Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Running Partners - An Essay

I have always been a solo runner. I trained for and ran my first marathon totally alone. I didn’t know there was a running community. I didn’t know that running groups really existed in the numbers that they do, or that there were people as slow as I was at the time. I didn’t even really know about running stores, now that I think about it. Chadd actually took me to the Georgetown Running Store after my face went numb following my first 15 mile run (I didn’t know about Gu or that perhaps running with Gatorade was a good idea). Please don’t ask how I got myself marathon-deep without knowing any of this. I ran my first marathon in a cotton, long-sleeve shirt.

I valued the time alone. When I was training that first time around, I was struggling through the aftermath of a rough break-up, a full college course load, and work. I “wrote” a lot of the creative fiction required for my English degree on the Capital Crescent Path. I listened to the same playlist for hours on end. I cried or swore my way through that final mile more times than not.

I was afraid to run with other people. I was sure everyone was so much faster than I was; that they never stopped to walk, that I would only ruin their run. I ran once or twice with a co-worker. She was gracious enough to run with me and pretend that I wasn’t pulling her back (I most certainly was). I read articles in Runners’ World about the companionship of running partners, but I felt that these people were the elites, the dedicated, the run-in-ice-and-snow types. I was not.

I trained for a second marathon, again, by myself. A lot of lonely hours spent on the Capital Crescent trail went by, and by the time it was over, I had PRed, but not met my sub-four goal. My same running friend had jumped in to run the last 6 miles with me (a gift I can never repay – I’d not have finished without her). And yet, I still didn’t want to run with people, despite that race-saving experience.

When I signed up for my third marathon, I was still without a running group, without a coach, without a running partner. One thing I did have was a massive, terrifying goal: a sub-4 marathon. I had pulled my original 4:22 to a 4:10, but I was inconsistent, not committed, and again – alone. Running alone had gone from a private, joyful experience to a self-contained torture.

Then I met Coach T. Then I went to track practice. I was still alone – not fast enough to be with one group, but not slow enough for the pack right behind them. Alone, surrounded by others. It was at least a step in the together-ness direction.

Then I had my first long run as instructed by Coach T. I drove to Peirce Mill with all of my running gear. I had my Gu, my hand fuel belt, my calf sleeves (though I don’t think I used them). I didn’t have a Garmin, or even a digital watch. Victoria had told me that she’d be at the long run and she, too, had about 10 miles to go through. My palms were sweating the whole way to the meet-up. Could I make it through 10 miles pacing with someone? What if I couldn’t keep up? What if I had to walk?
Instead, Victoria stayed with me. She encouraged me up and down the hills along Rock Creek Parkway. She let me pause to eat a Gu on the way back, but that was it. Running with her, I realized I COULD do 10 miles without stopping and that it didn’t feel bad. In fact, it felt good. Really good. Like I could do this again, and again, and again, good. But we didn’t very often – our training schedules were wildly different for the majority of 2012.

Fast forward almost a year.

We planned to race Myrtle Beach Marathon together along with Rachel. More accurately put, they convinced me to join them. It became a beacon to me while I was unemployed. I have to get up because I have to run with my partners. Saturday morning runs with Rachel and Victoria became one of the few things that I actually did with regularity and excitement.

I got home from Atlanta after Christmas, slept terribly, listening to the wind blowing in a snow and ice storm the last weekend of the year. My alarm went off and I headed to the park. I’d fumbled my way through my morning -  couldn’t find my Gus, or my handheld water belt, or my watch, and my Garmin was dead. But there was Victoria, standing there in the fog next to Coach, the rest of the group gone out for their runs.

Off we went. We only had 12 miles this morning, but the distance felt insurmountable. The air was heavy with what would soon be rain, ice, and snow.

The first few miles, we caught up on traveling for the holidays – our families, my new job, gossip from Twitter – then we fell silent. The weather had kept many people at home; we rapidly became the road's only inhabitants.

At the turn-around point, the rain began to fall.

Per usual, I stopped briefly to eat a Gu, then we began the trek home.

The weather picked up and turned to something between water and solid. My thighs were stinging with the rain and sleet. My gloves and hat were becoming water-logged and I could feel my socks absorbing any precipitation that my spandex had shed. But our bodies felt good, despite the elements. We had to pace check several times (something Victoria does since she reliably monitors her Garmin).

The only things I heard for the next few miles were the sounds of the weather falling through the branches around us, our quiet, matched footsteps, hushed exhalations from our mouths that turned to steam, and the calm, working beats of my own heart. I had a brief second imagining that our bodies were machines, or horses, with the seemingly unending ability to run the distance. This is a rare, silent moment of intense beauty that life sometimes gives you.

The rain turned to snow.

Our conversation picked up again to topics that build a friendship, or perhaps better than that – a running partnership. We ran through serious discussions as we did miles. The last three miles, we built faster and faster, silent again, intent on finishing strong, despite the weather. Sometimes, the silent miles are the most powerful, lost in your own thoughts, but unconsciously aware that you are, in fact, not alone.


A note: I've written, re-written, and started from scratch this essay more than I can count. It's been sitting, lonely in a word document since the afternoon after that snowy run. Despite how much effort I've put into it, I still can't find the appropriate words to describe the importance of this run and of running partners - particularly mine - but I couldn't let it sit anymore without the moment slipping further and further from thought. I feared that the more I wrote and rewrote, the more I would lose the truthfulness of that morning. Apologies to Victoria for any embarrassment this may have caused outing her as my running partner. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Mia Cooks - Bolognese Sauce

If you didn't get a chance to watch me live-tweet my cooking adventure tonight, you can easily catch up on my twitter handle.

Here's my promised blog post!

I intended to make butternut squash soup tonight. I have all the ingredients sitting around and I love having the soup for lunch at work or as a quick snack after a workout. But I love cooking for Chadd and he needs more than soup for dinner and frankly, after a 95% fruit and vegetable set-up for my meals today, I was DYING for some meat. I find that when I'm really craving something (no, french fries don't count), I usually need it.

I made bolognese sauce tonight. Chadd still eats a lot of grains but I'm on a reduced grain diet (diet being lifestyle, not DIET). When I make things that usually go with pasta, I substitute spaghetti squash for my dish. The first time I tried it, I liked it, but I didn't love it. After several incidents with it, I've grown to like it MORE than pasta. Who knew.

I'll show how to make spaghetti squash another day, but I had some leftovers laying around.

I decided to double the recipe and make some modifications from the recipe that was shown in Practical Paleo. I should note that I almost never make a recipe out of a cook book exactly as listed - but that doesn't mean you can't. I just get bored and "want to see what will happen" - most of the time this works out...some of the time, it does not. But tonight! It worked!

1 pound pork sausage
1 pound ground beef
8 strips bacon (optional, but really good)
2 onions
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
2 cloves garlic
6 oz. tomato paste
1 c. coconut milk
1 c. white wine (optional, but highly recommended)
2 TBSP butter
Seasonings (sage, fennel, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper)

If you are just beginning to learn how to cook, the best advice I can give you about cooking is to have everything prepped beforehand. Chop, peel, thaw, and measure everything before you start. Pretend you're on a cooking show. It does mean more dishes, but it makes timing everything so much easier.

Want to see how to chop an onion? Here ya go:

1. MELT THE BUTTER. I melted 2 TBSP of butter over a medium heat (half of what was recommended) in a BIG skillet. I probably could have done with even less than that, but whatever. If you're making half this recipe, you don't need a HUGE skillet, but make sure it's deep so you can stir without spilling. If you want, go ahead and grab a big soup or pasta pot.

2. ADD THE VEGGIES. I threw all of the veggies that I'd chopped into a billion pieces into the butter and stirred around. When you're sauteeing veggies, just use a spatula to toss them around now and then so they don't burn or get soggy. Every 30 seconds is fine.

2 small onions (I prefer yellow onions), 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, diced

3. ADD THE GARLIC. After a couple minutes (maybe 3?) check the onions. If they are becoming translucent, it's time to add the garlic - make sure it's chopping up pretty finely. You can use the same technique I showed on the onion above for tiny pieces. Just two cloves will do. Stir around, then let sit for a minute until you start to smell the garlic. And trust me, you will.


That's 1 pound of beef, 1 pound of pork sausage, 8 strips of chopped bacon (I cooked the bacon earlier last week and drained off the extra fat). I stirred this every few minutes to make sure nothing burned. I broke up the meat as much as possible until it was browned (this means there isn't red left in the meat. Pink is ok.)

A note on the meat here. I tend to cook the meat first and drain off the extra fat, but since this is a sauce, some of that fat is a key component for keeping the sauce thick and delicious. And frankly, we all get too scared about FATOMGFATFATFAT. Fat is good for you. Calm down.

Browned meat

4. STIR IN THE LIQUIDS. Once the meat was browned, I added the coconut milk, tomato paste, and wine. The wine is optional, but I find that it adds a depth of flavor. Don't worry, the alcohol cooks out! 

Essentially, the tomato paste takes a while to incorporate - but I put it in the center, then use the back of my spoon to even it out. Instead of stirring around the pan (splashing happens a lot this way), I did more of an up and down stirring. Scoop some meat/veggies from the side of the pan and put into the middle, then push down with the spoon. Take your time. Another attractive option would have been to mix the coconut milk, paste, and wine ahead of time so the paste wasn't difficult to incorporate. 

5. SEASON AND SIMMER. Once everything is incorporated, add seasonings and simmer. 

I added salt, pepper, a smidgen of sage, oregano, parsley, some garlic powder and some onion powder, as well as some fennel. I highly recommend the fennel - that was a last minute addition. The recipe doesn't call for any seasonings other than salt and pepper, but I found it was a bit sweet for my liking.

That looks super gross, I'm sure, but it's awesome so far. Let it hang out on low-medium for 20 minutes or so. Stir every couple of minutes so it doesn't stick (I checked in ever 3-4 minutes). If it starts super bubbling (you know, BUBBLE BUBBLE SPLAT POP), turn it down. 

After twenty minutes, the sauce should be thick without a ton of liquid. The alcohol will have cooked off by this time as well. 

6. EAT. Now it's time to EAT. When the simmering started, I put water on the stove in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Add pasta. Cook.

When I was just about to finish up the pasta and the sauce, I threw my spaghetti squash in the microwave for a minute or so.

Here's how it turned out:
For Chadd - over pasta with some parmesan cheese

Over spaghetti squash!

Reheats well for lunch!

Looking back:
- I'd probably double the amount of carrots and celery in the sauce
- I'd mix the liquids and tomato paste before pouring into the sauce

Mia's Review:
I don't like a lot of meat in my foods anymore, but when I want it - I WANT it and this delivered (see: 3 types of meat). I'm glad I doubled the recipe because I feel like it will be a solid "go-to" for the next few days and also freeze well for future "oh crap I forgot to make dinner" meals. Put it on pasta, eat it straight, mix with veggies, add greens...the versatility is hard to beat.

Mia's Score: 90/100

Chadd's Review:
It had good flavor and was very satisfying and filling while avoiding the heaviness that characterizes many sauces of this kind.

I told him that was very formal and he said: "Fine. I liked it, would make it again, good flavor, light."

I disagree on the "light" description, but if he means light on grease and other heavier factors, then he's right. It eats clean to me.

Chadd's Score: 87/88 out of 100

I'll upload the videos tonight and I'll have another cook along (or possibly a lot of cook alongs) coming in the near future. After all, I did promise butternut squash soup.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mia Cooks - Why?

I am not #fitfluential.

I won't ever apply. Not that I blog enough, though I certainly tweet enough. Regardless. Over the past few months, some of us have noticed that the "fit crowd" (my term to make sure I don't help their SEO), have been endorsing some not so "fit" options.

Thus was born #Fatfluential. I have no idea who is behind it, but I want to be their best friend forever (seriously, I love you guys). It started as a light-hearted, spoof account. It was the "Mean Girls" movie in the Twitterverse; it showed the fit crowd as larger-than-life, mostly-ridiculous. And then, buoyed by their no-bull followers (myself included), #Fatfluential started taking on it's superficial cousin instead of just spoofing them, and so did their followers.

What is Fatfluential?

Train hard, eat lots, laugh harder - we are athletes who eat - RTing the best of your #proof (this is a spoof of FitFluential)
Recently, our cousins got a little taste of some "food" and decided that it was blog worthy. I'm not without sin. I've eaten frozen stuff. I've indulged in pizza. I won't judge if you eat it. But I will judge if you dare tell me it's super healthy.

Because it's not.

Fatfluential responded with the following Tweets

And you know what was amazing? People started offering to teach others how to cook. For free. 

All over the country.

Because I once relied on losing weight as being calories in/calories out, I feel that I can speak with some authority on this topic. You can lose weight eating processed food. But you know what happens? You're miserable and everything tastes vaguely...fake. And when you want something real, it all goes to hell. At what price convenience? 

I started working with Christine (that link will take you to a limited time offer to work with her at a reduced rate). I learned that just because you love to cook does not mean you only have to cook unhealthy (but delicious) food. I also learned that healthy, home cooked food is...wait for it...amazing. I lost 12 pounds following this basic plan and it wasn't hard; in fact, it was easy.

And so I volunteered my kitchen to teach people how to cook.

I'm trying it out tonight through the hashtag #miacooks. I'll start at 8:30pm and [hopefully] upload a blog post with video, more pictures, and further directions.

Tonight, kids, we're making butternut squash soup. And you may get dragged along for the ride when I make homemade bolognese and mushroom caps. We'll see.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy 2013!

So it's 2013 and I still haven't written a recap of my half IM. Sorry. It probably won't happen unless I just copy paste an email I sent to my training penpal. Which maybe I'll do.

But the point of this post is to tell you three universal truths to health, fitness, and a healthy weight:

1) Pick up heavy things. Frequently. I'm not saying you have to join crossfit, or a gym, or spend a billion dollars on a bowflex...but life is hard and there are heavy things in it, and we need to be able to lift them. Learn how. Practice. Be strong.

2) Run as far as you can. Often. This is not a good marathon training strategy, but if you're looking to get in shape and be healthy, and really help your own mental state, running is good for you. Go do it. If you can run a block - that is awesome. Run a block. If you can run and walk 4 blocks, off you go. 4 miles? Same.

3) Eat your veggies. Don't believe me? I lost 11 pounds just by eating more veggies. If you want better instructions, try to cut out half of the foods that you eat that come through a factory...and fill that empty space up with veggies.

On that wavelength, Victoria and I are continuing our weightloss pact - other #holiloss (if you follow my twitter) are doing a recreation of the weightloss pact and worth checking out. But if you want to play with the two of us, let me know.