Pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkin: you can do it!

wholepumpkin

Don’t just carve it, cook it. Yes, you can buy the Libby’s canned stuff, but fresh pumpkin puree is so much better. And really easy to make. Here’s how.

First, choose your pumpkin. There are so many varieties, and so many are interchangeable that you really can’t go wrong. For baking purposes my favorite varieties are cinderella (pictured above, straight out of our garden), blue hubbard and sugar pie.

Next, quarter it and throw it on a sheet pan.

pumpkinquartered

Additionally, you now have pumpkin seeds you get to roast. Bonus! The interwebs would have you believe that pumpkin seeds are practically a superfood.

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Then roast it, skin side up, at 400°F until soft. Once it’s cool enough to handle, scrape out the flesh and puree it in a blender. And just like that, you have yourself fresh pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin puree

If this makes more than you need, portion the leftovers into usable servings and freeze. I measure one cup increments and freeze it in Ziploc bags.

Battling the elements at Emerald City Open

When you’re feeling sorry for yourself for having to compete in the middle of Stormageddon, what do you do? You buy donuts.

Vegan must mean they're good for you, no?

Vegan must mean they’re good for you, yes?

Despite the pre-weekend cancellation of just about every sporting event around, both Alexa and I had Saturday activities that were proceeding as scheduled. Our plan (it was a good one) was for me to race at Seattle University’s Emerald City Open cross country meet, then keep rolling east to her soccer game in Bellevue.

We arrived at Seattle’s Woodland Park amid a steady rain. As I huddled underneath a picnic shelter pinning on my number, I couldn’t help but wonder why. Why do I choose to do things like this? 

Emerald City Open

This is not the face of someone who is loving what they are doing. All race photos by James Lilly.

But sometimes the road forward is through, and with no other choices, I did what I do.

Emerald City Open

The Emerald City Open course starts on a grassy downhill then transitions to a dirt path and gravel road that loop up to more grass and mud before returning to its starting point at the 2K mark. The women’s race repeats this loop three times for a 6K race. I’ve mentioned before that I hate wearing spikes on hard surfaces. So despite the mud and rain, I chose to wear flats. It worked for me on the same course last year, in similar conditions, and I got cocky. I thought I could get away with it.

Questionable running form: arms completely akimbo

Spikes *might* have helped this questionable running form

In fact, I was getting away with it. For almost two laps things were going well. I had even pulled into the lead. But just as we were heading into the second turnaround and I began to strategize my final 2K lap, I slipped. And started to go down. And by the time I could get my feet under me and get back on the course (I had gone way wide at that point), I dropped to 4th place.

emeraldcity

Though I tried to battle back over the last lap, I ended up finishing fifth, in 22:34. As a team Club Northwest totally rocked, sweeping both the men’s and women’s races (results here). The women placed 5 runners in the top 8 spots, scoring just 19 points (lowest score wins), while the men placed 5 in the top 6. That’s tough to beat.

The best part about a race like this? How badass you feel when it’s done.

emeraldcityopen1

With a soccer game looming, I cut short a cool down and headed to the car. Only to receive a text cancelling the game. A disappointment, to be sure, but some amount of consolation remained.

donutsinbox

Nothing like a good food reward to save the day.

Incorporating a pre-run warm-up routine

Fill in the blank: I am too old for… ?

For me it’s my pre-run warm-up routine. I turned 43 over the weekend. Previously I liked to think of age as just a number. A state of mind, blah, blah, blah. But it’s official. I’m too old for my standard warm-up routine, which looked a little something like this.

Wake up and brush teeth.
Tie shoes.
Run.

You’d think that the last three months of dealing first with a quad strain, then a hamstring strain would have taught me something. But it wasn’t until I stumbled across this Competitor.com article by Jason Fitzgerald on the Mattock Dynamic Warm-up routine that I decided to make a change. Fitzgerald is the head coach at Strength Running, where he blogs about running and staying injury-free. Last week I started to incorporate his Standard Warm-up into my schedule, and I have to say that I’ve become a warm-up convert.

The Standard Warm-up looks something like this:

1. Walking deadlifts (10 reps)
2. Knee hugs (10 reps)
3. Groiners (20 reps)
4. Donkey kicks (10 reps)
5. Mountain climbers (20 reps legs in, 20 reps legs out)
6. Iron cross (10 reps)
7. Lunge matrix (2-10 reps per lunge type)
8. Leg swings (10 reps)
9. Lateral leg swings (10 reps)

Previously the thought of adding a warm-up routine seemed incredibly arduous. Like I’d have to set the alarm an hour earlier and find some sort of special workout space. Instead, I need an extra five minutes, and use my hallway and living room to get this done. And once I’ve finished these nine movements, I actually feel loose and ready to run.

The instructional video is helpful for learning the movements.

Though a week ago I had blown off the thought of a pre-run warm-up as something that other people might need, I now acknowledge the error of my ways. So for y’all who are still walking out the door and starting you run, it might be worth the 5 minute investment. It might be just the thing you’ve been missing.

USATF Masters 5k Road Champion

I can’t help but feel like lightning struck twice.

Nothing beats a welcome home poster after a long flight

I spent the weekend in Syracuse, NY, for the USATF Masters 5k Road Championships, a race within a race hosted by the Syracuse Festival of Races 5k. This is a fantastic event, in its 24th year, led by race director extraordinaire Dave Oja. I cannot say enough about how well organized and supported the whole weekend felt. And I didn’t even take advantage of the host hotel amenities. Started in 1993 as an offshoot of an earlier race, the Syracuse Festival of Races 5k has cultivated record-breaking performances for the last 24 years.

This year was no exception. There were four American records broken, one of which also set a world masters record (Kathy Martin, age 65, with a time of 19:57). And 80-year-old Libby James broke the women’s 80-84 American record, running the 5k in a time of 25:14. Imagine that, running a 5k at 8:07/mile pace as an 80-year-old. Incredible! See the full story on Runner’s World here.

Syracuse also ended up being the perfect location for a travel race. It’s a big enough city to have an airport, yet a small enough town that even downtown hotels had airport shuttle service. So I flew in easily and didn’t need a rental car. And therefore chose to stay at the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel (instead of the race’s host hotel) to be closer to the course. It’s pretty much right on campus.

Syracuse University

Thanks to my Starwood Preferred Guest status, I even made the Club Lounge level. This meant breakfast in the morning and snacks in the evening. But the best thing about it? Unlimited espresso. I could not have been happier to see that machine.

espresso

Bring it on, jet lag. Bring it on.

Though rain was forecast throughout the weekend, it seemed that the bulk of it fell overnight on Saturday. So race day arrived with muggy but dry and warm conditions.

Syracuse Festival of Races 5k Prerace

Heading to the course, aka, why I don’t take more selfies

Having experienced the alternative, I really appreciated the amount of race support provided at this event. It sounds simple but even a tent for gear storage seemed like a luxury.

USATF masters 5k road championships

The masters championship races always bring out a stellar field of runners.

Syracuse Festival of Races 5k

Photo by Bob Brock

The flat, fast course starts and ends at the Lampe Athletics Complex on the Syracuse University campus. Though I took the lead at the halfway turnaround point, these women are tough racers who aren’t going to give anything up easily. It took all I had to keep anyone from passing me in the last 400 meters.

syracusecloseupfinish

Photo by Bob Brock

In the end I managed to hang on for the win on Sunday. But on any given day it could have been any of us. Which is the thing that makes these races so special. The camaraderie of the other runners is phenomenal. It’s not the winning or the records (easy for me to say, I don’t have any of those!), but the fact that we’re all out there training and pushing and hoping to get to race day prepared and injury-free. Congratulations to everyone on a terrific 5k race weekend.

postrace

Got veggies? Make a veggie bowl.

This is one of my favorite times of the year. The temperature is cooling down, fall is in the air, and I have vegetables coming out of my ears. Almost literally.

veggies

We’ve been canning, freezing, pureeing, and baking. We’ve stocked the pantry with pickles, salsas and jams, and packed the freezer so full that there’s constant danger of a frozen food avalanche. But my favorite thing to do with all of this garden fresh produce? Make a veggie bowl.

Masters Mama veggie bowl

This is one of my go-to meals year-round. It’s easy, flexible, and you can tailor it to the different seasons. Start with your favorite grain, add your favorite veggies, maybe some lentils or beans and you’re good to go. Finally, I toss everything together with a vinaigrette, add a protein on the side and serve it up as an easy dinner.

This particular bowl put to use the cucumbers, tomatoes and kale that threaten to overrun our kitchen these days. It went a little something like this.

Grains and beans

1 cup quinoa
1 cup dried lentils

Cook and cool the quinoa and lentils separately, according to their own cooking instructions.

Vegetables

4 garden cucumbers (mine are small, this is probably equal to 1-2 store cucumbers)
1 bunch kale (once chopped I probably had about 4 cups)
3 cups garden cherry tomatoes
3 carrots
1 avocado
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Remove the ribs and chop the kale. Dice the cucumbers, carrots and avocado. Halve the tomatoes and chop the walnuts. Combine everything together in a large bowl with the quinoa and lentils.

Vinaigrette

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, chpped

I play it fast and loose when it comes to making vinaigrette. My rule of thumb is to take an acid (lemon juice, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar) and whisk it together with an equal amount of olive oil and whatever seasonings you want to add. Since it’s that simple I rarely buy grocery store dressings. Toss this together with everything else and you’ve got yourself a killer veggie bowl.

As the weather starts to change and cool, I use more root vegetables and squash, which I roast before adding. I might choose a heartier grain like farro, or my kids’ favorite Israeli couscous. The roasted veggie bowl pairs well with a poached egg on top, drizzled with a generous helping of Sriracha.

The beauty of this meal is its flexibility. So, get out there and try it out. It’s cooking without rules and a fantastic way to add nutrient-rich grains and vegetables to your day.

Sundodger Invitational and how to race cross country

The leaves are changing. The rain is falling. So, you know what that means. It’s time to shake off that summer funk: cross country season begins again!

battlepointfall

I opened my season on Saturday at University of Washington’s Sundodger Invitational. It was a Northwest cross country kind of day at West Seattle’s Lincoln Park with rain and mud and 284 of us sprinting 300m across a field to get to the place where the course narrows to a 5-foot-wide path. No polite road race starts (slower people in the back) here. Instead, due to the team-event nature of the sport, everyone starts together, lined up in starting boxes across a wide starting line. This is where things get dicey, and therefore makes the start one of the key elements to running a good cross country race.

Start of the masters race at USATF Club Cross Country Nationals 2015, photo by Michael Scott

Start of the masters race at USATF Club Cross Country Nationals 2015. Photo by Michael Scott.

Execute this well and you can settle into a pace and, if you’re on, continue to move up on the field. But get caught sleeping when the gun goes off (my usual M.O.) and you get stuck in the pack. When there are 284 people in the race, this means getting tangled up in the sea of legs and racing spikes, running a slower pace than you want to run, and spending valuable energy surging around others to improve your position. Due to an outside box position and a determination to go out hard, I actually managed to get a good start on Saturday.

Then there’s the varying terrain. Sundodger’s 6K course covers a grassy field, gravel paths, and some muddy spots for good measure.

sundodgerxc

Last year’s Sundodger – Mike was on soccer game duty so no pics from this year’s race

Running on grass, gravel and trails uses stabilizing muscles that road running does not. I never thought much about tailoring my training to the different surfaces of cross country. But once I started running more on the trails around my house, I found it easier to handle the uncertain footing that changes in terrain create.

battlepointpath

Last week’s long run included a two-mile tempo run at the park above. This began with a moderately paced 7-mile trail run getting to the park, two miles at 6:30/mi pace at the park, and 3 more miles to get home. Additionally, this is also the time of year when I swap out some track workouts for a rolling loop on local farmland.

Overall, and surprisingly to me, things went well at Sundodger. Training has been rough lately, but somehow things fell into place on Saturday. Though this was only the first meet of the season, I felt competitive amongst the college kids.

sundodger2016results

If you’ve been feeling stale on the roads lately, cross country is a fun alternative. This fall abounds with cross country opportunities. If you want to join a team, these local clubs all run cross country:

Club Northwest
Seattle Running Club
Eastside Runners

Then check out these local races this fall:

Saturday October 8, 2016: 43rd Annual Western Washington University Cross Country Classic
Saturday October 15, 2016: Emerald City Open
Sunday November 6, 2016: PNTF Open/Masters Cross Country Championships
Sunday November 20, 2016: USATF Northwest Region Open & Masters Cross Country Championships

The black lining to the PR rainbow

Black lining PR rainbow

Didn’t think there was any downside to a PR, did you? I know I didn’t. In my mind a PR should be nothing but pink unicorns and fairy dust. And it is, for the most part. But this summer I’ve stumbled upon the realization that it can also be an inadvertent ticket to crazy town. A ride on the PR-seeking crazy train, which, over the summer, has pulled me through the stations of doubt, fear, and mild injury.

I couldn’t figure out what had me in such a funk. A nagging hamstring strain had me questioning how hard I should be training. Which, in turn, probably meant that I wasn’t training as hard as I would under normal circumstances. Two local races resulted in completely lackluster performances. Then a friend posted this great article on the extremes of training for a PR that snapped my reality into focus.

Neither of these extreme states is the smartest, right? Uber-Fitness Mode might give you an amazing body but it can also result in unhealed injuries and (eventually) misery and abandonment if you don’t listen to your body. Meanwhile, Super Sedentary Mode gives you the Couch Body which eventually leaves you cranky with friends and family, and also unhappy when the extreme carb rush is over. (“Oh no. Look at me. What have I done? And why am I covered in powdered sugar?“)

The problem with a great PR is that it’s a rush that feeds itself. There’s no topping the feeling of exhilaration that happens when you see the magical number next to your name. You want more. You know you can do it again, with a few more miles, a little more work. And now, that thing you do because it makes you feel good and enhances your life? It becomes something else. The workouts ratchet. The stress builds. You worry that you’re not doing enough to run well in the next race. The chase for another PR is now an addiction.

My friends, as the amazing Lauren Fleshman put it here: “…there is no pot of gold waiting at the end of the achievement rainbow.

It’s time to step off the crazy train. In the past this has meant a swing of the couch-surfing variety. But I still have a 5k road race and cross country season on the impending calendar. I also have that hamstring thing that, incredibly, has not managed to magically go away on its own. It’s time to learn about the dimmer switch. It’s a mental shift of letting go, of enjoying the process and forgetting the results. Here goes nothing…

Trying not to suck at summer

I suck at summer. I like structure and have somehow managed to raise structure-loving kids. They would prefer to be in school. I would prefer for them to be in school. Instead, half of us spend our days struggling to stay busy (them), while I sacrifice my getting-shit-done time trying to keep them that way. Every year when August rolls around, I marvel at the fact that we might actually make it through.

It’s not all bad. We benefit from a very sunny garden and through no skill on our part, somehow manage to grow all sorts of good food in the summer. It’s magical. When I can tear myself away from brokering peace in the living room, it’s fun to experiment with different ways to use our fruits and vegetables.

Summer foods

Fig bruschetta and peach-rhubarb crisp

Fun, that is, until it becomes overwhelming keeping up with everything that decides to ripen at exactly the same time. Thank god for neighbors who don’t mind the produce dump on their doorstep.

There’s also nothing better than showing off the beautiful Pacific Northwest to visitors in the summer. We were lucky enough to have family from the East Coast in town for a few days last week, and made the most of their stay touring Pike Place Market and enjoying the benefits of life on Bainbridge Island. Cousins totally rock.

Summer 2016

And every so often we manage to carve out some moments of peace. Two weeks ago the stars aligned and we spent a lovely afternoon in West Seattle, taking the water taxi across Elliott Bay and walking along the water to Alki Beach. A casual lunch at Blue Moon Burgers provided the perfect summertime fuel for the walk back to the boat.

Summer break fun

But then there’s regular life. I’m mystified by those who don’t want summer to end. What are they doing that I’m not? When I run into friends and acquaintances who bemoan the passing of their summer break, I smile and nod like I totally know what they’re talking about. But I’m lying. I’m at my wits’ end mediating fights between bored children. I can’t form a coherent thought in my head about any of my own concerns, and waffle between my commitment to benign neglect and cruise director-type planning to mitigate the whining and bickering of an unfilled day.

And then there’s the weather. Obviously sunny skies trump the rain of the fall, winter and spring seasons around here. But it’s freaking hot out there. My ideal running temperature range falls between 35°F and 55°F. To me, 70°F heat is scalding and only adds to the misery of an already hard workout. Aren’t mile repeats bad enough as it is? Clearly, I suck at summer.

So the next time you see me and I say some sort of socially acceptable pleasantry about the summer break, call me out. I don’t mean it. What I’m really doing is desperately counting down the minutes until the start of school. Yes, I’m making every effort to have as much fun as everyone around me seems to be having, but let’s call a spade a spade. Bring on the fall.

Peach Blueberry Cake anyone can make

There’s nothing like a perfect peach.

Peachintree

And nothing like turning a perfect peach into an even better dessert.

Blueberry peach cake

A few weeks ago we had a tree full of ripe peaches and the corresponding debate about the best way to use them. Luckily, Epicurious came through with this awesome recipe for peach blueberry cake. Find the original recipe here.

This cake totally rocks. It falls somewhere between a cake and a pie, and is light enough to enjoy any time of day. I decreased the sugar in the fruit from the original recipe, giving me zero qualms about serving this morning or night. The best part about it? Anyone can make this. I mean it. You do not need any special skills or equipment.

Start by making the crust. The recipe calls for pulsing it in a food processor. If you don’t have one, just mix together the dry ingredients, then use two knives to “cut in” the butter to combine it with the flour. Use a spatula to add in the egg and vanilla to finish the dough.

The recipe also calls for using a springform pan. I always use a regular pan lined with parchment on the bottom. Find my parchment tutorial here. Press the crust into the pan, then chill while you make the fruit filling.

I made a couple of changes to the original recipe for the fruit filling. First, I substituted 3 Tbsp. tapioca flour for the 2 Tbsp. flour and 1 Tbsp. tapioca. I had tapioca flour on hand and didn’t feel like grinding tapioca. I also cut the amount of sugar back to 1/4 cup from the 1/2 cup in the original recipe. For the filling just toss everything together and spoon into the crust. Easy as… peach blueberry cake.

Peachblueberryprep

The Epicurious recipe says to bake it at 400°F, but that’s a bit high for my liking and people seemed to have issues with burning on the bottom. I baked it at 350°F and had no problems. Ovens vary, so I would start checking it at about an hour. Since I used a regular cake pan, I cooled it at room temperature a bit, then chilled it in the refrigerator to set up.

Getting it out of the pan is a little trickier than a regular cake, but not too bad. Make sure it is chilled and the fruit has set up. Run a knife around the edge to loosen the crust, then cover the top of the cake with a plate or cutting board. Turn everything upside down so that the plate/cutting board is on the bottom, and gently shake to turn it out. If it resists releasing, turn it right-side up and warm the bottom over a burner on your stovetop. Do this by moving it around for 10-15 seconds over a warm burner to slightly melt the butter in the crust. Then flip it back and try again and it should release. Place your serving platter atop the bottom crust (which is now on top), then flip it back over. Finally, cut, eat and enjoy!

Peach Blueberry Cake

The pain train and the recovery run

The pain train is back and it’s taking names. It’s also reintroducing me to the concept of the recovery run.

Friday morning repeated a workout I’ve mentioned before.

1 1/2 miles @ 8:51
1 1/4 miles @ 7:13
1600m @ 5:51
1200m @ 4:23

With 3-4 minutes rest between intervals, this is a workout that challenges not only physically, but mentally as well. The last three intervals got the lactic acid good and pumped and I struggled a bit to get it all done.

Normally after a workout like this I look forward to a full day off. But this week Jim scheduled an easy 5 miler. This looked suspiciously like a “recovery run”, which I’ve always blown off as bullshit code for a run that’s interfering with my rest time. Traditionally I reward myself with a nice day off following a good hard effort. Day after a race? Sit on the couch. Run a crazy hard interval workout? Enjoy a leisurely Saturday morning.

Recovery run

So, it was with some reluctance that I set off for a 5 mile recovery run. I felt a little sore and tired and questioned whether this would do anything aside from exacerbate those qualities. But you know what? As I started running, the soreness and fatigue started to disappear. Keeping the pace easy helped a lot. I maintained a conversation pace the entire way and never felt out of breath. But my legs loosened up and I returned home more energized than I was when I left. This piqued my interest: what’s up with the recovery run?

According to author Matt Fitzgerald on Active.com, the recovery run builds fitness by forcing you to run in a pre-fatigued state.

There is evidence that fitness adaptations occur not so much in proportion to how much time you spend exercising but rather in proportion to how much time you spend exercising beyond the point of initial fatigue in workouts. So-called key workouts (runs that are challenging in their pace or duration) boost fitness by taking your body well beyond the point of initial fatigue.

Recovery workouts, on the other hand, are performed entirely in a fatigued state, and therefore also boost fitness despite being shorter and/or slower than key workouts.

Fitzgerald explains this more in an article on Competitor.com:

In a key workout you experience fatigued running by starting fresh and running hard or far. In a recovery run you start fatigued from your last key workout and therefore experience a healthy dose of fatigued running without having to run hard or far. For this reason, although recovery runs are often referred to as “easy runs,” if they’re planned and executed properly they usually don’t feel very easy.

Elite runners utilize the recovery run throughout their training, as Roy Benson describes in this Runner’s World article. If a 12:48 5k runner trains regularly at 8:00/mile pace, maybe I need to rethink my Saturday mornings. Pancake morning can’t disappear entirely, but maybe it’s worth a little shakeout jog beforehand.