed training.

The Race After about a half-mile into the race I felt like I could run a pretty good race. A 10K pace should be tough but sustainable -- I know it when I feel it -- "moderate discomfort." I tend to run too conservatively, so I tried to stay at that cardiovascular threshold while paying attention to how much energy my legs had in them. There is always the danger of not respecting the distance when you are used to running ultras. Six miles can be a long way! I’d just read another great article about Jeff Galloway's
run-walk method, which I’d used to complete my first marathon. I decided I'd put that into play. I walked briskly for 30 seconds every mile, which was about every 8:30. My legs enjoyed the rest and really felt rejuvenated when I resumed my running pace.

I spied my husband Tom running toward me on his way back from the turnaround, cruising at a brisk but controlled pace. He looked great! I'd just been sucking down the single GU stashed in my pink Gym Girl running skirt pocket, and was glad he hadn't seen me walking.

Delusions of Grandeur A few minutes later I reached the turnaround and then the 5k mark at 26:56 on my watch. The wheels started to turn. Did I have a shot at a Personal Record? What was my old 10K PR? 53:something. I think. Could I run even splits, or faster? My legs still felt strong, but I was running near the limits of my ability and wasn’t sure If I would be able to maintain that pace for another 3.1 miles.

The Wheels Came Off It didn’t last long. A debilitating side stitch derailed my progress just after mile 4. I can't remember the last time I had a side stitch. Ultra marathon running is a totally different sport from road racing. I simply don't run hard for any length of time except during my mile repeats, and then I get to recover every m
ile. I tried running with my arm above my head and sucking in my abdomen (I still remember a few of those road running tricks!) but I was forced to slow to a walk, gasping and ow!-ing for a good two minutes before I could resume. After that I couldn’t bear the thought of walking any longer so I started running, and it slowly dissipated. I was disappointed at the time I had lost, but reasoned with myself that I could not expect a flawless race today. I had not focused on it enough to expect to earn a PR. I decided I would run my best from this point on to the finish, and cheerfully. And truthfully, I was glad to be out there, testing my mettle. And not getting rained on.

The Finish My official time was 53:41. I managed to run the last mile and a half at what
seemed like a respectable pace, but it was hard to tell. My legs were all but done. I pushed it hard but not as hard as I could; the sensation of nausea was beginning to simmer and I wasn't willing to give this race a lung-searing, eye-bulging, cookie-tossing, all-out effort. I didn’t have much of a kick at the end despite the aid of the downhill ramp leading to the finish line. Maybe that meant I had found the right pace for the bulk of my race. Maybe it meant wine should have been consumed less freely.

Tom finished in 49:12 which was good for fourth place on my law firm's team. I'm pretty sure he really earned second place based on race photos, but that's another story!

It had been so long since my last 10k I wasn't sure if I had notched a PR. After I rifled through my dusty ‘Running’ folder for old race numbers and Googled my name for finish times, I foun
d the answer: My 10K PR was set in (zoiks!) 2003 at the St. Patrick's Day 10K. I was 21 seconds faster. Looks like I now have a new goal!

After the
Highlands Sky 40 Miler this weekend, that is.

Next blog topic: Can one train for
The Ring and a 10K PR concurrently?

Bushwhack, Don't Backtrack

I'm going to start my Bushwhacker 10 Mile race report by digressing. You should know that I've been suspicious of the institution of marriage from an early age, despite the fact that my parents have a good, solid marriage that's still intact. Call me The Cynic, and believe me when I say I've come a long way from early adulthood. [Random fact: I was once the proud owner of a novelty lighter that read 'Marriage: It's Not A Word, It's a Sentence!'] So when I finally met Tom and he pulled that crazy 7-weeks-in proposal, I wanted to be sure we kept things free of the drudgery I believed could be lurking just beneath the surface. 

Thus, the Secret Date was born, where one person declares a slot on the calendar as such and the other knows nothing but the basics of where to be and what to bring.

One such date consisted of telling Tom only that he needed to wear clothes to go for a bike ride. That one ended at a Nats baseball game. Tom upped the ante by getting train tickets and a hotel for a day and night in New York.

This time I chose the Bushwhacker Adventure Running Race put
on by EX2 Adventures. We'd been dying to do one of their popular Backyard Burn series, but there always seemed to be a conflict. This incarnation, from Hemlock Overlook Park to Fountainhead, had a twist: Racers are allowed to bushwhack or shortcut within the boundaries of the park. This was something we had never done despite the number of times our trail shoes have worn the dirt off that path. I signed us up without hesitation.

As the race drew closer, my competitiveness percolated. I debated letting him in on the secret so we could study the course and devise a strategy. I resisted.

We awoke to a downpour. But by the time we left the house it was turning into a beautiful sunny day. We dropped Tom's truck at Fountainhead where we would finish, then drove my car to Hemlock where the race started. Valerie Meyer was doing the timing and she had the most innovative devices called e-punch timing keys.
They were fitted with a string you slipped over your wrist and a velcro strap that hooked onto your index finger. They worked wonderfully and were comfortable to wear. There were three checkpoints on the course and you had to stick your e-punch into a sensor which kept track of your splits. There was also a sensor at the "finish area" which consisted of a plastic-fenced square rather than a traditional finish line.

We studied the map for a short period but weren't able to settle on a strategy so we agreed to wing it. We stuck to the trail for a bit and then went bushwhacking, following others. Our first bushwhacks did not pay off as the terrain was dense with downed branches to jump over and low-hanging branches to duck. It took a lot out of us and we repeatedly emerged just ahead of the people we had been running with before leaving the trail. As we reached the river Tom spotted someone heading upstream. They were in for a long day!

We continued at a pretty good pace (for me; my romantic husband had decided to hang with me since it was an official Date or he would have been long gone). We paused to look at the map a few times and rack our brains as to the topography we would encounter at each bushwhacking opportunity. Our best bushwhacks were between Mile Markers 13 & 14 and
where we chanced upon a very runnable downhill wagon trail between Mile Markers 15 & 16. Anyone who has hashed knows well the thrill of running wild through some great shiggy. This was a marriage of shiggy and competition. Pura Vida!

We finished in 1:49 and no one was more surprised than me when the RD announced me as Second in my age group (and Fourth woman overall!). Tom finished less than three minutes behind the third, fourth and fifth place men in his age group -- who knows what he could have done had he been racing.
Cherry-picking races may just become our new hobby!
EX-2 Adventures put on a great race and gave away lots of gift certificates and some nice schwag. We had a blast and escaped with only a scratch or two, that is until in my excitement I hopped up on the wet and slippery finishers podium a
nd smashed my shin into the 1st place platform. Ouch.

Knowing these shortcuts is gonna make sticking to the Bull Run Run 50 Miler trail a lot tougher next year!

Chocolate cookies with Creme Filling

That's right, HOMEMADE OREOS! The moment I saw these on smittenkitchen they were catapulted to the top of the list. Unfortunately for my poor husband who is trying to get back in top-notch shape, my baking obsession is not helping him feel uberfit.
We all have our crosses to bear!

This was actually pretty darn easy and didn't take nearly as long as I anticipated. I started them about 9:45 pm, which is normally almost my bedtime, but I could not rest until these were made! I finished mixing, baking, filling and even had all the dishes done by 11:30. I should have used slightly more filling in each cookie, there was quite a bit left over.

Coffee Ice Cream

I've been obsessed with making ice cream lately. Folks, I must warn you, once you taste homemade ice cream, french custard style, you will be ruined for commercially produced ice cream. Even Ben and Jerry's. My first attempt was vanilla, and Tom still hasn't stopped raving about it. It was just like a rich custard, frozen. Almost too rich! I've also tried Philadelphia style (no eggs) chocolate but to me it's no contest.
My latest venture is coffee ice cream, in honor of Tom's birthday. I chose a recipe from David Leibovitz's The Perfect Scoop in no small part because it was one of the few that contained less than 15 eggs. I love decadent, but I still have to be able to run, people!
It takes a small investment of time, but other than ensuring you watch the heat and stir, stir, stir! it's not overly complicated to make. Oh, and use decaf -- unless you want a serious buzz from your dessert!


My latest experiment: ciabatta bread. Another creation easily coaxed from the basic boule dough in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I've been resisting this incarnation because I so love the crackling, crunchy, crispy crust of the basic slashed boule and baguette. But Tom has had an affinity for the soft, chewy, slipper-shaped ciabatta ever since he got a taste of Whole Foods' offering, and I just had to attempt to outdo them.
The difference here is that you don't dust the dough with flour, but form with wet hands into an oval about 3/4 inch thick. You still use steam and sprinkle the top with flour just before baking, but don't slash the dough.
Look at the crumb in the photo to the left! I made two mini-loaves so Tom could have his own. You see why he loves me?
Next up, my report on homemade ice cream. Let me just forewarn you that I should have taken photos before tasting it.