Friday, March 25, 2011

Anatomy of a long (urban) run

I'm done with my winter quarter of school! Slept in today, awoke to kitty paws and sunlight pouring through the blinds. It didn't seem right not to do a long run today, even though I had plenty of other things on my to-do list nagging at me. I decided to borrow an idea from my friend Alex, whom I met at last year's Orcas Island run (where he totally smoked the men's 50K) and took my camera along for my long run around Seattle today and snap away consistently while in motion.

I found that running with my photographer's eye engaged made for a totally different running experience - first of all, I ran more slowly than usual, which was actually a blessing. I typically don't have the patience for proper "LSD" as it's called among runners - i.e. "Long, Slow Distance", the key component to any decent endurance runner's training schedule - but I took today significantly slower than my normal pace, and it was really enjoyable. I noticed all sorts of new things, found myself smiling pretty much the whole time, and appreciated Seattle so, so very much.

The full album, with captions, in chronological order, can be found here. (Kudos to you if YOU have the endurance to make it through all of the pictures.)

They showcase:
- Cherry blossom trees, skyline views, shimmering lakes, Puget Sound, beaches, bridges, doggies, hula hoops, kites, paper cranes, palm trees, biker butts, the number 33, and me showing some love to a bottle of Gatorade
- Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Queen Anne, Magnolia, Ballard, Fremont, and more Capitol Hill at the end
- Cal Anderson Park, Lake Union Park, Kerry Park, Discovery Park, Gasworks Park, and Volunteer Park

Woot! This was great. I love, love, love my long runs (three weekends in a row with 3+ hour runs = heaven!) While I treasure their solitude and the quiet space in my head to detox from stress, it's great, too, to be able to share my run with others, in a way. Bless the internet. And Seattle, and my able body, and everything in my life that has led me to where I am right now.

This is a good place.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The evolution of a health nut

Like my book blog entry, my food blog entry may need to be split into two (or three, or four, or five...) to keep it manageable.

Spaghetti with tomato/cashew sauce and fresh basil

Let's start with a little background, some of which you might be familiar with already: I did not grow up cooking. My dad didn't really cook. My mom did, and while she did involve me in some of the process when I was younger - helping her snap green beans in half to cook, or arranging potatoes in the bottom of a pan of water to boil - I have little memories of such involvement in cooking after such a point. As I grew up and got both pickier and nastier in my adolescence, I imagine some of the joy of cooking was lost in my mother. Our kitchen, to be honest, never really inspired happiness or excitement surrounding the preparation of food. I don't blame anyone; I wouldn't have enjoyed cooking for the 14-year-old me either. My preferred daily lunch at school that year was a slice of pepperoni pizza, a can of Welch's grape soda, and a greasy chocolate chip cookie the size of my face. I didn't appreciate my mom's lentil soup back then.

Joining Harkness co-op in college was my first real experience with cooking sans recipes, utilizing bulk foods and fresh produce and spices to prepare meals for others. I only stayed in the co-op for a semester, but it was enough to dissolve at least some of the fears I had surrounding the kitchen.

Massaged salad with Swiss chard, beets, sunflower seeds, and homemade dressing with fresh ginger

Nevertheless, the reality of my lack of even the most basic fundamentals of cooking was stark - and remained to be so up until about the last year. (Some of y'all remember the EasyMac incident(s). Oi vey.) Through a long series of experiments, recipe trials, triumphs and travesties, I finally am beginning to feel as though I've transcended omelettes and stir-fries, and can now claim some competence in the kitchen - and perhaps even a little bit of pride.

Kitchen appliances have, no doubt, played a big role in this newfound confidence. My Vitamix continues to be a dream - a gentle humming machine of beauty that seems capable of doing no wrong. I have made everything in it from blended kale smoothies to vegan tomato cashew pasta sauce to fresh hummus to butternut squash soup - and seemingly, no matter what ingredients I drop in, something magical comes out. There's no undercooking, no overcooking, no scorching, no drying out, no failure to rise, or any of the other host of maladies that can foil even the most valiant baking or cooking efforts. If your ingredient ratios are a little off, you just add a little more in and blend again. Magic.

But I've been cheating on my blender a little, I must admit. See, I also hauled an old food processor out to Seattle from my childhood home in Kansas. At the time, I couldn't imagine what I'd ever use such a thing for, but I thought, what the heck, why not, and threw it into the moving truck along with a handful of other found objects salvaged from the house in Kansas. Only last month did I finally locate all the component parts of the food processor, reassemble it, and delight in the fact that it's still operational. *Drool.* What a dreamy appliance it is when it goes to work.

My favorite processor creations so far have been (1) homemade pesto, and (2) raw energy bars. Which to begin with? The pesto was unbelievably easy: fresh basil, toasted almonds (pine nuts, I learned, do NOT toast well in the oven), garlic, and olive oil. Pulse. Heaven!

Rotini pasta with pesto

Brown rice pasta with pesto, baked tilapia and mixed veggies

For the raw energy bars...I have to remember where I even got this recipe. If anyone wants the specifics, I'll happily share, because these were hands down the most delicious energy bars, store-bought or homemade included, I've ever tasted. I take no credit for these, as it was pure recipe-heeding that introduced these to my tastebuds, but wow...Food Processor, let me count the ways I adore thee.

Adding honey to the nuts and dried fruits.

Added cranberries, shredded coconut, raisins, and Green Magma (powdered barley greens)

Tell me that doesn't look amazing

My small army of kitchen appliances has boosted my confidence enough that I've branched out in many ways in my life so far in Seattle that never even seemed within the realm of possibility before. I've made my own granola, baked bread, created my own salad dressings, learned how to cook steel cut oats, rolled my own quiche crust from teff flour, made soup from scratch, cooked steaks with a homemade marinade, tried tons of different dark leafy greens in dozens of homespun salad combinations, learned how to make perogies from scratch (a shared learning experience with Alan around Christmas last year), baked fish, made my own guacamole, baked homemade pita chips, and tried more new foods and ingredients than I previously knew existed. What a wonderful world food is!

Grass-fed steak with wild rice and green beans

Homemade toasted pita chips and curried lentil dip

Our perogies masterpiece

I've read a lot of books lately about diet, mostly in relation to holistic health, disease prevention, athletic endurance, and general longevity. Several of them include: Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food", Victoria Boutenko's "Green for Life" and "Raw Family: A True Story of Awakening", Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal Vegetable Miracle", Loren Cordain's "The Paleo Diet", and Erik Marcus' "Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating". All have been great, enlightening reads, and if you'll pardon the embarrassing pun, good food for thought. While there are a lot of different ideas out there - some of which are downright radical by our society's standards - the truth is that there are general overlaps amongst all of them. While the jury might still out on whether eating cows is a good idea, or if a food's glycemic index matters, or whether microwaving food introduces carcinogens, or if a cup of coffee a day is good or bad or you, etc etc...
Pretty much everyone across the board agrees:

1. Processed food bad.
2. Refined sugar bad.
3. Too much food bad.
4. Nuts and seeds good.
5. Fruits, vegetables, dark leafy greens really good.

That's not so hard, is it? Am I absolutely 100% avoiding any foods right now? Nope. I am generally trying to consume minimal: caffeine, processed foods, refined sugar, refined grains, gluten, cheese and alcohol, while trying to emphasize: greens, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, lean protein, seafood, herbal teas, and nutritional superfoods in general. I'm going on several months now without coffee, even more months with a daily fresh green juice or smoothie, and a year and a half now without missing a single day of work due to being sick. *Knock on wood.* I like this being-healthy business. Food is medicine.

Anyone want to have a dinner party soon?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

So what does one eat on long run days, anyway?

My running route this morning: 19 miles roundtrip.

The book I mentioned in my last entry, Racing Weight, has a fun little section that interviews a bunch of elite endurance athletes about their typical daily diet. It's inspiring - to be reminded that food is indeed fuel (as well as medicine), and the better I eat, the better I run. Without intentionally doing so, I managed to get in 9 out of 10 superfoods today! Yum.

Here's the breakdown of my food today:

Smoothie with lots of fruit, dark leafy greens, almonds, and chia seeds

During run:
1 pack of Clif Shot Bloks, handful of raisins (usually I eat more on my runs, but I had limited supplies since I didn't intend to go so long...)

Post run:
Bowl of lowfat vanilla yogurt with cranberries and walnuts
Electrolyte replenishment (Nuun)

Almond butter, coconut, and honey sandwich on sprouted seed bread
A bunch of carrots
A few squares dark chocolate
Glass of milk

Afternoon snack:
Raspberry oat bar

Big bowl of quinoa with stir-fried broccoli, red peppers, cauliflower, onion, chickpeas, a fried egg on top
Baked sweet potato

Trader Joe's gluten-free ginger snap cookies

Book Blog: My Reading List, Pt I

First of all, thank you again Nicholas Carr, for your wonderful wake up call with The Shallows, which reminded me that reading books is, and always will be, a valuable use of my time.

I went through a long, not-reading-so-much lull. It started in college, when of course, I was reading plenty of books and other materials for my classes - and it was wonderful reading indeed: international novels, political treatises, historically resonant works, compelling nonfiction, poetry, translations, essays about translations, translations of essays about translations...the world of academia was indeed a rich one.

At the same time, it left me little time to peruse books on my own. I'm pleased to say that even though I objectively still don't have the time for huge swaths of leisure reading, I'm carving out the moments for it nonetheless, and it's heavenly. Last night, I went out for drinks with a couple women in my javascript class to celebrate the end of our quarter (or, in my case, mourn...I will miss that javascript class dearly). One of the women mentioned that she has a weakness for high heels, and treats herself with a new pair every month - many of which she admitted just sit in her closet untouched, but the process of buying them is so exciting and rewarding that she can't help herself. I guess I'm like that with books; I buy books and check them out from the library at a rate that far exceeds my ability to read them - and yet I indulge in the pleasure of acquiring them, and am comforted by their presence in my home.

So what exactly have I been reading lately?

ChiRunning, by Danny Dreyer

I've recommended this one to tons of customers at REI looking for a more technical manual on how to adapt their form to more of a midfoot strike (vs. the traditional heavy heel strike), which often helps runners cut down on their injuries...and yet I've never read it myself until now! Man, what a tremendously insightful and valuable read this one's turning out to be. It draws on principles from Tai Chi, and encourages runners to derive their power from their core, rather than their legs. Just keeping some simple principles described in the first few chapters of this book in mind while running has already allowed me to have some tremendously enjoyable and surprisingly effortless-feeling runs lately, including a 17-miler one way run to Kenmore, a 20-miler out-and-back along Lake Washington last weekend, and a few powerful sprint workouts as well. So far, so good...none of those pesky old shin splints flaring up this time around! I'm excited about the possibilities here, and would absolutely recommend this to all runners.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

Rachel's mom loaned this one to me when I was 17, and I just couldn't get myself to read it...sci fi? I thought skeptically. So the loaned copy sat on my bookshelf until I graduated and gave it back untouched. Then a couple months ago, I saw the same book on my friend Lauren's bookshelf, recognized it, inquired about it. Once again, the book was pressed into my hands, and it was demanded I read it. What a gem of a novel! In and out of chronological order, it tells the story of a Jesuit mission from Earth to explore an inhabited planet 17 light years away. The characters are spectacularly developed, and the story wonderfully told. Don't wait as long as I did to read it.

Racing Weight, by Matt Fitzgerald

This one's a bit of a guilty admittance, since it is essentially a weight loss book, and weight loss has such a strange stigma in our society. Every doctor I've ever had until now has either (1) told me I'm borderline overweight (because of that silly BMI nonsense, like that number matters more than the fact that I maintain a ridiculously healthy diet and lead a very active lifestyle), or (2) worried that I'm anorexic (because of my obsession with running...surely that level of enthusiasm for exercise must indicate mental illness, right?!) My doctor in Seattle is a triathlete, and for the first time ever, I have a doctor who isn't trying to diagnose imaginary problems with my body. She gets it! (It's kind of a coincidence, but not really, that of the hundreds if not thousands of doctors in this city, my trail running friend Elodie settled on the exact same one as me - both of us entirely independently of one another.) Anyway. With all that said, I do worry about my knees with all the running I do, and I also admit I have a secret pipe dream of being a semi-professional sponsored ultrarunner someday- and dropping a few pounds could certainly help on both those fronts. I am way, way over worrying about what I look like in a bikini or fitting into a certain size of pants...but I AM interested in being the best, most-injury-free runner I can be. This book is for me! Guidelines for weight loss and maintenance for endurance athletes just looking to perform at their best. Vashon 50K, here I come again.

Why We Run: A Natural History, by Bernd Heinrich

This is an interesting one. It used to be called "Racing the Antelope", which always caught my eye in the bookstore, because Seyeon and I have always nicknamed ourselves the Cheetah and the Antelope, respectively, when it comes to our running styles. Seyeon has these crazy muscles when she runs, and she can get into this powerful jet-sprinting mode that's almost scary intense (in an awesome way!) to watch. I tend to prance more, I suppose :P, when I run, light and happy and free like an antelope. Anyway, apparently the author got sued by some Phish fan turned author for supposedly ripping off the Antelope title, so he changed his book's title to "Why We Run." Bernd is both a biologist and an ultrarunner, so he tackles the subject of endurance from a biology standpoint, discussing all the unique qualities of various animals that allow them to be endurance athletes in their own ways - everything from camels to hummingbirds to frogs. It's kind of a meandering narrative, interspersed, too, with the author's own running anecdotes - but overall an enjoyable and educational read, if not a sometimes seemingly aimless one. Not done with it yet, so not sure yet whether I recommend it for sure - but certainly a fun, quirky read.

Poke the Box, by Seth Godin

This is a short read - for me, an impulsive Kindle buy that lasted about the duration of my light rail ride to the airport when I went to Salt Lake City a couple weeks ago - but a great one! I've become a big fan of Seth Godin's blog for daily common sense and business musings about the new information age economy. This book is just the latest in his prodigious list of published writings, but it's a good one - short, to the point, and totally motivating. How do programmers create things, Godin asks? They just write the code and see what happens, and keep tweaking it until it finally works; they poke the box. The world needs more people who start things, not just people who follow directions. We need innovators. We need people who aren't afraid to fail at things. And boy does Seth make me want to be one of them. Highly recommended, too. I shelled out the bucks to buy a print copy of it, too, to give as a gift, because if I've got one big complaint about the Kindle, it's that I can't turn around and immediately share with others what I've just read. Loaning my books to friends is on par pleasure-wise with procuring new ones for myself.

Well, I'm only 50% of the way through the list of books I wanted to write about, and it's definitely sleepytime now. Stay tuned for the other five soon. (And don't worry, they're not all running books...)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Getting my priorities straight

Things I love: kitchens and bookcases.

Do I spend (much) money on clothes or cars or jewelry or beauty products or movies or music or TV or a fancy phone? Nope. But after a year of tracking my finances on Mint, I've noticed that the budget I'm willing to justify for books and kitchen supplies (appliances, groceries, and dishes all included) seems to be relatively sprawling.

I've also noticed that kitchens and bookcases are inevitably the places I gravitate toward when I'm in other people's homes - the nooks I find myself nosing around in to learn about other people. And when I notice the same book on the bookshelves of several different people I admire and respect, it's not long before I'm tracking it down at the library/Elliott Bay Books/Half Price/Amazon (my book distributors of choice, in no particular order; I think I do equal parts business at all four.)

So I've been reading David Allen's Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (thanks, Tom and Brant.)

Me and Tom atop Mt. Si two weeks ago, having left Seattle at 5 a.m. with headlamps and snacks in tow to make it to the summit for sunrise!

Overall, the book is more corporate-jobby than is 100% relevant in my life right now - organizing my home office, ha! - but I've picked up a couple priceless concepts from it so far:

1. Stress comes from having "open loops" in your head. Getting them down on paper - every last one of them - clears up space in your head to relax and focus better, because you're not trying to juggle a hundred to-do's in the back of your mind at all times. I'm harnessing the power of the yellow notepad.

2. If anything on your to-do list will take less than two minutes to do, do it immediately. Amazing what a difference this simple change has already made for me!

I made a list of all the ongoing projects in my life - everything from specific work-related projects (the ONW website redesign, helping coordinate REI's annual running shoe expo) to school-related projects (designing a website for my comedian friend Quinn Patterson, applying for scholarships for next year) to ongoing self-education crusades (learning banjo, learning Dutch, learning PHP, learning about investments, learning about holistic wellness and alternative medicine, learning about social media and guerilla marketing) to strengthening personal relationships to training for ultramarathons to my ongoing book reading list to apartment maintenance to developing a freelance portfolio.

My Vision Board from a couple weeks ago.

It felt amazingly good to write it all down on paper. The process also reminded me of the five thousand or so blog entries that I haven't managed to write here yet but really want to! I know I tend to write disproportionately about running, the great outdoors in Washington state, and general life musings - and that makes sense, since those are largely the things that sustain my soul - but there are other unwritten entries itching to get out, too. In the works are: a serious food/cooking blog entry, a what I've been reading blog entry, a reflections on the Kindle blog entry, a music I've been listening to blog entry, a snowboarding in Salt Lake City blog entry, a 2011 bucket list entry, a gratitude blog entry, a tribute to good people in my life blog entry, an ode to my food processor blog entry, a tribute to my cat blog entry, a video blog featuring me on a snowboard and me playing banjo (not at the same time), and a likely-to-be-long-and-rambly blog entry reflecting on Sid, the lawyer I worked for one summer five years ago - a work experience that had a pretty profound effect in shaping the Me of today.

Beautiful footprints leading into the unknown.

Good God, it's a fascinating world we live in. Stay tuned.

Postscript: The following quote is painted in the employee stairwell at REI.
"Oh, let us always have a mountain within our soul with a peak so high that we never quite reach the top…for then we always strive for greater things and will not be content with merely climbing hills." - Ardath Rodale
She was and continues to be an inspiration to me. Indeed, let there always be a mountain within my soul!