Monday, February 22, 2010

February Air

Spring's arrived in Seattle! Playin' outside.

So, long time, no blog. And before I say anything else, I'd like to address my recent hiatus from Cup o' Joe Mondays...they will return, I promise. Perhaps not as regularly as every Monday, but know that I haven't given up on coffeeshop reviews altogether...just doing a lot of re-centering of my time and energy and priorities, I suppose. And I'm trying not to let my blog just devolve into coffee and running ramblings all the time :)

The past few weeks have been warm, lovely, adventure-filled, and brimming with good company. Ruth flew all the way from the Big Apple to visit Seattle for what she thought was the first time in her life (though learned once here that she'd, in fact, been here as a toddler before.) So, Seattle decided to reinforce all its stereotypes in Ruth's four days here - overcast and rainy every day, except for a few small windows here and there in which the clouds flirted with the sun and we managed to squeeze in some play time at Seward Park:

...and an afternoon hike up Tiger Mountain:


We also spent a day out on Bainbridge Island, which I hadn't been out to yet. My friend Zoe from Oberlin is doing a grad program out there, and her blog entries and photos have left me yearning to experience the beauty of Bainbridge firsthand, but somehow the fear of the unknown has kept me from hopping on the ferry. But Ruth and I had a grand time playing on the Island (albeit in the rain), visiting with some relatives of hers that live out here, and touring a co-housing community and Native American artwork of the Suquamish tribe.

A good majority of our other Seattle adventures centered around food, as I find that when people come to visit, the things I want to share with them foremost are the parks and mountains - but barring decent weather to do so, food comes next: Ethiopian delicacies, Himalayan (Indian/Nepali/Tibetan) cuisine at Annapurna Cafe on Broadway, sweet potato hashes and organic pancakes at Portage Bay Cafe, Mighty-O Vegan Donuts, other yummy pastries and Italian espresso at local coffeeshops, ice cream at Old School Frozen Custard or Blue Bird or Molly Moon's (notice my particular attention to quality ice cream in this city...), free samples of dark chocolate coated cherries and honey crisp apples and chocolate linguini at Pike Place Market...

Ruth and I experienced many of the above, as well as making some of our own! After shopping around Uwajimaya, a huge Asian specialty supermarket walkable distance from our apartment in Seattle's Chinatown/International District, we had all the ingredients for a rockin homemade sushi night (sans fish.) Aside from the vast majority of the friends I invited having previous plans/work/homework/a cold/misc, we made quick work of our rolls and cans of Sapporo.

Zanna and Wes joined us in the festivities, which concluded with a trek to the Garage to go bowling and play pool - to my New York friend's shock, for the pretty price of $5-10/hour. Apparently bowling costs $50-60/hour in the big city? Geez. Sometimes I miss the Midwest.

On the other hand, I spent yesterday driving with the windows down and basking in the blazing sunshine on a beach with a bunch of half-naked sunbathers and happy children and rollicking dogs, surrounded by towering, snowy peaks on the horizon.

(Not in the Midwest anymore.)

Seattle folk seem to be pleased with the Northwest's reputation for crappy weather because, as they say, "It keeps the rest of the world from realizing how perfect this place is and moving here, too." And so far, Seattle's certainly done its part to look wholly unappealing to any and all visitors who've come to see me. For Shari's, Ruth's, John's, and a good deal of my dad's visits to Seattle, it just poured and poured and poured. Mount Rainier stayed hidden behind a gray wall of clouds.

I guess Alan gets off the hook since he pretty much officially lives here now, too (hooray for both of our Washington-plated cars!) He came back into town the day after Ruth left, and arrived to 60+ degree sunshine, which has lasted the entire duration of his time in town so far. Although I've been working a lot, we've gotten out when we can to play in the sunshine.

Still can't believe this is a CITY park.

Olympic Mountains + Puget Sound + Sailboats = Beautiful Sunday

Mount Rainier, and the tide-washed sand in the foreground.

Playing in my Vibram Fivefingers.

We rounded out the day with cold microbrews and good food on the waterfront in Fremont and watching America kick Canada's butt in hockey. We also managed to finally get around to seeing Avatar last week - splendid! Yes, of course, the plot was trite and the characters hollow and predictable, and certain scenes felt emotionally on par with Disney movies - but the visuals, as promised, were stunning. The fact that we saw it in 3-D in a six-story Imax at the base of the Space Needle didn't hurt either.

Yup. 'Tis been a good couple weeks indeed.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Orcas Photos!

All right, I told you it was beautiful, right? Photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama.

So, as promised...a few more photos from race weekend! Most of these are borrowed from other people's albums - ahh the joys of technology. Enjoy.

Don + me + the infamous crockpot of chili:

Photo courtesy of Don Wahl.

The Friday night potluck at Camp Moran.
Don's caption for this, which I love, is "Yitka and Don ponder their next move on the road to carbo-load shutdown."

Photo courtesy of Don Wahl.

Me, posing in front of our bunkhouse the morning of the race:

Photo courtesy of Don Wahl.

Base camp, race morning.
Tom, Ryan, Jordan and I can all be found amidst the crowd...

© Glenn Tachiyama

And the runners are off!

© Glenn Tachiyama

Tom rockin the top of Mount Constitution in his Fivefingers...
+ our new friend Elodie cruising up right behind him:

© Glenn Tachiyama

Action shot on the mountain:

© Glenn Tachiyama

All right, ignore my silly facial expression, but check out those legs!
My calves were just warming up...

© Glenn Tachiyama

View from the top:

© Glenn Tachiyama

The Black Berry Bushes String Band serenade us at the finish:

Photo courtesy of Jacek Doniec.

Improbable Ninjas celebrate their victory!

Photo courtesy of Ryan Schmid.

Yup, good times. Interested in seeing more? I highly recommend Glenn's photo galleries from race day. Some truly amazing shots in there...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Big Girl Life in Seattle

Well, in an attempt to break from the theme that's dominated my blog for the last several entries...a recap of the highs and lows of my life in the domestic realm of late!


I've finally decided to get serious about cooking. This will probably last about as long as it already has - five days - but so far, so good. Awhile ago, I bought a fancy spice rack and a bunch of big, glass containers to hold all my grains and pastas and flour and everything, in a desperate attempt to inspire myself to move beyond my comfy world of salads and ham/cheese sandwiches. My first step in changing things up was a burrito week, in which my grocery trip comprised of unusual items (for me) like sour cream, avocado, tortillas, some canned chicken breast, and a supersize bag of cheddar cheese...and for one week straight, I enjoyed every meal and felt very pleased with myself for doing something different food-wise. But my stomach suffered, and I probably gained approximately a pound a day (thought that wouldn't be possible running the kind of mileage I have been, but it happened) and so I've moved on and this week, actually managed to do something good for my body.

I spent last Thursday and Friday cooking up a storm - made a bunch of quinoa with mustard greens and tempeh (thanks Kyle for the inspiration!), a green chile egg casserole (thanks Becca for the recipe!), and a big ol' vat of vegan chili (thanks to this awesome cookbook). I'm still enjoying great meals from all of those cooking endeavors! And no, I'm not reverting back to my vegetarian/vegan days, but I do believe that maintaining a largely plant-based diet is generally a good thing...and I'm trying to cut down on gluten consumption in general, too. I find that the more I run/train, the better fuel I put in my body - so it's a productive cycle. Anyway, the idea is that the more I cook ahead of time, the healthier I eat throughout my busy work weeks, rather than reverting to quick, easy, but often nutrient-deficient, meals.

Other successes: finally managed to set up a decent paper-filing system for myself. Coming from someone who tends to throw the majority of my daily mail into a dark corner of my apartment where I don't have to look at it, this was a big step in feeling a little less chaos in my life. And subsequently, no epic fails yet in the newly-developed bill-paying aspect of my life:

Paying bills is AWESOME.

I also managed to "build" five whole pieces of furniture, all by myself. Granted, IKEA does a pretty darn good job with their instructions, but still...

Chloe ponders the odd-sized IKEA box.

Chloe is skeptical of my abilities. Probably for good reason.

But aha, I prevail! Chloe expresses her approval with zombie eyes.

The other four pieces are dining room chairs. No picture, but I'm pleased. So now, someday when I finish the 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle I've overzealously begun working on our dining room table, I'll be able to officially host a dinner party!

EPIC FAIL, 2010:

Some of you know my cooking history - and for those who do, you've already had your mind blown by the above section. Some of you, however, probably don't yet grasp just how miserably inept I am when it comes to cooking, and thus here's the real mind-blowing clincher of the year thus far: I failed my second lifetime attempt to make mac 'n cheese. (The first time was winter term, freshman year at Oberlin. Pathetically, it was Easy Mac. I just dumped the noodles in a bowl and put them in the microwave just like that. No water or anything.)

This time around, I boiled a bunch of water, then dumped in not only the macaroni, but all the cheese powder, too - naturally, six cups of cheesy water got drained out at the end, and the result was slightly yellow-tinged, absolutely flavorless macaroni. Awesome.


Apparently, after Christmas is over, the tree doesn't just magically disappear from your living room one day in early January. I swear, back in the day, it did. But no longer...and so it came to be the second week of February and the Christmas tree was still cowering in a corner, shedding its needles in mass. Yes, I gave getting rid of it some thought here and there...I had researched tree-recycling options in Seattle. I printed out directions to a recycling center. Once the dates passed for that, I sent my landlord a sad little email to the effect of, "Um, I know it's the end of January, but any thoughts on what to do with my Christmas tree at this point?"

She didn't even dignify it with a response.

Thank goodness for friends who like to destroy things. Jess came over this evening with a jeweler's saw, and paired with my serrated bread knife, we made quick work of the little guy. Photo diary of our systematic tree-dismantling:

Yup. I think I'm doing all right at this Life/Real World thing. Not spectacularly...but definitely all right. Next entry: more photos from race weekend, and likely, back to my usual ramblings about running. (Though I have been meaning to do an entry soon about all the books I've read in the last few months. I know I wrote at one point that I'd review books regularly; obviously, that's working out a lot like the mac 'n cheese...but I have been reading, and at some point I'll certainly address those good reads here on my blog.)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Orcas Island 25K Official Race Report!

The Improbable Ninjas have officially run their first 25K.

So, I often have a hard time blogging about things if I don't feel like I've got the right photos to accompany my stories. And as I left my camera in the bunkhouse during my actual run this weekend, I have no images to articulate how breath-taking the view from the top of Mount Constitution was. And perhaps above all, the absolutely stunning view up there is what I wish I could impart to all my blog readers who've not made it to the San Juans on a clear day...holy cow is it amazing up there! Unreal. Even in all my years in the Colorado Rockies, the various national parks in Montana and Wyoming and California through which I've hiked...I can honestly say that nothing matched the landscape that burst into view about 4.5 miles into yesterday's run. Hopefully Glenn or someone will have a picture from it I can post here at some point to at least give some idea...

Of course, it's entirely possible that the adrenaline and endorphins and caffeine all were making me a little crazy by that point. Let's rewind...

Friday afternoon, Don and I loaded up his car with backpacks, sleeping bags, and my plaid crockpot full of vegan chili that I'd spent the morning making in preparation for the evening's potluck. We made it up to Anacortes in plenty of time, saw some familiar faces from the previous weekend, got to know some new people, and caught a gorgeous sunset on the ferry ride over.

And did I mention that it was 61 degrees?

Friday night was a blast - hanging out at Camp Moran, sharing great food (and hooray! for once in my life, not feeling the only one at a potluck heaping an entire mountain of food on my plate and then going back for seconds), meeting tons of wonderful new people, watching some running movies, and just generally having a blast. Tom and his buddy Ryan rolled in to camp around 9:30 p.m. after being the badasses that they are and having ridden their bikes across Orcas from the ferry landing.

Seattle Randonnerds represent.
Also, Scott Jurek's words to Tom at the ferry landing last night: That's impressive.

Just like summer camp, we went to sleep in little wooden bunkhouses tucked away in the forest - a dozen people packed to a room, and naturally, I forgot earplugs. (Forgot, too, that people snore.) After manually plugging my ear with my finger until I was too exhausted to do so anymore, I did eventually fall asleep. Alarm clock went off at 6:55 a.m. and I woke up to Tom jumping down from the bunk above me and mentioning that he had four of those little double-shot cans from Starbucks. Perrrfect...

Downed one of those, had a relaxed morning of wandering around in the crisp, forest air in fleece and long johns, rubbing at my eyes and eating a breakfast that mostly consisted of bananas and peanut-butter-smeared bagel bits. Yum. Also took some pictures at base camp of some of the cars. Runners sure do love their bumper stickers and license plate decals.

My favorite is the one in the bottom right corner. Dorky humor at its best.

Finally got properly dressed for the run itself, laced up my Cascadias, filled my water bottle, dropped a nuun tablet in, stashed three energy gels in my waist pack, and lined up at the starting line for James, the race director, to say "All right, go!"

The run itself was just phenomenal. It was way less brutal than I was expecting; all my hellish training runs over the past three weeks paid off, because the elevation was not nearly as bad as I'd been anticipating. And the worst of it was over by mile 5. I did make the mistake of excitedly shoving a handful of peanut M&M's in my mouth at the first and only aid station (at the top of Mount Constitution) - this is something ultrarunners do, but unfortunately, I'd had no practice eating solid foods while on the run, and my stomach cramped up pretty terribly on the swift downhill right after that.

I ran through it, though, and really cruised down the steeps. There were some more minor ascents after that, but nothing major. I hiked most of the uphills to conserve my energy, and then just really gave it my all on the flats and downhills, probably averaging 6 minute miles on some of the descents. It felt amazing. I avoided my classic race mistake, which is going out too fast, and instead hung out in the back of the pack for the first few miles...being especially conservative in the climbs. But once we'd crested Mount Constitution, I knocked things into higher gear and just started catching people and passing them, one by one. That felt great - though the best part of it, honestly, was the conversations I had along the way as I ran with people for awhile, and we'd chat - with some more than others - before I'd eventually move on, run solo again for a bit, and then find someone else with whom to enjoy the run and scenery for awhile.

The last stretch was the best - just long, rolling loops around beautiful island lakes...mostly flat, and everybody was spread out enough at that point that I wasn't ever "stuck" behind anybody - I could just cruise. My energy level was great throughout - I never had a disparaging moment, or even much pain at any point. I passed one woman on one of the steeper descents who said to me, "Oh my God, I think I've burned holes through my quads - they're absolutely shot" and another guy who told me, "I swear, you women are built differently than us - it's amazing to watch you on the downhills, because you just CRUISE...I don't know how you do it!" and I don't know if it was the caffeine or the last-minute crash training or what, but my body just performed for me better, I think, than it ever has in a race. Definitely a vast improvement over the Seattle marathon!

I crossed the finish line in 2:42:09, and was floored. I'd told myself to worry only about finishing, not about racing, but having looked at the times from last year, I'd estimated I'd probably come in around 3:30 or so. So to beat that by almost an hour was unbelievable. I don't know what the heck happened to make all the stars align as they did, but the result is that I'm totally hooked on this trail running thing and can't wait to test my limits further.

The after-party was great, too. The weather was gorgeous - many runners stripped down to t-shirts and tank tops and even the occasional bare chests to bask in the sunshine while lying out on the grassy hill, downing bowls of chili, listening to a rockin Olympia-based bluegrass band, and yelling their heads off to cheer for all the runners as they slowly trickled in for the next six hours. You'll never meet a more supportive bunch of folks cheering each other on - and not in that false, fake-modesty, polite sort of way, but truly in that genuine, soul-shaking, got-your-back-100% sort of way.

Yes, the clock does say 8:28.32.

Yup, the people are definitely what I'll remember most about this weekened. I wrote about this a lot already after the work party, I know, but seriously - trail runners have got to be just about the nicest, friendliest, cheeriest, most easy-going darn people in the world. Even the official Orcas Island shuttle drivers who helped get us all from the ferry landing to Camp Moran commented that they'd never in all their years of work there had such a friendly, grateful group of folks, every one of whom took the time to look them in the eye and thank them for helping make our fantastic weekend possible.

Work party folks reunited, plus another new friend. From left: Jacek, Matt, Kelli, Don, Jordan, Myself

The would-be second and third place runners in the 50K got lost somewhere on the course and wound up running several extra miles and not placing at all, and when they finally came in, I was worried they'd be angry as all hell - but they just sort of took it in stride, laughed it off. No big deal. The guy who came in first, Alex, was one of the few I'd chatted with the previous night at the potluck, and he was just a super nice guy, also from Seattle, and someone I hope to run into at races in the future! Tom and I also recruited another Improbable Ninja for our MovNat adventures - Elodie, a personal trainer and rockin' trail runner who lives on the East Side, and whom both Tom and I ran with, independently of one another, for portions of the 25K. Basically, people are awesome.

Team REI, post-25K: Tom, me, and Ali.

And running. Running is awesome, too. Did I mention that yet?

The run was...

Great success.

Full race report, photos and blog entry coming soon!