I spent a lot of time this winter and spring in a cave of my own making, shying away from people, from a social life. I am, by nature, a homebody. Running is my social life, and when I was injured after the marathon, I was down, I was defeated, and I hid in my cave, missing the energy of my body and my friends but sinking deeper and deeper into a miasma of self-alienation. Even once I started running again, I didn’t feel like myself, not until I cut back on my solo runs and started going back to my team’s workouts and running (slowly) in races. But I didn’t truly feel like my life was my life again until last week, when I ran an entire speed workout and at the end, after a slow start but a strong finish, our coach, Jared, smiled at me and said, “I love to see that. The athlete in you always comes out.” Then, this past weekend, two of my good friends and teammates got married at the base of our hill workout in Astoria Park under the Hell Gate Bridge, and, with the bride in a beautiful white running dress, led us on a group run over the Triboro Bridge and into Manhattan. The next day I cheered on another good friend and teammate as he competed, and kicked ass, in his first triathalon. There’s something fulfilling about being part of a community. Continue reading →
Somewhere, deep down, I wish I remembered my first steps. Our parents always remember our first words (mine were “thank you,” or, more accurately, “gackoo” — what can I say, the potty mouth came later), but they don’t always remember where we finally stood, wobbling on our tiny feet, and tentatively waddled awkwardly over to open arms. What did we feel? Was it pride? Exhilaration? If you’ve ever been off your feet or away from the sport you love for any length of time, I think maybe you get a bit of an inkling when you finally take your first steps back. I did, last night, only hours after breaking down into sobs over the memories of my last marathon, of the stubborn thought that I might never run again, of nothing working, of nearly picking up the phone and making an appointment for an experimental treatment with a 50-50 chance of success. Suddenly, in the middle of the day, even with my under eyes still stained with mascara from my tears, my ankle felt… great. I couldn’t even manipulate the pain I had felt upon waking in the morning, that I feel nearly every day. With the weather hovering in the mid-60s, I decided to go down to the track, where my teammates were running 1600-meter repeats, and just walk, maybe jog a little, just to see. My first steps on the track were hesitant, but magical. As I continued on with my friend Tracy by my side, I felt exhilarated, free. This must’ve been what it was like all those years ago.
It must also be what it’s like to tap the sap from a maple tree as winter begins its thaw in the northeast — it’s maple sugaring season! I never knew, not until I saw a video of sap boiling in preparation for a maple syrup festival at the Union Square Greenmarket last week and Food52 posted a delicious looking recipe for maple syrup-filled “sugar pie.” Because I haven’t been terribly active these last few months, I haven’t been terribly hungry. And I’ve felt uncomfortable in my skin. If we pass Donut Plant, yes, I will buy all the donuts (hello, tres leches). But I will feel incredibly guilty about it. I have very little self-control. So I’ve been thinking a lot more about how to put nutrients in my body — and tasty treats in my face — in compact packages without lots of refined white flour or sugar. Sugaring season was the perfect excuse to experiment with these Maple Rye Muffins. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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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.
What do you do when you miraculously find a bit of extra time on a weekday and are preparing for a half marathon? You bake peanut butter cookies, of course.
I took most of last week off from running, trying to heal up what I think was a bit of tendonitis in my foot before the Brooklyn Half Marathon on Saturday. It’s sort of amazing how much free time I have when I don’t run. Don’t get me wrong, I need it for my health and my sanity and I’m glad I have the ability to do it (read: no serious injuries), but it was nice to be able to spend time cooking, relaxing, and finally baking — on a weeknight.
Runners are an interesting breed. Throw us together on a Saturday night and there may be whiskey and push-up contests. In the mornings, long runs leave much time for vocal introspection — no thoughts, no subjects are off limits. There’s the usual catch-ups of the previous evening or week, soul-bearing conversations of life and love, (literal) potty humor, and, of course, what we’d like to eat when the miles are finally at an end — or, in many cases, often after running past the wafting aroma of crispy bacon from a corner deli 10 miles into a 20-miler, right at that very moment. And thus, it was on one of those runs, several months ago, that a few of us started daydreaming about croissants. Marathoners, ultra-marathoners, and IronWomen in our crew, none of us shies away from a challenge. And so became “That Time We Made Croissants” — from scratch.
Let’s get this out of the way right here, right now: croissants are easy. Yes, you read that right. So long as you pay attention to the steps, the ingredients, the measurements, and the timing, anyone can make croissants. The trouble with them is that they take a ridiculous amount of time. Meaning, you need to devote an entire day to these bad boys. Not all of it is hands-on. Most of it is actually spent resting, chilling, and freezing the dough — there was time for us to go for a run, watch a movie (and drink wine), and go out to dinner (and drink wine) during three lengthy rest periods. In all, it took us about 11 hours from start to finish. And it was totally worth it.
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 →
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 →
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.