Month: November 2013

Ginger Lentil Muffins

This recipe has been updated!  Version 2 can be made vegan and gluten-free, and you can find it here: Spiced Lentil Muffins.

Now I get that you might be feeling a little skeptical about lentils in muffins but just hear me out. You trusted me on the zucchini chocolate cake, right? And look how well that turned out! Just try them, and you’ll never look at a lentil the same way again.

By now, you might have realized that I have a teensy bit of a muffin fetish. They’re so easy to bake, incredibly versatile and very portable – what’s not to love? So when I ended up bored around the house on a Saturday afternoon, what else was I to do but create the recipe I’ve had floating around in my head for a month?

Bonus: if you’re an endurance athlete like me, these have the perfect carb to protein ratio (4:1) for recovery. Just sayin’. :)

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Sweet Millet Congee

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It’s a quick update today, but after four days on the Wild Rose Cleanse, I still haven’t had those terrible first few days everyone talks about. No cramping, no GI issues, no headaches and normal energy levels. I also realized that the Wild Rose diet is basically what I always eat, with the exception of dairy, sugar and flour. Not too difficult to find delicious ways to cook with all that’s left!

The best part of avoiding sugar has been learning a bunch of new ways to flavour things. I put tons of cinnamon in my oatmeal, along with frozen cranberries for a delicious, cozy breakfast. I also tried cooking millet since it’s one of the recommended grains, and discovered an amazing recipe on the back of the package! I’ve made some modifications and I’d like to share it. (more…)

Up and Over

Climbing technique is a key skill for competitive cyclists, and lots of recreational cyclists also benefit from learning how to properly pace and crest a hill.  We all have a tendency to ease off a little as we reach the top of a hill and the grade levels off, but if you add a push at the top and over the hill you can recover at a much faster speed than if you rest as soon as you reach the top.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather do that little push to recover at 35km/hr rather than dying at 6km/hr over the top of the hill.

Okay, so now that we know the best technique for cresting a hill, how do you practice it?  By doing Up and Overs of course!  You can do these outside, on a trainer or in a spin class – whatever floats your boat. The key is to keep the effort level high until you’ve moved from the hill to the sprint.  No sneaking breaks in between! (more…)

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Wild Rose Cleanse: Day One

This week I decided to try a cleanse.  I know cleanses are viewed skeptically by most of the “I actually want to be healthy rather than just skinny” crowd, and usually lumped in with magic weight loss pills and wonder supplements.  Trust me, I feel the same way about most and I’m not about to go on a strict lemon-juice-and-cayenne-pepper diet.  The reason I decided to try a cleanse that I have evaluated as being healthy is because I believe in trying things for myself, rather than just following what everyone else says.  It’s true, I might be buying into the exaggerated claims of a multi-billion-dollar industry; but that’s not a reason not to give it a try and see how it works.

As for why I decided to do a cleanse rather than just following a normal healthy diet? For the past few months I’ve been noticing that my digestion is a little off and I’ve been having really strong cravings (no, I’m not pregnant!); yesterday I couldn’t resist a brownie with my lunch, simply because I saw a tray of desserts at reception, and that’s so unlike me.  I’m interested to see if the change in diet and supplements results in an improvement to how I’m feeling.

The other reason is that I feel like I need a reset on my diet.  I haven’t been eating well lately (by my standards), and considered doing an elimination diet a couple of weeks ago to break the sugar cycle – this worked until I started pulling 60 hour weeks at the office and had a couple nights of bad sleep, then I was right back on the sugar train.  The diet that goes along with the Wild Rose Cleanse is very close to a typical elimination diet, restricting sugar and dairy while focusing on foods like fish, whole grains and vegetables.  That’s the other reason I chose Wild Rose: the diet is real, unprocessed food.  None of this “fruit juice with ginger three times a day” stuff, because I know that wouldn’t last – maybe a day, and I would go nuts for actual food.  If you’re interested in critiquing the diet, a the whole thing is listed here.

So today is day one.  Steel-cut oats with whole cranberries and cinnamon for breakfast, and fried brown rice with egg, peas and corn for lunch.  Apparently the first few days are the worst, so I’ll keep you posted!

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Off-season Challenge!

Super exciting, I know!  But before I go into the details of what I’m doing in my off-season I’m going to talk about what my goals are and why – because everything has a purpose.

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This is what the off-season is for.

My five main goals for this off-season, along with how I will achieve them:

Goal 1: Recover from training and racing hard in 2013.
> Take a two week break from formal training after the marathon (done!).
> Keep training light and relaxed for the months of November and December.

Goal 2: Fine-tune my overall nutrition by experimenting with different foods and recipes; come up with foods that are easy to prepare and nutritious, to support my Ironman training.
> Reduce my overall sugar and refined carbohydrate intake, focus on whole foods.
> Make a cookbook of foods that are easy to prepare (in advance if possible).

Goal 3: Lose some weight in preparation for next racing season, with the goal of reaching ~16% body fat by January (approximately 117lb, from 121lb today).
> Weigh myself every day (this isn’t for everyone, but it works for me), and track my weight along with my nutrition using the MyFitnessPal app.

Goal 4: Work on strength and flexibility to rehab and prevent injuries.  Specifically this means incorporating overall strength training and trying some different fitness classes.
> Weight training 3x per week with a focus on glute and core strength.
> Try yoga, kettlebell and/or Crossfit.

Goal 5: Work on refining technique (specifically in swimming) and maintaining a basic level of fitness.
> Get in the pool a few times before January – I’m being reasonable here…
> Spin class twice a week to maintain bike, run and overall cardio fitness.

So here’s my challenge: From today until December 31, I will do some form of exercise every day.

Obviously this doesn’t mean hard exercise every day! Once I’ve done my exercise, I’ll share what I did on Twitter.  Here are some ideas:

  • Spin class or trainer ride    
  • Core workout
  • Weight training
  • Swimming     
  • Stretching
  • Yoga/kettlebell/fitness class
  • Running or walking

Anyone else in for the challenge?

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Experiment of One: Sugar

I had a total revelation last week (and it resulted in an awesome recipe, at the bottom of this post).

Since I’m no longer training, I decided to do a little nutritional “experiment of one” around sugar and stimulants (i.e. caffeine).  I was inspired by my sister who recently cut out all sugar – and I mean all sugar, even natural sugars like honey, fruit, dairy and anything else containing lactose, fructose or glucose – after learning sugar is one of her food sensitivities.  I figured I’d give it a try and see what happened.

Although I planned to start my no-sugar, no-caffeine diet on Monday, I only lasted until about 4pm so I didn’t technically start until Tuesday.  But seriously, not eating any sugar is freaking hard ’cause that stuff is in everything!  No raisins in my yogurt, no banana, no chocolate – definitely not something I could keep up long term.

So, I was only successful in doing one day of no sugar at all.  But over the rest of the week I started adding in sugar gradually, and I’ve still drastically reduced the amount I used to eat every day.  I also learned a couple cool things about how my body responds to sugar (and here I’m using “sugar” to refer to natural or refined because fruit has more or less the same effects):

  • Between 30 and 60 minutes after eating sugar, even if I’m not hungry, I get a strong desire to eat – specifically sugar and junk food cravings, but I just feel the need to eat something.
  • This craving goes away if I wait about 15 minutes without eating.

I spent most of the summer wondering why I constantly felt a need to eat even when I wasn’t hungry, but then I’d snack on fruit because it’s delicious and good for you.  Vicious circle ensues, leaving me feeling simultaneously guilty and unsatisfied.

But I also learned something else about sugar cravings this week: excessive sugar cravings are a sign of overtraining, according to page two of Avoiding Late-Season Burnout from Inside Triathlon.  I’d never made that connection, but it makes sense and might have made it’s own contribution too.

My final discovery this week was the BEST BREAKFAST CEREAL EVER.  Homemade, gluten-free/low, totally sugar-free (unless you put raisins in it like I do) and so many variations: basically pick any combination of seeds and grains, mix them with some sort of dairy or non-dairy milk or yogurt and let them sit for about 15 minutes then enjoy!  I throw it all together in the morning when I get up, and it’s ready by the time I’m out of the shower.

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Clockwise from top: chia seeds, hemp seeds, kasha, flax meal, rolled oats

Best Breakfast Cereal

Here’s what I put in one serving, but feel free to substitute (Bulk Barn carries most of these):
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp flax meal
1 Tbsp kasha (toasted buckwheat)
1 Tbsp hulled hemp seeds
2 Tbsp old-fashioned rolled oats
1 Tbsp raisins
1/2 cup milk

Mix everything together, then let it sit for at least 15 minutes so the chia seeds have time to gel.

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Nutritional info: 296 cal, 33g carbs, 8g fibre, 14g protein, 12g fat (healthy ones!)

Variations:

  • Add half a scoop of protein powder (I use Vega sport protein)
  • Use unsweetened almond or flax milk instead of dairy
  • Add cinnamon and apple chunks
  • Substitute steel-cut oats if you like a chewier texture
  • Add more rolled oats for texture or to increase the carbs
  • Mix everything in a small pot and eat it warm
  • Add a few spoonfuls of Greek or regular plain yogurt
  • Make it the night before and store in the fridge overnight so it’s ready in the morning
  • Flavour with vanilla extract or cocoa powder
  • Anything else you can think of!

Happy eating!

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Hamilton Marathon Race Report

It’s taken me a while to put my thoughts down on paper because this race was one of the most emotional and difficult I’ve ever attempted, and it took a while for everything to sink in.

The pre-race report is here.

Standing at the start line alongside so many other future marathoners, I was filled with anticipation for a good race and a solid undertone of apprehension about at distance I had never run before.  Forty two (point two!) kilometers and many tears later, I would be a marathoner!  I thought back to 13 years ago, when I remember watching the Sydney Olympics and wondering how in the world anyone could run 10km without stopping; I never would have imagined I would attempt a marathon.

Way too much energy...but I LOVE my neon pink compression socks!

Way too much energy…but I LOVE my neon pink compression socks!

With nearly perfect weather and gorgeous views for the first 10km, I almost managed to forget that for some reason my toes were numb and my hip was supposed to be hurting by 8k.  To my complete surprise, my pirformis syndrome didn’t flare up until everything else hurt worse – and by then I was in too much pain to care.

I held a nice steady pace around 5:10 for the first 10k, but it didn’t feel as smooth as the first 8km of Scotiabank Half two weeks ago.  I followed my race and nutrition plan perfectly, at 10k I added a little push and for a solid 8km I was floating through the course: meditation has nothing on how I felt on Sunday morning.  It was magical.

It took me about 19km to realize that I wasn’t having a good day.  Not that I was having a bad day exactly…but I knew I shouldn’t be starting to hurt 2km before the halfway point. I hit 21k within 1:49, and the triumph of beating my half marathon PB by three minutes (note: this was a BAD IDEA) was overshadowed by an overwhelming urge to walk the 21k aid station. That is, until I realized that walking hurt more than running (what’s with that?).  Running it is, I guess.

Everything between 21 and 29 kilometers is a blur; the breeze picked up and turned into a cold headwind, I wasn’t able to take advantage of the downhill between kilometers 21 and 22 because my legs hurt too much, and I was incredibly disappointed to be passed by the 3:45 pace bunny running down the parkway.  Did those runners have to make it seem so damn easy? Couldn’t they see I was in PAIN??  I was keeping a decent pace around 5:30 but it hurt like hell, and my first tears came as I was running up the off-ramp to the 29k aid station.  Fortunately I had a backup consolation pack of gummies, and they were the best thing I’d ever tasted.  Moment salvaged.

We hopped onto a section of trail to get over the QEW (hopped being a figurative, not literal term, because nobody is “hopping” anywhere 29km into a marathon), and I even managed to pop a smile and victory pose for the photographer across the bridge – I honestly don’t know where that energy came from. A second wind caught me as I ran down through the crowds surrounding the 30km mark, realizing that I was only 10 minutes behind my goal pace and getting a little teary and emotional as I ran by Dad and Brenda who were cheering and snapping pictures.  My legs were hurting, but I only had 12km to go!

My energy lasted until 32km, where the real race started to unfold (or should I say, unravel?). The first real tears came as the 4:00 pace bunny passed me, and I just couldn’t bring myself to run anymore so I walked and cried until I got to the 33km marker.  Little did I know, this would be close to the last running I would do in this race, and covering the last 7km would be the toughest finish I’ve ever done.

At 35km, as I turned back towards the finish line, my legs stopped cooperating.  A brief attempt to run…jog…shuffle meant I nearly collapsed, and I resigned my self to walk the remainder of the race in tears – and I literally sobbed for the next hour and a half as I limped my way to the end.  Low blood sugar, pain and a profound sense of frustration and disappointment were the highlights of my walk to the finish, and while I appreciated the cheering and attempts to motivate me as the kilometer markers grew further and further apart, I felt like kicking everyone who said “come on, dig deep and run it in!!” – with their happy smiles and legs that still work.

I almost quit at 40.5km.  I hate walking from the elevator to my car in the parking garage, let alone the last 7km of what was supposed to be a race, and WHERE THE HELL was the 41km marker?  Shouldn’t it be here by now? But I didn’t just complete 40.5km to give up now.  No matter what, I finish.

Although I walked almost until the last meter, at 4:41:20 I jogged across that finish line in tears.

The Numbers

Chip time – 4:41:20
Average pace – 6:49
Age group placing – 32/43
Overall placing – 852/985

The Aftermath

My sense of disappointment took several days to dissipate, and for that time I was so embarrassed with my finish that I didn’t even tell people I’d run a marathon.  Of course they caught on as soon as they saw me walk or attempt stairs (which was actually pretty hilarious if you’re not the one wincing), but I needed to spend some time internally processing my feelings.  I’m still feeling a little sensitive about it, but realized that overcoming an incredibly difficult finish and actually completing the distance is a success.  Having big goals means failing sometimes, but that it’s just an opportunity to do better next time.

Also, some things just came together perfectly:

  • I didn’t have to deal with any specific pain or injuries during the race, not even blisters or chafing anywhere.
  • Compression socks are the most incredible thing ever because nothing hurt below my knees (thank you EC3D for having amazing socks)!
  • My nutrition was almost perfect, although I ended up with extra gels and wouldn’t carry as much next time.
  • I ran the race perfectly, I just wasn’t quite ready for 42.2km; ten weeks ago I had never run more than 21.1km, and with 7 weeks of training I ran and finished a marathon. Now I know what I have to do for the next one, and 30+km is no longer the daunting distance it used to be.

Finishing the toughest, longest and most emotional race I’ve ever done gave me the confidence of knowing what I have to do after I get off the bike on July 27, 2014, and if it gets me to a better Ironman finish it was worth the tears.  I can’t wait to do it again next year!

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Hamilton Pre-Race Report

I don’t usually write pre-race reports, but this race is the biggest and longest one I’ve done all year, definitely the most painful, and the only one I might not even finish – all of which makes me much more nervous than usual (in the best way possible).  I felt it would be worthwhile to write down some of my goals and strategies so I can review what I followed, what worked and what didn’t after the race.  You know, once I’m done eating my dark chocolate-covered almonds and cranberries that will be waiting for me at the finish line, courtesy of my race-support Dad! :)

First of all, the goals:

My top priority is to finish the race, obviously.  Feeling strong or smiling when I cross the finish line would be nice, but the basic goal is pretty simple: no matter what, finish the race.  Since it’s my first marathon, that’s a PB right there.

My secondary goal is to run under 4 hours, which should be doable and is a nice round number (as well as being completely arbitrary), but it’s more of a consolation goal because my really super-amazing awesome goal is to run 3:30 and qualify for the Boston Marathon!  I know it’s a really big stretch, but I also know it’s possible if everything comes together and I run a strong race.

Since I’m counting on a lot to work out, I’ve come up with strategies for just about everything.  I haven’t made them into an excel spreadsheet yet, but just wait; there’s still time. :)

Pacing is probably the simplest, especially since my goal time of 3:30 works out to just under 5:00 pace. I’m staying a little conservative since it’s my first marathon, and plan to run about 1:47 for the first half and 1:43 for the second half if I can, both of which are under my current half marathon PB of 1:52. Woohoo, double PB!

Nutrition is also relatively straightforward since I’ve practiced plenty in training.
Pre-race: Lots of healthy carbs today and tomorrow, spaghetti the night before, and a scrambled egg sandwich on a bagel with coffee before the race.
During the race: One GU gel every 5km, which works out to about 50g of carbs per hour and also breaks up the distance into nice manageable chunks, with sugar at the end of each. :)  I’m wearing my fuel belt with two small bottles, which will mean I don’t need to worry about missing aid stations and I can take my gels every 5k rather than every 6k at the aid stations.

The toughest part is my psychological strategy.

Beyond the usual difficulties with the distance, my piriformis refuses to behave itself and has been painful enough to stop my last few runs.  I’m going to tape up my piriformis with my gorgeous purple KT tape, and hope that the extra support will delay the onset of pain and/or potentially reduce its severity once it shows up, and I’m preparing myself to manage a lot of pain.  I do have my doctor’s approval to run through the injury, so I’m working on mantras and dissociative strategies to help me manage for as long as I need to.  I’ve written “Embrace the pain” on my left arm, and even though I’m wearing long sleeves, I’ll know it’s there.

But as far as running the actual distance is concerned…well, I haven’t.  I don’t know exactly what to expect, and even for distances I’ve done in training, I have a difficult time coming up with mantras ahead of time since they’re typically different for every race.  Some of the mantras that have gotten me through other races are:

“Just keep going”
“Strong and smooth”
“Make it count”
“Own the pain”
“I am stronger”
“Make them suffer”

I’m not sure which of those will find their way into my head on race day, but tonight I stumbled across a slightly longer quote that really clicked with me:

“Energy and persistence conquer all things” – Benjamin Franklin

I think I know what I’m going to write on my other arm. :)