So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen

When I was a student at Sheffield University, I applied for the job of News Editor on the student newspaper. In lieu of interviews, the newspaper Editor had all the applicants line up and explain why they should get the job. All the applicants who went before me said, “I’m an English major so I have loads of free time,” or words to that effect, to indicate that they would be able to work pretty much 24/7 at the newspaper because, apparently, getting an English degree was a complete doddle.

When it was my turn, I chose a different tactic. “I don’t have tons of free time,” I stated. “I’m on the Cross-Country team, and I spend a lot of time training and many weekends racing. But I will make time, because I always make time for priorities.”

I got the job.

I didn’t believe then – and I still don’t now – that having a load of free time means that you will use it wisely. In fact, on the rare occasions I have found myself with nothing to do, I’ve squandered the time. On the other hand, when I’m busy, I’m much more productive. I’m good at prioritizing and making the time for the things I want – and need – to do.

For a long time, this blog has been one of those priorities. I made time for it, even when working full time, traveling non-stop, and training for several half-ironman triathlons. When training for Raleigh 70.3 last year, I blogged religiously every Sunday night. I found the blogging helpful for keeping track of my training and also for keeping my training on track. It was the process of writing down my thoughts, however, that I needed, not the product.

I don’t feel I need that process any more, and, as a result, have not made my blog a priority for a while now. Other things, such as my exciting new teaching job (I’m making good use of my “doddle” of an English degree by teaching 8th Grade English!) and training for an Ironman (I switched from Mont Tremblant to Louisville, on account of the new job), have taken precedence. Blogging has always been an outlet, a way to feed my need for creativity, to share my thoughts. I don’t feel that need right now. Besides, when you teach English you get to be creative all day!

These days, I tend to use Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to share the things I used to share on the blog. For sure, those posts are short, ephemeral, and lack any depth, but they feel sufficient right now. I don’t need to share more than what I can write in 140 characters or capture in a picture. I hope you’ll (continue to) follow me on these social media!

Maybe I will feel the need to blog again in the future, in which case I’ll pick it right back up. But for now, this is adieu.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

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Reston to Boston

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 9.02.46 PMJust a quickie as I’m getting ready to head to Boston to WATCH the marathon. Yup, no running for me (although Stephanie and I have already planned to run on the course from her house in Natick Monday morning, before the runners come through), I am going to be a spectator, which I’m very excited about.

I’ve been coaching my Boston Marathon runner, Rachel, since January and she’s phenomenal. She has been very dedicated to her training and I know she’s going to have an amazing race. I’m so excited to get to meet her in person and cheer her on.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I squeezed in a visit to my chiropractor, the incredible Dr. H. at United Wellness Center, after work on Tuesday. His words: “You’re not in bad shape after back-to-back racing.” Yup. I did that thing I swore I wouldn’t do any more. I raced two weekends in a row. It was, in my defense, an accident as, when I signed up for Reston Half Marathon, I sort of forgot that Cherry Blossom 10 mile was a week before.

I debated not running the half, but I really wanted to give it a shot and, since my legs didn’t feel too trashed after Cherry Blossom, I decided to go for it. Still, I had to settle for a tempo pace as the Reston course is super hilly and I knew I wasn’t fully recovered. The goal was 7:45 pace. I set out right on target and hung onto that pace for the first few miles. After taking a GU at mile 6 my stomach felt a bit off and I slowed the pace slightly. A couple of ladies behind me, one in a skirt, the other wearing headphones, took that opportunity to pass me. I wasn’t happy but there was nothing I could do at that moment.

Not long after they passed me, the half marathon course split from the marathon. Skirt took the marathon route, and I remember thinking, “wow, what an awesome pace she’s running for a marathon.” I must have passed headphones because I don’t remember seeing her at that point. A short while later, while running around a corner, I took a quick glance behind me and saw skirt. Shoot. I guess she went the wrong way, I thought. And now she was chasing me. There was a guy in front of me in blue and I decided to hang on to him for a bit, to try to shake skirt. We dropped to 7:41 for mile 8 and 7:38 for mile 9. It seemed to work, as another peek showed that skirt – and now headphones, who I guess was back – were losing ground.

Things got a bit ugly between miles 10 and 11 when I almost ran into blue guy when he stopped right in front of me at the water stop (he clearly had not learned the art of drinking and running). I also spilled water all over myself and, since it was only 25 degrees, I had to remove my soaking wet glove before my hand froze. For the next couple of miles I shared one glove between two hands, before realizing my head was warm enough to remove my hat and wear that as a glove.

I had now passed blue guy and really didn’t want to give skirt or headphones a chance to catch me, so put in a bit of a surge and ran mile 12 in 7:25. That enabled me to catch up to a guy in tights and shorts who was running well. As I passed him I told him to run with me. Tights/shorts said, “Oh good, I needed some help.” I joked, “No, you are helping me!” We picked up the pace and, although my legs were hurting, it felt awesome. He started losing ground at one point and I said, “No you don’t, stay with me!” All of a sudden he started sprinting, I thought in response to my urging, but it turned out that he’d seen the 12.5 mile chip mat and thought that was the finish line! Guess he doesn’t race much.

I told him that we still had 0.6 of a mile to go, and he hung on but I ultimately dropped him as I think he was out of gas. The last half mile was dreamy. It was mostly downhill and concluded on the High School track, where I used to do my track workouts many years ago. The 300m on the track literally felt like floating. I was tired but super happy. 6:59 pace for mile 13!

I ended up winning the Master’s women’s division, which was cool. The event was organized by Reston Runners, a club I ran with for many years. They are always welcoming when I come back to visit. When former RR President Dennis called me up to accept my award, he mentioned that I was a former regular with the club, which was a thoughtful touch. I made a mental note to join the club for a run some time. Reston has beautiful trails, which was where much of the race was staged, and I could certainly do with some hill workouts!

I’m off to pack for my quick trip to Boston. Can’t wait to visit the expo, hang out with awesome friends, and enjoy the special day that is Marathon Monday. Of course, I will spend time thinking about those who were killed or injured three years ago – how could I not – but I love that this race goes on in spite of those who may try to prevent it, and I will boldly stand and cheer for the runners along with all the other spectators, and not for a moment will I feel afraid.

Boston Finish line

#CUCB Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Wind Tunnel

CUCBI ran my first Cherry Blossom 10 mile race in 1998, 18 years ago. Back then, it was my longest race to date. I was delighted to finish in 1:19. Since that day, I’ve been gradually working away at improving my time. I ran 1:15 a couple of years later, then, after a hiatus from the distance while I moved up to the marathon, I ran 1:11 in 2014. Based on my training, I thought this might be the year to break 1:11 and get closer to going under 70 minutes, but the weather had other plans.

With strong wind gusts in the forecast for Sunday morning, I changed my race plan. I would still try to run close to my 7:05 goal pace, but the main focus was to use other runners to block the wind. I needed to stay with the pack, and if that meant running a little faster or slower than 7:05, so be it. The most important thing would be the draft.

I slept ridiculously well the night before the race. This isn’t normal for me. What’s even stranger is that the wind was howling all night, and kept many people awake. But I have a tendency to sleep through really loud storms, and often can’t sleep if it’s too quiet. At any rate, when the alarm sounded at 5am I felt refreshed and raring to go. After a quick breakfast of an almond butter sandwich, a few swigs of coffee (to get the system going) and a shot of beet juice (new thing I’m trying…supposed to increase size of blood vessels to improve oxygen flow), and some special time with my foam roller, I was ready. I picked up a couple of running buddies (the 3rd bailed due to the terrible forecast) and we zipped down to DC. After we parked, none of us wanted to get out of the car. The wind sounded horrific. I had parked next to a huge tree and questioned that wisdom for a few moments before deciding the tree was too big to get blown down. (A couple of trees across the street from my house weren’t so lucky…the wind ripped them down the middle, sending half the tree crashing to the ground.)

Eventually we ventured out of the car as I needed the portapotty. I employed my usual tactic of using the portapotties that weren’t right by the main staging area, and found them nice and empty and relatively odor-free. A few portapotties had been knocked down by the high winds, and I did have a vision for a moment of my portapottie being blown down while I was in there…

Our next stop was bag check. It was almost 7am and the race was scheduled to start at 7:30am. So it was decision time: am I wearing enough clothing to stay warm, but not so much I’m going to boil? It was about 35 degrees, but 25 with the wind chill. I was wearing a pair of Saucony bullet shorts (which are awesome as they have side pockets for GU storage), Swiftwick compression socks, Brooks long-sleeve, and my =PR= tank. I had a nike hat (more like a skullcap I guess) and some freebie USATF gloves. I had brought a pair of tights with me but decided to stay as I was, and I’m glad I did. I had a couple of throwaway layers which I planned to keep on almost until the start. Even on my warm up, though, I was feeling warm, so I ditched them but held on to a foil blanket that I’d kept from one of my marathons.

I stayed to the left of the start line as everyone generally congregates on the right, where the race staging area is. This gave me easy access to my corral (yellow, the first corral), while I still had a little area to warm up. After the national anthem I hopped into the corral no problem. Before I knew it, the gun went off and we were racing. I wasn’t actually sure when I crossed the start line, as the race organizers had to remove all overhead signage lest it blow away, and I didn’t notice the timing mat for some reason.

The lack of signage didn’t bother me otherwise. Instead of signs and a clock, there were volunteers at each mile, shouting out the mile number, and I enjoyed the human touch. Since most people now run with a GPS, it really wasn’t a big deal. The water stops were also reduced, which prevented the number of incidents of people cutting across the course and stopping right in front of you. I only use the water stop at mile 6 to take one GU, and that one remained, so I was fine.

Mile 1 always involves a good bit of jostling for space at Cherry Blossom. You get the people who clearly started way too far forward and are in danger of being mown down, and then you get those who started too far back and are trying to make up for it in the first mile by cutting everyone off and using their elbows as much as possible. Really. A space will open up. This isn’t track…that’s what I want to say but I save my breath.

I went through the first mile in 6:55 but didn’t panic or worry it was too fast. For one, it’s slightly downhill, and for another, there was no headwind. I figured I might need to bank a little bit anyway. As we crossed the memorial bridge in mile 2, I felt the wind for the first time. There was a pack in front of me, which I quickly caught up with and stayed with until we went around the circle at the end of the bridge. Running back was much nicer. 🙂

After exiting the bridge you make a left turn to run up Rock Creek Parkway. I went to spit in front of me but the wind was blowing sideways and I think my spit may have hit the person who was passing me on my right. Oops. Of course then I heard a “hey, Alison” and realized it was my =PR= teammate, Calesse…I apologized for the spitting incident and she said “don’t worry, I think only a bit of it got me” which of course made me feel worse! I’m not usually that gross. I completely blame the wind.

Cherry Blossom is a very flat course but it does have two tight turnarounds at miles 3 and 4 that suck. I try to come close the the turn and then go out wide, which I find is most effective for me, but of course there are lots of other runners around with various different plans, and so it doesn’t always work. Next up was Hains Point, which comes up just after mile 6.

Hains Point strikes fear in the hearts of many runners. It’s a peninsula, so there are few spectators, and it’s always windy. It can be a completely calm day and yet go to Hains Point and there’s a totally different weather system. Heading down to the point, the wind was at our backs and I was literally getting thrown forward with every gust. You would think, therefore, that my pace would increase, but for some reason it didn’t. After my opening mile I hung around 7:00 – 7:15 for the first 5 miles, but my pace had started to drop, possibly because of the extra effort of running against the wind. Miles 6 and 7 were 7:20 pace, then I pulled out a 7:12 for mile 8, which is surprising because that was at the bottom of Hains Point. Mile 9 was ugly. Going back up Hains Point, I tried to draft behind two big guys, but the wind was coming at us diagonally from the North West, and I couldn’t stay out of it. I’m sure being behind them helped somewhat, but it was my slowest mile, at 7:29.

With one mile to go and Hains Point at an end, I gathered every ounce of energy I had left. I managed to drop to a 7:18, which included the evil climb before the finish, and finished in 1:12:35. Was it the time I wanted? No. But I knew it wasn’t a PR day. My carpool buddies were minutes off their 10 mile PRs, and they run about 10 minutes faster then me, so I figured that just being a minute off my PR wasn’t so bad.

We celebrated conquering the windiest Cherry Blossom in history by grabbing our gear and getting back to the car as fast as possible. No photo ops, no stops. Kudos to the thousands of volunteers who stood out there for hours in 25mph sustained winds and 40mph gusts. You are true heroes.

The Early Bird

Changes #3 Early Bird

It was a frigid Valentine’s Day here in VA. One weather forecaster quipped, “If you don’t have a honey to keep you warm, better get some Gore-Tex.” Ha. I got my Gore-Tex out for my long run on Saturday, that’s for sure. It was 17 degrees with a 6 degree wind chill. Fortunately we were running at Manassas Battlefield, and in the shelter of the trees, the temps actually felt fine. When we came out from the cover to run up a short exposed hill, I felt like I was trying to climb Everest, with the wind pushing me sideways on the snow-covered trail. Here are my running partners before we embarked on our 9 mile journey. Not all of them were happy at being made to stand still so I could get the perfect shot….

valentines manassas

Awww…some people dressed for Valentine’s…

Every Sunday we host a garage spin. Yesterday’s theme was, of course, LOVE, and I was hard pressed to find enough upbeat love songs (even though I was using a little poetic licence) for the 100 min spin. I used my list from last year but needed a few more tunes, so I had to add some slow songs. I put the music on random and devised a tempo workout that included “random hills” – when we heard one of the 5 slow tunes, we had to get into the hardest gear and climb! It kept things interesting, not knowing when a hill would appear!

valentines spin

My ROB (run off the bike) was on the loathesome dreadmill because it was TEN degrees. I can’t wait for Spring.

valentines treadmill

Those legs haven’t seen any sun in a while…

One thing that made me feel a little warmer this week was a cool gift from Bolle. I mentioned in a previous post that I’m racing on Maverick Multisport‘s triathlon team this year, and Bolle is one of the team’s sponsors. I have to admit, I thought Bolle only made ski goggles, as I have a pair of those which I LOVE, but I’ve found out they make some pretty cool shades as well as great ski and bike helmets. Here’s what they sent me:

valentines bolle

Sweet shades, visor, ice pack, glasses cleaner, lip balm, and lanyard from awesome sponsor Bolle

OK, onto my 5 changes for 2016. One change I made this year was getting up early to run. I’m not a natural morning runner. Sure, I like the feeling of being done with my run early, and running at 7am works great for me on weekends, but 6am weekday runs, unless they’re in the middle of the summer, are not something I really look forward to. (I know that for those of you who run at 5 or – gasp – even earlier, I must sound like a complete slacker…) Still, with a new job that has set hours, and given that I’m even worse at evening running, I made a commitment to run early two mornings a week. Once I got started, and got a couple of running buddies to join me on a regular basis, I discovered it wasn’t all that bad. I have to get up around 5:15 to have some coffee and make sure I’m fully awake by 6, and the first mile feels a bit strange as my body is waking up, but then I get into a groove and before I know it we’ve run 6 miles and I’m ready to start my day. The only thing is I can’t do any fast paces at that hour, I’m just too sleepy, so I reserve that for an afternoon run. Thankfully I get off work by 4pm so there’s still some daylight.

I got this totally obnoxious Tracer360 glo-vest from Noxgear that pretty much says, “cars, move outta my way,” it’s so loud. There are several different colors and flashing rates, so you can look like a psychedelic Christmas tree all year round. I generally choose the multicolor option. This lame pic doesn’t do it justice but it’s all I’ve got:

valentines glo

As I finish typing this, we’ve been hit with a couple of inches of snow so it looks like I’ll be dragging the Yaktrax out again. They’re getting some good use this year.

Are you an early morning runner? Any tips for feeling less sleepy in the early hours? (Go to bed earlier, I know…)

 

Snow Problem Protein Bars

protein barsWe got a little snow here in Virginia last week. 30 inches, to be exact. Life as usual has ground to a halt. School’s been out for a week. My enterprising teenager spent two days shoveling and made his first million…well, a tidy sum. He improved his negotiating skills, too. I got to run in my yaktrax, which hadn’t seen the light (or snow) in a while. I caught up on some reading and studying. And I had time to bake.

You’d think we hadn’t had a warning. Not two days after the storm, community facebookers were talking about provisions running low and asking if Walmart was open yet. I could manage for weeks on what’s normally in the house (4 dozen eggs and 2 gallons of milk is standard in a house with a teen who grows an inch every time I turn my back and a preteen who makes the energizer bunny look lethargic), although the teen did declare an emergency when we ran out of chocolate syrup. And the coffee situation was looking grim until I remembered there was some tasty Puerto Rican coffee in the freezer from my last trip there a year ago. Ah, to be in PR right now…

The point is, we had plenty of food. In fact, there was food that HAD to be eaten, including this package of tofu that was about to expire:

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“I’m firm…” Talking Tofu…who knew?!

I wondered how bad expired tofu could be…but didn’t want to find out, so I decided to use it to make protein bars. I modified an Alton Brown recipe to suit what was in my pantry, since I clearly wasn’t going shopping. Some of the mods were, I feel, better than in the original recipe. For instance, I subbed tart cherry juice for the apple juice as tart cherry juice is a known anti-inflammatory, and I used walnuts instead of dried fruit, which are great sources of omega 3 fats as well as powerful antioxidants.

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I’m known for substituting ingredients…it usually works!

Making these protein-packed snacks is super easy: you just combine the dry ingredients…

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…blend the wet stuff, including the talking tofu…

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I made a video of everything blending in the blender but it’s really a bit pointless

…and then combine…

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I know, very helpful image…

The hardest part is trying to get the parchment paper to stay in the baking dish while spraying it…I just gave up and let the weight of the mix push it into the dish.

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Yes, I took a picture of myself spraying the parchment paper, and since that was a feat in itself, it’s going on the blog.

…squish it down in the pan and flatten the top…

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…then bake for 35 mins. And there you have it. The recipe is below so try it out and let me know how it went in the comments. And of course feel free to make any substitutions!

Snow Problem Tofu Protein Bars
Print Recipe
Deliciously dense, remarkably tasty protein bars made with silky tofu and your choice of protein powder.
Servings Prep Time
24 bars 25 minutes
Cook Time
35 minutes
Servings Prep Time
24 bars 25 minutes
Cook Time
35 minutes
Snow Problem Tofu Protein Bars
Print Recipe
Deliciously dense, remarkably tasty protein bars made with silky tofu and your choice of protein powder.
Servings Prep Time
24 bars 25 minutes
Cook Time
35 minutes
Servings Prep Time
24 bars 25 minutes
Cook Time
35 minutes
Ingredients
Servings: bars
Instructions
  1. Line the bottom of a 13x9-inch glass baking dish with parchment paper and spray with coconut oil spray. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the protein powder, wheat/oat bran, coconut flour, wheat germ, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Combine the tofu, tart cherry juice, and eggs in a blender. Blend in the brown sugar and nut butter. Pour the blended ingredients into the dry ingredients and combine well. Add the walnuts and coconut.
  4. Spread evenly in the prepared baking dish and bake for 35 mins. Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
Recipe Notes

Recipe modified from Alton Brown's Protein Bars Recipe, available on the Food Network.

Share this Recipe

5 Changes for 2016 #2: Run Smart

Run Smart

I ran my planned 26 miles this week and managed to ride 30. But I didn’t swim, as I had a swim team meeting on Tuesday night when I usually swim (the irony!), and my plan to swim Thursday night was foiled when I realized it was High School Curriculum planning night. I can’t believe my baby will be in High School next year! Mind you, at 5′ 10″, he’s already being asked what High School he attends…

So far, my plan to build a better base has been going well; all my runs are at a relatively easy pace, but I mix up the terrain, making sure at least 50% of my long runs are on the trail, offering not only variety but also an opportunity to work on strength and stability. Over the long weekend I got in two trail runs: a 9 miler at Manassas Battlefield, which was super soggy after a full night of rain, and a 7 miler on the infamously hilly Bull Run trail. My trail running partners, Adam and Andrew, generally keep a good pace that’s manageable but not a breeze. I tend to lose a bit of ground on the uphills, but they are good sports and wait for me at the top. Our Manassas Battlefield route includes 4 stream crossings; generally we charge through them in the summer months but take the bridges in the winter. For some reason, even though it was only 23 degrees, Adam decided to run through all 4 streams. By the 4th stream I was tempted, and charged into the icy water saying “I don’t know how deep I’m going to go!” which immediately got a “That’s what she said” response from Adam. Ah yes, we keep it classy on the trail. My legs and feet were numb for the next mile.

New JobAt Bull Run a tree had fallen across the path. I went left, to jump over it from higher ground, Andrew went right, and Adam, who’s the tallest, took the middle. I had a vision of us colliding as we hit the ground on the other side, and we got pretty close, but managed it like a choreographed ballet. That would have made a good picture. The ballet theme came up again when Adam and I stopped in Trader Joe’s after the run. I put ski pants on over my muddy tights – after all, it was 15 degrees – but Adam strode into TJs “looking like a dancer.” His words, not mine…

Change #2 goes hand-in-hand with my base-building plan. In addition to building a strong run base, I wanted to ensure I had the strength and stability to support my running. When you’re running, only one foot is on the ground at a time, meaning all your body weight is supported by one leg. You need strength and stability to do this, and a weak link in the chain, be it the hip, the glutes, the ankle, or the foot, can lead to injury. The key is to isolate and strengthen each part of the chain in a manner that makes sense for running, an activity that is one-directional and very repetitive.

I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to Steve Gonser, PT, DPT, of RunSmartOnline, who has developed a fantastic online strength bootcamp called BaseSix. With a full time job, two active kids’ busy schedules, and swim, bike and run training, I don’t have time to go to a gym. Steve’s six week “run specific bootcamp” requires no equipment and is easy to do at home. The twelve, 30 minute workouts are run-specific and are designed to improve strength and balance. Much of each workout is on one leg, which requires you to develop balance and foot strength. One particularly nasty workout focuses on glutes, and you know you’ve done it right when you have trouble navigating stairs the next day!

I signed up for the one year membership after attending one of Steve’s seminars on Master’s Running. It cost just $109 for the year and includes access to five different programs. The website also has numerous helpful running-related articles that are available to everyone, whether you’re a member or not.

I have to admit that I noticed improvement in my running efficiency within a couple of weeks of starting BaseSix. Runs felt easier, as if I were using less effort. A particularly hilly trail run that kicked my butt one week was significantly easier two weeks later. However, I waited until I completed all six weeks before writing this post, because I wanted to feel confident it had really made a difference. I can say without a doubt that it did.

The workouts are challenging but not impossible. This is not a choreographed-to-music, slick-packaged workout for the masses. I particularly like that fact that Steve shows he’s human – he loses his balance every now and then, and loses count fairly often. Now that I’ve completed the six week program, I’m going back and repeating the weeks I found most challenging (glutes and core!). Steve also has a yoga program as well as a kettlebell program that I’ve yet to try, as well as a number of videos with running drills.

Check out RunSmartOnline if you’re looking to get stronger and run with greater efficiency in 2016!

*Please note that I wasn’t compensated for this informal review – or even asked to write one – I’m simply sharing my thoughts on something that is working for me!

Five Changes for 2016 #1: Build a Better Base

Build a BaseCh-ch-ch-changes….oh yeah, David Bowie is in my head right now for obvious reasons. I suspect many of us have been listening to his timeless music this week…

But there’s another reason. 2016 is my year for changes. Not New Year Resolutions – I’m not one for those – but changes that I needed to make for my health, for my family, for me. Truth is that not all of these are changes I’ve started in 2016, and some have been in progress for a few months, but now is a good time to share them.

I planned to write about all of them in one post, but it became so lengthy even before getting through all 5, that there’s no way even the most dedicated of my three readers (hi, mum!) would get through it.

The first of my changes, one that began at the end of November, is building a better base. Runners should be familiar with base building, but if you’re not, think of it as building the foundation of a house. You need a strong foundation before you can start building the walls and putting on the roof, or your house is going to be structurally weak and will fall down sooner or later. Running is much the same; a weak base puts runners at risk of injury.

This is exactly what happened to me. You’d think that, having been a runner for 30 years, I’d know better, but I think this was actually my downfall as I thought I could take short cuts. After time off (usually for injury), I’d try to come back too quickly. Sure, I’d build a little base, but it was never enough to keep me out of trouble. I’d race too soon, jump right back into speedwork, and the results spoke for themselves.

So this time, I’m building a base like a newbie runner:

  1. max 10% increase per week, with a drop-down every 4th week (I started at 15 miles 8 weeks ago and will run 26 this week)
  2. easy running only
  3. no racing
  4. no speedwork
Base Building

I need to think more like this guy

My inner laziness is actually enjoying this. All my runs are easy! But, now that I’m 8 weeks in, I plan to start adding in some short speed sets and gradually work up to a weekly tempo and interval workout. But at that point, I’ll stop the mileage increase so my body only has to deal with one stress at a time: right now, that’s distance; when I move into the sharpening phase for Cherry Blossom on April 3, the stress will be speed.

So that’s the first of my 5 changes for 2016. Next week I’ll talk about how I’m learning to #RunSmart!

What changes are you making for 2016?

The Ironman Cometh – August 2016!

I never said I wouldn’t do it. But then again, I hadn’t exactly expressed a burning desire to complete an Ironman. Too many times, I told myself 140.6 miles was too long, too far, too much. I was content with the challenge of the half ironman distance…or was I? Truth was, after four Ironman 70.3 races, including one World Championship that was one of the most amazing race experiences I’ve ever had, I wasn’t completely satisfied. I watched many friends and acquaintances complete Ironman distance events and started asking myself, “why can’t I do this?” And the more I asked that question, the more the answer began to change.

When I met with my coach after the Ironman 70.3 World Champs, I mentioned that I was thinking about doing a full Ironman, but had read (yep, I always do a lot of research!) that I needed to increase my training for the next full year in order to be fully prepared, and so was thinking about signing up for a 2017 event. His response was, “If you want to do an Ironman, just sign up and stop thinking about it so much!”

I’m stubborn so I still thought about it…for a few more weeks. I already knew what race I wanted to do for my first 140.6: Ironman Mont Tremblant, in Quebec, Canada. Many people look for an easy course for their first Ironman, one that has, for example, a downstream swim if they’re a weak swimmer, or a flat bike and run course. I didn’t want to do that. Not that I was looking for a hard course, but I knew I’d be happiest racing in beautiful surroundings, as I was in Austria. Mont Tremblant is my favorite place to ski – the slopes are long and the views magnificent –  and I’m pretty sure it’s equally impressive in summer. Of course it’s hilly, but I’d rather take a hilly bike over a flat one any day. Before I made my final decision I did talk with a friend who had raced it and she confirmed that I would love it. It also fits into my schedule nicely; it’s a late August race and, now that I’m teaching, I’ll have the summer off for the more intense training. Yay for career changes that make me able to pursue my love of triathlon!

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My younger son snowboarding at Mont Tremblant last winter

In October I pulled the trigger. Ironman is expensive, but I paid in Canadian dollars and everyone knows the Canadian dollar is weaker than the U.S. dollar so I actually saved a few bucks. 😉  Even better, last week my coach announced he was signing up, and just the other day my roommate from the World Championships in Edmonton last year told me that both she and her boyfriend will be racing! Ah, misery loves company. And I’ll have plenty of people to train with, as several friends are racing Ironman Chattanooga a month later in September.

Am I afraid? Of course. 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running is one heck of a long way. But I’m ready to tackle it head on. I know it won’t be easy, and the training is going to be brutal, but, after six years of triathlon, I think I’m ready!

Ironman veterans, any advice for a first timer?

Greasy Gooney 10K Race Report

The sign as you enter Front Royal, VA, reads “Welcome to the Gateway to Skyline Drive” and, while Front Royal isn’t an unpleasant town, it’s not exactly the visual that comes to mind when you think of Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, and the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains. The Front Royal near this sign is all business – strip malls, cheap gas stations, and fast food. (Downtown Front Royal is quaint, but to the visitor entering the town, this isn’t visible.) No, it doesn’t feel much like a gateway, more of a stop-for-provisions-and-a-bathroom stop. Which is what I do, filling up my car and taking advantage of functioning facilities before continuing on my drive to Browntown.

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Shortly after you leave Front Royal, a left turn takes you to the northern end of scenic Skyline Drive, a 109 mile road that runs along the ridge of the mountains, providing spectacular views of Shenandoah National Park. I drive past the turn and take the next left toward Browntown, a sleeply hamlet – officially, an unincorporated community – featuring a community center, baptist church, and general merchandise store, and little else. But it’s beautiful, and if I were to choose where to put the Gateway to the Skyline Drive sign, this is where I’d put it. Sure, it’s 8 miles south of Front Royal and so geographically incorrect for a gateway, but Browntown is what comes to my mind when I think of the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley.

I’m in Browntown to run the Greasy Gooney 10K, one of my favorite races on the Fall racing calendar. In fact, I think it’s one of my favorite races on the entire racing calendar. The race follows the Greasy and Gooney rivers, hence the name, and is one of the more challenging 10K races I’ve run. The first 3.1 miles feature 480 feet of elevation gain, while the second 3.1 miles feature a 500 ft loss. So basically it’s an uphill slog for the first half and screaming downhill for the second. Kind of. Actually the first 2.5 miles are fairly gentle, while miles 2.5 – 3.1 are super steep. Mile 3.1 – 4 drops quite precipitously while the next 2 miles descend more gently. The entire course is twisty turny, framed by the most breathtaking views and covered by a multicolored tree canopy. It’s all you can do to keep from looking around while trying not to die, going both up and down the mountain.

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Image courtesy Karsten Brown, http://www.gg10k.com/

This is my 4th Greasy Gooney. I first ran it in 2005, then again in 2009 and 2010. It’s a small race (this year there were 99 runners) and my best placing has been 2nd female. I drive 1 hr 20 minutes to get to Browntown, but many people drive much further. It’s like one of the best kept secrets among runners in our area.

The race is run with perfect precision and just the right amount of dry humor from RD Karsten Brown. I think Karsten became the RD the first year I ran it. Markings are abundant and always accurate. Race entry is cheap – $10 without a beanie (this year’s premium) or $17 with one, plus a $1 discount if you’re a member of one of many area running clubs. I elected for the beanie as I believe you can never have enough hats. Fees for race day entry were slightly higher, but any proceeds go the the Browntown community association. There are no finisher medals but trophies are awarded to the top 3 as well as the top 3 in each 5 year age group, so prizes abound. There’s also a random drawing with prizes such as Halloween candy, boxer shorts, and spam. (You read that right.)

The race starts 0.8 miles from the registration/finish area so everyone runs or walks over there about 15 mins before race start time. Karsten makes periodic announcements over a loudspeaker, lest anyone linger too long to make it to the start on time. For some reason I’m lingering this year.

After a quick warmup I run back to my car to ditch the extra layers I don’t need, and then head to the start. Everyone hangs out on the side of the road to let cars pass, and then shortly before the start we line up on the road and Karsten makes a few announcements and recognizes those who have run (or volunteered) every Greasy Gooney, including 80-year-old Robert Gurtler, a running legend from The Plains. Karsten then reminds everyone not to get lost – there is only 1 turn on the course – before we set off. It’s casual, low key, and it’s all about running. There are no gimmicks. Headphones are not allowed (hallelujah). Costumes are fine.

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Image courtesy Karsten Brown, http://www.gg10k.com/

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Image courtesy Karsten Brown, http://www.gg10k.com/

We set off at a comfortable pace. The trick is not to kill yourself in the first 3 miles, but to push just the right amount to be able to freefall the next 3 without your legs folding underneath you. Run the first 3 too hard and you can’t stay upright. I don’t really look at my Garmin, I just go by feel, pushing but not overreaching.  in the first mile here are 3 ladies in front of me. I’d like to place in the top 3 so early on I pass one of the ladies. But around mile 2 another girl comes up on my shoulder. I figure I need to stay with her. I’m contemplating tucking in behind her as she passes, and then passing her later on, when she suddenly slips back. I’ll spend the rest of the race wondering if she’s going to try to make a move.

Because the course is open to traffic, a car comes by every now and then. When a car is coming up from behind, those behind us shout out a warning. This is helpful because I can gauge how far behind me the girl is when she calls out “car back!” She seems close so I press a little harder. I won’t push too hard on the really steep part so I figure I have to do it now.

As I reach the steepest part of the course I wonder why I’m doing this race. I guess I ask this every time. It’s a grinding sufferfest. But it’s only half a mile and soon I’m at the top. At this point there’s a mental as well as physical shift, from holding back a little on the uphill, to literally falling downhill while maintaining control. My goal is 6:30 pace on the downhill. And then I sense that my shoe has come untied and let out an audible expletive – not sure why. But when I look down it’s fine, it’s just that my foot is so far forward in my shoe, on account of the decline, that it feels as if the lace has come undone. Disaster averted, I continue leaning forward and trying to get my legs to spin as fast as possible. The course twists and turns a lot so you have to focus on running tangents. I’m not quite making the 6:30 goal but I press on.

Within a mile of the finish another car comes up from behind us and I hear a female voice not far behind me. I press harder. The good thing about running this race several times is that I know exactly where the finish line is – although there are markings on the road every half a mile, too. But it’s a great feeling when the finish comes in sight. Karsten and another guy are taking finish pictures so I do my best to smile while pushing as hard as I can to stay in 3rd place. Turns out I made it with 20 seconds to spare, but the girl behind me was not the one on my shoulder from earlier, so I’m extra glad I kept pushing the pace.

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Image courtesy Karsten Brown, http://www.gg10k.com/

 

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As soon as I finish I’m handed a place card on which I have to write my name and time (45:22) for the race results. That important task taken care of, I chat briefly with SRRC (South Riding Running Club) president Adam, who has placed 2nd overall, before heading back toward the finish to look for fellow SRRC runners Bridget and Tim, who come in a few minutes later. Usually I like to stay for the entertaining awards ceremony, but today my 13 year old son is racing cross-country over an hour away, and if I leave now I have a chance of getting to his race before it starts. So I jump in my car (inadvisable to do this right after racing!) and drive the 60 miles to Leesburg. I end up missing the start of his race by a minute or two, but am there to see most of it. He runs the 4K in 17 minutes, pretty good for a hilly course!

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My son pushing up a hill, Greasy Gooney elevation profile, beanie

I’ve decided I’m going to try to run Greasy Gooney every year. It really is one of the most fun and scenic races on my calendar!

My New, Cute, Young Training Partners

I have two new training partners. They’re young, they’re fit, and they don’t wait for me if I can’t keep up. One is an excellent swimmer whose bubbles I chase on a regular basis. He’s new to triathlon but is already gaining attention, winning his age group at an event last month against seasoned competition. The other is an up-an-coming, very tall cross-country runner who has impressed his coaches with his tenacity on the course and wicked finishing kick.

I give them rides to practices and meets, as they’re so young they’re not old enough to drive. I also provide them with nutritional guidance because otherwise they would eat Cheetos and M&Ms all day. If they don’t behave they have to go to bed early. Because my new training partners also happen to be my 11 and 13 year old sons.

It happened organically. First, my 13 year old finally expressed an interest in running after saying “it’s boring” for the last 10 years. Actually, he still says that. But after he placed 3rd overall at a school running event, he realized he might actually be good at this thing. I signed him up before he could change his mind. Fortunately, he has a good group of friends on the cross-country team, and so he hangs out with them and generally has a good time. He’s got a good sense of pacing and never goes out too fast, which impresses me because it took me years to get that right. He’s 5′ 8″ and towers above me.

…He’s the tall one!

We’ve run two races together, one cross-country 5K, one road 5K, and he’s kicked my butt in both. Although it was close in the 2nd race…he only got me by 5 seconds, flying past me on the final downhill and then severely smoking me in the finishing straight. I had no extra gear, while he just turned on the jets and sailed to the finish.

Winning his age group at the cross-country 5K

My 11 year old has always been the athlete of the two. He rode a two-wheel bike at age 3 and pretty much excels at any sport he tries, which has always made things difficult for my older son. They have an event called “the pacer” at school for which they earn a shirt if they run over 100. My 13 year-old’s record is 106, my 11 year old’s: 105.

After refusing point blank to compete in a triathlon for years, my 11 year old finally agreed to do one in July. I refused to buy him a road bike until he committed to more than one event, so he had to ride his Huffy. Still, he placed 2nd in his age group and had one of the fastest runs of his peers. That event seemed to light a flame under him and so I bought him a used road bike and, at his second triathlon, he tore up the competition and placed 1st.

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Leading at the end of the bike leg…by a hair

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Celebrating with one of his swim buddies!

He decided he wanted to join the local youth triathlon club, mainly because he wants the bright red team tri kit with his name on the rear, but also because he is a social animal and wants to make some triathlon friends. Because he plays travel baseball he can’t attend most of the team training events right now, but we’re able to attend the swim training once a week, and the coach allows me to swim, too.

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His other passion…baseball

Being able to train with my sons is not only efficient, as I’m using the time for my own training that I would otherwise lose, but it’s also effective as I can really see what they’re doing and how they’re improving. I don’t coach either of them – as a parent I think it’s hard to coach your child – but I do offer advice and answer questions if they ask.

I don’t think we have very long as training partners. Already they are outrunning and outswimming me, and in a few years, if they stick with it, I think they both have potential to be excellent athletes while of course I am getting older and slower. Don’t cry for me. I’m more than happy to pass the baton.

Ironman 70.3 World Championship: Just a Swim, Bike, and Run

Ironman 70.3 FinishNormally, I like to write a report right after a race. Good, bad, or ugly, I’m eager to share the experience and go through what is often a cathartic process of writing everything down.

Not so with my recent World Championship 70.3 in Austria. I don’t really know why. I’ve been tired (more about that later), started a new job (probably more about that later), and got back into the swing of my boys going to school and playing baseball and running cross country (definitely more about THAT later!), and of course forgetting to do homework and needing pictures and materials for projects, etc, etc. And, to be honest, I’ve felt a little guilty taking the time to sit and write on this blog when there have been many other things to do.

But it’s about time I wrote this report. There is, as always, much to say. I’m going to try to share the important parts, the moments that may be helpful for those training for – or thinking about doing – a half ironman, and want to know what to expect. That means I’ll share the good, the bad, and the really ugly moments, and how I dealt with them all.

So grab a drink, maybe a snack too…

At the end of my last post, the cannon had gone off and I had started swimming. Immediately, I ran into other swimmers. It was a mosh pit and I couldn’t seem to get free. I wasn’t getting pushed under, but wherever I tried to put my arms, I was hitting bodies, and I could feel others hitting me. It’s an awkward feeling, but most of all it’s not productive because you’re not getting anywhere fast. So I sighted a lot to look for some open space, and, once I saw some, I headed for it. Once I got free of the mob I swam without incident for most of the next 1.2 miles. It’s just one of those things with race starts. I probably didn’t position myself too smartly, but with the field of 120 or so strung out as wide as we were at the start, I wasn’t expecting to get so caught up.

Sighting was easy for the first stretch. The course was a very long, narrow rectangle, so basically we just had to make two left turns. I swam relaxed but aware, which means I tried to avoid zoning out completely, but kept thinking about my stroke, reach, pull, kick, etc. Wearing a wetsuit is helpful for me as it reminds me to keep my arms from crossing my midline, because I feel the wetsuit material under my arms. But, because of the buoyancy of the suit, I tend not to kick hard enough, so I have to consciously think about that or my legs get lazy.

After we made the 2nd turn and headed back to shore, sighting became more difficult as we were looking into the sun. Rather than look at the marker buoys I tried to focus on the finish area on shore, but there were so many inflatable banners and signs and crap, I couldn’t work out what I was headed towards. Sometimes I just followed other swimmers and hoped they were going the right way. The marker buoys heading out were yellow, but the return buoys were orange and for some reason were harder to spot.

As we neared the shore I was still having trouble working out what I was swimming to (note to self: take a look at swim IN next time) but there was enough of a crowd to follow. And that’s when things got ugly. At one point I managed to lock arms with another swimmer and there was a desperate struggle to free ourselves. Then I got a foot or hand or something in my mouth…I just wanted to get out of there. I started kicking as hard as I could. I could see the steps and there seemed to be an awful lot of people on the steps. I thought they were participants but realized at the last minute they were volunteers, hauling people out of the water. I swam all the way to the steps but, when I tried to stand up, I found I couldn’t. No matter. A couple of volunteers grabbed me and pulled me out. I uttered a quick “danke” and ran up the steps. A quick look at my Garmin showed me my swim time was 38:59 – I was elated! First time swimming 1.2 miles in under 40 minutes!

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I fumbled for a while, trying to unzip my wetsuit as I ran. I couldn’t seem to get the velcro undone. Eventually I got it and pulled my suit down to my waist. I had counted the T1 bag racks in advance so I just had to count them as I ran past, until I got to mine. My elation from my swim time was short-lived when I realized how few bags there were in T1. Turns out I was 100th on the swim. The swim is never my strong suit but in that moment I realized the calibre of my competition.

I ran into the transition tent and found a spot to remove my wetsuit. People were sitting down but I never sit down in transition and I wan’t about to do it now. Wet suit off, I went to put it in my T1 bag and couldn’t do it. The slippery bag and wet wet suit were making it impossible. In the end I put the wet suit on the ground, opened the bag over it and shoved it inside. I jammed on my helmet and sunglasses and I was off, throwing my bag in the drop area as I ran. I had counted the racks to my bike rack in advance, so just had to count them off as I ran through. With everyone having to change in the tents, the traditional “transition” area of bike racks was nice and peaceful, with no gear laying on the ground or people in the aisles. It felt weird just grabbing my bike and running, and I kept thinking I had forgotten something. (Don’t worry, this isn’t a foreshadowing moment or anything like that).

Transition was long – half a mile, according to my Garmin. Finally the mount line appeared in sight and I jumped on my bike. Apparently the manager of the house we rented was there watching, happened to see me, and took some great pictures which he brought by the house later in the day!

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Caught checking my Garmin

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Looking a little spaced out…don’t have shoes on yet

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Shoes on, in aero…down to business

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…and away into the mountains…

The plan for the bike leg was to ride easy until the 9 mile uphill climb to the Hochkoenig. So I was careful not to work my quads much at all, which meant going into the small ring for inclines and keeping the cadence high the rest of the time. I’ll tell you know that driving a course doesn’t really help much. You just don’t get enough of a feel for a course. Sure, you know the turns and that helps, but, for instance, I had no idea just how fast the first part of the course would be. I was flying along at 21mph with no real effort. In hindsight maybe I should have pushed this part a little harder, but I was saving everything for the climb.

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The climb began about 20K or 12 miles into the ride. At the bottom of the mountain I was already in my easiest gear. It was basically a slow grind to the top. I paced evenly, didn’t try to surge or push hard, stayed in my seat, and just ground it out. The first couple of miles were steep, then it flattened out a little and the next 5 miles were not as hard. I never really thought much about how hard it was, though, I just kept cranking. I was getting passed by a lot of women (all the men started in front of us, I think I passed maybe 3 guys the entire ride), but it didn’t bother me. People were generally encouraging and would call out your name (which was on all our bibs) or say “good job.”

One thing I noticed was that the ride was entirely in the sun. When my husband and I drove the course a few days earlier it was evening, and we assumed this part would be in shade as there were lots of trees. Unfortunately the sun was high in the sky and we had no respite from it. There was a stream alongside the road that provided some distraction, and of course if you looked up for a moment you would see an impressive mountain range. At one particularly tough moment I looked up and saw this:

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Every now and then I had things like this to remind me I was racing in one of the most beautiful places on earth…and at a World Championship to boot.

With about 2K of climbing left, we entered the picturesque town of Dienten, which marked the part where the climb would get tougher (as if it wasn’t tough already), as the grade hit 14%. I grabbed a bottle of water from the aid station, put some of it in my aero bottle and poured the rest of it over myself. Then I got ready for the really tough part. The mountains rise so sharply from Dienten that the ski lifts go straight up from the roadside. I wish I had been able to take a picture as the village itself is so picturesque, but you’ll have to make do with the best google has to offer. Dienten

People were getting off their bikes and walking. I did not plan to – or want to – stop and walk. I would stand for a few pedal strokes and then sit back down. The crowds were cheering us on which was helpful, and there was a guy telling us we had 500m to go, which wasn’t so helpful as a few hundred meters after passing him I saw the 500m to go sign…

But there was an inflatable arch at the top a la Tour de France and somehow, that made the last 500m easier. Although, to be honest, I wasn’t really focused on the last 500m of climbing. I was too busy drying my sweaty palms on my tri suit in preparation for what was coming up next.

The Downhill.

Ah yes, after climbing for 9 miles we got to go back down the mountain. Straight back down. At a 15% grade with switchbacks. I can honestly say it was the scariest few minutes of my life. I’d practiced riding down plenty of hills, but none as steep or with as many turns. The acrid smell of burning rubber filled the air, and even when braking hard I was still going 35mph. I questioned my sanity as I passed people, but then would occasionally get passed by another rider and that would have me thinking I was being overly cautious. It wasn’t until I read pro triathlete Jesse Thomas’ report, in which he described thinking about his son and not going all out on the descent as a result, that I realized how dangerous it really was. I also found out that, after my husband and I drove the course, he told my sister that he was really worried about the descent. I had thought it was fine but I’ll admit that I was falling asleep during the drive…

I emerged unscathed, however, and removed my death grip from the handelbars to sit back in aero for the next few miles, which were still slightly downhill and super fast. But my neck was really starting to bother me in the aero position. I wanted to just put my head down but that makes it difficult to, well, see what’s up ahead, so I could only put it down for a second or two at a time. I tried coming out of aero but my speed would decrease too much so back into aero it was. This basically went on for the remainder of the ride. It was a major distraction I couldn’t shake. Even the beautiful scenery faded as I tried to work through the pain and maintain my pace.

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As we got closer to 80K, I started to feel better as I knew I was going to see my family. I knew they’d be on the balcony of our chalet in Kaprun, waving and cheering. As I rounded the corner and started up the hill toward the chalet, I could hear them. I started waving, enjoying the break from aero, so happy to see them. It took them a minute to recognize me as there were a lot of riders around me at that point, but when they realized it was me the cheers got louder and they held up a sign they had made for me. It was a highlight of the race!

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At this point, I had run out of water and had definitely was out of gas, but now there was just 10K left and I pushed through the last few miles. I lost some speed on this last section, which had some bumpy roads and twisty sections, but I was just relieved to be done with the bike.

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As I ran into transition a guy right in front of me got a penalty for unclipping his helmet before racking his bike. I ran around him, racked my bike, and ran to the T2 bag racks. As I ran into the transition tent I realized how exhausted I was. Without really thinking much about it I made the decision to wear socks (I don’t usually like to take the extra few seconds to put them on), because somehow I knew the run would be painful and potentially long, and I wanted my feet to at least feel comfortable. I am so glad I made that decision because the socks really did feel nice.

I grabbed a couple of GU gels and some salt, threw my T2 bag in the drop area, and headed out. Just 13.1 miles between me and the finish.

The run was beautiful, flat and shady, on a trail around the lake. First, we headed toward Zell am See where we would run through the center of town, painfully close to the finish line, grab a lap bracelet, and continue on around the lake to the town of Thurmersbach. There, we would turn around, run back to Zell am See, get another bracelet, and do it all over again.

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As my legs adjusted to running after 90K of biking, my stomach started to hurt. I can push through pain in my legs, but pushing through a pain in the stomach doesn’t work the same way. I’ve tried it before. The pain just worsens until you can no longer run. Because I had a long way to go, I went into preservation mode. I slowed my pace to the point where the pain wasn’t worsening. At the first aid station I grabbed some coke. It was nice and flat and settled my stomach a bit. I thought maybe I should try a bathroom stop so I stopped in a portapotty right before the 2nd aid station. But that wasn’t the problem. I grabbed some more coke. This coke, however, was fizzy. Before I had made it through the aid station I was puking along the side of the path.

When I resumed my run/jog/slog, I realized I was actually starting to feel better. I cautiously increased the pace, still walking through aid stations while I grabbed water and the occasional sip of coke. By the time I arrived in Zell am See for the second lap band, I was feeling almost normal. Heading out for the 2nd time felt much better, too. I was now passing people, and, while my Garmin was still telling me I was running a painfully slow (for me) 8:40 pace, I kept trying to push harder, go a little bit faster. Lester and Cris both saw me on this lap and yelled out to me, I yelled back but never saw them. I had, by this point, withdrawn into my own little world and was practically unable to focus on any thing or person. I remember bits and pieces but much of it was a fog, which is a shame because I bet that run is really beautiful.

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I do remember some things. There were people with hoses who would spray you whether you wanted them to or not! I must have looked in a pretty bad way because at one point someone dumped a cup of water on my head. After the initial shock it felt quite nice!  There were kids filling up buckets from the lake and soaking sponges to hand out. It was fun to take sponges from their outstretched hands.

These were the bright moments. There were many dark ones on that run around the lake. Although the course was mostly in the shade, the sections in the blazing sun felt like torture. Swarms of wasps surrounded the aid stations, attracted to the gatorade, coke, and red bull, and the ground was littered with so many cups, the volunteers were pushing them off to the side just so we could get through.

But no matter how bad things got, I never thought about stopping or giving up. I didn’t let my mind go there. Every step forward was a step closer to the finish line. I had stopped worrying about my finish time long ago. As I ran into Zell for the final time, turning left toward the finish line instead of right for another lap, the elation was overwhelming.

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I pushed my sunglasses onto my head and sprinted through the crowd, high-fiving people as I ran. I was shocked and delighted to see that my dad, sister, and niece had made it to the finish area and were standing right by the barrier! I gave them a big wave as I charged past. The finish line was now in sight. And it was an amazing sight.

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6 hours, 2 minutes, and xx seconds after starting the swim in Lake Zell, after riding up (and back down!) a mountain, and running around the lake twice, I finally crossed the finish line of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship with my arms raised and my heart full.

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There is nothing quite like this.

 

Ironman 70.3 World Championship – Calm before the Storm

I’ve struggled the past week to describe what it was like to race at the 70.3 World Championship. When people have asked how it was, I’ve responded, “It was such a great experience,” which sounds like my race sucked, or, “I had so much fun!” which sounds like I didn’t take it seriously, or, “It was challenging,” which sounds like I wasn’t prepared and had a tough time out there. I guess the truth is that it was fun and tough and a great experience combined. But then, everything about Austria was so much more than I had dreamed it would be (and more than I remembered from a trip there when I was 20), from our beautiful chalet in the ski resort town of Kaprun, to the breathtaking views, to having my family there with me, which was priceless.

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My younger son at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, Berchtesgaden, Germany

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All of us on top of the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier in Kaprun, Austria

We arrived in Munich on August 20th, 10 days before the race, and rented a car for the 2.5 hour drive to Zell am See-Kaprun, Austria. We flew to Munich because it was a direct flight from Washington, DC. Flying to Salzburg, which is an hour closer, required a change in Frankfurt, and knowing my two boys, that was a hassle I didn’t want anyone to endure. The drive was pretty, once we got away from Munich traffic, and I think that crossing borders, even though the only way you know you’re crossing a border is a little sign on the side of the road, is cool. Most EU countries (but not the UK) are part of the “Schengen” agreement, which means that their borders are open; once you are in one Schengen country you are free to travel to all others.

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Border Crossing ;)

Our chalet, which I had booked online and nervously wired the payment to a bank account in Austria, turned out to be better than the pictures indicated. It sat behind a white wall just down the street from the formidable Kaprun castle ruins. There were sheep in the field behind the house that would run over to greet us, and from the front of the house we had a perfect view of the Kitzsteinhorn glacier. If you’re ever planning a trip to Salzburgerland and are looking for accommodation, I highly recommend Chalet Kaprun and can put you in touch with the house manager, a super nice guy who actually watched the race with his wife and took some great pictures of me racing.

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Castle Kaprun

The 10-day lead up to the race was spent doing a little training in the mornings, some sightseeing in the afternoons, and cooking dinner at home most nights, which was easier all around, especially with the picky eaters! For the first few days of the trip there were 7 of us in the house – my family of 4 plus one of my sisters and her two girls. The four kids had a lot of fun even though their ages range from 5 to 13!

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My niece had a lot of fun with my race helmet!

Since my bike wasn’t going to arrive until the 27th, my husband and I decided to rent mountain bikes for a couple of days. I didn’t need to ride a whole lot, just enough to spin out my legs, so we took a ride up towards the Kitzsteinhorn glacier. Needless to say it was entirely uphill, including a hairpin bend during which a bus passed us… It took 40 minutes to go up and less than 20 to go back down…which was a short version of what I was expecting from about 20 – 40K on the bike course. At the top of the mountain we came across a series of huge waterfalls, the beauty of which I completely failed to capture in a photograph. Thankfully I did shoot a quick video.

I also enjoyed some very pretty runs along a path that extended through and beyond Kaprun, where I would see cows and horses and plenty of cyclists. We took a couple of trips to Lake Zell in Zell am See, where I would be swimming in the race. The first time, we took the kids with us and I didn’t take a wetsuit. The water was so cold I wasn’t sure I could even swim in it. But after watching my kids diving off a scarily high diving platform into the frigid water, I decided I was being a wimp and did a quick 500m out to a buoy and back. The next time we swam, however, we took our wetsuits!

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My completely fearless son

Midweek my dad and another of my nieces arrived, and on the 27th my husband and boys departed. I was sad they had to leave and would miss my race, but with school starting on the 31st, the day after my race, and with the boys needing time to adjust to the 6 hour time difference, it was the only option. My younger son was also starting middle school, an important transition to do right! The day after they left, another of my sisters arrived. So our numbers were back up to 7 for the rest of the week.

On Thursday, I headed to the race expo in Zell am See and then to transition to pick up my bike. We were given a giant backpack at the expo, which I just about managed to stuff in the backpack I had brought to carry my stuff back in, as I’d be riding my bike back to the chalet in Kaprun.

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Monster Backpack

That and a few purchases I made at the expo meant that my bag weighed a ton. I walked the mile or so along the lake from the expo in Zell am See to the transition area in Shuttdorf to pick up my bike. It was hot and I was uncomfortable with my huge backpack, but at least the scenery was spectacular.

Lake Zell

Picking up my bike from Tri Bike Transport (TBT) was the easiest part of the whole process. I had debated the cost of shipping my bike versus carrying it myself (which still would have cost me $400 in fees to United, not to mention trying to stuff it in a rental car with 4 people’s luggage), but in the end I was so glad I went with the hassle-free option. Most of all, being able to hand over your bike after a long race, rather than having to disassemble and pack it, is well worth the cost.

As race day approached I guess you could say I was getting twitchy but never really nervous. Saturday was the worst, as it was the day before the race and I needed to rest but was finding it difficult with lots of preparation to do, not to mention the fact that I had to ride my bike over to transition at 5pm. In addition, the 70.3 non-championship event was going on and cyclists were going past our house (we were at about 80K of the 90K bike course) and it was fun to go out on the balcony and cheer them on. In fact, the whole family was out there for a while, until we all decided we were going to wear ourselves out for Sunday!

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Chalet Kaprun = Team USA house!

At some point in the afternoon I closed my door, laid down, and promptly fell asleep. I woke up around 4pm and started getting ready to shlep to transition. We were required to drop off not only our bikes but also our T1 and T2 bags, although we would have access to everything in the morning. I was very nervous I was going to forget something, so it took me a while to get everything together. Once I’d stuffed it all in my backpack, I rode over to transition. Drivers in Austria are generally very good around cyclists, but by Saturday the number of cyclists on the roads was insane, and there were a lot of tourists driving, so I wasn’t feeling great about navigating the two busy roundabouts to get to Schuttdorf, where transition was. Still, I made it in one piece, successfully got into transition and racked my bike. Then I headed to the T1 and T2 bag racks to hang my bags in their assigned spots. If this sounds unfamiliar to you, it was to me, as well. Most 70.3 races allow you to have your gear in transition, but this race was set up more like a full Ironman, with a transition tent where you had to change, and a completely “clean” transition with nothing allowed on the ground. It did make navigating transition a lot easier, as usually I am tripping over wetsuits and finding my shoes have been kicked 3 bikes down. But I was going to have to remember to change in the tent, as not doing so could result in a penalty. Triathlon rules are quite extensive.

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Even the views from transition were spectacular

Bags successfully placed, I headed to the end of a long line to get my timing chip. I had to take a cab back to Kaprun as I had just missed the 6:25 bus and the next one wasn’t coming for an hour. With all that I had to remember, I forgot that I still needed CO2 cartridges, and had forgotten to ask in transition if anyone had spares. CO2 cartridges are what you use to put air in your tire if you get a flat. But you are not allowed to take them on a plane as the air is compressed. Hence, I needed to buy them in Austria. Usually, you can just get them at the expo, but when I asked, they had run out. It seems supply was low and demand high, and no-one had any. The local bike shops had some but they were for mountain bikes and so are bigger. I was assured they would work, but was a little dubious since I’d never tried them.

So, the night before the race, there I was, wandering the streets of Kaprun wondering what to do. And then I saw two girls walking up the road in front of me wearing 70.3 finisher shirts and carrying a ton of bags. I caught up to them and asked them how their races had gone. They were from South Africa and were very chatty, warning me about the scary descent (main topic of conversation about the bike course) and filling me in on important details as triathletes do. When I asked if they happened to have any CO2 cartridges they said, “Bombs? Oh yeah we have loads!” We walked to their hotel, just up the street from my chalet, and they offered me all they had. I assured them I only needed four, two for myself and two for a friend who had also been searching. I also received more warnings about the scary descent, the switchbacks, and all the crashes that had happened that day. They wished me luck and I headed on home. I am truly grateful to these ladies for being more than willing to help out a fellow triathlete.

At home my sisters were busy preparing a pre-race dinner of chicken, rice, veg, and roast potatoes. I was so grateful to be able to sit and relax rather than have to dine out the night before my race. After dinner I headed to my room to finish all the last minute stuff. Unlike most triathlons, which start early and require a wake-up call around 4am, the World Championship had a late start time of 10:45am for the pros, followed by all the male age groups, then the female age groups. My wave started at 11:46am!

Still, I was awake at 6am, unable to sleep. My friend Cris and I had snagged a ride on another friend’s hotel shuttle so we could avoid parking fiascos. That shuttle was due to leave at 8am. We all got a little nervous when no bus showed at 8, as we were by this point accustomed to Austrian efficiency and used to getting to bus stops early. Cris and I debated taking the 8:22 bus, but then the shuttle arrived and we relaxed.

We were talking nervously as we walked into transition, and then there was an immediate calming effect as we heard classical music being played. It was around 8:30am and transition was very quiet. A few pros were setting up but very few age groupers. First thing I did was go to the mechanic and get air put in my tires. Then I got everything set up bar my hydration. I wanted to wait until the last minute to do that as temps were already climbing and were due to hit 90. I knew as soon as I filled my bottles the ice would melt, so I kept everything in a bag with ice until close to the time transition closed.

After leaving transition I headed over to the water where we would be able to warm up until our waves started. It was very crowded but I kept walking until I found a quiet area where some windsurfs and boats were stored. There was shade, too, which I needed. I heard the pro races start from where I was sitting so I still had an hour until my start time. Still, I was getting antsy so I decided to slowly start putting on my wetsuit so I could do a warmup swim. I shared my trislide with some other athletes since I had already checked my bag (had to be done by 10:30) and would have to ditch anything else.

Getting in the water was a welcome relief from the increasing heat. I swam for a bit and then floated around to stay cool. While floating around I ran into my good friend and training partner Lester. He was looking nervous. I reminded him what he had told me – “This is Christmas! We just have to enjoy it!” I asked him when his wave was and he said, “11:46.” “Lester,” I said, “That’s my wave. Yours is before mine. You’d better go and check.” So off he went to find his swim wave. I decided to get out and see how many waves were lining up as I have a reputation for chilling too much before a race (Raleigh 2013!) and almost missing my wave. When I walked over to the area where athletes were lining up, I was surprised that my wave was already lining up. Everyone had their wetsuits fully zipped and caps on, even though we had some time before our wave, and it was hot! I didn’t fully zip up until we got closer to the front. I had bumped into a friend I made while out on a run a few days earlier – Noga, and we chatted to while away the time. Turns out she’s a rockstar triathlete with a great comeback story.

Finally we were in the water. We had to stay behind a rope that was suspended above us. We were strung out pretty wide, so I took a spot in the middle, but not right at the front. Everyone was wishing each other good luck and I wondered if the men do the same or if it’s just the ladies who are nice to each other before the start. Then the cannon went off and I started swimming as hard as I could.

Race Report coming soon!

Ironman 70.3 World Championship: Reflection

In a long-distance triathlon, marathon, or any other endurance event, there are inevitable highs and lows. The trick, as every endurance athlete knows, is to draw strength from the highs and not allow the lows to negatively affect the entire race. The reality is that we tend to focus on the lows, ignore the highs, and ultimately allow the low moments to dictate the race.

I decided early on during – maybe even before – the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Zell am See, Austria, that I would not allow the lows to affect my race, no matter how hard things became. I would not dig myself into a hole I couldn’t get out of. I would enjoy every minute of my race alongside the best endurance triathletes in the world. I would enjoy the scenery, gain energy from the spectators, and have a good time. No matter what.

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I will freely admit that I was unprepared for the hills, the heat (the ride was entirely in sun), and, most of all, the competition. There was an intensity at this race the likes of which I had never experienced, even at last year’s ITU World Championships in Edmonton.

I am not disappointed in my 6:02 time. It’s the slowest of the four Half Ironman events I’ve completed. It was also the toughest by a huge margin. But, when I was puking on mile 3 of the run, alongside a sparkling lake, surrounded by majestic mountains, getting to the finish line was the only goal on my mind. When I could no longer bear the pain in my neck at 60K of the 90K bike, and had to come out of aero just to get some relief, I took advantage of the break and enjoyed my exquisite surroundings. When I was getting kicked in the head in the swim, I took a deep breath and lifted my head to find a clear space to move into. Because this was the World Championships, and I had the privilege of being a part of it.

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Race report coming soon…

Queen of the Mountain

13 days out from the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, I managed to injure myself. Fortunately, it’s nothing major and won’t affect my race. I was trying to remove the pedals from my bike prior to dropping it at Bonzai Sports, my local triathlon shop, where TriBike Transport would be picking it up and shipping it to Austria for me, when it happened.

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I’d removed the left pedal no problem, and was trying to remove the right one. I was struggling a bit…ok, a lot. My 13-year-old son was asking when we could watch Harry Potter (we’ve been having an HP marathon over the summer and we’ve finally reached The Deathly Hallows) and I was telling him we could do that as soon as I removed the pedals. So I was in a bit of a hurry because I love Harry Potter.

Then my hand slipped and my arm landed on the big gear ring. The sharp teeth cut into my arm just above the wrist, and a few choice words came out. The cut was fairly deep and I was worried I’d need stitches, but really didn’t want to drive to the ER. So I called my good friend and fellow triathlete Nurse Rico. She happened to be driving back from the pool and so swung by my house to take a look. She said I didn’t need stitches but the wound needed cleaning as it was covered in bike grease, and a couple of steri strips to hold it together. She produced an impressive looking first aid kit from her car and herded me into my kitchen where she cleaned the cuts and taped me up. I’m lucky to have such great friends who are willing to help me out whenever I need them!

Speaking of friends, I have some great training partners who have been key to my training for this race. Amy has been one of my bike buddies, always happy to ride wherever I want to go, even though she herself was training for some serious climbing in France. In July she headed to Alpe d’Huez where she rode with a group led by Ironman Head Referee Jimmy Ricitello. Yes, I was jealous. She came back with some great tips she’d learned from Jimmy, which I applied on our Mount Weather ride. On that ride another triathlon buddy, Lester, came with us. Lester is also racing at the 70.3 World Championships and is a lean, mean, machine. He dragged me out for some more hills on Saturday. We rode an old route that was one of my regular rides a few years ago. On this ride, you climb two hills on the way out, Woodburn and Thomas Mill. They used to fill me with sheer terror, especially Thomas Mill, which is the longer of the two climbs and never seems to end. On the way back, we would always skip these two hills. However, on the way back this time, Lester suggested we ride Thomas Mill again. I knew we needed the practice so I agreed, although somewhat reluctantly. On the way back down Thomas Mill I decided we should ride Woodburn again, too, and suggested that to Lester who couldn’t turn down another challenge. So we rode both hills twice. We climbed a total of 3500ft on the 46 mile ride.

Strava Hills

And then, on Monday, I took my B2 out for one last spin before dropping it off at Bonzai…and prior to the pedal incident. This time Amy came with me and my husband was also available so he rode with us. They both said this was my ride and let me lead so I could set the pace. We had a grand time riding a route that’s mostly rollers but includes one doozy of a hill. It’s actually the reason I started biking with gloves as my hands would get really sweaty grinding up this climb and I was afraid they’d slip off the handlebars. We were having such a good time we went a bit too far, and realized after turning around that we were going to have to pick up the pace to get back in time. So I suggested to my husband that he pull us along Shelter Rd, where we used to ride time trials on our triathlon team. He set off and I hung on his wheel with Amy right behind. I was doing great but somehow lost contact and, when I tried to close the gap, I started seeing stars. Amy said she’d try to pull us back and went ahead of me. She closed the gap a little but we had fallen off too far to regain contact with Stuart’s wheel.

Still, when I got home and looked on Strava I discovered I had been awarded QOM (Queen of the Mountain) for this segment! Although Amy is stealing many of my QOMs these days…

QOM

I’m hoping I can be Queen of the Mountain in Austria, too. 🙂 I’m currently en route to Munich, from which it’s about a 3 hour drive to Zell am See. We’re renting a house in the nearby ski resort town of Kaprun, where we’ll have views of the Kitzsteinhorn and will be able to explore the beautiful Austrian countryside. Can’t wait.

10 days and counting…

Best Decade Ever and Surprisingly Good Curried Quinoa

I’m having a bit of an 80s week. It started off with a Culture Club concert at the beautiful Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia on Monday. Even Boy George himself mentioned how nice the venue was, saying hello to those of us on the lawn, which he called the “tennis club.” It really is a great venue, and not just because you can bring a picnic, including alcohol. Damn shame I’m not drinking. But we brought a bottle of Champagne anyway, for our friends who were celebrating their wedding anniversary and my husband who was having a birthday. One of my friends possibly had a little too much as, halfway through the concert, she rolled over my cooler and down the lawn like a tennis ball…

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So excited about the 80s!

The 80s theme continued when I took the kids to see Pixels on Tuesday. This movie was panned by the critics, and, since I generally like movies that get bad reviews (except for Boxing Helena which was admittedly so awful I spent a year apologizing to my friend for making her go see it with me), I decided we would go. The movie starts in 1982 (the year I turned 10!) and had many great 80s references (besides the obvious PacMan and Donkey Kong) just for the parents. (“Blue Lagoon” was my favorite reference…strangely enough, I watched that film the other day…)

The theme culminated in a viewing of Top Gun while I rode my bike on the indoor trainer today. Gotta love Top Gun. And Val Kilmer. He definitely looked good in the 80s…

Back to the present day. I swam 3000m on Monday. I know this is small change for many triathletes, but that number is a big deal for me as I had, until that point, never made it past 2800m in one session. Mentally, swimming that far is tough for me. Especially as the last set was an 800m. But it was a great day for swimming, cloudy and cool, so I had the entire pool to myself, with no distractions. It took me 70 minutes, which was actually less time than I thought I’d need. So now 3000m is NBD…almost.

I biked and ran as well, of course, but the highlight of my week was a quick ride with this guy:

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11 years old and a biking maniac

He rides faster every time we go out. He’s clipping in and out better and falling less, so I think he’s mostly got the hang of it. He’s wearing one of my old team kits which just makes me smile. I told him it was unisex. 😉

With just over two weeks until my Half Ironman, I’m focusing on training smart, sleeping well, and of course healthy eating. Last night I decided to make salmon, one of my favorite things to eat (aside from ice cream and chocolate). I had some leftover quinoa that I wanted to use but, while I know it’s great for you what with lots of protein etc., I don’t love quinoa and would just rather have some jasmine rice.

So I thought I’d try to spice it up a bit. Anyone who knows me, however, knows that I’m not a great cook. There have been countless disasters over the years, the latest of which was the “long run cake” from the Runner’s World Cookbook, which turned out as a dried up, tasteless mess that didn’t even reach the peanut butter frosting stage. Come to think of it, everything I’ve made from that book has been pretty awful…

The quinoa itself was almost inedible after I accidentally set the timer for 2 hours instead of 20 minutes, and then went off to play Words with Friends and discovered it, 35 minutes later, stuck in a clump to the bottom of the pan.

So, not really knowing what I was doing, I threw the salvageable quinoa in a small frying pan and added some pine nuts and pumpkin seeds. When it started sticking to the bottom (gah!) I added some olive oil. In hindsight, I probably should have put the olive oil in first…

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I tasted the quinoa but it was still bland. I could smell the neighbor’s curry and that gave me an idea. I grabbed some curry powder from the pantry and stirred some in. That gave it instant flavor and kick. If you want to try it, here’s what you need:

1 cup cooked quinoa (preferably not overcooked but doesn’t matter if it is)
Handful pine nuts
Handful pumpkin seeds
Tablespoon olive oil (probably use this first)

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Completely pointless visual of ingredients minus olive oil

Simply heat, stir, and eat. Cuz if a recipe is any harder than that, I’m not making it. Eat it alone or add some salmon with some kind of topping: this one has pita chips, walnuts, paprika, coconut sugar and olive oil along with some lemon zest, as well as cucumber and apples as a side…what can I say? I was pretending I was on Chopped and had to use weird ingredients.

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I know, don’t you wish you had some of that? It was actually delicious. I may be making this on a regular basis.