Carrots: Part II

No to toot my own horn, but I feel I’ve written a handful of moving and memorable blog posts these past five years. There was the August 2013 entry about embracing change. The October 2016 one on street harassment. The inaugural post in January 2012 that started it all.

But for all the thousands of words about hope and persistence and determination I’ve written on these pages, the blog post I get the most comments about — hands down — is this one on how to use up a surplus of carrots. #deepstuff

Don’t believe me? My 90-year-old grandmother (now hours from 91!) emailed the evening I published to propose a carrot, walnut and raisin slaw. I also got a blog comment praising juicing and another suggesting carrots may help regulate excess estrogen. The post even made its way into a me-themed Cards Against Humanity (er, “Hum-Anne-ity”) deck, designed by my thoughtful sister for my bachelorette party last November.

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(My maid of honor beats your maid of honor.)

I thought I’d said everything I had to say about orange roots in that original 2016 post. But just this week, I tried preparing carrots in a whole new way. I thought about keeping the news to myself, but who am I to deny the people what they want? So here’s another carrot recipe blog post, brought to you by everyone’s favorite vegetable.

This week, I made carrot pasta sauce. And DAMN it was delicious.

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And you know something so colorful has to be good for you.

I got the idea from my aunt on a recent 20-hour stopover in Rhode Island. She’s been making a tomato-free sauce this summer from a night-shade-free cookbook, and it sounded like a perfect way to use up the hundreds of thousands of pounds of CSA carrots (perhaps an exaggeration but I can’t be sure) sitting at the bottom of my fridge.

I didn’t follow a recipe, but I know enough about flavor combinations to build something delightful. First I sautéed onions in olive oil til translucent. Then I added several cups of coin-sized carrot slices. When the carrots started to soften, I threw in copious garlic, an ice-cube or two of frozen chicken broth, stems from a wilting parsley bunch, and plenty of salt and pepper to taste. I deglazed with rosé — because, you know, summer — and let everything cook through. I then moved the pot contents to a blender, added some starchy pasta water to thin it out, and blended until it was sauce consistency.

And then I tossed it with buckwheat noodles, roasted up some Italian sausage and fennel, and called it lunch. And, my god, it tasted so good. Who knew carrots were living a double life as secret pasta topping?

Kind of like Keira’s secret life as a personal-masseuse tester. It’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it.

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“A little to the left, please.”

How are you using carrots these days? To store your fine jewelry, perhaps?

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“Don’t Reward Yourself With Food: You Aren’t a Dog.” (Or are you?)

I could point fingers any number of directions, but I most blame my tendency to reward myself with food on Pizza Hut’s early 90s BOOK IT! reading program.

My fellow Millennials know the drill: you’d read five non-homework books a month, have an adult drive you to your local Pizza Hut franchise and collect a personal pan pizza to reward your extracurricular scholarship.

Of course, this wasn’t the only place I was rewarded for good behavior with delicious, pepperoni-topped calories. From infancy through college, I was subconsciously taught food is an appropriate payment for a job well-done, and I bet you were too:

  • Finish your dinner, get dessert
  • Visit the doctor, get a lollipop
  • Win the canned food drive, get a pizza party
  • Perform a successful Christmas concert as first-chair clarinet, go out for ice cream with your dad because first-chair clarinetists tended to have very few friends

(I’m just kidding. Even nerds have friends!)

Old habits die hard, and I find I still reach for consumables as reward well into my 30s. Made it through a tough workday? That calls for take-out. Took a hard yoga class? I deserve a bagel. Raced a 10k? Let’s get softserve.

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(To be fair, this was an ice-cream themed race, so they kind of forced it on it.)

Food-based rewards make sense when you’re training, say, your Bernese mountain dog to use stairs, but they aren’t the healthiest choice for someone trying to cut calories, rein in mindless eating or — mostly importantly for me — rewire an emotional attachment to food.

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Lu’s favorite reward: coffee, two sugars.

So this summer, I tried an experiment. I’ve been trying to break my 2 p.m. dark chocolate addiction for months years ever, but after six hours at my desk, I always feel I’ve “earned” my sugary (antioxidant-filled!) treat. So I hit up the bulk food section at my office, inhale a half cup of almondy goodness and then find myself wondering the rest of the workday whether that was really the best use of my calorie deficiency.

Looking to break the chains (#redrising) of sugar addiction, I decided to see if anything could overpower the pull of food as a reward. So I went to Runners World’s website, found a cool tank top I’d been eyeing for months, and ordered it for myself. And when it arrived in the mail, I did the unthinkable: I didn’t open it.

Instead, I told myself I could have the shirt if I went all June long without touching the almonds. And you know what? I did it! And it wasn’t even that hard. Knowing I had a reward — a non-food one — waiting for me if I pulled through, I was able to beat the craving and make it through the month. (Of course, July marked a massive backslide, but baby steps.)

A running shirt worked for me, but it might be a different non-food reward that inspires you to make a change. Maybe you promise yourself a massage after a month of marathon training, or a manicure if you eat all your veggies this week, or you buy yourself a bouquet of flowers for taking the stairs, or treat yourself to a bubble bath for a day without sugar. Find what works for you, and give it a try.

Who know? You might break a habit once and for all. And if you don’t, at least you’ll have a cool new tank!

 

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Running IS a natural high! Thanks, shirt!

How do you reward yourself without reaching for a New York slice?

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Runner’s High: An Elevation Guide

You know that sinking feeling when – despite thinking you’re in pretty good shape – you go for a quick little run and can barely catch your breath?

We’ve all been there: you lace up all excited, expecting to knock your workout out of the park, but then you find yourself huffing and puffing with muscles and lungs who clearly decided not to show up to practice.

At least for me, it’s disheartening, discouraging and downright demoralizing. (This sentence brought to you by the letter D.)

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Like me! The dog!

Well, that’s how I felt the last two weeks while vacationing with my siblings. I’d wake up early each morning to churn out a few easy miles with my brother, and within the first five minutes, find myself feigning a loose shoelace or side cramp in order to stop and catch my breath, which Simply. Couldn’t. Be. Caught.

So I was feeling pretty darned bad about myself and my clearly out-of-shape physique. But then we got back into wifi range and googled the elevation of our host country, and – guess what, folks: Mongolia is as high up in the sky as Denver. VINDICATION! (Also, surprise! I’ve been vacationing in the land of Genghis Khan. No big deal.)

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Doing my best Lt. Dan impression.

Why does Mongolia’s elevation matter, you ask? Because the drop in barometric pressure at high altitudes decreases the amount of oxygen intake in each breath, which in turn lowers the amount of oxygen making its way to your muscles, which in turn makes working out super-duper tough (I believe that’s the medical term).

So what’s one to do if you find yourself in high elevation with legs itching to exercise? Plenty! Without further ado, here’s my guide to working out at high elevations in Mongolia, which maaaaay be slightly less useful than my guides to hydrating during races or training in the cold or literally anything else I’ve ever published ever.

But you can also apply these tips to non-Mongol movement, so maybe not so niche after all. Here’s some tips for staying fit when flying high:

  • Choose quality over quantity. You may want to log the 10-miler on your schedule, but if you find yourself in high elevation without time to get acclimated, better to check your expectations. For example, my first morning in Ulaanbaatar, my brother and I warmed up and then ran sprints in Sukhbaatar Square. Speed work’s a great workout anyways, but because of the built-in recovery breaks, it let us catch our breaths before the next 50-meter dash.
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Not pictured: my empty lungs.

  • Stay hydrated. Evaporation occurs more quickly at higher altitudes (according to the internet – I have not independently factchecked this) so you’ll need to drink extra liquid to replenish what you lose. That’s doubly the case if you’re in the Gobi Desert. Might I recommend some freshly squeezed goat milk?
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I’d say no goats were harmed in the taking of this photo but, let’s be honest, that can’t feel so good.

  • Take frequent breaks. If you find yourself short of breath, stop and catch it. While it’s tempting to power through, it’s safer to take a few minutes and do some light stretching or yoga while your muscles get a chance to refill their oxygen stores. No one’s timing you.

 

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Taking a breather? Or staring longingly across the world in Ben’s direction?

  • Cross train instead. If running isn’t in the cards, there are plenty of other ways to keep fit while on the road. Do some body-weight squats and pushups, go for a hike, climb a mountain, dive into your ger headfirst when a dust storm hits, ride a camel. As long as you’re using your muscles in some shape or form, they won’t atrophy during a forced vacation from long runs. Trust me.
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Also trust me that camels don’t like when you scratch their butts and make them think it’s a fly. Tom.

So there you have it: how to vacation in Mongolia without letting all fitness go by the wayside.

That said, it’s vacation, and if all you want to do on vacation is hang up your running shoes, sit back and smoke a cigar, I’m certainly not gonna stop you.

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Christmas card?

Any more tips for running in high altitudes to share, friends?

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All Fun and Games

I’ve signed up for road races for a lot of good reasons (and probably some bad ones): for the chance to PR, for the opportunity to tackle a new distance, for the sake of peer pressure, for a free tech tank and the promise of an epic bagel spread.

But funnily enough, I not sure I’ve ever signed up for a race for that most basic of human motivators: for fun.

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“Did someone say fun?”

Without meaning to, I somehow turned every race in the last six years into something calculable and serious — and always with a goal in mind. Originally, it was to lose weight. Then it was to get faster. Then it was to tackle 26.2 miles. Again and again and again. Oftentimes the races ended up being fun, but that was never the primary objective.

In racing, I always had a different target in mind, which isn’t necessarily a bad way to live, since it kept me motivated and accountable. But it didn’t allow for a lot of leeway. After meeting goal after goal for several seasons in a row, I erroneously came to believe I’d get faster forever, so when I had my first real terrible race, it was downright devastating.

With that win-or-don’t-try attitude, it’s no surprise that my last marathon was, well, my last one.

If I’m really honest with myself, that’s one of the reasons I’ve put racing on the backburner: I’m too busy with work and life and dog-ownership to run consistently, and as I get less and less fit, I know it would be too disappointing to attempt a race and come in at the bottom of the pack. I realize that’s not a very positive attitude, but I’m human.

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And part dog, most likely.

So I packed up my shoes after the NYC Half in March and barely ran a block for a month. I even heard a family member at Easter tell people I was “retired” and didn’t correct them.

But that next week while dusting my huge collection of race medals doing something normal, it hit me: while everyone in my life knows I’m a runner, not a single person knows — or cares about — my times. And while I may not like seeing my speed slow, I LOVE collecting race swag and high-fiving spectators and using my last ounce of oomph to sprint to the finish line. Slowing down shouldn’t mean giving up.

So I did something I’ve never done before: I signed up for a 5K with a friend exclusively for fun. And it was perfect. Instead of spending the whole time calculating my splits or weaving past the walkers, we spent a delightful 25 minutes and 59 seconds chatting and enjoying the Brooklyn scenery and not caring for one second (ok, maybe for one second) that I wasn’t going to beat my 23:58 PR. I was sweating and smiling and justifying the bagel I was about to inhale, and that was enough.

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CHAMPIONS! ish

Who knew running for fun could be so rewarding? (Especially when the rewards come in the form of ice-cream cones, like at this ice-cream social 10K happening in NYC in July.) Fun run, anyone?

Speaking of doing things just for fun, that’s probably a good practice to apply to other areas of your life, too. Bake a plum tart just for fun. Take an acro yoga class just for fun. Dress your dog in people clothes just for fun.

Or if you’re my friend from the road race, write a super impressive Nationals fight song just for fun. And maybe, dear readers, forward it to your friend who plays the baseball organ at the stadium just for fun. #letsmakedavyfamous

The world is a stinky place these days. Let’s all have more fun together. 

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With a Ten-Foot Pole

There are few sports that elicit more awe in me than the parallel bars at the summer Olympics. As gymnasts combat gravity to fling themselves around the horizontal poles and through the air, it’s immediately clear how strong and flexible and coordinated they are, and no one would doubt for a second that they’re athletes.

So when a friend asked me to join her at a parallel-bar fitness class earlier this month, why did I find myself scoffing that it was hardly a sport?

Oh, that’s right: because these bars were vertical, not horizontal. Or let me put it another way: because this was a pole-dancing workout class. And pole-dancing — a practice many associate with seedy bars and dollar bills — sure didn’t sound like an athletic pastime to me.

My aching muscles the following day begged to differ, but we’ll get there.

For those of you not in the know, like me just a few short weeks ago, pole dancing comes in three forms: sexy (i.e. strippers), artsy (i.e. Cirque du Soleil) and sport (i.e. me!) Pole-dancing — or “pole” as die-hards call it — requires a dancer to support and control her own bodyweight while hanging from, climbing up or spinning around a metal support, and believe you me, it’s not as easy as it looks.

This isn’t the kind of workout I’d usually seek out, but I’m trying to exercise more socially to maximize the day’s short hours, so when a friend found a 2-pack Groupon in Koreatown, I couldn’t say no. We booked our sessions, donned our least sexy workout gear and showed up at Femme Body Fitness on a recent Friday evening for our first pole-dancing class.

And it was nearly my last: I stepped into the studio and came face-to-face with this wall of rentable stilettos, and almost hightailed it right out of there.

 

These aren’t Asics.

 

But the front-desk lady said those are for the more advanced classes and assured me socks or bare feet were fine. So I swallowed my pride, headed onto the dimly lit dance floor, snagged an empty spot as close to the corner as possible and started plotting the demise of my friend who talked me into this mess stretching.

The hour-long session was broken down into three sections: a mat-based warmup that was basically a mini yoga class, 40 minutes of learning and practicing different tricks (like jumping up and holding onto the pole with your thighs like a monkey, or spinning around with one leg up like a firefighter looking to impress) and a final “free-style” dance session with the overhead lights completely off and the disco ball on.

When I first heard we’d be ending with a dance party, I planned to duck out early — there was no way I’d be celebrating what I expected to be the most embarrassing workout of my life. But after nearly an hour of gripping and sweating and spinning — and even trying an inversion with the help of the instructor — I felt surprisingly confident. So I used the final song as a chance to try all my moves in sequence, and it was off-rhythm and messy and unpolished and … well … kind of fun.

 

Rogan’s a natural.

 

It was also a killer workout. I’ve been sore before, but my back and shoulders have never ached like they did the day after this workout class. Aerial fitness is no joke, even if this same studio teaches “twerking classes” on Tuesdays.

But you know what the best thing about the class was? It was full of women of all body types, and some of the curviest were hands-down the strongest. We get force fed this idea that skinny is fit, but watching these women of all shapes and sizes flip and spin and defy gravity in a way I couldn’t even comprehend was a welcome wake-up call: I can be strong even without six-pack abs.

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Hanging in there.

I don’t think I’ll be signing up for any more of these classes anytime soon, but I did go back for my second Groupon session, so I think I’ll call that a success in stepping (spinning?) out of my comfort zone.

Would you try pole dancing as a workout?

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Surprise! It’s Bike to Work Day

Do you value your safety and personal well-being? No? Well then, have I got a holiday for you:

Today’s National Bike to Work Day!

Situated smack in the middle of National Bike to Work Month, today’s holiday is meant to raise awareness about the soaring numbers of bike commuters choosing to forgo the carpool or subway for their own two wheels — and living to tell the tale.

According to the League of American Bicyclists — which is consequently a super cool band name — 40 percent of all car trips in the U.S. are less than two miles long, meaning trading your classic combustion engine for a human-powered bike is a reasonable alternative. It’s emission-free, cheap and healthy, and swapping your car for a cycle ride from time to time can be a little way to make a big difference to both your fitness and the environment.

With all this in mind, I decided earlier this month to put my fears behind me and try my very first bike-to-work commute. And, believe you me, I learned some things in the process. If you’re thinking about joining the ranks of office-bound cyclists today, here are some helpful tips from someone who learned a few things the hard way:

  • Do a trial run. I didn’t get a lot of things about bike commuting right, but I DID have the foresight to practice on a Saturday to make sure the bike lanes connected where I thought they did. Turns out though Saturday mornings in Manhattan offer much emptier roads than weekday rush hour, so the trial run wasn’t a true stand-in, but at least I got a feel for it on a day I wasn’t racing in to punch the clock.
  • Wear bike-friendly clothing. The day you choose to bike to work is not a morning to test out your new pencil skirt. If you have a long commute and somewhere to shower/change, I’d recommend workout clothes. My commute was less than two miles, so I wore regular work pants and a t-shirt I could swap out for a more business-casual shirt in the newsroom bathroom. I probably should have packed wet-wipes, too, but I’m a gross colleague.
  • Choose a cycle-friendly bag. If you lug around as much stuff as I do (i.e. lunch, back-up shoes, seven pounds of stray Bernese Mountain Dog hair that somehow sticks to everything I own), you’ll want to swap our your normal purse for a cross-body bag or backpack that’s easy to wield on a cycle.
  • Roll up a pant leg. I don’t quite understand the science of this, but seems all the cool kids do it.
  • Wear a helmet. Even if your route has bike lanes, cars are going to be going out of their way to kill you, at least in my experience. Watch for both right turns into your lane and absent-minded drivers flinging open their doors into your path. Practice ringing your bike bell while simultaneously yelling “hey a$$hole, I’m biking here!”
  • Check the weather. I chose what I though was a beautiful morning to bike-commute to work for the first time. Turns out, I should have given this little cloud cover a little more thought.

It started pouring when I was halfway in, and I arrived at work semi-drenched — but at least I had a dry shirt in my bag. And I’m fortunate enough to have a secure indoor spot to store my bike, so I chose to leave it at work overnight and ride it home the next day when the storm had passed. So technically I biked only to work that day, not from it, but that’s what I call baby steps.

Speaking of baby steps, look who got brave enough to enter our (very scary!) back porch this past weekend … before leaping into my lap in terror at the sound of the wind blowing.

Baby steps.


Are you biking to work today?

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Songs of Good Cheer

News flash: On Saturday morning, I won the Rhinebeck Hudson Valley Half Marathon.

Don’t misunderstand me: I didn’t run it or anything. But I stood on my front stoop in the rain, blasted Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind,” called affirmations to every athlete passing by and — most importantly — had the best-looking sidekick this side of Poughkeepsie. I think we can all agree that’s #winning.

Best friends always color coordinate. 


I hadn’t expected to enjoy myself so much spectating the event. In fact, just three weeks before, I’d cursed that very same race when I realized 1. It was passing right by my house and 2. I wasn’t in good enough shape to join it.

I’ve largely let running go by the wayside since the NYC Half Marathon in March, and while I usually pride myself in being able to churn out a sub-2 half with little to no extra training, I knew deep in my soul I wasn’t in good enough shape to finish this weekend’s race and feel good doing it.

Actually, for a brief minute, I tricked myself into thinking I could: I pictured hustling back into shape, wrote down actual workouts in my google calendar, devised ways to replace rest days with extra long runs, and ran an impromptu seven-miler after a month on the couch just to show myself I still had it.

And — ooooh — the punishment shin splints have been relentless. Never go from zero to seven, people, NEVER.

So I quickly scrapped that plan (and have been wearing sneakers every day since waiting for the shin pain to subside…) and decided to reimagine myself cheering alongside the race course instead.

And I’m so glad I did. I’m not sure about the other 13.1 miles (or 26.2 miles for the simultaneous full), but I was the only spectator as far as the eye could see on my stretch of road. And having been on the other side, I know just how good a “looking good, runner!” can feel when you’re powering up a hill in the rain counting down the miles til the finish line.

Plus a bernese wrapped in a beach towel makes everyone laugh.

“I could catch you if I wanted to.”


So what did I learn this past weekend? That cheering at a race can be just as fun as running one, without any of the pesky recovery time. And that telling an environmentally friendly runner she can toss her empty gel in your yard elicits so much gratitude. And that Lucille and I wear the same size raincoat but she refuses to be seen outside in it.

“Mom, you’re embarrassing me.”


But most of all, Saturday taught me when the area’s October half marathon rolls through town, I’m gonna be ready this time. Don’t believe me? I already registered.

Who’s with me?

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