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Races Recipes Running

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?
Categories
Food

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? 

Categories
Races Running

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