Racing in a new year with Club Northwest

Sunday marks the start of a new year of racing for Club Northwest/Brooks. I am so happy to be representing Club Northwest/Brooks for another year. Though I don’t train with them regularly, I can’t say enough about how nice it is to be part of this team. To arrive at a race and see friendly faces and know that you’re not alone.

Unfortunately, no amount of camaraderie is going to help me on Sunday at Seattle’s Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em Valentine’s Day Dash. I frequently open the year of racing at this fun Greenlake race. It always comes on the heels of my year-end break from running, a 3-week slothfest when I decompress mentally and physically. Though I do love the break, I would also love to be able to skip this stage of training. Coming back from it always involves some amount of gnashing of teeth. It’s a miserable climb back to a state of fitness where running starts to flow. When speed sessions don’t feel like an exercise in futility. I’m not there yet.

The thing about returning to running after a break is that you can’t just pick up where you left off. It’s tough to be patient during the build-up phase. Especially when mother nature decides to throw curve balls.

Let me tell you something about people from the Pacific Northwest. We don’t do anything in the snow. Our kids don’t go to school, we don’t drive, and don’t expect to see a shoveled walkway. It’s not happening. We shut down, break out the sleds we bought 4 years ago the last time it snowed, and wonder when everything will melt. But I had a long run scheduled. I need every workout I can get before Sunday’s race. So I strapped on some Yaktrax and headed out the door.

My takeaway? Yaktrax are not the most comfortable things in the world. But I also have an older version that lack the toe plates that would probably alleviate some of the discomfort I felt in the ball of my foot. As traction in the snow, however, they worked well. Even so, 10 miles devolved into a discouraging 7 and the slog back to shape continues.

With the specter of a painful race ahead of me, I’m comforting myself with new shoes. What else can you do? I love my Brooks Adrenalines and would run in them even without the Club Northwest connection.

Club Northest/Brooks

I tried to capture my funky lacing system. A few years ago, out of the blue, the top of my foot started bugging me, right in the middle of the laces. When I asked at my local running store – Poulsbo Running, holla! – they suggested skipping a hole in the middle of the laces. That simple trick helped and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Though we’ve returned to our normal windy, rainy February, prospects for race time on Sunday look sunny. At this point there’s not much more to do but take a deep breath and go for it. Hopefully I’ll end up in better shape than our Pacific Northwest snowman. He spent a day listing wildly before giving up the ghost.

Race planning and mom guilt

When our kids were babies, Mike worked a lot. Beyond the long hours each day, he also traveled out of town for work multiple days each month. With the birth of our eldest I went from 10-hour workdays in a hectic hotel kitchen, to endless hours of solitude punctuated by regular intervals of desperately bouncing and rocking a crying baby. At a certain point I became someone I didn’t recognize: someone who spent the day watching the clock waiting for her husband to return home. Was this 1950 or 2005?

I started running with a jogging stroller as a way to fill time, picking up the sport I had largely abandoned during my working years. Yes, even in those years I still ran a few days each week, but that was more out of vanity than anything else. I didn’t like the way I felt or looked when completely sedentary.

But the baby jogger was a way out of the house. An escape in the days when the walls threatened to close in on me. It was also a way to find a little piece of myself again, when every other part seemed to belong to someone else.

Within a few years Mike was lucky enough to find a business partner who helped him stop the insanity. Who shared the same work-life philosophies and helped create a business that enabled him to get off the road and out of the office. We moved out of the city. The kids grew and started school. And I kept running.

In the years in high school when I fought to get into a good college, then fought through college to achieve anything academically and athletically, I always felt that I was working toward something. A respectable college, a good job, financial security. I never realized this was all achievement for achievement’s sake. That there is never an end until you say there is.

I never went back to a serious full time job. But once both kids spent a majority of the day in school, I needed to justify my time. A reason to exist, something to achieve. For the last few years running has given me this, and more.

At first it was a way to organize my day. Then it was a way to connect with my friends who continued to work. Something to talk about beyond the platitudes about how great it is to be a stay-at-home mom.

But now that it’s gotten more serious, it has circled back around. Now, instead of running to justify my time, I find myself chasing achievement to justify my running. To alleviate the mom guilt I feel for the mental space I dedicate to running and cross training. For traveling to out-of-town races and missing swim meets and soccer tournaments. For sticking Mike with the parenting responsibilities made easier by the presence of two people.

I find myself striving to earn my running. To achieve higher heights to justify its existence. To make it cost as little as possible in both time and money. And as I look ahead to 2017 races, and back at those of 2016, I’m realizing the fallacy in this. That all the victories in the world will not fill that hole. That no amount of free gear, prize money, or recognition will make me an elite runner or bring about the end of the achievement wheel. Or release me from the mom guilt.

Pre-race mom guilt

May 2017 be the year that I release myself.

An accidental foray into vegan, gluten-free cooking

This week I’ve gone the full hippie: vegan, gluten-free. I accidentally-on-purpose impulse bought this cookbook.

Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows Every Day spun out of her popular blog, Oh She Glows. Which, I now know, specializes in vegan, gluten-free recipes.

At the time of purchase, however, I didn’t realize this. Alexa and I were enjoying a pre-Christmas girls’ day of shopping downtown and I had just completed a long-winded lecture about Christmas shopping being for other people. While I waited for her to choose a present for her brother, I flipped through the pages of this book. I saw beautiful photography and lots of vegetables. So, I bought it for myself. In hopes of enticing the kids with the pictures and adding some new and healthy dinner standards to the rotation.

Then I got it home and actually read it. Plant-based sounded great. But vegan, gluten-free? Apparently not all impulse purchases pan out.

But the book got me with the pictures. And some innocuous-sounding recipes. Apple Pie Overnight Oats? I can get behind that.

Vegan, gluten-free overnight oats

You’ll need to get the book to get the actual recipe, but the blog has a Vegan Overnight Oats recipe that is pretty close. This was a wading-in of sorts for me. Since we are neither vegan, nor gluten-free, I used our regular oats and full dairy milk, but everything else followed the recipe. And it was good! The kids loved it. I decided to go a little deeper.

One of my favorite things about this book is the simplicity. Yes, you’ll need to get some new ingredients. You might find yourself in an unfamiliar aisle at the grocery store. Those weird Bob’s Red Mill products you usually blow right past? You’ll need some of those.

But the recipes come together quickly and easily. Next up, I tried the Chocolate-Almond Espresso Cookies. You pretty much just dump the ingredients together and stir. No special equipment or technique required.

The verdict? Pillowy, chewy, chocolatey goodness. The kids didn’t miss the gluten or eggs. But that was child’s play. Anyone can throw together chocolate, sugar and almond butter and make it taste good. What about dinner?

Vegan nachos would really test the limits of these crazy recipes. The foundation of this dish is the All-Purpose Cheese Sauce recipe from the book. It gets layered with a bean and vegetable based chili, then topped with tortilla chips. A close cousin to the cheese sauce recipe from the book can be found on the blog here (scroll down the link to find the cheese sauce recipe).

vegan, gluten-free nachos and cheese sauce

Though Alexa complained that there wasn’t enough meat in the dish (apparently I’m not the only one not understanding the whole vegan thing), she went back for seconds and Colin took the leftovers to school for lunch.

Shepherd’s Pie prompted the same lamentation over the lack of meat, but the kids ate it all the same. And these seven-ingredient Endurance Crackers have steadily disappeared throughout the week.

This book is really great and the recipes could not be easier. And, more importantly, they’re actually pretty good. Believe me, no one is more surprised by this than I am. Though I wouldn’t consciously choose to go vegan, gluten-free, I wholeheartedly suggest trying this cookbook.

As a result of this week of recipe testing, Mike even suggested a meat-free month of February. That, however, is taking things too far. We’re having steak tonight. Because, you know, balance.

Paris adventures in the offseason

This.

Paris cafe breakfast

And this.

Paris metro

And them.

It was exactly what I needed to kick off the offseason. Yes, it was a hectic few days to get there. But Paris. Whatever you need to do to get there will always be worth it.

We rented this VRBO in the 6th arrondissement, right in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It was a one bedroom apartment on the first floor of a lovely building on the left bank.

Paris Saint-Germain-des-Pres

Interior courtyard of the building; below left: street view of building; storied Cafe de Flore just down the street

It wasn’t particularly big or fancy, but comfortably fit the four of us. And oh, the location. It could not have been more perfect. If you’re traveling in Paris with kids, I highly recommend renting an apartment over staying in a hotel. We had more space than a hotel room, and the kitchen enabled us to take advantage of the best neighborhood bakeries and food purveyors. Being in a neighborhood meant access to better pâtisseries, boulangeries, and restaurants than the more touristy areas around the hotels, and at $194/night, it was money-saving to boot.

Because of our central location, we walked just about everywhere. The Eiffel Tower and Rodin Museum.

The Louvre.

Rue Mouffetard.

Paris Rue Mouffetard

Mouffetard is one of my favorite streets in Paris. A cobblestone street lined with butchers, cheese shops, bakeries, restaurants, and a huge farmers market: it’s the holy grail of food.

Now this is where a normal person, with normal vacationing behavior would have more to say about another museum visited, a tour taken. Instead, we just ate.

From the traditionally French,

Paris Poilane bakery

to incredible ramen. Ippudo in the 6th arrondissement was an awesome find.

Veggie tamago ramen with housemade noodles

And then there were the pastries. You can’t leave Paris without a visit (or two) to Fauchon.

The kids had to sample the macarons everywhere we went. Luckily for them, you can’t go a block without finding one that was better than the last.

For me, it’s all about the bread. Unbelievably the cost of a baguette hasn’t changed much since I studied abroad there in 1995. 1.20€ (around $1.25) buys you a loaf of crusty perfection. Paired with a slab of rich European butter and a smear of homemade jam, I’m pretty sure nothing better exists in this world.

All too soon our time was up. It was our first international trip with the kids and Paris proved itself an easy and amazing family vacation destination. À bientôt Paris!

Paris Eiffel Tower

Camaraderie in Racing? Yes, at a national championship.

Is it possible to have camaraderie in racing? Or does it need to be a battle? If racing in 2016 taught me anything, it’s that I believe in the former. And here’s why.

Misery loves company

I spent last weekend at USATF National Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, FL. I have to admit to a significant lack of excitement about this race. It’s a tough time of year, both from a running perspective (burnout from training since mid-July), and from a scheduling perspective. Everything seems to want to happen on the first weekend in December. As a mom, it’s a tough time to get away. I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to fly to Florida.

And then there was the weather. The benefit to dragging oneself to the other corner of the country – the southern corner – is warm weather. And yet I found myself angry packing a suitcase full of things that hardly resembled those of my dream beach vacation. Full tights, gloves, hats, and long sleeves instead of my simple race kit. The polar vortex that brought an unusual snow day to Bainbridge reached all the way down to the Sunshine State. It was 34°F at race time in Tallahassee.

But flying into Panama City, FL, I hooked up with my friend and new teammate Camille Shiflett, who gamely agreed to join Club Northwest at the last minute. And I remembered why Club Nationals is the best race of the year. It’s all about the team: the men, the women, the open and the masters. We’re all leaving important things behind to come together to compete in the sport that we love. We’re all going to hurt. But we’re doing it together.

2016 Club Northwest team in Tallahassee, minus Camille and I who were already en route back to the airport

Trying to BEAT someone sets you up for negative thinking

I realize this may sound like some hippie-dippie yoga-speak, but for me, my intention makes a difference. Standing on the starting line trying to beat someone else sets you up with a negative mind set. Now the race is out of your hands because it depends on what the other person does. I’ve done this. Gone out way too fast being a jerk, thinking I needed to stay with someone in order to beat them. Things got ugly real fast, and though I didn’t actually die, I really wanted to.

This is supposed to be fun. It’s more fun to work WITH someone than against them.

The race started at 8:00 a.m. east coast time. This meant temperatures in the 30s and 5 a.m. biological west coast time (see aforementioned “misery”). When the gun went off and I looked over, I was so happy to see this amazing gal by my side.

Photo by Michael Scott

I think it’s well documented at this point that Sonja Friend-Uhl is an incredible runner. But in the last year she has become a good friend and I love that we can race together and work for faster times together.

Camaraderie in racing

Photo by Clay Shaw

Yes, there will still be a winner

USATF National Club XC Championships 2016

Photo by Michael Scott

And no, it wasn’t me. Though we ran through 4000 meters side-by-side, I had fallen off the pace by 5000m, and finished the 6k 22 seconds back in a time of 22:37. It was my slowest time of the cross country season, in conditions much more favorable to a fast race than any of my other races this fall. Is this evidence against camaraderie in racing? I still think not. I had a fun morning running with friends, and my gals Camille and Deborah Fletcher helped clinch the team title for a second year in a row.

With Camille Shiflett and Deborah Fletcher, 2016 national champions, 40s team

In the end I’ll take a runner-up national champion place and camaraderie in racing over contentious win any day. Perhaps that makes me a weaker competitor, but life’s short. You gotta do what makes you happy.

One more week

I have one more week to keep my shit together. One more week until USATF National Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, FL. One more week of workouts, one more week of a year’s worth of planning, preparation and focus. I’m finally in the homestretch and I’m not sure that I’m going to make it.

The edges are fraying around me. Some idiot (me) planned a family vacation that leaves 3 days after I return from Florida. Somewhere in those three days there will be a day-long swim meet, a day of work and a mountain of laundry and packing. And while there’s nothing I can do about those three days now, I can’t help but wake up at 5 a.m. stressing about it. Which is super useful, I know.

In addition to the self-induced sleep deprivation, I’m battling a downhill mental game to maintain the intensity of key workouts. In other words, I’m having trouble bringing it.

I can’t help but look forward to the break that comes after club nationals. A three-week stretch to enjoy family time, a mental break from scheduling long runs and workouts, and a chance to do different things. Recently I mentioned to Mike that I’ve found myself wishing for seasonal sports for more variety in training. He suggested competitive eating.

As I ponder my hot dog eating potential, here’s a look at last week’s workouts, as I straggle into the finish.

Sunday: 12 mile long run
Monday: 9 miles with 21:00 tempo in the middle
Tuesday: 800 yard swim, 30 minute strength workout, 3 1/2 mile trail run
Wednesday: 8 miles total. 2 1/2 miles warm-up; timed progressions at 80% intensity: 10:00, 8:00, 6:00, 4:00 with 3:00 recovery jog in between; 1 1/2 (ish) miles cool down
Thursday: 800 yard swim, 30 minute strength workout
Friday: 6 miles total. 1 1/2 miles warm-up; intervals on the track: 200m/400m/600m/800m/800m/600m/400m/200m; 1 mile cool down
Saturday: Off

brooksxcspikes

Scenes from a cross country season

I just blinked and three four weeks went by. What happens to time at this time of year? Life takes off at warp speed and before you know it, it’s Thanksgiving. The local cross country season has come and gone, wrapping up last weekend at the USATF Northwest Region Open & Masters Cross Country Championships at Lincoln Park in West Seattle.

USATF Northwest Region Cross Country season Championships

This cross country season was a bit of a blur, which I can best describe in one word: mud.

mudsplatter

Every race had some combination of rain, wind, or mud. This was especially true at the USATF Pacific Northwest Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships, held two weeks ago at Woodland Park.

PNTF Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships

The amount of cross country participation at the junior levels was astounding. Colin ran the Boys 11-12 (years old) race and we arrived to find a packed parking lot, the likes of which I have never seen at the open level. I need to give some serious props to this kid. He will jump into just about anything with enthusiasm and a cross country race for which he had never trained was no exception. The 3,000 meter course twisted and looped around Woodland Park, ending with a terrifically brutal uphill finish, directly into a gusting wind. These kids were amazing coming up that last hill. Fifty-eight boys ran the 11-12 race, which is really exciting for the future of the sport.

That was also the weekend we had a fun visit with friends from Oregon. My friend Sarah drove up from Eugene and after a morning of cross country, we saw the sights of Seattle.

butlervisit

The kids loved the flying fish at Pike Place Fish Market and the limitless treasures at Archie McPhee. And I finally got my post-race brunch at Blue Star Cafe.

Last weekend’s mudfest at Lincoln Park really captured the essence of cross country season in the Pacific Northwest. Though the rain held off for the races, epic mud covered several parts of the course. This slowed things down a bit, but I still eked out a 22:00 6k. Can’t complain too much about that one.

PNTF Cross Country season Championships

And now we have less than two weeks to go until USATF National Club Cross Country Championships on December 10th in Tallahassee, FL. Yep, I’m dragging myself across the country on a super sketchy no-seat-assignment-until-check-in Delta ticket that gets me as far as Panama City, FL. Provided that I make it onto that flight, I’ll drive the two hours from Panama City to Tallahassee. It’ll be fine, right? Because cross-country travel usually goes super smoothly in December. Between now and then I’m just trying to stay healthy and hit a couple more quality workouts. No, I’m not counting down the days. Of course not.

Rain, the pity party and PNTF XC Champs

Seattle just broke the record for rain in October. By the end of last night, we recorded 10.05 inches of rain for the month. As a point of reference, the typical month of October sees an average of 3.48 inches, so we almost tripled our suffering. And while rain will always trump heat in my book, I’ve had it. This pretty much summed up my feeling this morning as I headed out the door for ANOTHER RAINY RUN.

Rain face

Between the rain, morning darkness, and a couple of intense weeks of training, how does anyone stay sane? I mean, do you know how hard it is to keep this guy clean in weather like this? It’s like trying to dry off a dirty mop.

bailey

Yep, I’ve been throwing myself a big ol’ pity party lately. Last week was a big week of workouts. Almost all of them involved some combination of rain, mud, and running in the dark.

But today I discovered something good in the rain. This morning I tried out my new Brooks Drift 1/2 Zip and found the perfect rainy day top.

Brooks Drift 1/2 Zip

The yellow part of the shirt is windproof and water resistant and kept me dry for the entire run. It’s the perfect layer for days like today, fairly warm and definitely wet. I could stay dry without overheating and the bright color and reflective stripes provide needed visibility on dark, rainy roads.

By the end of my run things cleared up a little, at least in my head and attitude. Which is good because I need to get my head right. With Club Nationals on December 10th, we’re only halfway through cross country season. I’ve been flagging a bit since the weekend. But sometimes all you need is a good race. Luckily Sunday is USATF Pacific Northwest Open & Masters Cross Country Championships at Lower Woodland Park in Seattle. Interested in running? Sign up here by Thursday 11/3.

My 3 year experiment with a low sugar diet

Anti low sugar diet

Don’t freak out. I realize that the words “low sugar diet” sound like those of a no-fun, whacked-out loon. At least, that’s exactly what I think. And maybe for me the term “lower sugar diet” might be more accurate. I am, after all, still a working pastry chef. And I do live within a mile of Mora Iced Creamery, which is hands-down, the best ice cream shop on the West Coast (check it out, they’ll ship ice cream to you). Trust me, I’ve done my research. I do still consume sugar, just a lot less of it than before.

Like many things in life, this shift to a low sugar diet had the unlikeliest of beginnings. When we moved to the island seven years ago, the only preschool that had a spot for Alexa was the local Waldorf school. On paper, this seemed like a great fit. I like organic food, environmental responsibility and making bread. Why wouldn’t it work out? We jumped right in, and oh boy, it soon became clear we wouldn’t be welcomed into their fold. At first I was perplexed. Could they tell our pre-school ritual included a clothing check for Disney characters or Dora? Is it that big a deal that my 3-year-old would rather practice writing her name than paint with their homemade yellow paint? Then I rebelled. You don’t like us? Fine. Don’t mind that plastic toy I *might* have slipped into my kid’s bag today.

It was at the school’s mandatory parental talk on nutrition (nettle tea, anyone?) that I first heard the comparison of sugar to poison. I think the room could palpably feel my full-body eye roll that followed that pronouncement.

But somehow the idea continued to rattle around in my head. Perhaps it was the quick calculation I made that night to determine my approximate daily sugar intake. (It was more than I wanted to admit.) Or perhaps it was the realization a few years later that my diet might have benefited from a few more nutrients, and a little less refined sugar. Most of this sugar came in the form of cookies or ice cream. At a certain point three years ago I decided that whenever I reached for a cookie, I’d take a cheese stick or vegetable instead. It wasn’t a reduction of inputs as much as an improvement in their quality.

At the outset a big part of me hoped that nothing would change. Then I could happily return to my cookie-eating ways. But I noticed two big changes.

  1. After the first two or three (rough) weeks, I no longer craved sugar in the same way.
  2. After the first two or three months, I wasn’t getting sick in the same way.

Following the birth of my children, I found that I caught every single cold they brought home. I was sick all the time. But on the low sugar diet, as the fall and winter months began to roll by, I noticed that though the kids still got sick, I didn’t. And since I didn’t crave the sugar in the same way, it was easy to keep the ball rolling.

In the intervening three years, this has continued to hold true. Yes, I still get sick from time to time but not with the same frequency that I had in the past. And despite the fact that I do have to taste my pastry creations and still sweeten my coffee (let’s be real here), the sugar cravings don’t really exist anymore.

This is by no means a treatise on any one strict way of eating. Though it seems like the sugar industry might have single handedly financed the low fat diet craze, I’d still give a good eye-roll at anyone equating it to pure poison. I’m not all or nothing on anything. I mean, sometimes you just need a Frappuccino. And as soon as the immune system benefit stops working, you’d better believe I’m going back to my cookies. But for now, a low sugar diet still has some upside. Just don’t everyone go adopting it. I still like making pastry for people.

Recipe test: NYT Chocolate Pumpkin Layer Cake

Chocolate pumpkin layer cake

Forget about the other things you have planned for this weekend. You need to make this New York Times Chocolate-Pumpkin Layer Cake. You’re probably already buying a pumpkin or two for carving. Add a good eating pumpkin to your cart, check out my pumpkin puree instructions here, and you’ll be well on your way to the perfect October dessert.

pumpkinpureecollage

This recipe is easy and works as written. First prepare your cake pans. Parchment tutorial is here. Then sift together the dry ingredients.

pumpkincakedrying

Cream together the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. The recipe says to mix for 3 minutes, but this is a variable amount of time, depending on the softness of your butter. It usually takes me more than 3 minutes to get any combination of butter and sugar to be light and fluffy.

With the mixer running on low, beat in the eggs one at a time. Allow the eggs to mix between additions so that the mixture comes back together. Add the pumpkin puree (Libby’s works too, but fresh puree is amazing). At this point the mixture will look curdled, but that’s okay.

Add flour in three additions and mix just until it is incorporated. Do not overmix the flour into the batter or your cake will end up rubbery. Mix in the chocolate chips and pecans just until they are incorporated.

Bake at 350°F until the cakes spring back to the touch and a skewer comes out clean. Cool, and prepare the icing.

Chocolate pumpkin layer cake

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a water bath. Because I did not have unsweetened chocolate, I used semi-sweet chocolate and cut out 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar. However, I felt the frosting was overly sweet, and recommend following the directions for unsweetened chocolate. While the chocolate is melting, beat together the butter and powdered sugar, then add the melted chocolate and vanilla.

To frost the cakes, place one layer bottom-side down on your plate or cake board. Spread 1/3 of frosting over the top, then place the second cake upside-down on top of that frosting, so that the bottom (flat side) of that cake is now on top. Spread next 1/3 of frosting on top of the top cake layer. Then spread remaining frosting around the sides of the cake.

You’ll now probably have a mess of excess frosting hanging off the top edge of the cake. Smooth the sides the way you want them, then going around the cake, make one short pass over the top edge of the cake and remove the excess frosting. You’ll make one pass along one edge of the cake, scrape the excess frosting back into the frosting bowl, then turn the cake and do it again. Repeat this until you have gone around the whole cake, and you should now have a smooth top.

Chocolate pumpkin layer cake

To pipe a design without a piping bag or tips: use a Ziploc sandwich bag. Take the excess frosting that you just scraped off the top edge of the cake and put it in a Ziploc sandwich bag.
Snip a 1/4″ hole out of the corner of the bag, and you can now pipe along the top and bottom of the cake.

piping

Now cut, eat and enjoy!

Masters Mama Chocolate pumpkin layer cake