Streaking in a Winter Wonderland

As the excruciatingly painful Frozen “short” being forced upon innocent movie-goers before Pixar’s lovely feature film Coco tells us, it’s the time of year for traditions.

Whether your family’s traditions involve eating fruitcake or baking cookies or pounding tallboys at the Hanson brothers’ Christmas concert, this season unfortunately goes hand-in-hand with another holiday tradition I just can’t shake: holiday weight gain.

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(Also, loving Taylor Hanson. I’ll wait for you. Don’t tell Ben.)

The New York Times said it best in this poignant October 2016 article entitled “This Is Probably the Least You’ll Weigh All Year. Sorry.” The gist: U.S. adults’ weights tend to bottom out in in mid-autumn before peaking around New Years. It takes until April for most Americans to erase their extra holiday pounds.

“Instead of trying to come up with a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, it’s a whole lot better to maybe have an Oct. 1 resolution to gain less in the first place,” said one expert quoted in the story who clearly majored in obvious but difficult-to-pull-off observations in grad school.

I’ll be the first to admit it: keeping slim during the holidays is extremely difficult. From candy canes and spritz cookies to buttered rum and eggnog, the temptations are everywhere. Just look at the massively delicious pies served (and quickly polished off) at my Thanksgiving dinner of seven!

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My sister-in-law makes better dessert that your sister-in-law.

Some healthy eating blogs will tell you the only way to avoid December weight creep is to avoid holiday temptations altogether. “Don’t drink liquid calories at holiday parties,” they say. “Bring your own crudité plate to ensure there’s something healthy you can eat.” “Fill up on protein before walking by the dessert table.”

That’s probably good advice, and if you have the willpower to follow it, by all means, proceed. But if you’re like me and you actually WANT to indulge in some holiday treats without feeling guilty about it (and without needing maternity pants), might I propose another solution.

Instead of eating less this holiday season, why not just commit to exercising more? Weight = calories in – calories out, and while science shows it’s a little more complex than that, moving more to counteract eating more is a pretty good rule of thumb.

There are plenty of ways to pull it off. Maybe you park at the far end of the parking lot when Christmas shopping. Maybe you start a game up pick-up football with your fam. Maybe you go ice-skating, snow-shoeing, tobogganing or take your winter-loving friend for a cold-weather hike.

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Follow the leader.

Or if you’re a runner like me, maybe you commit to a holiday running streak. That’s what I’m doing this year — running every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, no excuses. I’ve streaked before, and while it can be tough to lace up on dark winter mornings, knowing backing out isn’t an option is a strangely strong motivator.

Now everyone’s personal streaking rules are different, and in my case, even a mile-a-day cuts it — and I’ve already done the bare minimum a third of the days. But even then, I’m averaging almost 5K a day, which is enough exercise to counteract about 2.4 pounds a month of holiday weight gain.

Of course, it’s very likely I’ll put on more than that, but luckily the New York Times said I have ’til April to burn it off.

How are you keeping your pants fitting this holiday season?

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Thank You Kindly

As is my tradition post-turkey coma, I spent the Thanksgiving weekend thinking about all the things I’m grateful for.

  • I’m thankful for my family and friends’ good health.
  • I’m thankful for a loving first year of marriage.
  • I’m thankful shy little Lucille has finally started to express herself freely.

Despite the divided political climate, the deteriorating environment and the proliferation of sexual assault across every industry known to man, there are somehow still lots of things to be grateful for this holiday season, from royal engagements to a new Star Wars installment to Fiona-the-hippo’s remarkable recovery. And let’s not forget how thankful I am for little lap dogs so tiny they could fit in your handbag.

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Use a magnifying glass and you might just see her.

I’m thankful each time I get a seat on the subway and whenever a lox bagel lands in my hands, but as an athlete, there’s one thing that makes me feel particularly grateful: cars that give runners a wide berth when they pass you on the shoulder. You, my dear conscientious drivers, are the real heroes this holiday season.

This may not sound like a big deal to you non-runners, but I truly mean it: drivers who slow way, way down and give ample space when passing a jogger on the side of the road make all the difference between a fun, carefree run and a harrowing one. I clock nearly half my miles in the sidewalk-free Hudson Valley, and I cannot count the number of times a sedan or pickup hugging the shoulder has nearly run me off the country road. I don’t know if they’re texting or distracted or just vehemently anti-exercise, but zooming past a human at 45 miles per hour with less than two feet of wiggle room is terrifying indeed.

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If you think running on this shoulder is scary, check out that sky!

If you have a runner in your life, I’m sure they want their stockings stuffed with all the normal things this coming Christmas: body glide, reflective sports gear, peanut-butter in all shapes and sizes. But believe you me, they also want another gift that everyone can give: slowing the heck down as you take those turns. Deck the halls, not the shoulders!

Ho ho ho!

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Shoe In

I’ve just done something so unlike me I’ll probably end up on some kind of FBI watch list.

  • No, I didn’t eat a head of celery.
  • No, I didn’t adopt a cat.
  • No, I didn’t give Lucille the night off on Halloween.

I did something far more out of character: I packed for a weekend away and left my running shoes behind.

For the past six years, my Asics and I have been virtually inseparable. I’ve brought pairs everywhere, from Hong Kong and Mongolia to Australia and Greece, and no matter the time zone, I’d always find time to squeeze out a few on-the-road miles.

I love running while traveling, since it’s a great way to learn a new city and burn off the croissant weight that every red-eye inevitably brings. But I also know the power of rest, and this weekend during a quick trip to London, I’m granting myself that rare gift.

To be fair, I assume “rest” in this case really means a lot of pints and some late night pies, not actually putting my tired legs up and relaxing, but I’ll take what I can get.

Good luck, New York marathoners! Will be toasting you across the pond.

London, England: here we come!

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Choose Your Battles

I tend to have a pretty low bar when signing up for road races. Sure, I’ll consider the crucial things, like whether I can actually run that distance or if I’m physically out of town. But mostly I’ll register for anything that crosses my path, especially if 1. The swag is good (see this weekend’s upcoming 5K) or 2. My running coach demands it.

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A little more petting, a little less stretching, please.

So when I first learned about the Fall Foliage Half Marathon in Rhinebeck that took place this past Sunday, the only race research I did was checking my calendar. Even though I wasn’t in half marathon shape when I signed up in May, I figured I could get there by October, so I filled in my info, forked over $75 and started the slow but rewarding process of remembering how to run. I trained all summer, then made my way upstate this weekend for what I assumed would be a walk in the park, considering I’d successfully run 12 half marathons before.

Turns out, I should have done a little more research.

Although this race was ultimately a success for me — I didn’t turn back at mile 3 in tears like I was very, very tempted to do — Sunday’s event was really tough, and it’s mostly my own fault: I didn’t pick the right half marathon for me. Choosing a race simply based on whether it’s close by and the calendar’s free neglects all the other important factors that can help you decide if a specific event is right — or wrong — for your individual needs.

Here are some race factors I wish I’d considered before picking the Fall Foliage Half as my flagship fall race:

  • Start Time. Nearly every race I’ve ever done (save for some NYC marathon waves because 50,000 is a lot of people) starts at the normal hour of 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. or mayyybe 9 a.m. That timing works for me because it’s the same time I do my own training runs, meaning I’ve already figured out what to eat, what to drink and how many port-a-pot trips I need to start the race feeling my very best. I hadn’t realized it when I signed up, but Sunday’s race began at 10 a.m. to allow time for NYC or Albany runners to get into town. While some runners might have appreciated sleeping in, the late start time threw me way off. I didn’t know whether to drink coffee or eat a full meal, or whether my Saturday carbs were still enough to power me through. Even worse: finishing a half marathon under the powerful noon sun is not fun.
  • Course elevation. A race along the Hudson River certainly sounds flat, but my god, this half was anything but. The rolling hills of the first few miles I could manage, but the mountainous out-and-back into a ravine was positively soul crushing, and had I known it would be so hilly, I might have passed on this particular event. I spend a decent amount of time running the Queensboro Bridge, so I thought I was hill-primed, but I was wrong and Sunday’s road did NOT rise up to meet me like all those Irish blessings promised.
  • Spectator Density. I pretend I run races for the BLTs I get to eat afterwards, but it’s really waving at strangers and high-fiving little kids that powers me through. The 2015 NYC marathon left me clutching my side in tears on the race course, but believe you me I’ll never forget the roar of the crowd. I know this about myself — I like races where people come out to watch — so signing up for a small race in a small town probably wasn’t the right move for me. Fortunately, my family knows me well and they were camped out at mile 2.5 with blasting music and a “You Run Better Than the Government” billboard. Flying past then was rejuvenating, but it made for a very lonely rest of the course.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad race — the foliage was lovely, the fellow runners were nice, the course wasn’t packed and the BLT was delicious at the end — and I managed to eke out another sub-two hour time despite some tough middle miles there. But I still struggled Sunday, and let that be a reminder to all of us: when it comes to choosing races, you do you.

Me?

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Oh, Farro Farro

Nearly everything these days makes me feel positively ancient:

  • Re-listening to Rent and siding with Benny.
  • The unfair degree of hangover now induced by two glasses of wine.
  • Spotify putting the Dawson’s Creek theme song on a Good Times, Great Oldies playlist.
  • Realizing some of my co-workers are literally 30 years younger than me.
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But how are her benefits?

But while I wish “ancient” weren’t the right adjective to describe my taste in boy bands (BSB4Life) or my understanding of Snapchat (Is it a snap? Is it a chat?), I don’t mind it when it’s paired with my all-time favorite food group: grains.

That’s right, folks. Today, we’re talking about ancient grains.

Ancient grains seem to be the hot new thing for clean eaters everywhere, but there’s nothing new about them. This family of whole grains has been around for centuries, with most varieties largely unchanged for at least the last several hundred years, according to the Whole Grains Council (which sounds like a delicious place to work.)

After doing Whole 30 last year, I’ve tried to remove from my diet most refined grain products, like white flour and processed crackers. But I don’t want to drop whole grains altogether — I don’t seem to have a problem with them and they’re great for carb loading — so I’ve been working to replace old American staples like white rice and pasta with a rainbow of ancient grains, from quinoa to buckwheat.

Now I’ve tried several of them, and my favorite, hands down, is farro. Farro, which sounds like Joseph of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame’s boss, is a whole grain that’s nutty and chewy like an al dente wild rice or barley. It’s high in protein, iron and fiber, and it’s been popular for so long it has honestly been found in Egyptian tombs.

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Also in ziplock bags in my fridge.

If you can’t do gluten, farro’s not for you, since it’s an ancient relative of modern-day wheat and will mess with your Celiac disease. But if you can handle it, stock up on farro in your bulk food aisle or buy the packaged stuff from Bob’s Red Mill, and start throwing it into your soups, casseroles and risottos for an extra boost of nutrition when rice just won’t cut it.

It’s easy to make: add water or broth with farro to a pot at about a 2-to-1 ratio, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until grains are tender (about 30 minutes) before draining off any excess liquid. Then I partition it out in half-cup increments, pop in the freezer and defrost individual bags as needed for easy grain bowls, salad toppers or stuffed-pepper fillings at the blink of an eye.

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Mmm.

Maybe it’s an ancient grain, but eating it in a nutrient-packed lunch today made me feel almost young again.

Young enough to drink two glasses of wine without a hangover? Maybe not, but at least I’m now wise enough to remember sun protection the next morning is an absolute must.

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Keira and Lucille-ish.

Do ancient grains have a place in your kitchen? 

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Hot Mess: The Bronx 10 Miler

Say what you want about climate change* but it’s having a pretty horrendous impact on polar bears, Puerto Rico and my racing times.

*As long as what you want to say is “Wow, this is really terrible. What can I do to mitigate my carbon footprint?” and not “Huh? What’s climate change?”

The first two are hands down significantly more important (heck, I even covered polar-bear extinction for my college paper about a million years ago in what probably should have won a Pulitzer), but I’m going to write about the third one because 1. This is a running blog and 2. See reason No. 1.

For those of you living on the eastern seaboard, you probably noticed September was a little hotter than usual. How hot, you ask? In a month that’s usually a harbinger of cozy scarves and pumpkin spice and all the decorate gourds you could fancy, this September brought “super anomalous” temperatures that pushed the mercury into the 90s for several days running in what experts could only refer to as “extreme” heat.

Now that unusual weather’s great if you’re spending your morning on a leisurely hike in a shady Maryland state park with your dog’s aunt and uncle (previously known as my siblings), like I did last Saturday.

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“Um, Mom, is the bridge supposed to be swinging?!”

But when the heat hadn’t broken come Sunday — the day of the legendary Bronx 10 Miler, run exclusively on black pavement on not particularly tree-lined streets — all of us runners lining up at the starting line knew we were in for some pain.

Any runner worth her weight in salt (that’s soon to be sweated out) knows that working out when the weather’s hot is tough. That’s because excess sweating can lead to faster-than-expected dehydration, your heart has to work harder to cool down your body and, let’s be honest, most of us just mentally lose the will to live.

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“I give up.” Alternate caption: Keira returns!

So when the temperature rises, you do what you can to push through safely — drink at every water station, consume extra electrolytes to refill the ones you’re sweating out, take your turns wide in order to spend some extra time in the coveted shade and, sadly, slow your pace to run based on exertion, not time. Those kinds of responses help make sure you finish in one piece without landing in one of the course-side ambulances, but they sure don’t make for a stellar finish.

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I have bitchy running face but the blurry guy in front looks quite pleased.

Don’t believe me? Check my racing times. Even though this year I should be in better shape than last year, seeing as I’m spending more time running and less time planning a little thing called a (giant Irish) wedding, it took me 1:27:53 to cross the finish line, several minutes longer than in 2016 when temperatures were normal for this time of year.

That’s not unusual, since it’s generally recognized that higher temps mean slower times, but DANG it’s annoying. Ahh well, too bad there’s absolutely nothing we can do about climate change* impacting our race times and are just destined to get slower and slower as the earth warms.

How’d you fare in your hottest race of the season?

*Wait a second

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Celery? More Like Hellery

I try not to get political on this blog, so I’ll leave her position on the minimum wage, carbon emissions and whether or not The Lion King is `gay propaganda’ out of here. But regardless of your personal leanings, I think we can all agree former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has the most controversial and offensive favorite food of all time.

It’s celery. Barf.

I know, I know, celery is supposedly “the healthiest food in the world,” and its marketing team has done an excellent job convincing consumers they burn more calories chewing it than they take in. But let’s be real here for a second: It’s terrible. It’s fibrous and stringy and smelly and gross, and unless it’s doused in ranch dressing or peanut butter or cream cheese with raisins, it should be avoided at all costs.

Much like trying to do floor stretches when you live with a needy Swiss dog.

At least, that’s my take. Apparently the rest of the world doesn’t despise celery as much as I do, making me wonder if celery is my cilantro — a totally innocuous flavor for most that for some reason tastes to me downright offensive. I can handle it raw, like in a tuna salad, but throw celery into a sofrito or a stock or a mirepoix, and I swear it overpowers the entire thing. Sorry, world: This vegetable gets no love in my book.

So imagine my distress when I opened my CSA two weeks ago to discover the biggest head of celery this blogger has ever seen.

Stalks have not been enlarged to show texture.

I pride myself in successfully polishing off each CSA fully before the next one arrives, so when I first saw that bad boy 11 days ago, I put my disgust aside and came up with a game plan to put it to good use. After googling “celery recipes for people who don’t like celery,” I decided to make several celery-starring dishes to hopefully discover I’d been wrong about it all along. I found these three, which seemed totally out of the box and maybe just the kick I needed to finally understand this vegetable’s appeal:

  • Braised Celery with Tomatoes, Chickpeas & Bacon (link)
  • Challah, Mushroom and Celery Stuffing (link)
  • Celery and Fennel Gratin (link)

They were going to be delicious! They were going to be life changing! They were going to change my mind about celery once and for all!

They didn’t happen.

My next CSA comes tomorrow, and for the first time this summer, I’ll pick up a new box with one giant, unused vegetable still sitting in my fridge. To be fair, it hasn’t gone totally untouched: in addition to the above photo shoot, I also tossed a handful of the leaves into a veggie broth this weekend as an act of good faith. Of course, that made the broth taste like death, in my humble opinion, and I immediately regretted the decision, but at least a little of the celery went used.

So I’ve got to know, good people: is there a way to cook celery that honestly tastes good? I suppose I’d scarf it down if I filled it with shredded buffalo chicken and blue cheese (mmm brilliant idea, Anne), but I’d love to find a use that doesn’t completely negate the health benefits of the ingredient itself.

How do YOU celery-brate this unloved vegetable?

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