A Most Violent Year

I was signed up for the Run10Feed10 10K race on the West Side Highway this morning, and if I’m completely honest, I knew as a crawled into bed at 8:30 p.m. there was already a slight chance I wouldn’t make it to the starting line.

There would have been lots of plausible excuses to justify skipping the event:

  1. The 7 a.m. race start on the far side of Manhattan meant I had to be up and ready to go by 5:30 a.m.
  2. The weather was forecast to be muggy and wet.
  3. My training schedule wanted me to run 8 miles so I was going to have to tack on two brutal extra post-race.
  4. My fiancé was at his bachelor party so I had the entire glorious bed to myself.
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Dramatic re-enactment.

Still, the night before I pinned on my bib, laid out my race gear, charged my watch and tucked myself in at an ungodly early hour, prepared to rise with the sun (or an hour before it, no big deal) and complete a fun race with world-famous swag that I’ve been looking forward to for weeks.

I was up at 5 a.m. and, like the Millennial I am, checked social media before my feet even touched the ground. And that’s when I saw it: a friend had posted that she’d been a block from the explosion and was alerting everyone that she was ok.

My mind started racing. What explosion? What had happened in my city between the hours I stopped looking at my phone Saturday night to when I awoke to my alarm Sunday morning? In this terrible 2016 where bad things never seem to stop, what was it this time?

I quickly found out, as you all now know too, that it was a homemade bomb that detonated on Saturday night in western Manhattan, injuring 29 and fortunately killing no one. A second device was located and removed several blocks away. This came on the heels of a different explosion along a racecourse of a 5K charity event in New Jersey earlier that day. I realize it’s what the people who commit these acts of violence want, but I can’t lie: These three events together had me wondering if I should really be leaving the relative safety of my Queens apartment and heading toward the direction of the previous night’s horror. It was only 5:30 in the morning, but I was already spooked. Terror, 1; Anne, 0.

I nervously messaged a runner friend who was racing the much more impressive Marathon Tune-Up in Central Park that morning, and she said she wasn’t backing out. In fact, the New York Road Runners, who put on that grueling 18-mile event, had already put a notice on their website overnight announcing the race was still on and that security would be on high alert. As much as I lambaste the Road Runners for their crowded race courses, they certainly know how to calm their runners’ nerves in challenging times.

But I wasn’t running that race. I was running a race put on by … Macy’s and Women’s Health magazine? And my event’s organizers didn’t feel the need to reach out to participants to let them know if the previous night’s events – which transpired just a neighborhood away from the race start – meant anything had changed. Like was the race still on? Were they canceling bag check? Were trains and buses to the starting line still operating? Would there still be powerbars at the finish line or had the terrorists ruined snack time, too?

I went to the Run10Feed10 website – and found nothing. I checked to see if they’d e-mailed race participants – and saw nothing. I took my questions to Twitter – nothing.

At this point, it wasn’t so much fear of further acts of violence so much as fear that I’d travel all the way to Pier 84 to find out the race had been delayed or postponed and no one bothered telling me. I didn’t need coddling post-explosion but I needed information, and I didn’t feel like the race organizers were giving it. So I did something I’ve only done once before – I untied my running shoes and crawled back into bed. In today’s race, I wasn’t even a DNF. I was a DNS. #shame

When I awoke again at 8 a.m., I saw that the race had, in fact, gone off without a hitch, and later saw the organizers did finally announce on Twitter 39 minutes before the starting gun that the race was still on – thought that wouldn’t have been enough time for me or hundreds of other Long Island runners to make it in. Hear, hear, Jess PhD!

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So instead of vying for a new PR today, I slept in, made some coffee, ate breakfast, and turned on the news: where I immediately encountered a former FBI agent telling New Yorkers the best way they could respond to the explosion was to keep living their lives: whether that’s going to a movie, walking the dog or going for a run. Alright, TV man, I said: I won’t hide out here all day.

So I laced back up – number and all – and went out for my 8 miles.

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And they were glorious, humidity and all. You know why? Because this city is glorious, and its running paths are glorious, and its water fountains are glorious and its resilience is glorious. I may not have made it to my 10K race today, but not because I’m giving in. We New Yorkers never give in.

How did you celebrate NYC this morning?

 

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Digging Deep: How to Use Up Ten Million Carrots

Summer 2014 brought a lot of new things. Ben and I moved in together. A pope visited Asia for the first time in 25 years. My poor niece was forced to take the Ice Bucket Challenge against her will. 

But that summer also opened my eyes to something significant culinarily: the brilliance of the carrot.

Growing up in the suburban 1980s, carrots were a vegetable only served steamed with a dollop of butter and dill or as part of a frozen vegetable medley, often still frozen. Then baby carrots came onto the scene in the early 90s, and carrots had another avenue into my mouth: doused in Hidden Valley Ranch. Throw in the occasional carrot cake for my dad’s birthday, and those were literally the only ways I ever consumed carrots from 1985-2014.

But then in summer 2014, I experienced something glorious. While dining out at Bobby Flay’s Spanish restaurant Gato with a visiting friend, I ordered the charred carrots in a bold piquillo pesto, and my relationship with the orangest root vegetable was transformed. 

I realized that for all those years, I had been eating carrots wrong. They weren’t best experienced as a token raw crunch or as an obligatory floating mass in a chicken noodle soup — they were made to be roasted. And so I started roasting them, and in mass quantities. I experimented with a lot of combinations, but my favorite was an homage to ol’ Bobby himself: tossed in olive oil and sea salt, roasted at a high temp until nearly blackened, tossed with pesto and adorned with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Pure bliss. 

 
In the two years since, I’ve upped my carrot intake exponentially and was always excited to open my CSA to find a handful of them… That is, until they stared arriving in the bucketful. I pride myself in being able to finish a whole CSA delivery in its entirely before the next one arrives, but this past week, I failed miserably — at it was all the carrots’ fault. 

Seriously. So. Many. Carrots. I almost asked Ben to take an American Beauty-style photo of me covered in strategically-placed carrots, but I realized that might be weird. So here they are laid out on my kitchen table instead. You know you still like them, Kevin Spacey.

I tried my old tricks — roasting, eating them raw — but there were just too many. So I had to get creative. 

First, I folded them into mac and cheese via this recipe for a dish that I found satisfying but that Ben said could have done without the carrots. Fair enough. 

 
Then I puréed them into soup, following this recipe but adding a whole can of coconut milk and significantly more hot sauce. I also used unsalted almond butter instead of peanut butter, which may have been a big mistake considering how much I had to season it after. Still, turned out pretty decent. 

But after all that, I still find myself with an ungodly number of carrots left. How, carrots, HOW?!

I stumbled across this gluten-free carrot flatbread recipe in a Cooking Light last night, but there’s no way fake bread actually tastes good, right? Any other ideas for mass carrot usage? Or should I just use this as an excuse to make a carrot cake? Dessert: the delicious solution. 

I’m open to suggestions here folks! Unless you’re Facebook, in which case your suggestions are terrible. Just take a look at the slideshow they tried to make me create and post on Sunday morning. 

An epic carrot night out indeed. Great insight, Facebook. 

What would you make?

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Wedding Planning’s the New Marathon

Whenever I catch up with friends and family this year, I’m asked one of the following questions:

  • How is wedding planning going?
  • Are you and Ben liking the new Queens apartment?
  • Why did your dog move to Hawaii without you?
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The Big Reveal: She’s not my dog.

And then there’s the follow-up question everyone who reads this blog inevitably asks next: Will you be running a marathon this year?

My standard response, while a bit canned, has gone a little something like this: “I’m planning a wedding this fall. THAT’s my marathon this year!”

I started saying it as a joke, but the closer I get to the big day, the clearer it becomes that this response is dripping with truth.

In fact, wedding planning and marathon training have an awful lot in common, from the frustrations and pitfalls to the anticipation and excitement. So without further ado, here’s my list of how planning to run 26.2 miles is a heck of a lot like planning to marry your better half.

Planning ahead is key. Show up at the starting line without having trained and you’ll have a miserable eight-hour slog ahead of you. Show up at your wedding day unprepared and you may be toasting with Starbucks lattes instead of the champagne you forgot to order. Both marathon training and wedding planning go much smoother when you’re organized and ready. For both events, put the big date on your calendar and work backwards to set achievable milestones (like racing a half or booking a DJ).

Oh, the gear you’ll buy. I didn’t think I would buy into the consumerism portion of wedding planning… and then I saw a “shed for the wed” workout shirt and I caved. And — I’m ashamed to admit — it’s not even the only bride-inspired piece of clothing I own. Likewise, just try to walk through a marathon expo without purchasing some new gear you don’t need. That’s why I’m going to someday name my autobiography “Too Many Tank-Tops: The RiledUpRunner Story.”

You may want to tweak your diet. Runners need to up their carbs substantially in the weeks leading up to the big day. Brides and grooms may find themselves doing the opposite. While some versions of wedding weight-loss are unhealthy and dangerous, wanting to clean up your diet in the months before your wedding can have a great impact on your complexion, your sleep and your mood. I’m even considering a return to Whole30 for the final weeks, since it left me with so much energy… though only if I can make an exception for non-paleo bachelorette-party wine. #nonnegotiable

You’ll find yourself talking about it all the time. You’ve heard Ben’s joke before: “How do you know someone is running a marathon? They tell you!” Even if you try to talk about other things, a runner’s upcoming race always seems to sneak back into the conversation. Same thing with wedding planning. I don’t TRY to talk about it all the time, but since it’s consuming so much of my time, it can’t help but find its way back to the forefront. After November, I’ll know about current events again, I swear.

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Right now, I know mostly about bridal showers.

But while marathon training and wedding planning have a lot in common, they’re different in one key way. They say for marathoning, the 16-weeks of training is the real achievement and the race itself is just the victory lap. But while a race ends the second you cross that finish line, the wedding isn’t a conclusion: it’s a beginning. Instead of putting your feet up and retiring your shoes for the winter like you do after a race, a wedding means the beginning of a marriage, and that’s where I’m told the real work/fun begins.

And I can’t wait to find that out for myself. Seventy days!

But who’s counting?

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Pop Physique aka Pain Incarnate: A Review

What weighs more: a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?

Trick question. They weigh the same. But you know what weighs a million times more? The one-pound weights at Pop Physique. Don’t be fooled by appearances: these itty bitty hand weights are somehow the heaviest thing you’ll ever touch.

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Are my hands enormous or is this weight too small? Maybe both. Maybe both is happening at the same time. -Forrest Gump

I took my first Pop Physique class two weeks ago (why yes, I DID have a free promo code. How’d you guess?), and when I spotted these little purple barbells, I nearly laughed out loud. In BodyPump class, I pack on additional tonnage in five and ten pound increments. When I saw these baby things, I couldn’t help but channel my inner Derek Zoolander: “What is this? A workout class for ants?”

Oh, how could I have been so wrong?

Pop Physique, a ballet-inspired stretching and strengthening routine, does what barre classes do best: focus on tiny, nearly imperceptible movements that somehow make your muscles hurt so bad the next day you can’t sneeze without wincing. The idea of using one-pound weights to tone your upper arms may sound futile, but pulse along with the instructor for all the reps and you’ll be crying for your mommy. It’s tougher than it sounds.

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But do I?

Don’t believe me? Believe this: Since there are no clocks in the studio, I literally spent 95 percent of my first class stealing glances at my mat neighbor’s wrist watch every time we went into downward dog just to get an estimate of how many more minutes of squatting and pliéing torture lie ahead.

Wait a second. Did I just describe a workout as torture, and then casually throw in the fact that I did something during my “first class,” thereby signifying I actually went back for more? Good sleuthing, you. Because that’s exactly what I did.

Yes, this class is insanely hard, and I found myself collapsing to the floor after too many planks and shaking uncontrollably after so many leg raises that never. seem. to. end. But I also finished the class feeling like I’d reversed several miles of running damage by stretching my hamstrings and hips deeper than I’d ever do on my own.

So after my first (free) class, I did something nearly unthinkable for me: I signed up for 10 more. Of course, I got the 10-class pack on Gilt with a coupon, because that’s my style, but I still shelled over my credit card number for a workout. That’s rare for me, and a testament maybe to just how good this class made me feel — once I was done, that is. Because mid-class, I can assure you there were no smiles of this magnitude:

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I have nine more classes to take between now and my November wedding. I’m taking bets: Will one-pound weights be enough to bring out my inner Michelle Obama arms? Time will tell. Time, and my daily shortbread intake.

Any other runners find relief at the barre? Not to be confused with the bar, where my friends and I of course went after.

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Recovery sports drink

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I Love the Nineties

Measuring one’s health, much like measuring the size of Donald Trump’s hands, is very much up to interpretation.

Really: what is it that makes someone “healthy” anyways? Is it their weight? Their BMI? Their pant size? Is it the number of miles they can run (26.2, baby) or the number of push-ups they can complete (no comment)?

From “carbs consumed a day” to “gluten consumed an era,” people measure health in all sorts of different ways, and those yardsticks continue to evolve each time we learn something new about science. Seriously: can you imagine telling your 1998 self she’d be trading in her Olestra-laden potato chips for full-fat coconut milk in 2016? (Or telling her about the 2016 election cycle, for that matter? She’d have thought you crazy on both accounts.)

There’s at least one measurement of health, however, that hasn’t been proven obsolete by some new report or study. The most surefire measure of whether someone’s healthy: can they live to 90?

Well, I know someone who has: my grandmother Marie. (Also, the queen.)

And in case you’d like to live to 90, too, I’ve got her tips for healthy living right here. Step on up, folks, and see the future.

I sat down with my grandmother earlier this month ahead of her epic birthday bash that, no joke, had more guests than my wedding will, and asked her what’s her secret to nine decades and counting on this fine earth.

Gin,” she told me over the breakfast table on her backporch, before laughing and redacting her statement. “Don’t write that! Ok fine, you can write that. Everyone will think it anyways.”

And you wonder why I love this woman.

But it’s not just her 5 p.m. cocktail that keeps my grandmother spritely and sharp. Although she said she has no special regimen that explains her continued health, I still quizzed my favorite nonagenarian on her habits and have compiled a useful list for all of your personal betterment. Enjoy:

  • “Always eat breakfast.” During this specific conversation, my grandmother was having yogurt, orange juice, decaf coffee and sliced bananas in milk, and she says that’s a pretty typical morning meal for her. Even if something else is on the menu, she always works in fruit — a practice we could all pick-up.
  • “Sit down for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” In our modern world, it’s easy to inhale fast meals standing over the kitchen sink or straight out of the refrigerator, but sitting down makes the process slower and more deliberate. My grandmother doesn’t just sit; she also always uses a placemat. Classing it up at mealtime can never be a bad thing.
  • “Have an activity every day.” At 90, you may not be running ’round town or uni-cycling down the street, but my grandmother still has something on her to-do list every single day. Maybe it’s cleaning the windows, maybe it’s lunch at her favorite restaurant, maybe it’s bridge with friends. Having something to look forward to (or maybe not, if we’re talking window cleaning…) is a great motivator that keeps us from staying in our pajamas every day — a great temptation for yours truly some mornings.
  • “Surround yourself by super amazing grandchildren.” Ok, ok, so my grandmother didn’t actually say this one, but I’d like to believe having 14 grandchildren (plus kids, spouses, great grandkids, and granddogs) helps keep her extra busy. Selfies don’t hurt, either. 

So here’s to a happy birthday (month) to my lovely grandmother. May we all learn from her healthy habits, but may we also remember it’s not worth being healthy if you can’t celebrate from time to time with a splash of gin. 

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Joining the Mile High Club (Well, Kind Of)

New York City may a hotbed of chic, on-trend fitness classes, but you’d be hard pressed to find me at any of them. While the masses may be flocking to SoulCycle or FlyWheel or some other combination of two fancy words without a space, I’ve largely avoided them, and for plenty of reasons:

  • These classes tend to be full of beautiful, flexible people in swanky outfits and I spend all 55 minutes unhealthily comparing myself to them
  • The flashing lights and electronica dance music are hellish on my country-western-trained ears
  • The idea of spending $30+ for a single class seems obscene to me when I already have A) a monthly gym membership and B) two legs that can run for free

That said, every now and then I stumble across a promo code for a free class, and usually my experience goes a little something like this: 1. I attend for free because who doesn’t like free things, 2. I suffer through an excoriating workout, and 3. I ultimately solidify my belief that everything I thought was terrible about chichi NYC studios is, in fact, terrible.

So that’s exactly what I expected to happen at Mile High Run Club last week when I signed up for a free group workout using the promo code RUNRIGHT, which may or may not still be usable (good luck). For those of you unfamiliar, Mile High Run Club is a treadmill-based running class where dozens of runners, all facing the same direction, work their way through intervals of speed work and hill training from the comfort of their own machine. In case that doesn’t sound elegant enough to you, I’ll note that the studios, located in annoying named neighborhoods NOHO and NOMAD, sport Ionized Kangen water filling stations or bottles of water for sale. Hello, fancy.

I signed up with two friends to HIGH 45, an endurance class that said it was good for any skill level. We booked treadmills in the very back in hopes that we wouldn’t be seen as we suffered through, changed into our gear in a comically small locker room and prepared for the worst.

But the worst never came.

In fact, this group workout class was downright delightful. Ohmygod, who have I become? (Someone who wants this shirt, that’s who.)

The thing that makes this workout so great is that everyone sets their own treadmill speeds based on their perceived levels of “easy” and “hard.” Unlike in other workout classes, where it’s obvious to the whole room if you can’t do a shoulder stand, here everyone is really, truly free to go at their own speed. Between hard sessions, some of us slowed to a jog and others came down to a walk, and the room wasn’t dripping with judgment as a result. I also liked that 1. It forced me to do speedwork I might not otherwise want to do, 2. I never got to a point that I felt like giving up because I couldn’t do it and 3. The instructor, Scott, didn’t shy away from the country music. Yeehaw.

I also liked that my friends and I went out for a class of wine afterwards under the Flatioron Building, but I’m not sure that’s mandatory practice.

Heck, I’m even playing with the idea of buying a 5-class series for the weeks leading up to the Bronx 10-miler. I know I could do free speed work at my home gym instead, but I’m much more likely to actually do it if I’ve paid $26 a class to attend. I guess that’s the same argument SoulCyclers use to justify their addiction. Ah well: call me converted.

Have you tried a group treadmill class?

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Run If By Land 

When you like two things separately, it only makes sense you’ll love them doubly together.

You know what I mean: Like peanut butter and chocolate? You’ll love Reese’s cups. Like animals and football? You’ll love the Puppy Bowl. Like Muppets and Apple products? You’ll love FaceTiming with your niece in Hawaii, even if she doesn’t feel the same way.

Given that so many good things are made great through the act of sheer combination — wine & cheese, pizza & beer, Chris Pine & shirtless scenes — it’s amazing that it took me so long to try what was such an obvious and inevitable combination: running and the beach.

I’ve liked the beach as long as I can remember — from riding the waves to walking the coastline to soaking in the sun for more hours than my Irish-heritage skin should have allowed. And I’ve liked running for years and years, as you should have gleaned from this blog unless you’re terrible at context clues.

So why then did it take me 30 years to put those two things together and go for my first run ON the beach? Maybe because I was afraid of getting sand in my shoes, or because I tend to sleep in on vacation, or because I was nervous that running in sand would feel like being in that awful slow-motion dream where you can’t pick up any speed despite your enemy nipping at your heels. Whatever the reason, I’d never been for a beach run, and this past weekend in Long Island I vowed to change that.

And, wow, I loved it, but wow, it wasn’t easy. Running in sand takes about 1.6 times more energy than running on a hard surface, according to competitor.com, and believe me, my glutes and core could tell. I had less bounce than on the roads and had to work different stabilizing muscles to keep propelling forward. Unlike on a normal run where I could just tune out and go, I had to keep hyper aware to avoid stepping in holes or getting my feet wet when a wave came up further than usual.

Still, the pros outweighed the cons. By running on the beach instead of the asphalt on a hot summer morning, I was able to take advantage of the cool breeze and go longer without overheating, a major plus for summer training. And whenever I wanted to stop and splash water on my face, there wasn’t any shortage of ocean to choose from. Add on top of that a gorgeous backdrop, accidental resistance training and more dog sightings than I’d ever imagined, and the experience was a net positive one.

I’m not near a beach in the city, so I doubt this will become part of my normal routine, but I think it will inspire me to seek out other surfaces besides pavement for a few of my runs each month. Whether that’s the bridal path in Central Park (I miss you, my friend!) or some other yet-to-be-discovered-by-me alternative in Queens, something tells me you’ll be seeing me offroading a bit more going forward. Especially if that offroading leads to friends and a vineyard, another winning combination.

Do you run on the beach? Any tips for a burgeoning Hasselhoff?

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