When a marathon door closes, another one — vast and wide and inviting — opens. So many times, we feel empty in the days or weeks after we cross the finish line, so used to the schedule and the goals that without them an aimless restlessness takes hold. Me? Not this year. I am thrilled to have my mornings, my evenings, my weekends back. A week after finishing the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon, I felt a spark of inspiration. I felt clarity after months of cloudiness. I was back in the kitchen. After whipping up some old favorites (apple cider donuts, oatmeal muffins), I wandered the aisles of my local green grocer, cozied up in a sweater in the brisk weather I wished we had had for those 26.2 warm, humid miles the week before, dreaming of comfort, of fall flavors. And thus was born this creamy, sophisticated Pumpkin Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese.
We are now in the single-digit countdown for Marathon Sunday. My friends, teammates, and friend-strangers all over the world are settling into the zone called “the taper” — the Catch-22. Both dreaded and welcomed, it’s the time when we bring our mileage and our intensity down in order to rest and recuperate after months of depletion. It’s the time when we pull together our marathon outfits and plan our fingernail colors, go over our race strategies, and, of course, worry. Why does my ankle hurt? Why am I so tight? Can I really do this? Oh god am I getting fat?
But possibly the best part (which raises the “fat” question) is the carbo-load — a necessity to shore up the body’s glycogen stores to fuel the 26.2-mile haul. Granted (and I think I’ve said this before), I generally don’t need to do anything too out of the ordinary to make this happen. I’m a pasta fool. But after my longest, hardest effort two weeks ago, in the form of a 22-mile run up to the Little Red Lighthouse and back, I decided to shake it up a bit and go beyond my usual penne alla vodka, or spaghetti aglio e olio, or simple tomato and basil, and put in a bit of effort. I decided to make a true bolognese. Continue reading →
Apple Cinnamon Pancakes
When you’re training for a marathon, time is no longer time alone. Time is measured in miles. Days, weeks pass by in distance. Four-hundred-meter repeats. Eight-mile tempo run. Twenty-mile long run. Forty-mile week. Monday is no longer Monday. Monday is hill repeats incorporated into 4, 5, 7 miles. Two hundred more miles until November 1st. Time — the distance — passes quickly, until the moment you dread waking up the next morning. Until all you want is for it to be over, to cross that finish line in Central Park, and reclaim the ability to sleep in without your internal clock waking you up at 5 or 6 in the morning. Return to lazier weekends. Reclaim time as time alone.
And yet — marathon training is, essentially, a selfish thing. There are a lot of “sorry”s. “Sorry, I can’t make your birthday party. I have to get up at 4:30 the next morning for an 18-mile race.” “Sorry I can’t plan a visit that weekend — that’s the weekend of my 22-miler.” “Sorry, I can’t meet for happy hour. I have to get up for a track workout the next morning.” And even, “Sorry I’m falling asleep so early. Can you please do all the dishes, clean the litter box, and give the cat his medicine tonight? Again?”
It’s valiant to run a marathon a first time. Is it unfair to try it again? This is the question I’ve been asking myself often the last few weeks. But I try, whenever possible, to maintain some semblance of normalcy around here. I’m pretty proud of the fact that the weekend tradition of my childhood — bagels on Saturdays, pancakes on Sundays — is alive and well. And pancakes scream lazy; they scream a bit of breakfast indulgence.
Continue reading →
When you make the decision to sign up for a marathon, you are essentially giving up a large portion of your life for one third of a year. Last year, my first, was hard. Adjusting to running five days a week, up to 22 miles at a time, was rough on my body, but not necessarily on my mind. Last year, I had the luxury of flexibility. I had lost my job just two weeks before my training was set to begin. If it was going to rain in the evening, I could get my miles in in the morning — and not just at the crack of dawn in order to make it into an office at a decent hour. I could do it whenever I felt like it, whenever the weather permitted. This year is a whole new ballgame. I once again have a relatively low-mileage schedule to make it easier on my injury-prone body. But the intense heat of the summer has forced me into 6:00 a.m. workouts or earlier, freeing up my evenings, yes, but leaving me so exhausted that I can do no more than throw together an easy dinner (preferably without an oven or extended stovetop-time) before I feel I can do more than sit on the couch and stare at something — with my legs elevated, of course — and eat ice cream.
Of Marathons and Apple Pies
This was supposed to be the post about the “perfect” apple pie. Instead, it will be the post about the the perfect day and the “very-almost-perfect” apple pie. It will be the post about being thankful, about digging deep, about finding out who you really are. This will be the post about the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon and the amazing gift of self-revelation.
When I was a kid, I was a jackrabbit. I loved running, jumping, racing, and I was damn good at it, too. Then my family moved and my new state had new requirements for phys ed: I was in third grade, and we had to run the mile. This eight-year-old had no idea what to do, so she went out the way she did for a 50-yard dash: fast. At the end, I finished with a pretty impressive time, but I paid for it when I puked on the side of the field after it was all said and done. That was my initiation into distance running, and I was no longer a fan. I slowed down in the following years and entered into each mile with resentment. It took me nearly 20 years before I finally rediscovered my love for running — when no one told me I had to do it. I just finally wanted to do it again.
Still, for years after I started running again I wasn’t a racer. I gave up when the going got tough. I hated it. I hated worrying about waking up early, getting to the start line. I hated the pressure I put on myself and the little devil on my shoulder who I knew would tell me to walk. But then I joined a running team. From my very first workout on the track, they believed in me. They believed in me before I did. Continue reading →
Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter-Fontina Sauce
We are one week away from Thanksgiving and I am giving you…. gnocchi. I know, I know. You probably won’t be serving this to your family along with turkey and cranberries, but, well, actually, it’d probably be a nice change from the typical potato dish if you were so inclined. Plus, there are a week’s worth of dinners that still need to be made and eaten, and we can’t just eat failed pie every night. Okay, that’s debatable too.
But if you’ve been following this blog over the last couple of months you’ll know that I have my very first full marathon coming up in just three days, and it’s time now to go even heavier on the carbs than ever before. For a normal person, that is. And while I’m not sick of all my typical pasta dishes, I also want to throw in some vitamins. Despite the bad rep the lowly potato has earned, it’s chock full of them. I need some extra vitamin C right now after running in this polar vortex. Time to make some little potato dumplings.
Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Clusters
We are less than nine days away from the Philadelphia Marathon start line, and along with the nightly marathon-based dreams (some of the nightmare variety) comes the depressive restlessness, the feeling of helplessness in the face of the marathon taper. We curtail our miles and our intensity in the last few weeks to rest and repair our micro-torn muscles, catch up on sleep, and get our twitchy legs itching to go on race day. It’s a necessary evil; evil only because the nerves that we baste with long tempo runs are dried out and frayed by the forced hiatus of intensity. When something stressful completely unrelated to running creeps into my comfort zone, I’m now thrown into disarray, reduced to tears by the tiniest infraction (like, say, a torn pie crust). When they say that running is a drug they’re really not joking.
Enter the candy monster. Or, more specifically, these chocolate pumpkin spice clusters. Truth be told, I spent a good many hours the other day/night working on what I hoped would be the perfect apple pie, and just couldn’t get myself to do it all over again the very next day when I realized it still needed modifications. Well, that, and there’s still one more slice of pie that needs to be eaten before I can use the pie plate again. That’s where simplicity comes into play. Continue reading →
Apple Oatmeal Cookies
When I sprint around the track during a speed workout, or towards the finish line of a race, I imagine that I look like Meb Keflezighi, or Deena Kastor, or Kara Goucher at their best in the long stretch of a marathon. Feet barely whipping the ground as they cycle behind me, propelling me forward in a controlled fall. In truth, even when I’m sprinting I probably look like the brave masses chugging along up the tortuously subtle hill of Fifth Avenue in the 23rd mile of the New York City Marathon, quads burning, feet shuffling. Or hopefully somewhere in between. When I set out to make cookies, too, I often imagine them to be spectacular, show-stopping. But sometimes the humble truth of the rest of the pack, the tens of thousands only gunning for personal victory in the form of a finish after 26.2 miles, is even more heart-warming, more inspiring. These apple oatmeal cookies are like that: kind of imperfect, they’re spectacular because they have heart.
When I decided to make these, I wanted them to taste like the tops of the oatmeal blueberry banana muffins: pops of sweet flavor set off by cinnamon, nuts, and salt. I’d made apple oatmeal cookies before, but only once or twice, always wanting to be impressed but never fully satisfied. There are so many oatmeal cookies out there that are just sweet. There’s nothing more to them, despite the teaspoons of cinnamon added. And here’s one thing we should discuss: removing sugar isn’t always the answer. Remember now that while sugar is usually your main sweetener, it also is an ingredient that helps set the consistency of your baked goods, just as eggs and flour and fats do. That’s not to say that absurd amounts of sugar in a cookie or cake shouldn’t be questioned. Often they should. But sometimes the answer is the other white, granulated item in the pantry: salt.
The Definitive Penne alla Vodka
If a long distance runner tells you part of the reason she runs isn’t so she can stuff her face with pasta, she’s lying to you. True, most of it is the challenge, the endorphins, the yearning to be better than you were yesterday. But for many of us, we run so we can eat. And when you’re training for a marathon, you’re hungry. All. the. time. It took me a while to be okay with eating a second lunch – which follows brunch, which follows a very long run, which follows breakfast. I swear, though, not everything I eat is a pastry or a muffin or a biscuit – I also eat fruit and salads and proteins and potatoes rich with vitamin C. These are the things I crave after a 20-mile run. But before? Give me bowls of pasta. Lemon. Garlic. Tomatoes. Peppers. Whatever. As long as it envelops that perfect pod of a simple carb, it’s what I want to fuel me through those grueling miles.
We all grow up eating the stuff, though for many kids, like yours truly, many moons ago, we want it with butter. Or cheese – from a little blue box. We were the pain-in-the-ass kids who only knew tomatoes if they were in the form of basically orange, tangy water with little o’s swimming around. But once we learned how beautiful that fruit was? Forget it. I watched my mom make a bolognese hundreds of times growing up, but never made a basic sauce until I was 20, kind of poor, and living with an Italian-American roommate in Paris. On our first night in our apartment together, she made her grandmother’s recipe: slow cooked, fresh tomatoes, with garlic, onion, and raisins, to cut the acidity and add sweetness. My life would never be the same.