Thursday, March 24, 2011

All Wet

It's been a cold, wet, stormy winter here in Mill Valley and this week has been no exception. Monday was supposedly the first day of spring but instead of sunshine and baby birds we're gifted with torrential rain, crazy wind and even a dose of thunder and lightning. This kind of weather makes for truly epic, adventurous trail running. However, if you're in a rebuilding phase like me it's a great excuse to stay dry and cross train. I feel for all those runners out there in heavy mileage weeks who face 20 milers in pouring rain.

Our backyard drainage can't keep up!

But the rain is not all bad. It's filling our reservoirs and saturating the ground, paving the way for a season of tree growth and good crops. The skies may be gray but our backyard is screaming GREEN. Every tree, shrub and vegetable is bursting with new leaves and the grass on the hillside has grown, gone to seed, and is now growing a second round. Our young fruit trees are exploding with new shoots and will have yet another winter with plenty of water to fuel strong growth.
The fig tree approves
It's a pity we don't have a couple of ducks. The wild ducks down at Bothin Marsh are happy as clams with the wet and muddy conditions. Our chickens, on the other hand, are less than pleased with the current conditions. They spend most of the day huddled inside the coop peering out from the door as if saying "What the heck is THIS?" They will occasionally rally and all run outside, look around for some forgotten treat and run back inside. 
Do you have food?
What do you mean you didn't bring any food!

It's wet. this sucks. Make it stop.
Sean's self constructed coop is staying nice and dry inside. Although the chickens would prefer to go be out in the run, they don't have too much to complain about. After all, it could be 30 degrees colder and we could be covered in snow! They are still laying 6 eggs a day and contributing immensely to our egg addiction.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


When it comes to rehabbing an injury, I am relentless. I am a relentless cross trainer and a relentless optimist. Once I realized I had a real injury and not just post marathon tweaks, I immediately cut out all the running and hopped into the pool and onto my stationary bike trainer. I did a couple days of just pool running, along with copious amounts of icing and self massage. When walking became a little easier I transitioned into cycling in addition to pool running. Although I like pool running, it's just not as aerobically challenging as real running and definitely does not work your leg muscles as much. I like to add cycling because it really works the legs and you can build up some lactic acid pain. However, neither of those activities can completely simulate running. Enter the Alter-G.

This amazing treadmill has been floating around elite training circles for a couple years now. You basically put on a pair of shorts and get zipped into a big air bag that happens to also contain a treadmill. The Alter-G weighs you and then will pump air into the bag to provide "lift" and reduce the weight and force on your legs and feet. This is perfect for someone coming back from a tendonitis problem. I believe in active recovery for soft tissue injuries and an important component of coming back from a tendon injury is strengthening. After a week and a half of no running and lots of icing, I felt ready to run easy and warm up my tendon and get it back to running strength. I started on Thursday at 90% body weight and slowly built up each day until today when I could run 6 miles at 100% body weight with no problems. Of course it can get quite boring running on a treadmill in a garage but I was so happy to be able to run again that the time flew by. Putting in a Metallica CD also helps.

And now, amazingly, I am ready to hit the trails again if only softly and slowly at first. Despite the two week layoff I did not get depressed about this injury. I willed myself to be as optimist and positive as humanly possible. After all the brain is incredibly powerful and placebo works 40% of the time. I believed that rolling a little plastic ball under my foot and rubbing my ankles with the back of a metal spoon would heal up my tendon and lo and behold it's healing.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Still Hurting Post Napa

Since the Napa Marathon, I've had a stubborn pain in my left foot that has not yet healed. I have run perhaps a total of 10 miles in the last 11 days and most of those were pretty uncomfortable. It's not yet driving me crazy but it is making me a little impatient. Right after I finished Napa, my left foot was so painful I could not walk a single step. I was afraid I had broken a bone or caused a serious fracture. However, there were no specific spots or points of pain just a general soreness and some swelling on the bottom of my foot. After a few days of NSAIDs, ice, compression and elevation, the swelling died down quite a lot and I was able to resume walking somewhat normally. Running however still caused pain on my heel and on the outer part of the ankle and twisting my foot in certain directions is uncomfortable. 

Thankfully, I can always ask my in-laws for expert medical advice and their opinion/unofficial diagnosis is just general inflammation of the muscles and tendons from running 26.2 miles downhill on a cambered road. I probably have a spot of tendonitis and irritation of the peroneal tendons. It seems to make sense because I only feel pain now when my foot is twisted and I am stretching the outside of my foot/ankle. The root cause of this injury is probably a combination of tight calf muscles and weakness caused by an ankle turn on a trail run a few months ago. It seems to be getting better each day so hopefully I will be hitting the trails and roads again soon. 

The most disappointing aspect of my prolonged layoff after Napa is having to pull out of a treadmill 100K relay race that takes place tomorrow. I was on a very strong team that probably could have pulled out the win and gotten a $10,000 prize. However I knew by Tuesday that there was no way I could run 20K strongly on Friday and it would be better to look for a replacement rather than wait to see if I could start on Friday. So I gave up my spot and thankfully found a great and enthusiastic substitute so that at least the rest of my team could still compete. I feel bad for letting down my teammates, plus the event sounded quite fun and interesting but I decided if I couldn't run one mile without discomfort there's no way I should do the race. 

So peroneal tendons, get better soon. I've got many more goals to accomplish and I can't do it without you! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dusk Wind Farm

While perusing the internet last night, I came upon this wonderful website Over the course of a year, chef and filmmaker Daniel Klein made a series of videos about good and sustainable food.

The episode about Dusk Wind Farm was especially fascinating for me. Sean and I have a life goal of being farmers some day. It was interesting to see Joel Salatin's pastured poultry principles (which were outlined in The Omnivore's Dilemma) put into practice.

Dusk Wind Farm

Sunday, March 13, 2011

When Life Hands You Oranges... Make Marmalade!

This time of year in Marin the citrus trees are heavy with fruit and everywhere around town are many varietals of lemons and oranges. Unfortunately, a lot of this bounty is never eaten or used and instead ends up falling on the ground or being tossed in the compost heap. I am a keen fruit gleaner and all of our friends who have fruit trees are subject to my eager demands for unused fruit. Aside from being a champion fruit eater, I love putting up preserves like jam, marmalade and apple sauce. Home made preserves taste so much better than store bought and you know exactly what ingredients have gone into them. This has contributed extensively to my elitist attitudes towards store bought food.

Today, I made a batch of marmalade from some blood oranges we picked yesterday at a friend's house. Last year, we picked almost 100 pounds of fruit from our friend's tree and made over 100 jars of marmalade. Blood oranges from the farmer's market go for $2 a pound at least, so knowing friends with productive fruit trees is economically beneficial! Those jars of marmalade then became our wedding favors as well as our home marmalade supply. Just last week, we polished off the last jar so thank goodness the oranges are ready for the picking again.

The marmalade making process is quite simple, I think it is one of the easiest preserves to make. I had a great teacher in my mother in law Joan who is a master of horse riding, weaving, preserve making and all other peasant skills. First I take a couple of pounds of oranges, cut them in half and juice them with an antiquated juicer that any good mechanical engineer will tell you is very poorly designed. It's pretty, but the lever arm is terribly awkward plus it is way too top heavy and tips over if you press with too much force. I squeeze as many oranges as it takes to get 4 cups of juice and then scrape all the membrane away from the peel. The best tool for scraping is a grapefruit spoon. Be careful though, accidental hand gouging may occur.

Juice and peel
Then, I slice the peel into thin strips. The easiest and fastest way to do this is with a pair of scissors, just snip away as you turn the orange peel halves. The sliced peel goes into a large pot along with enough water to cover, the lid goes on and it's time to wait for the water to boil. While waiting for the water to boil, I grab some empty mason jars and give them a good wash with hot water and soap and then find the lids. Once the water has come to a boil, I pour the peels into a colander to drain, pour the peels back into the pot and add the sugar. The peels cook with sugar for about 20 minutes, until they are tasty and candied. Then the juice is added, and the whole thing cooks for another 40-50 minutes. 
sliced peels
Once the marmalade has achieved the right consistency, I spoon it into the mason jars, screw on the lids and place them on the counter to cool. Getting the right consistency is a matter of trial and error, experience and tasting. I don't mind the tasting part at all. My favorite marmalade making treat is warm marmalade over greek yogurt.

Enough jars for one day
Once the marmalade has cooled to room temperature, I put them into the fridge where they will last for many months. Yes, our garage refrigerator is filled only with jam, marmalade, chutney and champagne. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Napa Marathon Race Report

I have been thinking about this race report for a couple of days and it has been difficult to arrange my thoughts into a cohesive statement. This race was both a success and a failure. I achieved a big PR but just missed my goal of getting the Olympic Trials B standard.

Napa is the 9th marathon I have completed. It is still a bit surprising to me when I talk to people around Marin and they wonder if I have ever run a marathon before. Back on the East Coast I didn't call myself a runner but instead always referred to myself as a marathoner. The marathon is the reason I started running in the first place. Talk about setting lofty goals! Actually I started with the goal of doing an Ironman Triathlon but since I had never run before in my life, I figured the marathon part would be the most difficult part and thus, that is where I should start. My very first marathon was 3:33 in Cape Cod in 2005 on a very hilly course and there I met my goal of qualifying for Boston, and I ran it after starting from scratch less than a year before. For many years after that I purely focused on lowering my marathon time and building a lot of endurance. For the first couple years of my running life I probably ran more marathons than all other distances combined! I had a serious fear of anything short and the burning, lactic acid pain of intervals. I didn't even step onto a track until 2007. I never imagined that I would be able to continue taking down my marathon PR year after year until I had a chance of making the Olympic Trials.

The last couple of days before Napa I started being very careful with my diet. I have had gut issues in the past and recently discovered that cutting out gluten before races and hard workouts helped to minimize my digestion issues. In fact, I am now a firm believer in the boring but effective pre-race Chicken and Rice diet. The day before Napa I ate eggs for breakfast and then several small meals of plain roasted chicken with white rice and plenty of salt. This allowed me to fuel up and top off my glycogen stores without the bloating that used to accompany my epic pasta-fests. I did a short jog in the morning with Camille, a great marathoner who flew into town to run Napa, and afterwards drove to downtown Napa to pick up my number. I did not hang around the Expo for very long, just a quick in and out. Once I got home I relaxed on the couch and watched silly vampire slasher movies. I believe I experienced the entire Underworld series that evening while eating a light dinner and packing up my things.

I used to pack every single item imaginable for a marathon and would end up lugging around a giant heavy bag all morning. Now, I travel light. If I don't need it on a long run, I won't need it during the marathon. I went to bed around 9pm on Saturday and set my alarm for the painfully early time of 3:15am. A very short time later I was wide awake at 3:00am. Ready to go. I felt already awake, excited but not jittery. I drank my coffee leisurely while listening to the pouring rain and Sean and I were out the door by 4:10. We hydroplaned several times on the freeway while driving to San Rafael to pick up Liz and that certainly started my blood flowing. I just started hoping that the rain would let up. We grabbed Liz from the park and ride and drove onward to Vintage High School where we were to catch a school bus that would take us to the start in Calistoga.

When we got to the high school, the buses were there and ready to go. I gave Sean a hug and kiss and boarded the school bus for what turned out to be a pretty long drive to the start. For the whole drive, Liz and I got to listen to a man in the seat behind us give marathon running advice to the poor woman seated next to him. I couldn't believe how much he had to say! It was quite amusing and Liz and I had a lot of whispered commentary about his one-sided conversation.

The start of the race was pretty uneventful. I visited the porta-potty, stripped off my sweats and did a couple of strides in what was now a light drizzle. It was finally light out now and the road was crammed with excited, cold runners. When the gun went off, I told myself to just hold back and stay relaxed. I did not want to get sucked out too fast and pay for it later. I saw Camille take off at a blistering pace, and a group of 2 or 3 women took off behind her. I was running around 6:40 pace for this first mile and once we passed the first mile marker I started working on picking up the pace and reeling in the runners in front of me. I checked my Garmin quite often to keep an eye on my pace but the rolling terrain called for more of an effort based assessment of pace.

The first 10 miles of the race flew by. I was constantly passing people and since it was raining, I was distracted from the distance. It was a beautiful morning to run through the vineyards. The course took a twisting path through the valley so there were many portions where I couldn't see that far in front. Nearing the halfway point, I caught sight of a tight group running in front of me. There were at least 2 women in this group along with a couple of guys and they looked like they were working pretty well together. I pushed it a little harder and slowly but surely began closing on them. Around mile 14.5 I made contact with this group just as we were heading up a big uphill. The head wind had picked up at this point and I desperately wanted to do a little drafting. I tagged on to the back of the group and found a little relief from the wind but then discovered they were starting to slow waaaay down. They were hitting 7 minute pace and that just wouldn't do. I reluctantly moved to the front of the pack and picked up the pace up the hill. The two women hung on to me and got right on my heels and followed me. I just pushed on at the pace I need to hit and waited to see if anyone would come share the work of pace making. Alas it was not to be and they could only draft off of me. I lost them around mile 18 and from that point I was pretty much all alone.

Through mile 20 I passed one more guy and then I saw no one. I hit the long straightaway stretch and really started to feel the head wind. My only company at this point was a race official on a bike. I could see no one ahead of me and I didn't turn around because I never look back in a race. It was time to suffer. I tried really hard and dug down to find enough energy to keep the pace but slowly and surely I was losing time. The last 3 miles were so brutally lonely and I started feeling the fear of losing the chance for the B standard. After mile 25, I knew it would be very very close, painfully achingly close whether I would slip in under 2:46. When I reached the neighborhood just before the finish I knew I had lost too much time and I wouldn't make it. I saw the clock, saw it tick over 2:46 and just wanted to scream but I was too intent on just crossing that line. 2:46:45. A lady immediately at the finish said "How does it feel to miss by 45 seconds?" I thought "Well, it feels awful but awesome at the same time".

I beat my PR by 8 minutes, but missed the standard by the smallest of margins. Only 2 seconds per mile. Just 45 seconds. Hey, maybe the course was long! I did finish in second place and was escorted to the media room for an interview, and I expressed my disappointment in not making the standard, but I was also elated to run so fast. To me, it still seems astounding that I can run such a time.

I gained a lot of confidence from this race. My diet before the race was perfect, my taper was perfect, my training went well, I went in healthy and I busted out a solo effort in less than perfect conditions. Better yet, I know I can continue to run big PRs.

I will take a week or so off, with some pool time and spinning time. I need to eat some ice cream and steak, get a little fat, sleep a lot and recover recover recover. And then, sign up for another marathon and go for it again!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

1,096 Eggs

Whenever we tell people we have chickens, the first question is always "How many eggs do you get every day?" The number varies according to the time of year and temperature but aside from a couple dark freezing cold winter weeks, we get 6-8 eggs every day. This inevitably triggers the next question "What do you do with all those eggs?" Well, for the most part, we eat them! Since our chickens started laying last October I have been keeping track in a spreadsheet their egg production and the latest grand total is 1,096 eggs. We have given away a couple dozen here and there but for the most part we have consumed them all. 

Sean and I typically eat a breakfast of two eggs each cooked over easy with duck fat rendered and saved from a roast duck we made a while ago. After two eggs, I'm fueled up and ready to go for a two hour long run (or more). The eggs help me stay much fuller than a carb meal and also sit quite easy in my stomach even if I am doing speed work. 

When the eggs start piling up in the fridge, I whip up some sort of a citrus souffle. I've gotten the method down to a total prep time of 15 minutes followed by 20 minutes of baking. 7 eggs and 35 minutes later a delicious, steaming fluffly tart and beautiful souffle is ready to eat. Once out of the oven, a souffle has never survived more than 5 minutes. We attack with soup spoons and the souffle never stands a chance. 

Some times when I am feeling peckish before dinner, I cook up a couple eggs and it holds me through until it's dinner time. If I am planning ahead, I will make some hard boiled eggs. Those don't usually last long though... I have superb hard boiled egg eating powers. I could give Cool Hand Luke a run for his money!