Race Report: Pints to Pasta 10k (The one in which I surprise myself)

I surprised myself this weekend.  I ran the Pints to Pasta 10k on Sunday and managed to pull out a much better performance than I had anticipated.

Kudos to anyone who recognizes what my tattoo is.

Looking serious before the start. Kudos to anyone who recognizes what my tattoo is.

I say that because I have not been ‘officially’ training for this race.  I’ve been focusing very specifically on building my weekly mileage at the expense of any real speedwork or fine-tuning for any performance peak.  I plan to add more variety (including speedwork) back to my training techniques once I’m comfortable averaging right around 40-43 miles per week on a consistent basis.  I signed up for this 10k knowing full well that was my plan and, as such, I expected that my pace would be slow, but I still wanted to participate in the event regardless.

But, I repeat, I surprised myself.  I ended up finishing several minutes faster than I expected and even had (what I consider to be) a decent showing in the final rankings.  Here’s how it fleshed out:

  • Finish Time:  50:44
  • Average Pace:  8:10
  • Overall Finish: 299 out of 1738
  • Age/Gender Group Finish:  18 out of 203
Reuniting with Mr. Move Eat Create after the finish.

Reuniting with Mr. Move Eat Create after the finish.

This was my first 10k race, since I jumped right from 5ks to half-marathons and then the full marathon in my running, and I will say that I was pleased to see how much I enjoyed racing this distance.  The route was quite enjoyable, too.  We started in North Portland, headed South, crossed the Broadway Bridge, and then headed further South along the waterfront.

Yes, that’s right, we crossed a bridge.  This is another reason that I surprised myself.

Let me explain.

I am TERRIFIED of water and, by extension, bridges.  While various things may freak me out to some extent, this is my major fear.  I don’t know how to swim (no triathlons in my future!) and deep water really unnerves me.  I cross the various Portland bridges by car or bus almost every day to commute across town, but crossing one on foot felt even scarier to me.  I was definitely intimidated by the prospect, but decided to look at it as another challenge to conquer.  I even managed for a short time to look out over the side of the bridge at the Willamette River below without getting overwhelmed by the watery aisle of terror and death that flowed beneath my feet, and without hesitating in my stride one bit.

Shannon = 1, Scary Water = 0

Fun Morning!

Fun morning!

Another thing that stands out for me about this race was my prowess on hill inclines.  Now, this race was not very hilly at all, but where hills did exist, I was quite happy with how I took them.  I managed to gain some solid momentum on the elevation increases and passed quite a few other runners in those key spots.  Living in a hilly neighborhood is paying off!

Overall, this 10k was a big win for me.  Beautiful day, fun course, and to top it all off, with today’s race I have now logged over 1000 miles for the year

Not bad.

Hip Health For Runners: Exercises to Keep You Strong and Improve Your Stride

Happy Friday!

Guess what?

I’ve got a guest post up over at Herbivore Triathlete.  Herbivore Triathlete is an incredibly useful and engaging blog run by Anna (vegan triathlete extraordinaire).  I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to guest post there while she’s off enjoying a vacation with her family.

Please go check it out here and read about my tips on how to keep your runner’s body healthy and happy by maintaining strong, flexible hips.

About That Going Gluten-Free Thing . . . 9 Observations From A Newly Diagnosed Gluten-Sensitive Eater

Oh, gluten.  What a troublesome thing you can be.

I’ve been living without gluten in my life for just over six weeks now and it has most definitely been a roller coaster of experiences and emotions.

I wanted to wait a while before talking about my experience because I thought it would be worthwhile to have a bit of actual perspective since getting my initial diagnosis, as well as some solid experience in my post-gluten life.

So, I think it’s time to check in now on how this has all gone down.

Finding out that I was gluten-intolerant and that gluten was likely the cause of many unpleasant, uncomfortable, and downright painful physical experiences I had been having was somewhat tragic for me.  I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that I was a total gluten-loving person.  My days weren’t complete without pasta, whole wheat breads, tortillas, multigrain pancakes, spelt-filled breakfast pastries, and so on.  I never imagined that gluten intolerance was an underlying cause of my issues and coming to terms with this has not been easy.

It has, though, been enlightening.  I’m had a lot of ups and downs during the last six weeks.  Here are the some of the highs and lows:

1.  First and foremost, going gluten free is hard

Emotionally, it sort of totally knocked me down for a week or two.  I knew I wouldn’t like it, of course, but I wasn’t prepared for the incredible depression it would bring for a couple of weeks.  I almost lost it in a market after spending hours trying to find foods that I could eat (besides fruits and vegetables – that part is easy).

Thank goodness for fruits and vegetables.

Thank goodness for fruits and vegetables.

For me, also having to eliminate other ingredients that tend to be key ingredients in many gluten free prepared foods (garbanzo flour, almonds/almond flour, and yeast, most specifically) was especially disheartening.  I’d pick an item up, read the label, and promptly put it back.  After doing this a few dozen times, it is easy to get overwhelmed.  Watching others order, buy, and eat food freely is disheartening.  Throwing out food you love from your kitchen is frustrating.  Having physical and emotional cravings that, if fulfilled at all, will make you sick is sad.

Plus, there are withdrawal symptoms.  The body aches I experienced were totally unexpected and caught me very much by surprise.  Fortunately, they didn’t last too long.

I’ve gotten better at dealing with all of this, for sure, but in the beginning it is especially hard.  No doubt about it.

2.  Going gluten free is expensive. 

People can offer all the money-saving tips they want.  They’re useful, absolutely, but when you’re staring at an aisle full of regular and whole wheat pasta that costs $1.99 for 16 oz and a couple of gluten-free boxes of pasta that cost $3.99 for 8 or 12 oz, there’s no denying this.  Beyond produce, specialty gluten free items are going to make a hefty dent in your budget.

3.  Gluten free baking is a bit insane.

I don’t know how else to describe it.  I will be totally honest that I have completely lost my baking mojo.  Gluten free flours are tricky (an understatement) and for those who simply think that using a gluten free all purpose mix will do the job – that’s not always true.  It is an entirely new world – one that I have been absolutely intimidated by.

But I miss baking.  Quite a lot.

I’m gathering the courage to dive back into this soon.

Gluten free baking. I will figure this out eventually.

Gluten free baking.
I will figure this out eventually.

4.  Sometimes, other people may find you annoying – and you just have to learn to be okay with that. 

I feel obnoxious when I’m in a restaurant or bakery and I’m asking a million questions about ingredients.  When servers tiredly try to find the answers or those in line behind me get antsy waiting for their turn at the counter, I feel like a schmuck.  And yet, I’m still not always asking all the questions that I should be.  The reality is, though, that gluten free folks aren’t just driven by false paranoia.  Gluten really does lurk nearly everywhere and even a small amount may make you sick.

I have learned this the hard way.  The painful, miserable hard way.

5.  Sometimes, I will find other people annoying.  So annoying that I want to scream at them in a manner that is quite out of my usual civil and polite character.

The rise of gluten free living has resulted in quite a bit of backlash.  I didn’t realize how much until I found myself as a gluten-free person (isn’t that always the case?).  But, let me tell you, people hate gluten free folks.  Not all people, of course, but a lot of them.  I’ve noticed dismissive jokes on television and film.  Articles claiming that no one needs to be gluten free because it’s all made up.  Restaurants mocking the issue (“Our water is gluten-free!”).  And I’ve overheard way too many snide remarks by others (this is more common than you may think).

It’s a bit infuriating, all of this, because underneath much of it lies an assumption that people are choosing to go gluten free solely to participate in some trend – that it is not an actual need or issue.  Let me tell you, those of us who have to do this for health reasons would not likely choose to do this if it wasn’t necessary.  We do it because it makes a significant difference in our health.  Otherwise, we’d still be enjoying our bagels and pizza.

6.  All of the above has been worth it because going gluten free has made a real difference for me. 

Since cutting the gluten (and eliminating or reducing the other foods that were supplemental irritants to my system), I have experienced the following:

  • All kinds of less stomach/intestinal discomfort (This encompasses so much.)
  • Dramatically fewer migraines (I was having severe headaches and migraines about 5 days a week.  In the last 6 weeks, I have had 2 major headaches and 3 minor ones that went away quickly.
  • Less body/joint pain
  • Significantly lower levels of anxiety/stress.  Did you know that 85%-90% of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that is key in the management of such issues) is produced in your gut?  And that if your gut is not healthy, anxiety and/or depression may result?  I didn’t.  But I do now and the evidence of this in my personal experience has been pretty profound.
  • Higher energy levels, less chronic fatigue
  • Fewer allergy and sinus issues
  • Less chronic thirst and dehydration
  • Clearer, visibly healthier skin
  • Increased mental clarity & focus (i.e. less ‘brain fog’)

This list is no joke.  I know that I am still early in the healing process and things are likely to continue to improve further.  Already noticing these changes has made me very hopeful for where I might be even further down the road.

7.  Celiacs and gluten-sensitive people are by and large amazing, welcoming people.

For each of the people who have been frustrating and hurtful to me (see #5 above), there is someone who is incredibly kind.  These are people who ‘get it’; those that truly understand how difficult this is to deal with and who are ready to help with tips, consoling words, and bundles of patience for all the questions that come up.  I am so appreciative of these folks.

8.  I am really fortunate to live in Portland, OR.

One of PDX's wonderful gluten free bakeries.

One of PDX’s wonderful gluten free bakeries.

I love my city for a vast variety of reasons and this is one of the newest.  As limited as my dining out world has become, I know that I have significantly more options by virtue of living where I do.  Portland is incredibly friendly for the gluten free crowd, as well as for those of us who are also vegetarian or vegan.  We have a few dedicated gluten free bakeries and restaurants and many others that are pretty aware and helpful in creating gluten free options.  I only hope this continues to spread to other areas so that my fellow gluten-free eaters in other parts of the country can be so lucky!

Thank you, Portland.

9.  It does get easier.

While I do not deny the reality of observation #1 above, I can also say that it does get less difficult over time.  As I learn and experiment, it does get a bit easier.  As my body adapts and gets further away from the memories of almond butter spread onto a good, thick, toasted bagel it does hurt a little less.  I’m adapting and adjusting and will continue to do so because that’s what people do.

(Though I do really miss that bagel.)

Foodie Firsts: Drinking Vinegars

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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I’ve been curious about the concept of drinking vinegar since I first spotted a bottle last year.  Given that it’s nearly July, it clearly took me a while to get around to actually trying some.  If you all only knew how many random things I have in my head that I want to try at any given time (things to cook, eat, write, learn, do, read about, etc), you’d understand the delay.

Long delay aside, this week was the week for drinking vinegars.

Exciting, right??

Yeah???

Let’s get crazy.

Pok Pok - edited

Because, honestly, drinking vinegars are a bit crazy if you ask me.  I love vinegar, but the concept of sipping on the stuff, as opposed to enjoying it on my vegetables or in a sauce, seems a bit mad.

The practice of drinking vinegar goes way back.  There are many reported health benefits of vinegar, including detoxification, better digestion, and the delivery of microbial properties to ward off illness, so you can see the potential allure.  Now, many folks choose to simply drink straight apple cider vinegar as part of their regular routine, but the trend of late in the foodie and bar scene has been to experience specially made and flavored drinking vinegars, also called shrubs.  Such drinking vinegars can be tossed back on their own, added to other beverages to make both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, or used to dress a salad, for instance.

For my little foray into this food scene, I tested four distinct flavors of drinking vinegar from two different makers.

Bragg makes several varieties that are affordable and fairly easy to find.  I decided to pick up apple-cinnamon, apple cider vinegar and honey, and concord grape-acai.  Then, I splurged on a fancy, artisanal bottle of raspberry drinking vinegar made locally by (now nationally famous) chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok.

bottles on table 3 - edited

First up: a simple sampling.  I wanted to taste each one on its own accord, without influence of other flavors or ingredients.  I’ve got to say, it was more of a pleasant experience than I originally thought it might be.  I was worried the flavors would be too harsh and acidic, but enjoyed the sampling more than I had anticipated.  Here are my thoughts on each flavor:

  1. Apple-Cinnamon – I found this one to be mellow and smooth and very far from what traditional vinegar tastes like.  My instant thought with this one was:  “I don’t really want to drink this, but I totally want to bake with it.”
  2. Apple Cider & Honey – The honey flavor in this was strong and hit me from the second the vinegar touched my tongue.  If you’re a fan of honey, jump on this one.  This also wasn’t one I really wanted to drink alone, but again baking comes to mind (maybe I just really need some muffins right now).  As far as drinking though, I think this would be quite nice for a sore throat – you know the whole honey thing?  Seems appropriate to me for some reason.
  3. Concord Grape-Acai – This was tasty!  Totally reminiscent of grape juice or long lost memories of grape kool-aid (yep, I drank that as a kid).  The flavor was strong and sweet, but not overpowering.  My mind went instantly to a tumbler filled with ice, this vinegar, seltzer water and dry gin or vodka.  Maybe with a squeeze of lemon.  Modern gin and juice, anyone?
  4. Raspberry – Sharp, tart, thick on the tongue, undercut with a sweetness.  I think this is my favorite.  I could down this alone (though in small amounts – it is strong) or dress some spinach with it.  And I most definitely could turn this into a terrific mixed drink.  I bet it would not only taste fantastic, but would be a beautiful cocktail to sip on a warm night.

Next, I tried dressing my nightly salad with a few splashes of the apple cider & honey flavor.  I also drizzled a small amount of hazelnut oil on this salad, with (of course) salt and pepper.  I really loved this combination.  I was pleased by the contrast of the nuttiness from the hazelnut oil with the slight sweet, yet tart, flavor brought by the vinegar.  Not bad.  Not bad at all. I will say my dining companion used olive oil combined with the concord grape-acai vinegar and felt the vinegar got a bit lost, so you may need to play around with the ratios of these ingredients to get it right for you.

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  I definitely think mixed drinks are a way to go here and there are infinite combinations that could be made (for some cordial glasses 3 - editedinspiration, check out this article).  I also suspect that these flavors would be great in sauces and in baking.  I’m thinking of using the apple cinnamon when making muffins or an apple spice cake, for instance.  And, the raspberry seems to be screaming to be heated into a sauce (maybe with some lemon juice or rich sweetener, like dates) for pouring over a (raw, vegan) cheesecake or (non-dairy) ice cream.  I’m totally intrigued by the possibilities.

Lessons Learned:  This is a simple one for me this week: Don’t judge a book by its cover, or more accurately, don’t judge an ingredient by its name.  Just the word vinegar sounds tart, maybe sour, definitely acidic and sharp.  But these drinking vinegars carried a whole range of complex flavors – sweet, smooth, bold, tangy.  I was surprised by this week’s food adventure and was forced to think of something so commonly understood in one way as something totally new, and isn’t that what this is all about?

Newport Marathon Race Recap (i.e. I Did It!)

Is there any other feeling quite like crossing the finish line at your first marathon??

Not that I’ve ever experienced.

Me nearing finish 6 - edited

Months of training, hundreds of miles, and hours of mental and physical effort finally peaked for me this past weekend at the Newport Marathon.  And though I was seriously having some pre-race jitters in the 24 hours before the start, I am incredibly proud to say that I did it!  Not only can I say that I did it, but I am pleased with how I performed, so even better.  Before I get into some of the details of the event, here are my final numbers:

  • Finish Time: 4:08:28
  • Overall Place: 384 out of 751
  • Division Place: 36 out of 77
  • Gender Place: 154 out of 385

I had hoped going in that I could finish under 4:15:00 for my first marathon, so I am thrilled that I beat that by several minutes!  I would love to get myself to a sub-4 hour performance, but there is time for that, right?  One thing at a time.

Start Sign - edited

I was definitely nervous going in, though those nerves didn’t really kick in until the night before.  I actually did better then I had expected during my final taper week (though I still didn’t enjoy tapering one bit), but by the time I went to pick up my race packet the night before the marathon, I was all over the map.  I was excited, anxious, doubtful and confident all at the same time (yes, that is possible).  One thing that helped with my nerves was the fact that the race was really well organized.  The packet pick-up was smooth; there was a shuttle the morning of the race that stopped at all the popular hotels, picking up runners and spectators to take them to the start line, and the race started promptly.  All excellent things so kudos to the race director!

The course was beautiful.  Even for someone like me who is TERRIFIED of the ocean and deep water in general, it was gorgeous.   We started out with the first few miles running through the city, then headed down by the ocean and along the bay.  The views were definitely a plus – sparkling water to one side, lush trees to the other, with a smattering of homes, shops, and ocean-front businesses along the way.  The locals were also amazing – many of whom set up outside their homes to cheer everyone on.  To top it all off, the weather was pretty much PERFECT.  After a week or more of cold, constant rain pounding the Pacific Northwest, all was well.  The sun was out, the wind was calm, and temps were moderate.

So, with all of that good energy, how could I not be set up for success, right?

Me waving - edited

At the start, I was eager to go, but still a bit nervous.  But, I settled into a rhythm that I carried pretty well for well over the first half of the race.  I felt good.  I felt loose and strong.  I remember at one point, around mile 13, thinking: This is great!  Maybe it won’t hurt after all!

Oh, that’s funny to think about.  Sometimes I’m just silly.

Anyway, the majority of the way things were really solid and I was pleased with my pace.  I certainly started to notice some pain, though, and realized the error of my earlier thinking.  My left hip and lower back began to ache around mile 18 or so.  It grew steadily until the end of the race and during miles 22-25, I honestly was in quite a bit of discomfort.  My pace slowed significantly (though I never once stopped running).  At that point, though, it was close enough to the end where I could just focus on each individual mile.  I celebrated every little blue mile marker I passed.  When I strode by mile 25, I was thrilled.  That last 1.2 miles was actually pretty amazing.  Knowing that I was that close to finishing, the pain I felt became irrelevant.  I was able to pick back up my speed somewhat and finish with a surge.

Finishing a race with a surge feels GREAT.

Me with medal 3 - edited

When I crossed the finish line I was certainly tired and sore, but I was also thrilled.  I have some great moments in my life, don’t get me wrong, but the feeling of that moment is uniquely special to me.  And it reminds me of how very important running has become to my life.

I’m already thinking about my next races and my future marathons.  I never doubted wanting to run the race or wanting to run the next one.  I knew even in those moments of pain and fatigue that I was ready to do it again.

And again.

And again.

And So The Taper Begins . . .

Newport is now less than two weeks away.  So I am officially tapering.  I’ve read many runners write about their experiences with tapering.  Some enjoy the rest and some feel like they’re going mad.

newportI’m more in the latter category for sure.  The funny (and by funny I mean anxiety inducing, awful, & crummy) thing is that tapering right now at this very time while still dealing with the new life changes I implemented last week due to health issues (which, trust me, has NOT been easy).

I’m a wee bit stressed.

But . . . it’ll be okay.  It will.

I know it will be okay because I am also incredibly excited and somewhat amazed at how quickly the past 18 weeks of training have gone by.  I know logically that I have trained and prepared as best as I could have and now it’s just up to me to deliver on what I’ve been training for.  I will try my best to keep that logic present with me for the next two weeks.

I received an updated confirmation email from the Newport race director last week with my bib number.  So it’s official that on June 1st, I will be runner #379, looking to finish my first marathon.  While I know anything can happen, I will say that I have confidence in myself.

For once.

It’s nice.

Go me.